God’s Word has a meta-story—an overarching plot in which God reveals the plan He is seeking to accomplish in this world. In From Eden to the New Jerusalem, T. D. Alexander contends well for viewing the Bible accordingly—that Revelation 21-22, which depicts the New Jerusalem and our eternal state, provides a framework for understanding the whole of the Bible. God desires for the earth to be His holy dwelling place with mankind serving as His viceroys. Alexander identifies some major themes of Scripture within this framework: the restoration of mankind’s dominion to serve as His viceroys after the fall; the destruction of Satan; the atonement through Christ as the Lamb of God, which was foreshadowed through the Old Testament sacrificial system; the transformation of the world and His people to be whole and holy; and God’s re-establishment of His presence with mankind on earth, presently experienced in the church being His temple. While Alexander’s import of priesthood back to the pre-fall conditions in Genesis and assertions about capitalism attempt a too-extended application of his motifs, From Eden to the New Jerusalem is a clear and enriching introduction to Biblical theology that will help the student of the Bible read the Bible better as a whole.
Edenic Garden to New Jerusalem
As Alexander maintains, God initially created the world to be His sanctuary and dwelling-place with man in which He would give dominion of the earth to mankind as His viceroys. This picture of God dwelling with man is found both in the garden of Eden in Genesis and in the New Jerusalem in Revelation. But when mankind sinned in Genesis, everything changed. Mankind, symbolically, took on the image of Satan and banished the presence of God’s Kingship from the earth because mankind defiled the earth. When mankind followed in the ways of Satan instead of God, mankind gave our God-given dominion to Satan rather than using it to represent God. Scripture after the fall is focused on God taking steps to restore the earth as His holy temple-city. This is ultimately accomplished through Christ and will be inaugurated with the New Jerusalem.
After the fall, God’s primary dwelling-place is heaven—this is where He resides in glory. Yet, He continually takes steps toward bringing His sanctuary, or presence, back to earth. The sacrificial sites in Genesis (especially Genesis 22 and Genesis 28:12-17) were small-scale, temporary sanctuaries. The tabernacle was a more permanent fixture of the glory of God dwelling with man, His presence being most near in the inner chamber that held the ark of the covenant. This has qualities that recall the Garden of Eden:
As divine sanctuaries, both are entered from the east and cherubim guard their entrances. The golden menorah that stood in the Holy Place may have been designated specifically to resemble the tree of life. Like Adam, the Levites are instructed to ‘serve (or minister) and guard’ the sanctuary (Num. 3:7-8; 8:26; 18:5-6). These parallels suggest that the construction of the tabernacle marks the continuation of God’s plans for the Garden of Eden.
The temple is the next dwelling place for God with man. The filling of the first temple of Solomon with the glory of God recalls the filling of the tabernacle (compare 1 Kings 8:10-11 and Ex. 40:34-35). Though, because of mankind’s continued sin, God’s ideal to dwell with mankind sees further setbacks. While the rebuilding of the temple and city walls after the exile demonstrate God’s determination that He will complete, as Alexander puts it, His "creation project," clearly, further action is required for this to be ultimately accomplished.
In the New Testament, temple and body become connected, as God becomes incarnate in Christ; the temple-body connection may also be noted in seeing the church as the body of Christ. Paul views believers who are indwelt by the Spirit as being built and joined together as a household for God (Eph. 2:19-22)—temple-type language. When Christ returns for the second time, the New Jerusalem will appear as an enlarged Holy of Holies; the perfect, cube-shaped proportions and material (of gold) match each other (compare 1 Kings 6:20 with Revelation 21-22). According to Alexander, the whole, earth-covering city will be the sanctuary of God (Rev. 21:22).
Major Themes: Holiness and Wholeness, the Sacrificial System, and the Destruction of Satan
In the New Jerusalem, man will be restored as holy and whole. Throughout the meta-narrative of the Bible as Alexander describes it, holiness is considered in relation to both degree and proximity. This is demonstrated in the Old Testament law:
Leviticus draws attention to three related categories: holy, clean/pure and unclean/impure. The existence of these three distinct categories is reflected in the layout of the Israelite camp. At the heart of the camp stands the tabernacle courtyard, a holy area. The rest of the camp is viewed as clean, and everywhere outside the camp is unclean. This same threefold pattern is mirrored in the status of the people linked to each region. The priests are holy, the Israelites clean, and the non-Israelites unclean.
Whatever comes into contact with God must be holy. Pure moral conduct is closely associated in the Bible—especially Leviticus (above)—with holiness. God could no longer dwell with man on earth because man no longer was pure. Further, the presence of the Ten Commandments, or Decalogue, in the ark of the covenant demonstrates that God requires pure moral conduct in His presence—in the universe even, considering, "the Holy of Holies is a microcosm of the cosmos."
When the new covenant came, the law was transferred through Christ to be written on the hearts of man (Ezekiel 36:25-28; Jeremiah 31:33). Jesus Christ makes people holy. Closely associated to holiness is wholeness. Christ demonstrated His authority to give wholeness through His many healing miracles. Yet, without holiness too, wholeness is not possible for mankind. But through Christ, not only are individual people ultimately transformed, but the fruitful abundance of the earth and the order of society in which all nations flock to Jerusalem will ultimately be inaugurated by Him through sinlessness.
Additional themes Alexander examines throughout are the substitutionary atonement, made necessary by the evil act of man in "dethroning" God in Genesis, which is described in view of the Old Testament sacrificial system; Christ being crucified at Passover to denote the purification and sanctification provided through Him for mankind’s heinous crimes in defilement and dethronement; and finally, mankind’s dethroning and defilement that leave the earth under the immediate dominion of Satan who must be destroyed. Following, the Bible highlights two kinds of people: those who are in the seed of Satan and those who are holy, righteous, and loving like God—in the seed of the Deliverer. Only Jesus could ultimately defeat Satan at the cross, after which He could pronounce, "All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matt. 28:18).
Notes of Reservation
Whenever doing the work of identifying unifying themes in the whole of the Bible, the risk exists of extending the themes too far. While describing the connectedness of the garden of Eden to the temple as God’s sanctuaries, Alexander stretches his motif to state that Adam and Eve had "priestly" status. The reverse point, which he also makes, is instructive and encouraging—that the Leviticus priesthood had duties that make reference back to Adam and Eve’s tending duties in the garden, demonstrating that God is continuing His plan of establishing His sanctuary on earth despite the disobedience of mankind.
However, I submit that applying the concept of priesthood back to Adam and Eve muddies a reader’s understanding of the purpose of the Levitical priesthood and who Christ is as our High Priest. Priests are holy men of God who may approach God’s presence and offer sacrificial atonement (Lev. 4:20). The Priesthood of Christ makes Him our mediator and representative before God (Hebrews 7:23-28; 9:11-14; 10:10-14). In the New Testament, the priesthood of believers is connected to our sharing the message of Christ with a world lost in darkness (1 Peter 2:5-9). Prior to the fall, no priesthood was needed. Making this designation of Adam and Eve as having priestly status is non-essential to the trajectory of his argument and potentially unhelpful for the reader to understand the nature of priesthood.
In addition to stretching his themes of priesthood, Alexander stretches his commentary about the New Jerusalem to extend to some particular political comments in his chapter "Strong Foundations and Solid Walls." While Alexander’s condemnation of greed and servitude to money is welcomed, he appears to blame capitalism: "There is nothing that stands more effectively as a barrier to people knowing God than the desire for wealth that comes through capitalism." Biblical warrant is given for an economic system that rewards man’s efforts with financial gain (Deut. 8:18; Pro. 12:11; 13:11; Ecc. 2:24; 3:13; 4:9; 5:18-19). These few pages seem misplaced in the trajectory and development of his thesis; they provide an inadequate forum for a discussion of a Biblical economics.
From Eden to the New Jerusalem connects the Old and New Testaments from Edenic garden to New Jerusalem, enabling the reader to understand God’s plan for this world and for mankind. God intends that the earth be His dwelling-place and sanctuary while mankind, created in His image, serves as His viceroys with God-given dominion, tending and caring for the world. In the Old Testament, starting with the locations of offering and extending to the tabernacle, and temple, God makes His presence more and more known. But all are inadequate for God’s completion of His creation blueprint, to dwell with man in a pure, holy atmosphere. Jesus Christ is able to make the atoning, sanctifying sacrifice that enables His church to be God’s temple, or sanctuary, and ultimately enables our future hope—that God will dwell here in intimate proximity to man in the new earth.
Alexander, T. Desmond, From Eden to the New Jerusalem (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2008), 34.
Although Alexander stated that there was no need for sacrifices in the garden, he stated that Adam and Even had "priestly status" (for both, see pg. 25).
Alexander, T. Desmond, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 183-185.