We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it at first.
–St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation 
THE PARADISE THEME
The story of Eden contains three basic ideas, concepts which confront us repeatedly as we study the Bible: Creation, the Fall, and Redemption in Christ. As these ideas are developed throughout the history of salvation, we see familiar images and actions reappearing and patterns beginning to take shape, until the last book of the Bible finally answers all the questions that began in the first book. God’s self-revelation is a coherent, consistent whole; and it comes to us in very beautiful literary forms. Our proper understanding of the message will be inadequate unless we attempt to understand and appreciate the form in which that message is communicated. By beginning our study where the Bible itself begins, we can more readily understand not only the Book of Revelation, but the Bible itself – why the writers of the Bible said what they said in the way they said it. And our reasons for doing so are that we might more fully trust in God’s promises, obey His commands, and inherit His blessings.
The Nature of Salvation
One of the basic themes of Scripture is that salvation restores man to his original purpose. In the beginning God created man in His own image, in order that man would have dominion (Gen. 1:26-28). That task of dominion began in the Garden of Eden, but it was not supposed to end there, for man was ordered to have dominion over the whole earth: Adam and Eve (and their children) were to extend the blessings of Paradise throughout the entire world. But when man rebelled, he lost the ability to have godly dominion, because he lost fellowship with his Creator. While fallen man is still the image of God (Gen. 9:6), he is now a naked image (Gen. 3:7), for he has lost his original covering – the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). The image of God remains, to some extent, in all men – but the image has become twisted, marred, disfigured, and broken as a result of sin. And the earth, which was planned to become God’s Garden-Temple, has instead become a wilderness of thorns, thistles, sweat, scarcity, pollution, and death (Gen. 3:17-19; Isa. 24:1-6; Rom. 5:12). Man was banished from the Garden, and forbidden to enter it again.
But that isn’t the end of the story. On the very day that God pronounced judgment upon man and the earth, He pronounced a greater judgment upon the Tempter, declaring that the Redeemer would come someday to crush the Serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). Accordingly, the Apostle John tells us that “the Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Christ came as the Second Adam, in order to undo the damage brought through the First Adam (1 Cor. 15:22,45; Rom. 5:15-19). God had breathed into Adam the breath (in Hebrew, the Spirit) of Life, but Adam’s rebellion brought death into the world. In salvation, Christ again breathes into His people the Spirit of Life (John 20:22) – Eternal Life, which sets us free from the Curse of sin and death (Rom. 8:2), and which will ultimately result in the restoration of the entire creation (Rom. 8:19-21). In Christ we really are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), because we have been recreated in God’s image (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10), and clothed again with the glory of God (Rom. 8:29-30). And, this time, the security of the restored image of God is guaranteed, because our standing is in the Christ who can never fail. In Him we have Eternal Life.
This introduces another basic Biblical pattern, a threefold pattern which is assumed throughout much of the material in this book, and we will see it again and again in our studies. Scripture presents salvation in terms of a definitive-progressive-final structure, and this is why Biblical prophecies often seem to overlap. Salvation was definitively accomplished in the perfect, finished work of Jesus Christ; it is progressively and increasingly applied during this age, personally and institutionally; and it will be finally achieved, in its highest fulfillment, at the end of history on the Last Day. We have been saved (2 Tim. 1:9), we are being saved now (Phil. 2:12-13), and we will be saved in the future (1 Pet. 1:9). To put it another way, we have been remade God’s image (Eph. 4:24), we are being progressively remade in His image (2 Cor. 3:18), and we look forward to the day when we will be perfectly remade in His image (Phil. 3:20-21).
Salvation, therefore, restores man to his original calling and purpose, and guarantees that man’s original mandate – to exercise dominion under God over the whole earth – will be fulfilled. Cornelius Van Til has pointed out that the “redemptive revelation of God had to be as comprehensive as the sweep of sin. Redemption must, in the nature of the case, be for the whole world. This does not mean that it must save every individual sinner in the world. It does mean, however, that the created universe which has been created as a unit must also be saved as a unit” (An Introduction to Systematic Theology [Presbyterian and Reformed, 1974], p. 133). Ultimately, Biblical salvation turns back the Curse, brings back Edenic conditions, repairs personal and social relationships, and blesses the earth in every area. The whole earth will be saved, and remade into the Garden of God. “For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9).
In a very real sense, therefore (and progressively as the Gospel conquers the world), God’s people have always lived in “the Garden.” For example, the land of Egypt is described in Genesis 13:10 as being “like the Garden of the LORD” – and when the covenant people went there to live, they were given the area of Goshen, which was the best in all Egypt (Gen. 45:18; 47:5-6, 11, 27). In this Edenic location they were fruitful and multiplied (Ex. 1:7) – the same expression as in God’s original command to Adam and Eve in the Garden! The Promised Land also, as we would expect, was a land in which much of the Curse had been reversed: it was “like the Garden of Eden” (Joel 2:3), and therefore “flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8).
As we shall see in the following pages, the restoration of Eden is an essential aspect of the salvation that Christ provides. When the Old Testament foretold the coming of the Christ and the blessings He would bring, they often spoke in the language of Eden-restoration. Isaiah wrote: “Indeed, the LORD will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, and her desert like the Garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and sound of a melody” (Isa. 51:3). And Ezekiel, many years later, prophesied:
Thus says the Lord GOD, “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places will be rebuilt. And the desolate land will be cultivated instead of being a desolation in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, ‘This desolate land has become like the Garden of Eden; and the waste, desolate, and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations that are left round about you will know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate; I, the LORD, have spoken and will do it.
But there is much more in these prophecies (and others) regarding the restoration of Eden than we might notice at first glance. Indeed, there are many, many passages of Scripture which speak in terms of the Edenic patterns which do not mention Eden by name. The Paradise Theme runs throughout the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation; but in order to recognize it we must first familiarize ourselves with what God’s Word says about the original Garden itself. God has gone to the trouble to tell us some very specific information about the Garden, and the rest of Scripture is built on this foundation, referring back to it regularly. Note well: this study is not merely a collection of trivia, of “strange and interesting facts about the Bible” (e.g., the sort of irrelevant data that is often to be found in the “encyclopedia” sections of big family Bibles). It is, I repeat, a major Biblical theme, dramatically illuminating the message of the Book of Revelation – and, by the way, helping us to understand the message of the Bible as a whole. Thus, in the chapters to follow, we will examine the various characteristics of the Garden of Eden, taking special notice of how each of these becomes a “sub-theme” in itself, in terms of the general theme of Eden-restoration in salvation.