From Eden to Heaven
A beautiful, perfect place—paradise! God created the heavens and the earth. God created all living creatures that crawl on the ground, that swim in the waters, and that fly in the air. God created man; in His own image He created them, male and female He created them. And it was good! Very good. It was perfect. He placed man, the crown of His creation, in a beautiful garden called Eden. Indeed, it was beautiful because it was perfect. There was no need to labor and till the ground because it produced all that man needed in abundance. There was no need to worry about the weather because the world was perfect and danger did not exist. There was no need to worry about a pandemic or anything else, because everything was exactly right, exactly perfect, and exactly how God intended for it to be.
However, the best reality of all was the relationship God had with the crown of His creation. God and man were united together in perfect unity. It was an amazing relationship. God and man walked hand in hand, talked face to face, lived in perfect communion. A beautiful, perfect place with God and man united in a beautiful and perfect relationship. The beautiful Garden of Eden, the place where God and man dwelled together in perfect harmony.
So it was in the beginning. But man desired to be like God. The old, evil foe – Satan – tempted Adam and Eve to question the beautiful relationship by casting doubt on God’s integrity. Satan whispered that God was hiding something from them, holding back the ability to be like Him. They believed Satan, and they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—and they tasted death.
A beautiful, perfect place lost—paradise lost. An amazing relationship severed—a chasm opened up. An eternal immortality exchanged for everlasting suffering and death. Adam and Eve sinned and were driven from the Garden of Eden, and their return was forbidden by the flaming sword of the cherubim, placed as a Sentry at the entrance. They were exiled from a perfect place of light and beauty and thrown into the darkness, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. They were exiled, and their return was forbidden, their access to the tree of life cut off.
Dust to dust—we are created in God’s image from the dust now only to be returned to the dust in disgrace. We are created to live forever in the presence of God now only to be exiled to a land of darkness and death far from the face of God with its light and grace. How tragic for Adam and Eve. How tragic for their children. How tragic for us!
Exiled like Adam and Eve from the beautiful garden; exiled from before the face of God, from before the presence of God; exiled and driven out into the darkness of a sin-damaged world with sin-filled hearts. Sin exiles us from God. Sin exiles us from the courts of heaven, from the courts of everlasting life.
Oh, if we become perfect, if we resist all sin and walk in absolute purity, if we are found to be righteous in God’s sight by the works of our hands, then—only then—could we return to the garden. Its gates would be thrown open, and we would be received with great rejoicing. Once again the garden would be our dwelling place and God would be our constant companion, as we would walk together once more in the cool of the day—if we become perfect.
But our sin is ever before us, it is always dogging us, hanging around our necks. We cannot return from our exile by our own reason or strength. We cannot enter into the presence of God by means of the work of our hands. We cannot. We find ourselves helpless and hopeless, wandering in the darkness. We hang our heads unable to look our Creator in the face, unable to see His glory, unable to meet His eye. We are sinners, exiled from the garden, exiled from the presence of God.
We cannot return on our own. The journey is too difficult, too demanding, too treacherous. We need help. We need a Champion. We need One who will restore us to God’s presence, One who will return us to the garden.
A Redeemer, a Messiah, the Christ—this is what God promised Adam and Eve as they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. God told them that the darkness would be overcome by the One who would do battle with the evil serpent. The Seed of the woman would crush the head of Satan even as her Seed suffered the pain and indignity of bruised flesh.
The Promised One would overcome; the ultimate battle would be fought on a cross. The burden He would carry to the cross would be our sin. The sacrifice would be His body. Christ would suffer what we deserve. He would bear what we could not. And He would accomplish that which has always escaped us: a return from the exile of sin and death. The Christ, Jesus, on the tree, removed the dividing wall of hostility. The blood of Jesus, the Lamb, cleanses and returns us to our God. And Jesus, the Lamb, declares, “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
And so, it has come to pass. We have been redeemed and restored by our Champion, Jesus Christ. He has fought the good fight in our place and overcome all that kept us from the garden. Paradise lost to paradise won—the gates of the garden of heaven stand open before us.
Exiled from Eden, all who believe and are baptized shall return through the gates of everlasting life. Indeed, the day shall come when we will walk through those gates and see the Lamb on His throne. There we shall see the waters of life flowing around the tree of life. There we shall bask in the Light that is the Lamb and dwell in His presence forever. Garden to garden—from Eden to heaven—a return from exile. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Texts: Genesis 3:22–24; Revelation 22:1–5
V. 22: “Man has become like [God] in knowing good and evil” because of his act of disobedience. However, because man has disobeyed, he has lost the image of God—perfection. Knowing good and evil (being like God) and lacking perfection (lacking God’s image) is a deadly combination.. Therefore, God cannot allow man to eat of the fruit of the tree of life or else man will live forever in his deadly state. In other words, God’s action in separating Adam and Eve from the tree of life and the Garden of Eden was an act of grace. Being sinful and yet living forever would be a terrible tragedy. Sin is also responsible for breaking down our bodies with disease, age, and so on. To suffer these realities and not be able to die physically would be a fate worse than death.
V. 23: The Garden of Eden is the first sanctuary, and as Luther states, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the first altar where Adam and Eve came each day to worship God through their obedience. Now man is separated from the garden and also from the face of God. The relationship has been changed, and not for the better. Everything will be different until the Lord God restores it as promised (Genesis 3:15).
“work the ground from which he was taken”: Work in itself is not to be considered bad or evil. Adam and Eve certainly worked within the confines of the garden. However, work that is separated from the garden and the face of God is toilsome and often painful.
V. 24: It is often pointed out, and most probably it is true, that the reason the tabernacle, temple, and, later, Christian churches are oriented so that people worship facing east is because this action is symbolic of trusting God’s promise to return us to the garden. It is also interesting to note that the cherubim in the tabernacle/temple guarded the Most Holy Place, which was considered the dwelling place of God on earth with man. Only the high priest could go into the presence of God in the Most Holy Place and only once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Separation from the garden and from God is a terrible thing; and yet, it is a grace-filled move by God for man’s sake. Adam and Eve recognized from the first that this was only a temporary reality. God would send the Seed of the woman to rectify the effects of man’s disobedience.
The description of the courts of heaven, the city of God, takes us back to the first paradise—Eden.
V. 1: The “river of the water of life” connects the reader back to the Garden of Eden and the Ezekiel temple. In Genesis 2:10–14, the description of Eden includes a river that flows through it, watering that paradise and then splitting to water the whole earth. In Ezekiel’s description of the new temple (Ezekiel 40–47), a river of water flows out of the temple (the throne of God) and brings life.
V. 2: “The tree of life” also points back to the Garden of Eden and the tree that was sealed off from Adam and Eve after their fall into sin.
“twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.” Twelve is the number of the Church; so the twelve fruits and “the leaves of the tree . . . for the healing of the nations” refer to the whole Church through all time, by which God will provide all that is necessary for sustaining in the new heaven and the new earth. Note that Ezekiel also brings out the healing aspect of the trees that line the river that flowed from the temple (47:7–12).
V. 3: The curse that was levied as man exited the first garden does not exist in this heavenly garden because it is the location of the throne of God and the dwelling place of the Lamb. Indeed, the curse has been removed by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
V. 4: Revelation 3:12 also refers to the name of God being written upon the people of God. Bearing the name of God begins with our Baptism and finds its fullness as we gather around the throne of God in the heavenly realms.
V. 5: This verse reiterates the Revelation 21:23 statement that there is no need for light from lamp, sun, or moon in this heavenly garden because the Lord God is the light, “forever and ever”—an eternal reality!
The Garden Motif
From the beginning, in Scripture, gardens have been places of peace, perfection, and the provision of the Lord. Gardens are where one walks in the presence of God, seeking His face. The Garden of Eden is the first garden—the first perfect paradise—into which God places the crown of His creation. Man walks with God, converses with God, and sees Him face to face in this beautiful garden. However, when Adam and Eve disobey God and eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, sin enters into the world, and man is exiled from the Garden of Eden. God even places the cherubim with a flaming sword as guardians lest man seek to return and eat of the tree of life.
Yet, from the very moment of exile, God reveals His plan to return man to the garden. He tells of the Seed of the woman who will crush the head of Satan, defeating him and overcoming sin and death. When this takes place, the gates of paradise will be flung open, and man will be invited into the presence of God as it was in the beginning.
Between the Garden of Eden and the garden of heaven as described in Revelation, there are other connections to holy places that have garden characteristics. The Promised Land of Canaan is called a “land flowing with milk and honey,” a beautiful paradise where the Lord provides for His people. It is also the place where the Lord dwells with His people in the tabernacle and the temple. The Most Holy Place becomes the Lord’s throne room on earth, but because of sin, man still may not gaze upon His face.
Eventually, God sends His only-begotten Son into this world—specifically, to the Promised Land—in the flesh, to bring God’s people back to the perfect garden of heaven. Even on the cross, as Christ speaks to the believing thief, He says, “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The word for “paradise” is of Persian origin and means “an enclosed garden.”
So it is in Revelation 22 that we read of the courts of heaven being described in words that cannot help but remind us of the Garden of Eden. Indeed, the Seed of the woman has accomplished His goal and opened the gates of the eternal garden of heaven, so that mankind might dwell in the presence of his God once again, gathering around the throne and singing praises to the Lamb.