God's Rescue Plan
The Bible can seem confusing.
We might think, It's just random stories about people who lived thousands of years ago. But when you really dig into it, the Bible becomes more than a bunch of stories with little relationship to each other. In fact, the Bible is one big, connected story about God's plan to be with us. That plan started in the Garden of Eden. God designed it, so he could live with us—actually walk and talk and be with us face-to-face. Of course, we know what happened next: Adam and Eve blew it. They sinned. And because of that sin, they had to leave paradise and get real jobs. But God didn't abandon them, and he hasn't abandoned us. He launched a five-phase rescue mission to save us from our sin.
Phase 1: God goes camping.
The first step in that rescue mission was the tabernacle. When Moses and the Israelites escaped Egypt, God told them to build a big tent (the tabernacle) and carry it wherever they went. But this was no ordinary Coleman tent. This was basically where God "lived" on Earth. This is where God revealed himself in the form of a bright, glowing cloud. Exodus 40:34 says, "Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle."
The cloud and the tabernacle were very comforting for the Israelites. For hundreds of years after Adam and Eve sinned, only a few people had been able to interact with God—people like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But now, all of the Israelites were able to see the cloud. It was God's way of saying, "Hey, I'm still with you guys. Don't worry."
On the other hand, the tabernacle was a big reminder of what humanity had lost because of sin. There was a special room inside called the Holy of Holies. This was where God's presence dwelled. But, because of sin, people couldn't go in there. They were separated from God by a thick curtain. In fact, the only person who could ever go through that curtain was the High Priest—and he could only do that once a year after being purified with lots of sacrificial blood (Leviticus 16). Remember that bit about sacrificial blood because that's very, very important to God's big rescue plan.
Phase 2: God moves into a big house.
Around 1000 B.C., an Israelite king named David started thinking, Hmmm, I sure have a really nice house. Maybe it's time we upgraded God's tent a little bit. So he spent his life planning out a really posh palace. His son Solomon, too, spent a lot of his life getting God's temple built. Finally, it was finished.
Here's what happened next: "When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord" (1 Kings 8:10, NIV). Sound familiar? It's just like when God moved into the tabernacle, only this time his presence filled up a more permanent structure. It was like God was stepping deeper into our world, taking up a more permanent residence.
Unfortunately, the situation took a bad turn. Just like Adam and Eve, the Israelites messed up. They sinned. They stopped following God's commands and began worshiping idols. As a result, God left the building: "Then the glory of the Lord rose from above the cherubim and… departed from over the threshold of the temple" (Ezekiel 10:4, 18, TNIV).
It's important to understand that God did not turn his back on human beings—we rejected him. In response to that rejection, God initiated Phase 3 of his plan.
Phase 3: God gets his feet dirty.
I don't know about you, but I have a hard time forgiving people who stab me in the back. And I think it would be just about impossible to hang out with someone who did it more than once. Amazingly, God doesn't think that way.
After we rejected him over and over, he came to us personally as Jesus Christ. He stepped even deeper into the mess of sin and junk that was our world. He walked and talked and lived with us, just like back in the Garden of Eden. This time, though, he came on a mission to bring us back to paradise—not only by redeeming us but also showing us a way to bring a bit of God's Kingdom to Earth (see Matthew 6:10 and Luke 11:20).
However, if you've figured out the pattern, you know what happened next: We messed up. We sinned. We murdered God when he came to save us.
But he knew that was going to happen, and he was ready. The instant Jesus died on the cross, our relationship with God changed forever. Matthew 27:51 says, "At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom" (niv). If you remember the curtain from the tabernacle, you know what that means: Our sin didn't have to separate us from God anymore. Jesus' ultimate blood sacrifice let us all cross over the threshold. Catch that? All those sacrifices in the Old Testament (all that blood spilled in Leviticus) kept pointing to Jesus' once-and-for-all sacrifice.
Phase 4: God lights a fire.
Jesus didn't stay dead, of course. He rose from the grave and ascended into heaven. But it was still kind of a rough deal for the disciples. Sure, they knew Christ was God, but now he'd left them as just a group of guys hanging out in some cramped room in Jerusalem.
But then something big happened: "They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit … " (Acts 2:3-4, niv). After that, the disciples went throughout the city speaking a bunch of different languages "as the Spirit enabled them," and about 3,000 people became followers of Jesus in one day. After that, people began to see glimpses of God's heavenly Kingdom everywhere. And this was the start of the church. You can read all about it in the book of Acts.
Now, I'll admit "tongues of fire" are kind of strange. But think back to the cloud covering the tabernacle, and then the temple. It was a visual sign of God's glory, remember? It was God's way of saying, "I'm still here." The same thing happened with the disciples and that fire, but there was one very important difference.
With the tabernacle and the temple, God's glory dwelt in buildings. Only the High Priest could approach it, and only after being purified with sacrificial blood. But when Jesus died, his sacrificial blood purified all human beings who would call him Lord and Savior. And when the little clouds of fire settled over each of the disciples, it was God's way of saying: "I'm with you, Matthew. I'm with you, Peter. I'm with you, John..." It was personal. God dwelled inside each of them.
And the same thing is true of us today. In 1 Corinthians 6:19, it says: "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you" (nasb). So repeat after me: "I am a temple of God's glory. I am a part of God's plan." Pretty cool, huh?
Phase 5: Home sweet home
So what's the final phase of the plan?
Heaven, of course. While God's people—through his church—have sought to show bits of the heavenly Kingdom on Earth, those are only glimpses of the real thing. Revelation 21:3 says, "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God'"(NIV). So heaven will be just like the Garden of Eden—we'll walk and talk with God face-to-face, only this time it'll be permanent.