When I last left off my Sacred Space series (a whopping single post in), I said that I planned on tracking the Biblical concept Sacred Space as it develops through redemptive history, finally finding its fulfillment in the Shalomic state of the New Creation in Christ. I will follow the Biblical storyline from Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation with the recovery of Sacred Space as the over-arching theme of the Scripture. We will see that the “Kingdom of God (or Heaven)” and the “summing up of all things in Christ” are phrases or ideas that convey the same principle—the restoration of all things in perfect and intimate communion with or relation to God—and so they both speak to the issue of Sacred Space and its recovery in Christ.
The basic idea of Sacred Space is that of God’s “dwelling place”. This is most acutely evident in the physical Temple, the “house of the Lord”. The testimony of the Scripture is that God had placed His name in the Temple (as with the Tabernacle that foreshadowed it) and it is here, above the mercy seat between the wings of the cherubim that God met with His image-bearers, albeit through a “mediator” (which we’ll get to in due time). As the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Temple, the Shekinah glory of the presence of God filled the Temple to signify that God is dwelling with His people.
Of course, God is never confined to a single, particular location; the heavens themselves can’t contain Him. The earth is the Lord’s, and all that it contains; Heaven is His throne and the earth is His footstool. We can’t even conceive of a “house” big enough for God to dwell in, to rest in; so we know that the Temple idea is prophetic—it speaks of a greater reality to come. Through the Temple idea, God is telling us something about His purpose, about what He is going to accomplish. Sacred Space was only typologically fulfilled in the Temple—the Temple speaks of a greater reality to come so that when the physical Temple has served its purpose, it will not need to be rebuilt in the future.
But the Tabernacle/Temple itself was not only prophetic and typological, it spoke of and was to be fulfilled in Christ, but it also testified of a greater reality that was behind it. In other words, because the Temple was based on and proceeded forth from the mind of God, the Temple “idea” as the “dwelling place of God” where God and His people commune together, is the product of a reality that preceded its earthly expression. This reality is understood as the Cosmic manifestation of Sacred Space as seen in and typified by the Creation Account. It is this Cosmic reality of Sacred Space that has been recovered (or better, fulfilled) in Jesus Christ. The Temple, as God’s dwelling place (or “house”), speaks retroactively of the universal Sacred Space that was typified in the beginning, in the Garden, but it also speaks prophetically of a final consummation of Sacred Space in the person of the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Sacred Space, as mentioned before, is not speaking of any particular geographical location; though in the course of redemptive history, particular typological manifestations of Sacred Space prophesied of its consummate fulfillment to come. Sacred Space, as God’s “dwelling place”, is sometimes referred to as Heaven. But “Heaven” is not a geographical location; and besides, as we already know, God is omnipresent—He’s everywhere all the time. Sacred Space is the realm in which God is present in relation to His creation. It’s not where God is, but it’s how God is with respect to His creation. It’s really the “place” of relationship, of intimacy between God and His creation, focused primarily in Man as “image-bearer”, but then flowing out from Man to the entire created order, which we see clearly in the creation account.
I’ve spent a little bit of time introducing the Temple motif because it will be a key element in our travel from Sacred Space lost to Sacred Space recovered in Christ. For what I consider to be the best exposition of the Temple and its meaning, I recommend G.K. Beale’s book, “The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God.” This is another quality addition to the “New Studies in Biblical Theology” series edited by D.A Carson. Another great book, and my favorite in the series (so far, with Beale’s a close second) is, “Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible” by Stephen G. Dempster. Anyway, I highly recommend Beale’s book; it’s a fascinating read. Also, I found this blog post that does a fine job summarizing the idea of Sacred Space and “temple” as it pertains to the Ancient Near East as well as Israel using Beale’s book as a reference http://stephensreflection.blogspot.com/2007/12/sacred-space-in-bible-and-ancient-near.html. I recommend reading this post for some background on the Temple motif. The author of this post, following Beale and others, shows us that the concept of Sacred Space is not only Biblical, but that it is universally “human”. We all have an idea of “communion” with God, however we may define Him, and we understand that to know and to interact with “God” at some level, deity must dwell with us (or us with it). Humanity perceives its need: this is where I will begin next time.