When you hear the word “sanctuary,” what mental picture comes to mind? Do you see the tent tabernacle built by Moses, the beautiful Temple constructed by Solomon, or perhaps the church sanctuary in which you worship each week with fellow believers? The book of Genesis introduces us to a unique sanctuary, the most beautiful that ever existed on Planet Earth—the Garden of Eden.
Have you ever asked yourself, What is the purpose of a sanctuary? Here are some suggestions: A sanctuary is (1) a place where humans communicate with God, (2) a place where religious instruction is given, and (3) a place where God’s grace is experienced. A sanctuary is also (4) a place of refuge. Eden was all of these.
The Garden of Eden
As the earth came into existence under the creative hand of God, it was beautiful to behold. It was the model of perfection. Genesis tells us: “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (1:31, NKJV).1 This perfect world was, also, an expression of love. Love was written on every tree and shrub, on every leaf and flower. The various forms of life were a picture of beauty—the animals, the birds, the fish, and other forms of life in the waters. Man, the crowning act of Creation, was made perfect and upright. He bore the image of His Creator. His character was noble, without bias toward evil, and in harmony with the will of God.
When the creative act was complete, God looked upon what He had made and was satisfied. Everything was perfect only as a perfect God could make it. Ellen White describes this moment: “God looked with satisfaction upon the work of His hands. All was perfect, worthy of its divine Author, and He rested, not as one weary, but as well pleased with the fruits of His wisdom and goodness and the manifestations of His glory” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 47).
Amid the beauties of the new creation, God gave Adam and Eve another expression of His love. He gave them a home—the Garden of Eden. It was here that God communed with our parents, angels gave instructions, and they began to understand God’s grace. The truth of Creation and a correct understanding of God’s grace and redemption are inseparable. As the renowned church historian Philip Schaff said more than a century and a half ago: “Without a correct doctrine of creation there can be no true doctrine of redemption.”2 As is clear in the record of Genesis, Eden was not only the home of Adam and Eve, it was also their sanctuary.
Eden, a Place of Communion With God
In their innocence Adam and Eve had the privilege of seeing God and talking with Him face to face. God often visited them in the Eden sanctuary. Upon these occasions they didn’t realize what a blessing was theirs. Only after their expulsion from Eden did they understand what they had given up. Then with the vivid memory of their open communion with God they presented themselves in worship at the entrance to Eden, unable to pass by the “flaming sword” to enter their former sanctuary and experience once again the thrill of seeing God’s face. The experience once enjoyed in the sanctuary of Eden was now denied them and their descendants—only to be restored in the earth made new.
Eden, a Place of Religious Instruction
According to Ellen White, “the holy pair were not only children under the fatherly care of God but students receiving instruction from the all-wise Creator” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 50). ?The Maker of the sun, moon, and stars revealed to them the laws and operations of nature. But there were other things they needed to know that related directly to their existence. Angels were sent by God to explain the great controversy to Adam and Eve. They were told of Lucifer, his rebellion against God, His law, and His government. They learned of his expulsion from heaven and that he was currently in God’s Eden sanctuary. Because Adam was God’s representative and vice-regent on Planet Earth, Lucifer had set all of his wisdom and skill to deceive Adam, lead him into sin, and usurp his position. Thus, Lucifer reasoned, the earth would be his, and he would establish here a government to rival God’s government and His law.
Adam and Eve must have shuddered as the instruction given them by the angels sank into their consciousness. But what they did not fully realize at the time was that God’s approach to the resolution of the great controversy was to be another demonstration of His unchanging love (ibid., p. 33). After Adam’s fall the outcome of the great controversy was decided on the very turf that Lucifer claimed as his when Adam surrendered his position to the great deceiver.
An overview of the great controversy was given to Adam and Eve as part of the instruction they received in the Eden sanctuary. “Thus were revealed to Adam important events in the history of mankind, from the time when the divine sentence was pronounced in Eden, to the Flood, and onward to the first advent of the Son of God” (ibid., p. 67).
It was vitally important that Adam and Eve understand the root cause of the great controversy—a refusal on Lucifer’s part to obey God’s law. By rebelling against God’s law, Lucifer was rebelling against God’s government. Angels carefully explained “the history of Satan’s fall and his plots for their destruction, unfolding more fully the nature of the divine government, which the prince of evil was trying to overthow” (ibid., p. 52).
In addition to this, it was imperative that the holy pair understood the nature of God’s law—it is another expression of God’s love. It was also important that they understood that they, like the other inhabitants of the universe, were on probation. Their happiness was based on the condition of obedience to God’s law. “They could obey and live, or disobey and perish” (ibid., p. 53). They must also understand that obedience to God’s law on the part of His creatures is a statement of love and gratitude for all He has given to them. “Obedience, perfect and perpetual, was the condition of eternal happiness” (ibid., p. 49). This Adam and Eve needed to know, and all of the important details were given to them in the Eden sanctuary.
Eden, a Place of Refuge and Finding God’s Grace
The Eden sanctuary was a place of refuge for Adam and Eve. Lucifer was bent on their destruction, but he could not have access to them except at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As long as the inhabitants of Eden stayed away from that tree, they were safe. Lucifer could not follow them to various parts of the garden and tempt them to turn away from their Creator. Eden was a refuge from his evil plans.
God’s instruction regarding the forbidden tree was absolutely clear: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16, 17, NKJV). But as we know, Eve strayed from the refuge and became a victim of Lucifer’s deceptions. Adam, faced with the reality of losing his beloved wife, followed her in disobeying God’s instruction, and as a result the human family has been brought under the bondage of sin.
But God did not abandon the human family. For the first time the Eden sanctuary became the location for a sermon on redeeming grace: “I will put enmity between you and the woman,” God told Lucifer, “and between your seed and her Seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15, NKJV). In this reassuring declaration the typical services of Moses’ tent tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple were foreshadowed. The bruising of the heel foreshadowed the animal sacrifices that pointed forward to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The bruising of the head pointed to the fate of the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement, which assured the final destruction of Lucifer and the termination of sin.
In the Eden sanctuary God began to reveal His plan for the salvation of the human family and the end of sin. Lucifer had portrayed God as being interested only in His own glory and gratification. The question addressed on that fateful day in Eden was, Did the Father and the Son have sufficient love for humanity to exercise self-denial and a spirit of sacrifice in order to rescue it from the clutches of Lucifer (ibid., p. 70)? In Genesis 3:15 we see the answer to that challenging question, a resounding yes! And the yes was confirmed and became a reality when Jesus cried from the cross, “It is finished!”
Questions for Reflection
1. God's creation came from His hand perfect in every way. What might Adam and Eve have missed most when they were forced to leave the garden?
2. Do you suppose God ever considered walking away from His marred creation? If so, why? If not, why not?
3. How is the Garden of Eden a model for what God has planend for His people? What are you most looking forward to?
When Adam and Eve were created, they occupied a position just a little lower than the angels. But God’s plan for the restoration of the human race includes an amazing experience for those who remain loyal to Him: “Those who in the strength of Christ overcome the great enemy of God and man, will occupy a position in the heavenly courts above angels who have never fallen” (Ellen G. White, General Conference Bulletin, Apr. 1, 1899). Lucifer plotted the destruction of the human race in a fit of jealous rage. Adam and Eve lived in a state of happiness sharing God’s love for them. Lucifer was miserable, facing the prospect of external extinction. Once Adam fell into sin, was cut off from communication with God, and was expelled from their Eden sanctuary, Lucifer determined that in the future he would keep Adam’s descendants out of any sanctuary that might offer the prospect of restoration.
The experience of Adam and Eve in their Eden sanctuary has much to teach us. First, as God in His love for our first parents did everything He could to make their lives happy, so He deals with us now within the context of His love. The evidence of this love is the gift of His Son to the human family. God gave His Son “not only to bear our sins, and to die as our sacrifice; He gave Him to the fallen race. . . . God gave His only-begotten Son to become one of the human family, forever to retain His human nature” (The Desire of Ages, p. 25).
Second, as God pronounced redemptive judgment before removing Adam and Eve from Eden, so now He judges the human family within the context of the redemptive grace provided by His Son. In view of the sacrifice God has made for us and the prospect of judgment, it is important for us to complete the experience that the sanctuaries of the Old Testament teach us. We must humble ourselves in the presence of our Creator and Redeemer and seek a living relationship with Him by true revival and reformation relying completely on Christ for our salvation and every need. Through the grace of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we will have the wonderful privilege of seeing and entering into the garden that Adam and Eve once called home. What a privilege to proclaim the three angels’ messages through God’s power so that we can see the final fulfillment of God’s plan to return His children to their rightful new Eden home.
1 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2 History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903), vol. 2, p. 540.
Ted N. C. Wilson is president of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church. This was published September 22, 2011.