There is a wonderful theme that weaves throughout Scripture – God wants to dwell with us. It is a fine thread that lets us understand God’s heart for mankind much better. We shall now take an excursion from Genesis to Revelation as I unpack this glorious truth.
1. The Garden of Eden
In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve so that he could dwell with them. Remember God walking in the garden in the cool of the day? (Gen 3:8) He was looking for his creations. Sadly, they had sinned and hid themselves from God. God, in his holiness, banished them from the garden. The communion was broken. God and man were separated. But God still wants to dwell with man.
2. The Tabernacle
After God redeemed Israel from bondage in Egypt, he led them to Mount Sinai where the Ten Commandments and other laws were given. Moses was given instructions on how to build the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle. This tabernacle in Hebrew means “residence” or “dwelling place.” It was place where God dwelled with his people.
Then let them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.
God dwelt in the sanctuary (Most Holy Place/Holy of Holies) where the Ark was. God’s heart was to be with his people. Moses had specific instructions to build the tabernacle where God met them. Why? God is holy and he would knew how he wanted his “house” to be like. God gave his stamp of approval when he filled the tabernacle with his Shekinah glory cloud.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
An interesting fact is that the High Priest could only enter into the Most Holy Place once a year for the atonement of sins. The priest had to pass through a thick curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the other parts of the tabernacle. Though God dwells with his people, there is still a barrier.
3. The Temple
The tabernacle was movable as Israel traveled through the wilderness. Later on, King David desired to build a permanent temple for the Ark of the Covenant. However, God told him that his son Solomon would do it. During King Solomon’s reign, there was rest from all enemies. He took seven years to build a glorious temple that mostly followed the layout of the tabernacle. God gave his stamp of approval again when the glory cloud filled the temple.
1 Kings 8:10-13
When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.
Then Solomon said, ‘The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud; I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell for ever.’
God was pleased with his new “house”! Solomon wanted God to “dwell forever” with Israel. However, it wasn’t to be. Due to Israel’s sin, the temple was destroyed by Babylon in the 6th century BC. A second temple was erected years later when the exiles returned from captivity (Zerubabbel, Ezra, Nehemiah). The second temple paled in comparison to Solomon’s one. The older people wept in sorrow while the young people cheered. What a confusing sight!
And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.
The second temple was around in Jesus’ day but was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Since then, there has been no temple in Israel. The Muslims have built the Dome of the Rock on the exact site of the temple. All the Israelites have now is the Western “wailing” wall. Does the destruction of the temple mean that God no longer dwells with us anymore? No. God came to us on Christmas day two thousand years ago.
4. The Birth of Jesus
Jesus was named Emmanuel meaning “God with us.” God dwells with us! He took on human form and became one of us. There is a wonderful verse in the Gospel of John.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. …
“The Word” refers to Jesus who made his dwelling among us. The word “dwelling” can be translated as “tabernacle”. Jesus “tabernacled” among us! Eugene Peterson in The Message paraphrases it as , “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Finally, God dwells with us. He came into this world because he loves us so much, wants to be with us so much. But our sins have blocked the way. Jesus came to die for our sin.
5. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus
Jesus’ death for our sins opened the way to a relationship with God. Remember the curtain that blocks the entrance to the Most Holy Place? It’s a barrier that only the High Priest can enter once a year. Something happened to it when Jesus died on the cross.
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
Jesus ripped the barrier wide open! The curtain was torn, note this, from top to bottom, not bottom to top. Only God could have torn it miraculously. Jesus, through his blood that was shed, opened a way into the Most Holy Place. He becomes our High Priest. The author of Hebrews says:
[Jesus] did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, so obtaining eternal redemption.
Amazing! Jesus redeems us permanently by his blood. Once for all time. The author continues later:
…we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and…have a great priest over the house of God…
Jesus’ body has become the new curtain to access God. By believing in Jesus’ work, we can confidently approach God in faith. God dwells with us. But that is not all.
6. The Holy Spirit
When Jesus ascended, he asked the Father to give believers the Holy Spirit to be with us. This Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
God is now dwelling with us through the Holy Spirit. We are now the living temple where God resides. He will continue living with us till the Last Days when the New Heaven and Earth will be introduced. Then, we shall be with God forever and ever.
7. The New Heaven and Earth
We read these glorious verses in Revelation.
Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
God will dwell with us for all eternity from that point onwards. That’s what God always wanted to do since the beginning when he created Adam and Eve. The problem is our sins that separates us from God’s holiness. It is remedied through believing in Jesus’ finished work on the cross. There is a final point about the temple a few verses later.
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
There is no longer a need for a temple because God dwells with us now. The temple was a temporary construct on earth because of our sins. When we reach the new heaven and earth, God is the temple that we worship. The story of God being in the Garden of Eden with his creation is restored finally in this beautiful climax.
God wants to dwell with you. Are you willing to accept Jesus into your life so that you can be with God forever?