The scriptures end with imagery very similar to the beginning. When the world was new and people were pure, God was there with them. Food was free, disease did not exist and the tree of life ensured life without end. The apostle John’s vision of heaven in Revelation 22 looks like Eden restored – only better and more permanent. It is life in the immediate presence of God with healing for all that had happened along the way. The tree of life is there along with a river flowing with the water of life. Life eternal will be ‘face to face’ with God the Father and his son, the Lamb of God.
The story of life between these bookends has only ever been about the presence of God. Life in his presence, or life away from it. Biblical history alternates between the transcendence of God and his immanence.
When God called his people out of Egypt, the cloud of his presence led them by day while his pillar of fire lit their way by night. It took no faith at all to know that God was present. But it took all of the faith that they could muster to believe that God was for them and present to bless and protect.
When God arranged for the tabernacle, he made it clear that He was not only among his people, but approachable. He invited Israel to ‘draw near’, aided by the priesthood and the agency of sacrifice. He was not just a God who was ‘afar off’ but close at hand. God remained completely holy while extending the means by which his people might share that holiness. The real blessing was the presence of God himself and union with him in a covenant relationship. God once again supplied free food and water and ensured that his people did not get sick nor did their clothes wear out.1 Once settled in Canaan, God caused him name to dwell at the temple in Jerusalem, inviting and even requiring annual appearance for worship and covenant renewal.
God settled among them to bless and protect. There was no substitute for his presence nor cure should he choose to withdraw.
Then the unthinkable happened. God arrived on earth in human form. The Son of God was not just among us, he was ‘with us’ as one of us. Looking back on the life of Jesus, the apostle John could say – “our hands handled”, “our eyes saw and our ears heard’ the Word of life2. God had never been immanent to such a degree. Fully human yet fully divine. Free from sin yet tempted as we are3. A human sacrifice – a sacrifice ‘in kind’, when no other sort would do4.
Yet one more thing was needed. Jesus returned to heaven to present his sacrifice and begin to rule. Upon his arrival there, God sent the Holy Spirit5 bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth.
God among us gave way to God with us so that one day God might dwell within us. No one suspected that this is what God had in mind. It was the next step on our way to John’s vision in Revelation 22.
When we were baptized into the death of Christ6, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit7, we were sanctified by God’s Spirit8. Cleansed by the blood of Jesus, each and every Christian has become a fit place for God himself to dwell9.
In times past, the Holy Spirit empowered prophetic utterance, imparted knowledge and skill, fortified courage and imbued supernatural strength. But not until the sacrifice of our Lord was he able to indwell as he now does.
His presence is the blessing of ‘God within us’. Nothing else even comes close.
God’s Spirit within us is proof that God has accepted the sacrifice of Jesus10. God has claimed us as his own, putting his seal upon us11. The Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the grave promises to do the same for us12. And while we wait, he intercedes on our behalf13, protects us from the ‘evil one’14 and calls us higher to complete the sanctification15 that began when we first ‘put on Christ’. The Spirit of God is God’s guarantee, his down payment16 on what is to come. A down payment acts as security until full payment is made. Since the down payment is God the Spirit, full payment anticipates life in the presence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
For this we wait, we hope and we trust, until our God who is already within us, takes us home. Until then, God himself, is our blessing from the Lord.
2I John 1:1
3Heb 2:18, 4:15
8I Cor 6:11, I Pet 1:2, II Thess 2:13
9I Cor 6:19-20, 3:16-17
11II Cor 1:22, Eph 1:13, 4:30, Rom 8:9
13Rom 8:16-17, 26-27
14II Thess 3:3, I Jo 5:18, I Cor 10:13
15I Thess 5:23, I John 3:23, I Pet 1:13-16, Phil 1:6, Tit 2:11-14
16II Cor 1:22, 5:5