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The Church: God’s Expanding Garden

I recently gave a talk at my church’s college and career group. I’ve reworked the content a little and split it up into blog posts. What follows is the second of those posts.

Back in Genesis 1, the church was simply made up of Adam and his wife—although, in a sense, this is a different kind of church. It’s a group of people of God, but there’s only two people on the planet and so a sign that distinguishes them from the other peoples isn’t really necessary. Adam and Eve weren’t set apart from other peoples, admittedly, but you knew they were God’s people because they were made—unlike the animals and the rest of creation—in His image.

Another reason we know that Adam and Eve were the church in their time is actually the fact that they were placed in a garden. Gardens are very neat things in Scripture because they represent the people of God and the presence of God. The place where Israel worshiped God, the tabernacle and later the Temple, was designed to resemble this garden. Let me make a brief case for why this is so:

  1. One reason the Garden of Eden is symbolic of the people and presence of God is that this garden’s entrance faced Eastward and so did the Tabernacle and later Temple. This East thing is important. When Adam and Eve went out from the garden and God’s presence, they went East. When Abraham came to the land set apart for God’s people, he came from the East to the West.
  2. The tabernacle had a sort of tree in it which was meant to correspond to the tree of life in the garden.
  3. The temple actually was decorated with imagery of trees and flowers all throughout it—like a garden.
  4. A river, which is important and we’ll come back to, ran through the garden and out of it. This was in a manner represented in the temple by the bronze basin at which priests would wash.
  5. After the fall, the garden of Eden was guarded by Cherubim, which are shown in the artwork within the Tabernacle and later the Temple.
  6. Man’s job of working and guarding the garden is described, in Hebrew, very similarly to the description of the job of the priests to guard the priesthood/temple and work or service in it (Numbers 18:7)

Now, this point of man working and guarding the garden is one that I want to jump off of and talk about the job or mission of the people of God. Adam and Eve were given two tasks. The first was to work and guard the garden, and the second was to fill and subdue the earth.

Work and Guard

Working and guarding the garden meant that they Adam and Eve supposed to encourage life to grow and to protect the garden from threats. This means that when Satan appeared to Eve, Adam’s job was to grab the shovel he’d been using in the garden and beat the serpent silly with it.

In Israel’s day, it was the job especially of the priests to do the same sort of thing in the temple. For one thing they needed to make sure the temple stayed nice by maintaining everything. They had to trim the wick on the candle, keep the bread fresh, and perform other ongoing duties. They were also supposed to make sure that God was worshiped rightly, that is according to His Law. In this sense, they guarded God’s temple. They helped the people of Israel to approach God through the ceremonial system and it was their job to make sure that all the ceremonies were observed lawfully.

Today, we find that pastors and elders have a very similar calling in this regard. They are supposed to make sure the God is being worshiped rightly by the people in the church. This means administering the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, and exercising church discipline when necessary. They are also specifically entrusted with the gospel itself and preaching right worship. The gospel teaches us that the only way to God is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Right worship always starts with Jesus; therefore guarding the church means preaching the gospel clearly and frequently. All of this also encourages growth in the body, which is similar to working in a garden.

Now, I may have made it sound like working and keeping is the job only of priests in the Old Covenant and pastors in the New, but that’s not the case. We are all responsible to do these things in some regard. The responsibility first falls to the elders, but then to the people under the elders. Church discipline starts with one-on-one confrontation. The worship of God is performed by all of His people. And we are all expected to teach truth and to preach the gospel to ourselves, our Christian brothers and sisters, and our neighbors.

We see, then, that the job of guarding the garden of God’s presence and people started all the way back in Genesis 1 and continues today.

Fill Earth and Subdue the Earth

The next thing that Adam and Eve were commanded to do was to fill the earth and subdue it. God had made a great big planet for them and planted a small garden. God’s goal with the earth then is the same as it is now, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakuk 2:14) God wanted a planet filled with His image bearers, reflecting His glory in their lives and in their worship.

In essence, God didn’t just want a small garden in Eden. He wanted the garden to expand until the whole world was a garden, filled with his presence and with his people—and also pretty flowers.

Obviously, the world is a big place, and Adam and Eve were only two people. Part of the the way for them to fill and subdue the earth was to be fruitful and multiply. The old proverb, “many hands make light work” is applicable here and Adam and Eve would need to have lots of children who would have lots of children, etc. These children would then need to be trained to take part in this mission God had given them to fill the earth and subdue it. This continues today, of course, since Christian fathers are commanded to train up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

Now, if you know anything at all about gardens, you know that you need quite a fair bit of water for gardens to happen. Adam and Eve were provided for in this because God had created a river that flowed through the garden and then split into four rivers that went out into what were effectively the four corners of the earth.

Rivers in Scripture typically symbolize blessing and life. In Psalm 1, we learn that the blessed man who loves God’s Law is like a tree firmly planted by rivers of water. Psalm 46, we learn that there is a river that runs through and from the tabernacle of God, the streams of which make the city of God glad.

In Ezekiel 47, we read a prophecy wherein the blessings that flow from the church are represented as a river.

“As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.”

Ezekiel 47:7-9

It’s important to note that, like the job of working and guarding God’s garden, the job of filling the earth and subduing it is not one that disappeared with the fall. God still encouraged Noah and the patriarchs to be fruitful and multiply. He also set Israel aside as a city on a hill. The nations roundabout Israel were supposed to see God’s Law and His wisdom and then be brought near through that. This is why the temple itself had a court for the Gentiles. It was to be a house of prayer for all the peoples, Isaiah said.

And of course, in the New Covenant, God has still got the same mission. Jesus instructed the church to go and make disciples of all nations—baptizing and teaching them. Ezekiel 47 is, in some manner, describing how that works.

In the beginning, God planted a garden and He wanted Adam and Eve to protect that garden and grow it until the whole earth was a garden. This plan has not been canceled because of the fall.

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This article was posted on 05/22/2015 . It relates to these topics:
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