In the following article, I lay out the foundation for my position of Total Separation from God’s perpetual presence and its relationship to what we call our “sin nature.” In Christ Jesus, God provided the solution to our sin problem, which in turn is the solution for our sin problem.
Sin is a reality of life. There are a number of questions that are centered on the problem of man’s sin. Is man a sinner because he sins or does he sin because he is a sinner? In some ways, both are true. It seems that the Bible is clear that man is born with a sinful nature and that sinful nature causes him to sin. What is the essence of this “sin nature”? How does this sin nature affect man?
Theological discussion today is saturated with conversation that begins with what is commonly referred to as Total Depravity or Total Inability. The doctrine of total depravity teaches that man cannot in any way or at any time choose God because his nature is evil and his actions are sinful and because of this he is incapable of knowing God and coming to receive Jesus Christ as his savior apart from the efficacious work of the Holy Spirit made possible by God’s sovereign and divine will as presented in the doctrine of election. Calvinism contends that man in his sinful nature has the free will to choose evil but does not have the capacity or ability to choose God because he can only sin. The question that needs to be answered has little to do with the issue of man’s depravity but rather everything to do with the extent of that depravity and its effect on an individual’s ability to make choices relative to God’s plan and purpose for that individual’s life.
In the Scripture there is an undeniable truth declared: man is willfully wicked, deceitfully destructive, and seriously sinful. He is incapable of standing before God in his own righteousness. Every man is a sinner condemned to death and is therefore desperately in need of a Savior. A question that needs to be answered is, what is the nature of sin and how does this nature affect the decisions men make causing men to sin?
The Concept of Original Sin
One of the answers to this dilemma can be seen in the concept of “original sin.” When God created Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden, Adam was perfect and untouched by the effects of sin until he disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit God clearly told him not to do. God warned Adam “in the day that you eat of the fruit, you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17) It is obvious that this act of disobedience has affected every person that has ever been born. The question is, how has Adam’s disobedience affected mankind and to what extent? Some see the effects of this event as causing a tendency in man to sin with no reference to corporate guilt all the way to the other extreme where individuals are fallen and totally depraved and automatically guilty because of corporate culpability.
There are questions concerning the very nature of sin itself. Some speak of the imputation of Adam’s guilt and then there are those that contend that it is not Adam’s guilt that is charged to his progeny but rather a sin nature is imputed. Proponents of imputed guilt argue all are born guilty of sin, which is the corporate culpability position. Others argue man inherits a sinful nature and all men are condemned because of their own sin and not specifically the sin of Adam. Some will argue the fallacy of this latter position establishes the possibility that someone might not sin and therefore not need a savior; that possibility is clearly rejected for the Bible says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The only real problem that position creates is the spiritual condition of infants and those who are born mentally challenged. The proponents of imputed guilt argue babies need Jesus’ righteousness because they are born guilty of Adam’s sin. They will reason to assume otherwise would in effect make Jesus’ death on the cross unnecessary for their salvation because they have not sinned themselves and are therefore innocent and do not need a Savior. While these are good philosophical questions given the various implications of these two positions, they are not the only theological possibilities.
Man’s Sin Nature
In looking at this Adamic event, perhaps there are some clues in the narrative that can help unlock the mystery that is commonly referred to as “man’s sin nature.” God created man and placed him in the garden and gave him dominion or complete control over God’s creation to do with it as he saw fit. God gave Adam complete freedom with one exception. “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “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 2:15-17)
This is indeed interesting. God created the garden for Adam. God created Adam for Himself. There are two things that are evident in the garden narrative. The first thing that is evident is the fact that God’s perpetual presence is in the garden. God placed Adam in the garden and He was there with him the whole time. The second thing that is evident in the garden narrative, is the fact that God met or supplied every single need Adam had. Along with His perpetual presence in the garden, came His perfect provisions for Adam. This is a very important aspect to contemplate when considering the issue of the nature of man’s sin.
Why did God make man in the first place? Perhaps an answer to this question will reveal much about the issue of sin and why it is such a problem with God and for man. Listen to what the Bible says of man’s creation, “’Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ’Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’.” (Gen 1:26-28) Up until this point, everything was seen in God’s eyes as being “good.” However, following man’s creation the Bible says, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” (Gen 1:31)
Created for Relationship
Could it be that God created mankind for one reason and that reason was for fellowship and a relationship where God could pour Himself into man and meet his every need and give life to him that was both full and abundant? Since God created the garden and the whole world and universe for the sole benefit of man, it would seem plausible that this statement has some validity. God created a cosmic environment where He could bless man and man could live with Him. Why did God not just place Adam in the garden and give him free reign with no restrictions? What is the significance of “not eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?” Consider the following.
All Adam knew was good. He had no concept of evil at all. There is no mention of how long Adam and Eve lived in the garden before they disobeyed God and ate of the fruit that God told them not to eat. Adam and Eve could have been in the garden for a few decades, a few years or merely a few days before the “fall.” Listen to the serpent’s charge to Eve, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” (Gen 3:1) This question is interesting in its own right. The serpent challenged God’s Word right off the bat. He spoke directly to her challenging God’s word of warning. It can be argued that Eve should have dismissed the serpent’s challenge altogether because God’s Word is just that and was not to be challenged. There really was no need for a response on her part.
However, Eve did respond, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’” (Gen 3:2-3) Understand something concerning the nature of sin seen here; there is no room for compromise or discussion where God’s Word is concerned. God is the Creator. He knows why He created man and what it is that He wants to do for man and it is imperative that man be what God has created him to be and do what God has created him to do. Anything less than this is sin because when man fails in his created purpose, man automatically falls short of God’s glory.
Eve’s answer is telling as well. There is no record of God ever telling Eve anything about not eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There is also no record of God telling the couple not to go near the tree. He simply told Adam, not to eat of it for if you do, you shall surely die. No doubt Adam and Eve had discussed God’s word of warning, probably more than once. Perhaps they decided the best way to avoid eating the fruit was to not go near it and that is what they decided to do. Here is an interesting side note. This may well be the first reference to religion in the Bible. Understand religion is not bad. Religion is man’s attempt to stay in step with God. If this is true, the serpent challenged Adam and Eve’s religion or their effort to stay in step with God when he challenged their response to God’s command. Religious efforts can get out of step with God very easily and that is unquestionably where problems begin. It was true in Adam and Eve’s life and it is still true today.
Challenging the Word of God
The serpent challenged God’s word of warning but he really did more than that; he challenged Eve’s response to God’s Word. The serpent knew that he could not change God’s word of warning but he could challenge how Eve looked at that warning. “The punishment does not fit the offense. You are not going to die. God loves you. He created you. He is not going to kill you because you eat this fruit. Besides, God knows that in the day you eat of the fruit you shall be like Him, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4-5) “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.” (Gen 3:6)
Notice Eve “looked at the tree and saw that is was good for food.” She did what seemed right in her own eyes instead of listening to God’s Word and being obedient to it. It is here that it could be argued that the grace and mercy of God are first demonstrated. What if the fruit had been highly poisonous and could kill anyone who ate it immediately? Eve had no way of knowing that this was not the case. She did not die immediately.
Now, notice the Bible tells says that the serpent came to Eve and tempted her. It appears that she was alone. Once again there is an element of applicable truth to God’s Word in the garden when He said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” (Gen 2:18) Relationships are essential to life. Life is based on and built upon relationships. Love is the foundation of life. Love for one another is essential and love for God is equally important. Once again, God’s purpose in creating mankind can be seen in His desire to demonstrate His great love and to be loved in return. It can be argued that in creating man and making Him the object of God’s affection, the only thing God could not do was create a being capable of loving Him without the possibility of his not loving Him in return. So in a sense, the only thing God does not have may well be man’s heart and his love for God in return for all that God has done for man. While God’s statement that it is not good that man not be alone is certainly applicable to human relationships, it is equally applicable to man’s relationship with God. It is not good that man ever be alone where God’s presence is concerned.
The Serpent Tempted Eve
The serpent tempted Eve. She chose to disobey God’s word of warning, which she may or may not have ever even heard from God, herself. The Bible says following the serpent’s temptation, she looked and saw that “the tree was good for food that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and she ate from it. (Gen 3:6) Here the concept of concupiscence is evident. The serpent appealed to Eve’s innate desire to have something she did not have. There is a lot of theological debate as to the validity of this desire, specifically if desire in and of itself is sin. Is desire the root of all evil? The Bible says, God created man in His Own image and “in the image of them created He them.” (Gen 1:27) When God placed Adam in the garden and told him to tend it and to eat freely from it with the one exception, what God did in essence was give man the choice to choose. Adam had no choice in the matter. In addition to this, God chose the consequences of Adam’s choice. God told Adam to choose and God laid out the consequences and the limitations on Adam’s choices. Eve made a choice; her choice was in direct disobedience to God’s Word. The Bible says that Eve brought the fruit to Adam and he did eat. Notice, there is no reference to the serpent tempting Adam. To this point, life in the garden was perfect. There was no sin; there was no death. Everything was perfect. Note something; Adam has not eaten the fruit. There is no indication that anything has changed in the garden. This could make for an interesting philosophical discussion in and of itself. However, everything is about to change.
Why did Adam not refuse to eat the fruit? There are a number of answers to this question. It could be argued that Adam had no concept or understanding of death and as such God’s warning was really not much of a warning to him at all. Consider for example, the words POISON clearly written on a Coke bottle. A child too young to read can pick that bottle up and open it and drink it; the warning written on the bottle is no warning at all to the child that cannot read. Here is the real irony of this point of view; folks today are living their lives as if death is no big deal. It is as if death is something that happens to everyone else and is always something that will take place in the future. Death is rarely seen as the present foe that it really is. It is also interesting that Paul speaks of death as the final enemy to be defeated. (I Cor. 15:26)
There is a second possible answer to the question of why Adam ate of the fruit. Some charge that Adam did not believe God or take His warning serious. Perhaps the text indicates the opposite; what if Adam ate the fruit because he did believe God. Perhaps Adam looked at Eve, whom God had given to him and said, “If she has to die, then I will die with her” and he took the fruit with tears in his eyes and a heavy heart and he willingly ate it. Is it possible that Adam did what he did, not in defiance, but out of love for his wife? Consider the following. What if Adam “gave his life for his bride?”
The New Testament says that Jesus loved the church and willingly gave His life for her. (Eph. 5:25; John 10:11) The church is affectionately identified as Christ’s bride. (Rev, 21:9, 22:17) Jesus as the bridegroom implies that the church is His bride. (Matthew 9:15; Mark 2:19; Luke 5:34) Both Adam and Jesus gave their lives for their bride. The real difference between in Jesus and Adam can be seen in their respective acts of obedience to God’s Word with respect to their responses to their “brides.” The Bible says that Jesus was tempted “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15-16) Jesus obeyed God while Adam failed to do so. In this scenario, Adam’s sin is not something that satisfied his base desires but rather was his sacrificial response to a situation that he saw Eve in and Adam failed to see any other solution but to offer to die with her. Adam should have sought God’s instruction as opposed to taking matters into his own hands and making a rational decision based on options as he saw them. Here is why this is so important. There is a major problem Adam failed to understand. His perspective was way too limited and paled in comparison to God’s perspective. Adam did what seemed right in his own eyes when he should have gone to God and asked God for His direction. God was merciful and He did provide a covering for their sin. Imagine what God might have done had Adam gone to Him with the problem Eve presented before he took matters into his own hands and did what seemed right in his own eyes. One thing is clear in the Scriptures. God wants to be man’s first response and not a last resort.
Adam, “Where are you?”
When God came walking in the cool of the garden He called out to Adam, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9) Adam and Eve had already sinned. They hid themselves in the garden because they knew they were naked and they were ashamed to be seen by God in their condition. Listen to God’s response, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” (Gen 3:11) Here is an interesting note. Apparently man is not totally depraved and dead in his sin at this point where total inability has kicked in or else one would have to assert that God would have had to regenerate the couple before there could have been any kind of response on Adam’s part to God. It seems obvious, Adam’s sin did not keep God from speaking to him nor does it keep him from responding to God. There is no picture of total depravity or inability at this point. It is not there. How does this event of Adam’s sin affect mankind and what is commonly referred to as man’s “sin nature?”
Perhaps the answer can be seen in what God does with Adam and Eve after their confrontation with Him over what they have done. First of all, the effects of sin are evident immediately. Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent. Ironically, both indirectly blame God for their failure. The woman “You gave me” gave the fruit to me and then Eve’s blame was that the serpent “You created” enticed me. God went on to pronounce curses that each would face in their new world. God moved the couple out of the garden and away from His perpetual presence and His perfect provisions into a world where chaos as opposed to concord and pandemonium as opposed to peace would become their new “norm.”
Look at God’s curse on Adam. “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:17-19) Adam’s sin changed everything for him. Difficulty would reign until death returned him to dust. Adam’s “new norm” is nothing like what he has known all because he “heeded the voice of his wife, and ate from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’.” (Gen 3:17)
This event of God putting Adam and Eve out of the garden may well provide the crucial key to understanding the sin nature that mankind is effected by. If it is true that God created mankind for His glory, then Adam’s sin that precipitated his consequent separation from God’s perpetual presence in the garden may actually be the source of the ongoing problem that man has with sin today. If God’s purpose in creating mankind was so that God could be with him and be the source of life for him, then God’s banishing of Adam from the garden and His perpetual presence was in and of itself a form of death to Adam. Adam’s choice to do what he thought was best was in direct contrast to what God told him to do in the beginning. That cost Adam dearly because God created him to pour Himself into Adam, making God the source of life for him. Adam’s deliberate disobedience caused him to be banished from the garden and from God’s perpetual presence, which cut him off from the source of life who was God. The absence of life is death. How does this banishment from the garden affect mankind and this sin nature that haunts him?
God’s Perpetual Presence
If man was created so that God could meet his every need as he abided in God’s perpetual presence, then man’s rebellion and consequent banishment from the garden has upset his created purpose, “his” being both man’s created purpose and God’s purpose in creating man. If man was created for God’s glory then consider for a moment that God created man for constant companionship and a personal relationship. It is through His perpetual presence that God intended from the beginning to be the source and sustenance of life for mankind. When Adam sinned and God placed him outside the garden and out of the reach of God’s perpetual presence, it became impossible for man to receive all that God originally purposed in His heart to do for him. Since God’s perfect provisions are tied to His presence, the absence of His presence also means the absence of a measure of His provisions. Since every human being that has ever been born has been born outside the garden, all have been born outside the reach of God’s perpetual presence and His perfect provisions. If God’s presence is indeed essential to the presence of His provisions, then it can be argued that being in His perpetual presence is the quintessential element of God’s glory. In other words, it is not what man does for God that gives Him glory but rather what God is able to do for mankind that gives Him glory. If this is the case, anything that falls short of God’s glory is sin. (Rom. 3:23) In this scenario, any decision that a man makes while he is separated from God’s perpetual presence is sin because God is not the provider and sustainer of life for that individual as He originally intended to be. Here sin is the result of being outside God’s perpetual presence. When an individual is separated from God’s presence, nothing he does will be pleasing to God because every decision he makes is made outside God’s perpetual presence and outside His perfect provisions. Only God can make one’s life full and abundant. This is only possible when an individual is in God’s presence.
As long as men are estranged or separated from God’s perpetual presence, every decision he makes will be sinful, because all of his decisions will fall short of the glory of God because God’s glory is made full in His presence that brings His provisions that give life to men. It is impossible for a man who is separated from God’s perpetual presence to make any decision that will bring the lost individual into God’s presence apart from the provisions made available to him by God Himself, in Christ Jesus. This is why Jesus could say, “I am the Way, The Truth and The Life.” (John 14:6)
In thinking about man’s nature of sin being related to God’s perpetual presence, consider what God has done to provide a remedy for sin. Consider John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:1-5) “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) This is an interesting statement. If man’s “sin problem” is really a “separation problem” then it is no surprise that God would correct man’s sin problem in the incarnation, with “the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.” Note John’s next statement, “We beheld His glory.” God’s perpetual presence was now clothed in human flesh and He and He alone was meeting Jesus’ every single need. (John 6:57) God’s glory is in essence on full display and as a result we hear God saying of His Son, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:17) It is equally interesting that Paul will both compare and contrast Adam and Jesus and we find God making the same basic declaration of His good pleasure over both, here and in Genesis 1:31.
John will go on to declare that Jesus’ self-described purpose is to “do the will of Him who sent Him.” (John 4:34,5:30,6:38,40) He did not come to this world to do His own will. (Mt. 26:42; Mk. 14:36; Luke 22:42;) Jesus admonished those listening to Him not to do His will but rather to do the will of His Father who sent Him. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matt 7:21-23) Jesus is teaching and word is brought to Him that His mother and brothers are at the door wanting to speak to him. Listen to His reply, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matt 12:49-50) Jesus came to do the perfect will of His Father who sent Him. Jesus in His obedience to God did what Adam failed to do.
Jesus in the Wilderness
In the temptation experience, Jesus was confronted with Satan himself. He had been in the desert for 40 days and had not eaten anything. Satan came to Jesus and said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” Jesus is in the wilderness. He has just been baptized and He is about to embark on His public ministry that will culminate not with a crown but at the cross. What is the significance of this temptation and how does it relate to Adam’s original sin? Satan’s temptation is for Jesus to take matters into His own hands and turn worthless stones into bread so that His popularity will soar. Look at Jesus’ predicament. He does not have television and satellites to let people know who He is; He is the son of a carpenter. No one is going to listen to Him. Look at what Jesus does, He relies on God’s Word as opposed to His own pride and doing what seems to be the right thing to do is His own eyes. He replies, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matt 4:3-4)
Satan ramps up his efforts. Jesus quoted Scripture, Satan quotes Scripture himself back at Jesus. “Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” (Matt 4:5-6) Once again, Satan tempts Jesus to turn to the miraculous to gain popularity and instant fame. Jesus responds, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” (Matt 4:7)
Satan takes a final shot at Jesus. “Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me’.” (Matt 4:8-9) At first glance, this seems to be a pitiful temptation to level at the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who was at the creation and is even now the sustainer of life. Jesus knows the kingdoms of the world already belong to Him and there is nothing that Satan can give Him that He does not already own. However, there is one thing Jesus does not have and that is what this temptation addresses. Jesus does not have the obedience and the love of those He has created. God created man and gave him the choice to choose. While God’s love is a given and is not conditioned on man’s love for Him in return, His ongoing response to man is dependent on man’s response to His selfless love. The very fact that Jesus is in the world proves His dilemma. He has come to die on the cross to pay the penalty for the sin of the world so that who would believe in Him might be born again and pass from death unto life and life with Him in heaven forever.
So what is Satan’s final temptation here? “Jesus, You claim that You love the world. Bow down before me right here, and every single man, woman, boy and girl will go to heaven and You and I will go to hell. If You do it Your way, You will get some but I will get the vast majority of them. Do this and You will get them all.” This temptation was similar in nature to Adam’s dilemma with Eve in the Garden of Eden. Both can be seen as a test of sacrificial love. Adam basically gave his life for Eve’s; if she was going to die, then he would die. Jesus was faced with the same choice; the church is His bride! Listen to Jesus’ response, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” (Matt 4:10) Jesus did what Adam failed to do. Jesus took God at His Word while Adam did what he thought was the only option he had because of what Eve had done. Adam failed to obey God’s Word; Jesus was faithful to God’s Word in the beginning and in the end.
Worship begins with and is centered on God’s presence! God’s presence is the key to obedience. Jesus has been alone with God for 40 days! I am sure Jesus may well have considered in His humanity the validity of the argument Satan presented to Him but He knew that the answer to true love was in being obedient to God’s Word and not doing what seemed right in His own mind. Remember, while Jesus is 100% God, He is 100% man. Jesus had to keep His humanity in step with His divinity. Jesus did not make the same mistake in the wilderness Adam made in the garden.
The Garden of Gethsemane
Fast forward to Matthew 26 to the final temptation experience in the Garden of Gethsemane. Isn’t it ironic the first temptation of took place in the Garden of Eden and the last temptation took place in the Garden of Gethsemane? “Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, ‘Sit here while I go and pray over there.’ And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me’.” (Matt 26:36-38)
Men look at the Gethsemane experience as if Jesus was struggling with coming to the end of His life and His reluctance to facing the cross when He made the following statement: “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” Listen to Jesus’ prayer, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Matt 26:39) Perhaps there is more taking place here than what immediately meets the eye. Maybe the key to Jesus’ struggle can be seen in the verses that follow: “Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’” (Matt 26:40-41)
Read the rest of the account. “Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.’ And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then He came to His disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand’.” (Matt 26:42-46)
Asleep in the Garden
Why is it that the Scriptures make so much of the disciples sleeping instead of them praying? Consider this possibility. What is Satan’s final temptation was, “Jesus, I know You are going to the Cross. You were born to die. However, You cannot go today! Look at Your disciples; they have no clue what is about to happen. You cannot die today. If You do, they will not make it and Your death will have been in vain. The church (the bride of Christ) that You love so much will not get off the ground.” Interesting isn’t it? Imagine Jesus in His humanity thinking, “Wow; I do not see how this is going to work! I do not have a choice.” Once again, Jesus is in the same position in Gethsemane that Adam was in, in Eden. Adam made the wrong choice; Jesus made the only choice He could make; He did what God sent Him to do and trusted God with the results. Obedience to God’s Word is ALWAYS the best and only real option no matter what the odds are against it. The key to Jesus’ obedience is rooted in the perpetual presence in His humanity.
Just like Adam in the Garden of Eden, Jesus’ real temptation was “What am I going to do with those that I love so much that I am willing to give My life for? What if the disciples are not ready? How can I do this NOW?” Jesus’ resolve was, “nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done.” It is also interesting that John records the prayers Jesus offered just before His arrest. “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. (John 17:2-5)
Jesus goes on to pray for His disciples specifically; “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” (John 17:6-8) Some might argue, “them that You have given Me is a reference to the elect” and not the disciples, specifically. Note a comment in verse 12, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” This is an obvious reference to Judas, who was at the very moment Jesus made this statement leading the Roman soldiers to arrest Him.
Jesus continues, His prayer, “But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. (John 17:13-19) It is obvious Jesus’ concern was with the disciples and their ability to do what needed to be done after He was crucified.
Not only does Jesus pray for His disciples for strength in the days that lay ahead of them, He prays for those He is about to go to the cross for as well. He prayed, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:20-23) Jesus prayed that God would bless the ministries of His disciples and those who believed in Him through the word they spoke and that they would be “One in Us as We are one.” Jesus went to the cross as the virgin born Son of God to pay the penalty for man’s sin so that by believing, mankind might be one with Jesus and the Father. God was in Christ Jesus correcting the separation problem, once and for all.
God’s Work in Conversion
Consider God’s work in conversion. When a lost person repents and calls on the Name of the Lord, God promises to save him. (Acts 2:21; Ro. 10:13) When an individual is saved or “born-again, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in that person’s heart. Paul writes, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Eph. 1:13) The presence of the Holy Spirit in the new born person’s heart seals him until the day of redemption. (Eph. 4:30) A child of God’s body becomes the temple of the Living God because the Holy Spirit takes up residence there. (Rom 5:1-5; 1 Cor 6:19-20; 2 Tim 1:13-14) So in the conversion experience itself, God places the Holy Spirit into the new born child of God’s heart and His perpetual presence that was lost at the Garden of Eden is restored at conversion. It is the Spirit that gives life! (John 6:63)
Romans 8 is probably the single best passage that points to the importance of God’s perpetual presence being the source of life to the Child of God. Paul writes, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (VV1-2) The difference between those who walk in Christ Jesus and those who walk according to the flesh are the ones who have Christ in the person of the Holy Spirit dwelling in their hearts. This is a matter of position as opposed to one of choice. Paul continues, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (VV 3-4) Once again Jesus, who was God in the flesh, did what the Law could not do. The Law could not unite God and man; the best the Law could do was demonstrate man’s inability to be obedient to God because he was separated from Him. The Law continually pointed to man’s separation from God as it continually demonstrated his need for God.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (VV 5-8) It is impossible to please God as long as man is separated from Him and the only way to please Him is to be united with Him in Christ Jesus. “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (VV 9-11) In Jesus, God corrects the separation problem which is the root cause of man’s sin problem.
Prayer and God’s Presence
Consider another aspect of the Christian walk, prayer. Prayer brings the child of God into the very presence of God Himself. (Jude 20-21) In Hebrews 4, Paul admonishes all to “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” How does one come boldly to the throne of God’s grace? He does so in prayer and the Bible says the “prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:15-17) What is a righteous man? A righteous man is first of all one whose heart has the Holy Spirit dwelling in it and an is an individual who is responsive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit whose responsibility is to lead the individual to life.(Eph. 6:14-18)
Here is a unique aspect of prayer that can go easily overlooked. When an individual comes into God’s presence in prayer, God accepts that person just as he is. The only prayer that lost person has is, “Lord be merciful to me a sinner; forgive me of my sin; I trust Jesus and the provisions made available to me on the cross and the promises given to me in the resurrection and by faith I come to You believing that you are everything that Your Word says You are and that You will do everything that Your Word says You will do.”(see Heb. 11:6b) Now once the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the new born Christian’s heart, the importance of prayer just begins and the importance of coming into God’s presence is now essential to having life and having it more abundantly! (John 10:10) Paul’s admonition is to “pray without ceasing.” (I Thess. (5:17) Why is prayer so vital? It is vital because man is constantly making decisions and the choice that he has to make is the same one Adam made and the same one that Jesus made; he is to do what God’s Word and the Holy Spirit instructs him to do. This is only possible if he chooses life by choosing God’s way as opposed to choosing his own way. When an individual is in God’s presence, he will choose God will because God’s indwelling perpetual presence will give him the ability to make the right choice.
Remember God’s original statement about man in the creation story where God said, “It is not good that man be alone”? (Gen. 2:18) Perhaps prayer is the real answer to satisfying that need that God knew man would have. God created man as an outlet for His perpetual presence where His power would be established and His provisions experienced.
Separation and Sin
In looking at the issue of sin and its relationship to being separated from God’s presence, a look at the concept of covenant in the Old Testament will produce some interesting parallels as well. The first few chapters of Deuteronomy are interesting because here Moses basically summarizes God’s activity in the lives of the children of Israel after He led them out of Egypt to take them to the land that He had promised to their forefathers. Moses tells the Children of Israel, “For the Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hand. He knows your trudging through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.”‘ (Deut 2:7) Notice his statement, “The Lord YOUR God.” God has chosen this “stiff-necked people” to be His Own. They are His and He is theirs.
There is an interesting statement in Chapter 4,
“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal Peor; for the Lord your God has destroyed from among you all the men who followed Baal of Peor. But you who held fast to the Lord your God are alive today, every one of you.” (Deut 4:1-4) Compare this statement to John’s prologue. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:1-4) The Word of God was the source of life to those that Moses was speaking too. Listen and live, God said to the Israelites through Moses. John makes it clear that this “Living Word” that his listeners were to hear was none other than Jesus Himself. He is life to those who have ears to hear and believe and live.
Moses continues speaking of God’s presence with the children of Israel, not just since they left Egypt but since creation itself! He highlights the benefits of being in God’s presence!
“For ask now concerning the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether any great thing like this has happened, or anything like it has been heard. Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live? Or did God ever try to go and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord Himself is God; there is none other besides Him. Out of heaven He let you hear His voice, that He might instruct you; on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words out of the midst of the fire. And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power, driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land as an inheritance, as it is this day. Therefore know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. You shall therefore keep His statutes and His commandments which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the Lord your God is giving you for all time.” (Deut 4:32-40)
In Deuteronomy 5, Moses reminded the children of Israel of the day he came down the mountain and said, that the “Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive. The Lord talked with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire. I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up the mountain. He said: ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. ‘You shall have no other gods before Me’.” Moses went on to repeat the Ten Commandments that God gave them on that day. (Deut. 5:1-22) He reminded the people that they heard the Voice of God and they lived. He reminded them that they came to him and told him to go to God on their behalf and tell Him that they had heard His voice and that they would do what He told them to do. Listen to God’s response to their reply, “Then the Lord heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me: ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” Deut. 5:28-29)
God Restoring His Presence
All though the Old Testament, God sought to restore His presence with man by promising to be with him. As men walked with Him and were obedient to His commandments, God promised His provisions. Listen to Moses’ statement, “So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, 11 houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant — when you have eaten and are full — 12 then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” God promised His protection and His provisions to His children! All they had to do was remain faithful to Him because He had already proven His faithfulness to them. God’s presence went with the children of Israel all through the wilderness wanderings. He led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. (Ex. 13:21)
God’s presence is demonstrated with His people all through the Old Testament. The Ark of the Covenant is representative of His perpetual presence with His people. God told Moses to make this ark and place on it a mercy seat and there He would sit and speak to Moses and tell him what He wanted the children of Israel to know and do. (Ex.28:22) The Ark of the Covenant went before the people everywhere they went. (Nu. 10:33) In Joshua 3, God tells Joshua to take the Ark and head for the Jordan River and when the feet of those carrying the Ark touch the water, it will part so the children of Israel may cross into the Promised Land safely and on dry land. (Jos. 3:1-17) Once again, it is God’s presence with His people that makes the journey possible.
Consider the tabernacle in the Old Testament. It represents a place where the people could come into His presence and experience God’s love and find His forgiveness. King David understood this well when he wrote, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek Him in His temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.” (Psalm 27:4-6) It is the picture of the tabernacle that God presents that which was required for man to become right with Him. The details that God gave the Israelites to make and set the tabernacle up demonstrate His holiness and for sinful man to approach this holy God, he must come to God in His own set way, and no other way. God commanded Moses, “make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8) He promised them that in His dwelling in the tabernacle, “They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. (Exodus 29:45-46)
The tabernacle represents a visual place of God’s presence with His people. Tabernacle literally means “tent” or “place of dwelling” or “sanctuary.” The tabernacle was temporary or mobile as opposed to be permanent as was the Temple that would later be built. The tabernacle would be set up in the center of the camp as Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and each of the 12 tribes would set up their tents around the tabernacle as God had given them instruction to do. The tabernacle represented more than simply God’s presence with His people. The Ark of the Covenant accomplished that. The layout of the tabernacle itself represented God’s plan for redemption and how that redemption was to be accessed. The specific layout of the tabernacle and its courtyard is significant because it illustrates God’s prescribed way for man to approach Him.
The tabernacle was surrounded entirely by a high fence. No one could look over the fence to see in side. There was one entrance and only one and it was always positioned on the eastern side of the tabernacle. Most pagan worshippers faced the east because that is where the sun rises. God wanted everyone who came into His presence to face the west, away from the rising of the sun, which would be a picture of the Son who would rise, and become the only way to enter into God’s presence. There is only one way to God and the gate that everyone must come is Jesus. (John 14:6, 10:9) In the setup of the tabernacle, God is saying in advance of Jesus’ coming, that He is the only way to gain access to Him. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
Forgiveness at the Tabernacle
When the Jew came to the tabernacle, he did so for one reason: he came to find forgiveness for his sin and to experience fellowship with His God. God made it clear that He had chosen the Children of Israel for Himself and He wanted to be their God and He wanted them to be His people. The act of entering the tabernacle was special and significant for the Jew. No one entered the tabernacle empty handed. Everyone brought a sacrifice to be placed in the brazen altar, which was the very first thing they saw as they entered the tabernacle. The brazen altar reminded everyone of their sin and their sinfulness as well as their need for a sacrifice in order for them to be forgiven and experience fellowship with God. Repentance was a required part of the offering of a sacrifice for their sin. The brazen altar was placed on a mound of earth, so that it was positioned higher than the surrounding furniture. This represents a picture of Christ who was lifted up on the cross that was raised on a hill called Golgotha. There He became the sacrifice for the sins of all who would come to find forgiveness by coming into His presence and repenting to find fellowship with His suffering and by associating with His death and resurrection.
Sacrifices were required on an annual basis for atonement for one’s sins. Jesus’ sacrifice was once and for all a sacrifice for the sins of the world. His death satisfied the sacrificial system and His blood would be sufficient to provide a covering for the sins of all who would enter through the gate and come to Him for forgiveness. Another interesting aspect of the worship experience was the personal aspect. Individuals brought a sacrifice and he would place his hand on the head of the animal to be sacrificed and that transferred his sin to the sacrifice and atonement was made for the individual and his family as the blood was shed. (Lev. 1:4,17;11; Heb. 9:22)
The laver, or basin, was a large bowl filled with water and it was located halfway between the brazen altar and the Holy Place. It was here that the priests would go to wash their hands and feet before entering into the Holy Place, that represented the place of God’s presence with His people.
The laver served as a reminder that people needed to be cleansed before approaching God. Even the priests who were chosen by God to serve Him needed to be cleansed. Everyone needs cleansing before they come into His presence. This constant cleansing is accomplished as men who have been covered by the blood are washed continually through His Word. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25-27) “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled [with blood] to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22)
After washing their hands and feet at the laver, the priests could enter the Holy Place, which was the first room in the tent of the tabernacle. There were three pieces of furniture in the Holy Place: the menorah, the table of showbread and the golden altar of incense. The menorah was a lampstand that had 7 branches or lamps. The center lamp represents Jesus, who is the light of the world. These lamps were to be kept burning constantly inside the Holy Place. They provided the only light there. Just as the lampstand provided light for the priests to approach God in the Holy PLace, Jesus, the “true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9) provides light to an otherwise dark world so that people may come to God. Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (John 12:46) The 6 lamps flanking the enter lamp represent all God’s children making 7 lamps in all; seven is the number of completeness in the Bible. The believer is made complete by the perfection that is available to all who are connected to the Christ, who is the center lamp. Jesus calls us to be the “light of the world” and to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5: 14,16).
In addition to the menorah, there was the table of showbread in the Holy Place. On this table that was covered in gold, were 12 loaves of bread, representing each of the twelve tribes of Israel. These 12 loaves of bread were always in God’s presence. On the Sabbath, the priests would bake new loaves of bread and would come into the Holy Place and eat the bread in God’s presence and place new loaves there. This was a picture of God’s desire and willingness to have fellowship and communion with man. This can be seen in the custom of most cultures where a meal is an invitation of fellowship. God wants men to come into His presence and to fellowship with Him and that invitation is always open. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. … Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.” (John 6:35, 49-50) He told His disciples that He wanted to eat the Passover meal with them before He was to go to the cross. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’” (Matthew 26:26) It is through Jesus’ body that was broken that men today come into fellowship with God today. His invitation today is to come and dine with Him! (Revelations 3:20)
The Holy of Holies
The final item in the Holy Place is the golden altar which stood in front of the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. It was here that the priests on a daily basis would come every morning and evening at the same time the burnt offerings were being made to burn incense as a pleasing aroma unto the Lord. The rising smoke of the burning incense was a symbol of the prayers and intercession of the people going up continually before God. God wanted the tabernacle to be a place where his children could come into His presence and pray to Him. This is why Isaiah would say, “for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7) David would later write, “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” (Psalm 141:2) Listen to what John wrote as he was given a glimpse of heaven, “Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” (Revelations 8:3-4)
The golden altar is a picture of Christ, who would become our intercessor before God. During His days on earth, Jesus prayed for the believers. He was like the high priest of the tabernacle, who bore the names of each of the Israelite tribes on his breastplate before God. Just before He was betrayed and sentenced to death, Jesus interceded for His disciples and all believers, asking God to guard them from evil and sanctify them by His Word, and that they may see God’s glory and be a witness to the world (John 17:1-26). On the cross He prayed for those who were there saying, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Today, Jesus still is making intercession at the right hand of the Father on behalf of those who know Him and are known by Him. (Romans 8:34)
“Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:26,27,34; Heb. 7:25) The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:15-16)
Inside the Holy Place was the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place. This was the special dwelling place in the midst of His people. There was a thick curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy place. There were figures of cherubim (angels) embroidered onto the curtain. The Cherubim were spirits who serve God and were there to demonstrate His majesty and His almighty power. They guarded the throne of God. This special curtain was there to shield a Holy God from sinful man. Anyone who entered into the Holy of Holies was entering the very presence of God. In fact, if anyone except the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, he would die. Even then the high priest, could only pass through the veil and enter this sacred dwelling once a year, on a prescribed day called the Day of Atonement. (Hebrews 9:7) The picture of the veil was that of a barrier between man and God. God’s holiness was necessarily separated from man’s sinfulness. The veil was a barrier to make sure that man could not carelessly and irreverently enter into His awesome presence. This wall of separation was a final separation that stood between God and man. Notice something; it is God who had the tabernacle constructed with walls and curtains separating Him from man, which is an extension of what He did with Adam when He cast him out of the garden.
The Veil of the Temple
This changed when Jesus went to the cross. The Bible says that when Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. Only God could have done this for the curtain was 60 feet high and 30 feet wide and 4 inches thick. On the cross, Jesus made a way for man to come to God; God’s presence was now accessible to all who would come to Him by believing in Jesus.
As Jesus cried out “It is finished!” on the cross, He was indeed proclaiming that God’s redemptive plan as seen in the layout of the tabernacle was now complete at Calvary. We can now boldly enter into God’s presence, “the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.” (Hebrews 6:19-20) “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body …let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” (Hebrews 10:19-22) The Holy of Holies is a representation of heaven itself, God’s dwelling place, which we have access now through Christ. In Revelations, John’s vision of heaven — the New Jerusalem — also was a perfect square, just as the Holy of Holies was (Revelation 21:16).
On the inside of the Holy of Holies was one piece of furniture called the Ark of the Covenant which had the atonement cover (or “mercy seat”) on top of it. This atonement cover or mercy seat is where God sat. It was His throne on the earth. (Exodus 25:22) The ark was a symbol of His presence and power with the children of Israel wherever it went. Inside the Ark were three items. There was a jar of bread, a budding staff and 2 stone tablets. The jar of bread was a sample of manna, bread from heaven that God provided to the Israelites while they were in the wilderness for 40 years. The people were not thankful for the manna and griped and complained and constantly wanted something else. This was a reminder that the people rejected God’s provisions. Aaron’s rod was also in the Ark. This rod represented the people’s rebellion against God’s power and His authority. Once, when there was a dispute among the people, God told each tribe to bring a staff and place it on the ground and Aaron did the same and his staff budded with blossoms and almonds establishing him as God’s spiritual leader among the people. “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die.’” (Numbers 17:10)
The last of the items in the Ark were the 2 tables on which the Ten Commandments were written. God had chosen the Israelites to be His special people. God demanded only one thing from them. They must obey His Law, the Ten Commandments. God’s agreement or covenant with them was itself a conditional agreement. “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6) Israel promised God, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do,” in response to God’s covenant (Exodus 19:8). They failed to keep their promise. Over and over again, they violated God’s holy Law, and God repeatedly reminded them of the consequences of their sin by sending plagues, natural hazards and foreign armies upon them. They continued to rebel against God. The stone tablets in the ark were a reminder that although the Israelites had rejected God’s rules, He would provide them right standing before Him. In all, the three items reminded the people that they were sinners in need of God’s forgiveness that was theirs when they came into His presence.
The Mercy Seat
Here is where the beauty of the Ark and the Mercy Seat comes into view. The Ark is a reminder of man at his worst. Between the Mercy Seat and the Ark is the Atonement Cover. Every year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would come into the Holy of Holies and would sprinkle the blood of a bull on the atonement cover to provide a cover for his sins and the sins of his household. Then he would take the blood of a goat and sprinkle it over the cover as a covering for the sins of the people. Because the sins of the people, signified by the articles in the Ark were covered by the atonement cover and the blood, when God looked down from the Mercy Seat, He saw the blood and not man’s sin and it appeased his wrath.
The Israelites found forgiveness from their sin through their believing His Word of promise made available to them through the sacrificial system. God’s provision for a covering for their sin was provided to them by the shedding of the blood. Jesus offered Himself as the permanent sacrifice and the shedding of His blood covers the sins of all who come to Him by faith believing that through His sacrificial death on the cross, all their sins are covered as well. So when God looks at the believer, He sees the blood of His Son as opposed to the sinner’s sin. The Mercy Seat was God’s throne in the midst of the Israelites. God is on His throne today in heaven and Jesus provides that same atonement cover for all who come through repentance and faith to Him as the gate and find covering through His sacrificial gift on the cross.
When Adam sinned in the garden, the guilt of his sin was not imputed to mankind. Adam was banned from the Garden of Eden, which represented God’s perpetual presence. As a result, every person who has been born of Adam has been born outside of Eden and outside God’s perpetual presence. God created Adam and placed him in the garden where He could meet every single need that Adam had. Because Adam was in God’s presence, every provision that God had was available to Adam. When he sinned, God put Adam out of the garden and away from His perpetual presence. Because God is the source of life, being banned from God’s presence and withdrawn from God’s provisions was in effect death for Adam. This state of separation from God’s perpetual presence is the root cause of sin in mankind because God’s purpose for creating man was for Him to be the source of life for him. In fact, God’s desire to bless man may very well be the key to understanding what it means to bring glory to God. God is glorified when He is able to do in us and with us all that He had planned to do, which will make our lives their absolute fullest. As long as man is separated from God’s presence, nothing he does will bring honor and glory to God because God is not present and His provisions for man are limited. Anything that falls short of God’s glory is defined as sin.
In the Old Testament, God seeks to solve the separation problem by calling a nation of people unto Himself and seeking to be their God and wanting them to be His people. God protects Israel and provides for them and gives them His commandments and promises to bless them if they will just honor Him and keep His commandments. Israel does not keep God’s commandments. So God tells Moses to make a tabernacle and the tabernacle itself becomes a symbol of God’s presence with His people. His shekinah glory is connected to the tabernacle and various aspects of the tabernacle itself prove to the people that God’s presence is with them. Israel still is disobedient and rebellious. God being with His people was not enough.
So God sends His Son in the form of human flesh as the Word became flesh and in Jesus God cures man’s separation problem. Jesus endured temptation and fulfilled the Law and became the sinless sacrifice for the sins of the world. He was crucified on the cross and buried in a borrowed tomb and 3 days later was bodily resurrected and then later bodily ascended into heaven. God made Jesus both Lord and Savior and He is preparing a place called heaven for all who make Jesus the same in their hearts and in their lives. God has made a way for all to come to Him by believing in Jesus and in doing so, by coming to God in repentance and faith, believing that God is everything that His Word reveals about Him and that He will do everything he says in His Word He will do, the Bible promises that God will hear his prayer and will forgive his sin. When an individual places his faith and trust in Christ as Savior, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in his heart and God’s perpetual presence is forever joined with the individual. This presence solves man’s separation problem with God’s perpetual presence and sets the stage for the death of the old man and the sin nature and the new birth of the new man who has a new heart and is set to begin the transformation of having the mind of Christ.
There is one other aspect of this new man and new found solution to the separation problem and that is seen in the practice of prayer. Prayer allows man to come into God’s special presence. Prayer allows an individual to be as close to God as he can possibly be at any given moment in his life. As individuals come into His presence, they are most likely to experience His power and His provisions and God is once again allowed to do for man what only He can do. He is glorified as He is allowed to be God once again in the lives of those who believe in His Son.
Here is a very important question: why does being a Christian not free anyone completely from sin? It does not do so because no one is able to do as Paul instructs and “pray without ceasing.” Even as a Christian and even with the Holy Spirit dwelling in the born again believer’s heart, all still have this old nature that seeks to be in control and wants to do what seems right in their own eyes. God’s plan all along was simply for men to be obedient to His Word no matter what because that is what brings His life into their lives and that makes men’s lives the absolute best that they can be. The separation problem is the root problem of all sin. While correcting the separation problem does not guarantee the absence of sin; the separation problem does guarantee the presence of sin.
A person who is once born dies twice. A person who is twice born only dies once. The person who is once born never finds resolution for the separation problem that Christ came to correct. The person who is twice born has been born again and God corrects the separation problem as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in his heart. The Holy Spirit’s presence will bring God’s power and His provisions to those who walk with Him in fellowship allowing Him to do what He purposed in His heart to do from the foundation of the world.