In their new book “God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth,” authors G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim hope to “fuel the church to fulfill its mission in the world.” Much of that fuel comes from connecting Genesis 1-2 to Revelation 21-22. According to Beale and Kim, the final chapters of Revelation show us what our mission’s ultimate fulfillment looks like. There, at the end of the story, the new heaven and earth reveal the expansive scope of the new creation. And the new Jerusalem shows us that the entire cosmos is the dwelling place for God. These two chapters, the authors explain, depict the completion of Adam and Eve’s mission to expand the boundaries of Eden — the dwelling place of God — to fill the earth (Genesis 1:28). Which makes it clear that mission didn’t begin with the Great Commission of Matthew 18: 18-20; mission has been God’s heartbeat from Genesis 1, and it must be our heartbeat, too.
Our mission, like our first parents’, is to expand Eden’s boundaries until the new heaven and earth become the dwelling place of the Lord God Almighty. ByFaith asked the authors to tell us more about this perspective, and to show us — step-by-step — how mission, properly understood, is the continuous expansion of God’s presence.
The idea of expanding Eden isn’t one we read about very often. Tell us how you came to write the book. Why this subject? Why now?
Let me share a bit about the genesis of this project. As a pastor with a Trinity M.Div. and a Wheaton M.A. in Biblical Exegesis, I (Mitch) found Dr. Beale’s “The Temple and the Church’s Mission” exhilarating in its canonical sweep of Scripture and exasperating in its detailed expositions of ancient Near Eastern or Jewish backgrounds of canonical texts. I found myself alternatively gripped by this overarching thesis and griping about these excurses. Working closely with Dr. Beale as his teaching assistant during my doctoral studies at Wheaton, I proposed that we work on a project together to help more readers engage with the stimulating thesis that he presents in that work. He agreed. In dialogue with the editors at InterVarsity Press, we agreed to a complete rewrite of the original work.
This rewrite began with a six-week sermon series on the topic of “Expanding Eden” at my church in the west suburbs of Chicago.
Since the sermon series provides the backdrop for the book, tell us more about it. What did the series cover?
Preaching a sermon series through the book forced me to isolate a key idea and text to work through each week, while bringing in a wider theology of the temple. The series topics and titles were as follows:
Expanding Eden: The Call in the Original Creation (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:4-25)
Eden is not simply a beautiful place; Eden is the first temple. God walked in Eden and placed Adam as his first priest (Genesis 3:8; 2:15). Although Eden was confined to a limited geographical space in the first creation, God called Adam to expand Eden to fill and subdue the ends of the earth through progeny in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28). Consequently, God’s plan for the world begins in Eden.
Eden Lost? The Call to the Patriarchs After the Fall (Genesis 28:10-22)
Though the Fall excluded Adam and Eve from Eden, it does not thwart God’s purposes for Eden. Adam’s commission is passed on to the patriarchs who are blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12:2-3; 17:2, 6, 8; 22:17-18; 26:3-4; 26:24; 28:3-4; 35:11-12; 47:27). This commission is also passed on in a context of the building of miniature (Edenic) sanctuaries that prepare the way for a larger-scale temple to come. God’s plan to bless all the nations of the earth continues through the patriarchs.
Eden Remixed: The Earthly Temple as a Model for the Cosmic Temple in the OT (Exodus 40:1-38; Psalm 78:69)
Eden provides a prototype for the building of the temple in the Old Testament, which itself is a model of God’s cosmic temple that was to fill all the heavens and earth at the end of time (Psalm 78:69; Isaiah 66:1). The Holy of Holies represented the invisible heaven where God and His angels dwelled, while the Holy Place represented the visible heavens, and the outer court represented the visible sea and earth. Israel’s temple was to be a little model of the entire earth, reminding her that God’s glorious presence was to break out of the heavenly Holy of Holies and fill the whole earth, a symbolic representation of the call to Adam and the patriarchs to be agents in spreading that glory (Genesis 1:28; 12:2-3). However, Israel failed to recognize and fulfill this commission that her temple had symbolized.
The Edenic Temple Begun: Christ and His Followers as a Temple (John 2:13-22; 2 Corinthians 6:16-18)
God’s purposes for the Edenic temple begin truly and effectively to be fulfilled in Christ (Mark 12:10; John 1:14; 2:18-21). The followers of Christ are also a temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19), as God makes His dwelling and walks among them (2 Corinthians 6:16). Jesus’ followers as a new temple fulfill the OT promise of a rebuilt temple (Isaiah 52:11; Ezekiel 11:17; 20:41; 2 Corinthians 6:16). However, this final temple is only beginning to be rebuilt; the final completion of the temple is yet to come.
Eden Regained in the New Creation (Revelation 21:1-4)
In Revelation 21:1-2, John sees a “new heaven and a new earth” and the “new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” This new Jerusalem is the “dwelling place of God” (21:3) and is described as a garden-like city shaped like a temple. The vision of the new Jerusalem interprets the vision of new creation in Revelation 21:1, a pattern which is seen elsewhere in Revelation (e.g., 5:5-6, 7-13). In light of our biblical-theological exploration, we will see that the entire new creation is seen as a new Edenic temple.
Eden and the Church’s Mission (Ephesians 2:11-22)
What are the practical implications of this biblical theology of Eden for our understanding and concept of mission? Specifically, the church is to continue the task of extending God’s presence until the end of the age, as we are “growing into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:20-22) as faithful witnesses in these last days (Revelation 11:1–4).
As the book moves from one era of history to another we see that God’s dwelling place takes new shapes, different forms, and is found in different settings. But throughout you build on the theme that mankind is to be fruitful and multiply. How, as 21st-century accountants and salespeople, are we to think about being fruitful, multiplying, and expanding the borders of God’s presence?
We are created to be and multiply as images of God. Images of God represent the presence of God wherever we are. No matter our occupation, we live and work in a place that desperately needs to know the presence of God. As others trust in Christ, then they also become images and representatives of God. As a result, they manifest the presence of God wherever they go, and the borders of God’s presence expand through our witness.
The word “image” is translated in Greek as an “icon.” We know icons well on our phones and computer screens. An icon is a very small picture file, but when we click that icon it brings up the entire power of the computer program it is attached to. The icon may be a few bytes large, but it presents a far larger program of many megabytes. Similarly, we are images and icons of God. We may feel very small, but our presence represents the far larger presence of God Himself. We are the image and representation of God on earth. Therefore the call to multiply images of God is a call to expand that presence wherever we go.
Practically, whether we are standing in line at the grocery store, getting cut off in traffic, changing a dirty diaper, or preparing a presentation for our work, we are the presence of God. Since God is King over every sphere, then our presence can represent His presence in every square inch of creation.
For example, while I was driving to speak at a conference, a truck driver cut me off on the highway a few years ago. Later, the driver changed lanes, and he rolled down his window and started shouting unbiblical words. Frustrated, I began to quote the imprecatory psalms at him under my breath. Soon though, I remembered that I was driving to speak at a Christian conference, and the Holy Spirit began to breathe peace into my heart. I wondered what type of frustrations and stresses that driver had encountered during the day. Instead of imprecatory psalms of cursing, the Spirit led me to pray prayers of blessing for that driver. In that way, even when getting cut off in traffic, I could be an image and representative of the presence of Christ on Interstate 294.
In Chapter Four you deal with effects of sin and how the tabernacle sets the dwelling place of God in such a context. The Holy of Holies, you explain, demonstrates that God’s presence and throne are not found in some magical object but in submission to God’s Word. Today, we expand God’s presence when we submit to God’s Word. How so?
Adam and Eve obeyed their original commission by guarding and keeping God’s dwelling place from corruption by subduing the animal world (Genesis 1:28; 2:15), which is both physical and spiritual. Instead of subduing the animals, Adam and Eve are subdued by an unclean animal — a serpent — through a distortion of God’s Word. Jesus, the Second Adam, was faithful where Adam failed; He overcame the devil by faithfulness to God’s Word (Luke 4:4, 8, 12). Similarly, as we submit to God’s Word in our lives, we overcome the temptations of the devil and expand the presence of God where we live. The power of the Word of God gives us power to overcome!
John Calvin puts it this way: “And surely, once we hold God’s Word in contempt, we shake off all reverence for him! . . . For Adam would never have dared oppose God’s authority unless he had disbelieved in God’s Word. Here, indeed, was the best bridle to control all passions: the thought that nothing is better than to practice righteousness by obeying God’s commandments; then, that the ultimate goal of the happy life is to be loved by Him. Therefore Adam, carried away by the devil’s blasphemies, as far as he was able extinguished the whole glory of God” (Institutes 2.1.4).
Later in the book you make the point that submission to the Word often takes place in a context of suffering; that obedience coupled with suffering expands God’s presence. Do we really have to suffer to succeed in our mission?
What are the practical implications of this biblical theology of Eden? Specifically, the church is to
continue the task of extending God’s presence until the end of the age.
We often think of suffering only in terms of external persecution. But we also suffer whenever we love and long to see the purposes of God accomplished in people. This suffering sets the context for the fulfillment of our mission. Because of sin, we multiply images of God through the pains of childbirth (cf. Genesis 3:16). These pains of childbirth affect all of creation, even as we groan inwardly for the ultimate redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:22-23). Our mission is fulfilled in this place of groaning. Our suffering is often the deep soul groaning for the purposes of God in and through us. Mission cannot be fulfilled without love, and we cannot love without groaning and suffering over the brokenness in others’ lives. As a result, we cannot accomplish our mission without suffering.
As the world’s history enters the New Testament era you show readers how, through Christ, Eden is rebuilt; that Jesus becomes the Temple. The history that leads to that point is captured in two episodes of Jesus’ life: His engagement with the woman at the well, and the Roman centurion’s declaration that Jesus is the Son of God. Could you talk about how those events reveal Jesus as the Temple?
Jesus offers the Samaritan woman living water (John 4:14). Prophecies of the temple looked forward to living waters of healing flowing in the temple (Ezekiel 47:1, 12), and Jesus fulfills these prophecies. The death of Jesus, who is the Temple, leads to a tearing of the temple curtain separating the holy place from the Holy of Holies. Jesus’ death was the ultimate temple sacrifice, making the once-a-year Yom Kippur sacrifice in the old temple obsolete. Jesus’ public once-for-all sacrifice as the God-man at the cross entails the breaking out of God’s presence from the Holy of Holies. This is what the “tearing of the temple curtain” symbolizes. As a result, the most unlikely candidate to realize the identity of Christ and this new temple sacrifice at the cross, the Roman centurion, declares, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). Therefore we “have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus … through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Hebrews 10:20).
Following Christ’s resurrection, you show how the church becomes the temple. Moreover, we become priests in the sanctuary begun by Christ. As such, we’re to offer a “sacrifice of witness.” What is a sacrifice of witness and how, in the course of our busy lives, do we offer it?
We are the image and representation of God on earth. Therefore the call to multiply images of God is a call to expand that presence wherever we go.
Revelation 11:3-5 provides the most compelling picture of the sacrifice of witness from the temple. These two witnesses prophesy … clothed in sackcloth (11:3) because their witness flows from brokenness and love for people in their hearts. Also, this witness is fueled as temple lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth (11:4). Just as a glow-in-the-dark toy glows in the dark because it has stood in the light, so Christians glow in the darkness of the world because they stand in the light of the Lord’s presence. Unless we stand in God’s presence in worship, we cannot glow in the dark in witness. As a result, our sacrifice of witness grows out of a brokenness of love for people and an intimacy in worship. God expresses His glory through the weakness of His people, when they trust in His power through their own suffering. This is a main theme throughout 2 Corinthians as well. God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness,” and Paul responded, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
In Revelation 21-22 we see that God’s mission is accomplished — Eden is completely expanded. And yet you point out God doesn’t wait until the end of the world to renew all things; He has already begun his work of establishing His dwelling place throughout the cosmos, and He accomplishes that work through His people. How are we to be engaged in this ministry of reconciliation?
God is making all things new by including people in the new creation. How do we become included in the new creation? 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anybody is in Christ, he is a new creation.” As a result, we include people in this glorious new creation through our witness as ambassadors of Christ. As we share the finished work of Jesus Christ with others, they are included in this new creation and new temple that has begun in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and continues until that temple expands to fill the entire earth. Our humble prayer is that this book might strengthen and propel the church more fully in its powerful witness to the ends of the earth, that others would become incorporated into Christ’s temple, and that the temple would consequently expand and achieve the original purpose of the Eden temple.