And so we move to the conclusion of the story of paradise lost and paradise regained. We need to keep in mind that we are still dealing with symbolic language, metaphor, and figures of speech. At center stage of all this, however, is the personal presence of God and the Lamb. The glory of God and the Lamb give light to everything. We won’t need the sun and moon any more (probably figurative). The throne of God and the Lamb will be at city-center. God’s people will actually see God’s face and not die. God’s name is written on His people. They are finally His.
In Genesis 1-2, God was personally present with Adam and Eve in the garden. They had immediate access to the face of God. The tragedy of the Fall in Genesis 3 was not losing Eden itself. It was forfeiting the presence of God. God graciously banishes Adam and Eve from the garden so that they don’t eat from the tree of life and make their fallen state a permanent condition. All is not completely lost, however. God, while not immediately present, is still mysteriously present. The story of the Bible is the story of God longing to be with His people and manifest His glorious presence. That presence is now elusive. It comes and goes. God appears in strange theophanies (i.e., shrouded encounters with God indirectly), burning bushes, and at the tops of mountains with dense, thick, dark clouds accompanied by terrifying thunder and lightening, smoke and fire. God does reveal Himself to Moses, but only part of Himself, His “backside” (there is something humorous about this).
Moses’ face radiates with light after being in God’s presence. On the mountaintop with Moses, God makes a plan to be present with His people. A temporary structure is made called the tabernacle or ‘Tent of Meeting.” God’s presence will dwell in a place within the tabernacle, “the Holy of Holies.” When the Tent of Meeting was completed, a dark cloud covered it and “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34-35). The tabernacle was a temporary structure. It was God’s tangible presence with His people in the wilderness. After Israel settled in the land of promise, King David made plans to build a temple for the Lord in Jerusalem, but the job was left to King Solomon. It was constructed. When the ark of the Lord is brought into the Holy of Holies, “the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (1 Ki. 8:10-11; 2 Chron. 5:13-14). God warns Solomon that if he turns away and forsakes the laws of God and turns to other gods and worships them, then Israel will be uprooted from the land and “this temple will become a heap of rubble” (2 Chron. 7:21). Fast-forward to the time of Ezekiel the prophet. There is idolatry in the temple of the Lord. Part of the judgment on Israel was that the presence of God would depart from the temple: “Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple” (Ezek. 10:18). No more presence, no more glory, and soon, no more temple. The Babylonians destroyed the first temple, burning it down around 576 BC.
The Jewish prophets foretold of God Himself coming to His people and of a day when all people would be filled with the Spirit of God. Jesus came as Immanuel (= God with us). John’s Gospel tells of Jesus’ coming in this way: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full or grace and truth” (1:14). The word for dwelling here could be translated “tabernacled.” God’s glory is again present among His people in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus foretold of a time after his departure when another like him would come to his followers. He was talking about God’s Holy Spirit. Of the Spirit of God, Jesus says that he will live “with” his followers and will be “in” his followers (Jn. 14:17). The followers of Jesus receive the gift of God’s Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). The Apostle Paul connects the reception of God’s Spirit with the idea of God’s temple as a dwelling place for God’s presence in his letter to the Corinthians: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (3:16), and “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you received from God?” (6:19).
It is not all that surprising, then, that in Revelation 21 John does not see a temple in the city of God, “because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (v. 22). God’s glorious presence has now covered the whole earth as it was mentioned in Numbers 14:21 and the cubed city patterned after the Holy of Holies is now the dwelling place of God’s glory. There is healing for persons, sickness, death, the nations, and nature in God’s presence. God’s weighty presence brings about wholeness and healing – how can it not? Nothing contrary to God’s glorious presence is allowed to exist.
The Good News is this: God’s glorious presence is not something we have to wait for. We can experience the presence of God in measures today. We can be filled with God’s Spirit and experience God’s presence internally. I have also experienced God’s presence externally as God manifests Himself at times in public and private worship. I have seen the glory of God cover whole crowds of people as they slip down to the floor in blissful splendor. I have sat in my chair praying and worshipping when the presence of God has come to me with gentleness and grace. I have seen the presence of God heal sick bodies and drive out demons. I have seen the presence of God transform people’s lives. I have been unable to stand when God has saturated me with his love and ignited my heart with fire. Is it any wonder then that when we read of the elders in the Book of Revelation, they are always falling down in worship? Is it amazing that people fall down in God’s presence? Truly, I say to you, when God’s glory covers the earth, we are graced to survive the weigh of His presence.