At the beginning of the world, Adam lived in the hope of its end. Before the fall, Adam lived on earth in the hope of heaven. Adam worked in this world in the hope of rest in the world to come. Adam dwelt in this creation in the hope of a new creation. This hope was revealed to Adam in the work of creation, in God’s own work unto rest.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). The word “heavens” in Genesis 1:1 refers not to the visible heavens, but to the invisible heavens. In that verse, God creates all things, both visible and invisible (cf. Col. 1:15).
In Genesis 1:2, the focus turns from the heavens and the earth together to the earth alone. The NIV conveys this transition well: “Now the earth was formless and empty.”
The six days that follow are God’s response to the formlessness and emptiness of the earth. In the first three days, God forms what was formless. In the next three days, God fills what was empty.
The visible heavens of the second day are distinct from the heavens of Genesis 1:1. They are part of the form that God gave to the earth. Thus, the visible heavens, including the entirety of the visible cosmos (Gen. 1:15, 17), are a feature of the earth. Accordingly, the twofold structure of creation in Genesis 1:1, the heavens and the earth, may be described after the third day of creation as a threefold structure: the earth, its visible heavens, and the invisible heavens.
The threefold structure of creation is replicated in the tabernacle, with its outer court, Holy Place, and Most Holy Place. The threefold structure of the tabernacle parallels the threefold structure of creation.
The outer court, with its mountain-like altar and sea-like basin corresponds to the earth. (In 1 Kings 7:23, Solomon names this basin of water “the sea.”)
The Holy Place, with its seven lamps, corresponds to the visible heavens. (The word translated as “lights” in Genesis 1:14 is the same Hebrew word translated as “lamps” in Exodus 25:6.)
Finally, the Most Holy Place, with the ark of the covenant, corresponds to the invisible heavens with the throne of God. As the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle was the place of God’s rest (Ps. 132:8, 14), so also the throne of God in the invisible heavens is the place of God’s rest (Rev. 4:1–2).
The tabernacle replicated not only the structure of creation, but also the history of the world, its beginning and its end. Just as the Lord set the earth on its foundations and stretched out the heavens like a tent (Ps. 104:2, 5), so also Moses laid the bases of the tabernacle and spread the tent over it (Ex. 40:18–19).
Just as the Lord finished his work of creation (Gen. 2:2), so also Moses finished the work of the tabernacle (Ex. 40:33). The glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle, in Exodus 40:34, parallels God’s resting on the seventh day, in Genesis 2:2. God’s resting on the seventh day was not his taking a nap, but his taking his seat upon his throne in the heavenly places (cf. 2 Sam. 7:1).
The tabernacle revealed not only the beginning of history, but also its end, its goal, its hope—to enter God’s rest.
This hope was revealed once a year on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest entered into the Most Holy Place. Hebrews 9:8–9 explains: “By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age).”
The hope revealed in the tabernacle was the tearing down of the Holy Place for the opening of the way into the Most Holy Place, the passing away of this age and the arrival of the age to come.
The tabernacle did not introduce this hope into history. The tabernacle was simply reflecting the hope already revealed at the creation of the world.
As God worked unto rest, so also Adam was to work unto rest. The week of creation set the pattern not only for each week of history, but for the entirety of history itself. The Sabbath at the end of each week was a reminder to Adam of the Sabbath at the end of history, the Sabbath that still remains for the people of God (Heb. 4:9–10), an eternal Sabbath.
Unlike the first six days of creation, which came to an end (Gen. 1: 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31), the seventh day is without end, because God’s rest is without end. (Genesis 2:1–3 does not mention the end of the seventh day.)
But how was Adam to enter God’s rest? God entered into his rest through judgment. In Genesis 1:31, God looks upon his work and judges it very good. Only through a similar judgment of Adam’s work as righteous would Adam enter into God’s rest.
The structure of history revealed in the work of creation is this: work unto judgment and rest. This structure included two possibilities: obedience unto justification and life, or disobedience unto condemnation and death.
The Day of Judgment marks the end of work and the beginning of rest, the end of this world and the beginning of the world to come, the end of this creation and the beginning of the new creation. At the beginning of the world, Adam lived in the hope of its end.
How would Adam know that the Day of Judgment had come and that the way into God’s rest had been opened? Remember the tabernacle. The way into the Most Holy Place, corresponding to the invisible heavens, is not yet opened as long as the Holy Place, corresponding to the visible heavens, is still standing. As long as the visible heavens remain, the way into God’s rest is not yet opened.
The Day of Judgment must then be marked by the passing away of the visible heavens and the exposure of the earth to the invisible heavens (cf. 2 Peter 3:10; Rev. 6:12–17). Then the way to God’s rest will at last be opened. Then the hope in which we were created will be fulfilled.
Alas, on account of his sin, Adam failed to enter God’s rest, signified by God’s barring him from the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:24). Thanks be to God: the hope that we lost in Adam we have gained in Christ.
When Christ, the second Adam, breathed his last upon the cross, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (Mark 15:38). By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into God’s rest is now open.
The Day of Judgment has come in Christ. The end of the world has come in Christ. In him, the old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).
Through his death and resurrection, Christ has finished his work and entered God’s rest. Christ has entered the inner place behind the curtain.
He has gone there as a forerunner on our behalf (Heb. 6:19–20). In him, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3).
By his grace, we have been given Christ’s right to the Tree of Life (Rev. 22:14). By his grace, we have been given the right to enter his rest.
We have entered that rest in him now by faith. And we will enter that rest with him one day soon by sight—on that day when the visible heavens will pass away with a roar (2 Peter 3:10), on that day when the sky will vanish like a scroll (Rev. 6:14), on that day when the dwelling place of God will be with man (Rev. 21:3).
Then we will see him face-to-face (Rev. 22:4), for the heavens of the world to come are the invisible heavens alone. The world to come has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb (Rev. 21:23).
In this world, we need only look up to the heavens above, to the sun and the moon and the stars, to see that that day is yet to come.
But by faith, we may see beyond the visible heavens, which declare the glory of God, to what lies beyond them, the invisible heavens, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Col. 3:1).
By faith we may know that as the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27), as God’s rest was made for man, so also the place of his rest was made for man, the invisible heavens were made for man.
In the world to come, we will only need to look up to the heavens above, to God and to the Lamb, to see that nothing in this creation was able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
To him be all blessing and honor and glory and power forever and ever. Amen.
The author is the pastor of Reformation OPC in Morgantown, W.Va. He quotes the ESV. New Horizons, April 2016.