When Adam and Eve sinned against God in the garden of Eden, they lost their intimate fellowship with Him. Today, R.C. Sproul teaches on how our close access to God is restored through the work of Jesus Christ.
“Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil. And now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’—therefore, the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden, He placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:22–24).
Expulsion from paradise. Removal from the immediate presence of the glory of God, from the source of life. Man is driven by God out of immediate fellowship. He’s not sent to hell, where there’s only darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth. There’s no total breaking off of communion with God, but rather a removal in distance. Now, one cannot approach God and deal with Him face-to-face, but there is a barrier that’s placed there between intimate fellowship and intimate communion with God and man because of sin.
Now, what bars the entrance to paradise? The flaming sword. The flaming sword, which turned every way. There is no way for Adam and Eve to get by that flaming sword to come back into the garden. The brilliance of God’s holiness bars the way to intimate fellowship with Him. And that sword indicates—you see, the flame of the sword indicates—the overwhelming power of God’s holiness.
Again, it’s impossible to understand Christianity at all until we come to an understanding of the holiness of God, and we’re seeing it manifested already here in the opening chapters of Genesis. It’s the holiness of God that scares you to death. Men like the benefits of God. They love to receive the gifts that only God can give them, but people are scared to death to be in the presence of God because of the threatening character of His holiness. All God has to do to keep people out of His presence is post a manifest representation of holiness and that’ll keep people away forever.
In the Old Testament, as we go on further and we see the covenant made with Moses and the whole cultic system of religion and worship in the Old Testament with the construction of the temple, we see this particular aspect of the curse manifested very clearly in the structure of Israelite worship. Where do we find it? In the Holy of Holies.
And what’s the difference between the Holy of Holies in the Holy Place? Only the high priest—and after elaborate procedures of cleansing—once a year can go into the Holy of Holies. What’s in the Holy of Holies? The ark of the covenant, the mercy seat, the throne of Yahweh, surrounded by the cherubim that indicate the presence of God. What separates the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place? The veil that is so thick and it’s so solid that it’s impregnable. It’s an impregnable barrier. It’s not like a linen curtain that hangs down, but the veil is several inches thick, and battering rams couldn’t knock that thing down.
And the point is what? People are allowed to come into the Holy Place. They’re not left to roam outside the camp totally removed from the presence of God, but what? They’re allowed to come nigh unto the Lord, to draw near to the Lord. They can come to a relative place of nearness, where God will meet with His people in the Holy Place, but they are not allowed to go beyond the veil into the Holy of Holies. Access to the presence of God is denied.
Again, we’ll see this theme throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament that the ultimate goal of the Christian for his total fulfillment of human existence is what? Let me ask you, what is the great hope of the final fullest expression of your human existence at the end? What do you live for? What does the Christian live for? To see God, what we call the beatific vision or the visio Dei, the vision of God—the unveiled, unobscured perception of God Himself.
What happened in Jerusalem the day Jesus died? The veil was rent. The description there is one of violence, where God comes down in the act of the cross, He shakes the world, as it were, with an earthquake, and He rips that veil in half. And the wall of partition, the New Testament says, has been broken down through the work of Christ. And what’s the significance of that according to the Apostle Paul? Look at chapter five of Romans: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith”— what do we have? Peace with God. Shalom. God puts away the sword.
Prior to justification, God is at war with me. There’s estrangement, there’s alienation, there’s a sword at the entrance to the garden of Eden. But when we were made just in Christ, the sword is put away, the temple veil is destroyed, and we have peace with God.
Is it a lasting peace? Is it merely a guarded truce, where the next act of sin is going to cause the rattling of the sabers again, and God is going to lash out at you in His anger? No. A man who is justified has walked through the veil with Christ, stands in the presence of God, declared just in Christ. We have peace with God. No more warfare. The war is over.
What else do we have? This is the part that’s so often obscured: “Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” Do you know what that verse is all about? We have peace. We have access. The sword is down. We can go back in.