A Suggestion toward a Biblical Theology
In the beginning there was the Garden of Eden. God, the great King, father to his creatures, was present to and in fellowship with them on his good creation. We could call this the kingdom of God. He is creation’s sovereign and his rule is undisputed. We could call this God’s covenant with his human creatures, his family with whom he wanted to have fellowship. Or, we could call it what the creation stories themselves call it, the Holy of Holies of God’s garden temple where God, the Holy One, was present to and with his creation.
God placed Adam and Eve in the garden to be his priests, royal priests, in that they were children of the Great King. The four rivers out of Eden watering the as yet uninhabited lands outside Eden suggest God’s intent that these lands be inhabited and developed. And the boundaries of Eden and the garden of God’s presence would extend and grow until the whole creation was the temple in which God would dwell.
In the last vision of St. John’s Revelation, chs.21-22, we see pictures of this same reality now gloriously fulfilled. The New Jerusalem descends from heaven to earth, becomes coextensive with the new creation, and shares its cubic shape with only one other structure in the Bible, the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple. God’s throne is there. So the kingdom emphasis perdures. The covenant formula is declared fulfilled. So the covenant, family, emphasis persists as well. But it is the temple imagery that dominates both creation and consummation.
I suggest that in the first two and last two chapters of the Bible, where we get a look at what God wanted and what God achieved, the only four chapters free of the distorting presence of sin, temple imagery best captures God’s ultimate intention for his creation. Kingdom and covenant imagery, implicit in creation, explicit in consummation, are the “delivery system” (as it were) of this divine purpose. Covenant carries forward the family emphasis, God the father. Kingdom carries forward the authority and power theme, God the King. But both serve the purpose of realizing God’s intention to live in intimacy and fellowship with his creatures on his creation forever. And where does God live? A temple.
Biblical theology, I believe, should be governed by this temple imagery and God’s intention revealed through it. Kingdom of God and covenant are necessarily associated with this theme – God wants a family and he has the power and authority to do what he intends. But neither is the “thing” that ties the biblical story together. Temple, his desire to be present with and to his people, is. This divine intention is the deepest ground of God’s “incarnational passion” found through the Bible. So, temple is the Bible’s chief theme with kingdom and covenant being its necessary adjuncts.