Tuesday, June 26, 2012

God's Ultimate Goal: Defining the Relationship, Part 2

God's ultimate goal is to have an intimate relationship with a group of people.

Yesterday's post explored the first two components of this goal:

"I will be your God."
"You will be My people."

Today we will examine the last component:

"I will dwell among you."

The idea of God dwelling with man is at the forefront of the new heaven and new earth that are described in Revelation 21:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God." (Rev. 21:2-3, ESV)

The new Jerusalem will be the centerpiece of the new creation, and much of the remainder of the book of Revelation describes this amazing place.  It will be a place where we can be with God in a way that is not currently possible.  We will see him with our own eyes and worship in his presence.  It will be a city where God and man literally dwell side by side, and it is a crucial element of God's ultimate goal.

However, this is not the only time in scripture where we see God dwelling with man.  It definitely is the most extreme example we find, but it is by no means the first.  If you think back over the course of biblical history, there are several examples of God dwelling with man.  The first time we see it is in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve walked and talked with God in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8-9).  Next, we see it some during the time of Abraham when the Lord ate and talked with him (Gen. 18).

Yet the prime example in the Old Testament period was the Tabernacle and later the Temple where God's presence dwelt:

"There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. … I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God." (Exod. 29:43-46, ESV)

According to this passage, one of the reasons that God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt was so He could dwell among them.  He did not want to be a god who was distant.  He wanted to dwell right in the midst of their camp.  In fact, later he instructs Moses to arrange the camp in such a way that the Tabernacle was in the center and all the tribes surrounded it.  God's tent was to be part of the camp.  Can you imagine living down the street from God?  That was a reality for the children of Israel as they travelled through the wilderness.

Moving to the New Testament period, we are immediately faced with one of the most remarkable examples of God dwelling with us: the incarnation of Jesus.  In Christ, God became one of us.  He walked the same roads, drank the same water, ate the same food, and slept on the same ground as the rest of mankind.  People could walk right up and talk to Him.  As John put it, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14, ESV).  The people living in Jesus' day had a unique opportunity to experience God dwelling with them.

But it didn't stop there.  After Jesus' ascension, He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in us.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Rom. 8:9-11, ESV)

And this contiues to this day.  Every person who believes in the gospel (that Jesus died for our sins, was buried in a tomb, was raised back to life, and now reigns as King over all creation) receives the gift of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21-22, Eph. 1:13-14, Eph. 4:30).  So even though the Tabernacle is gone, the Temple has been destroyed, and Jesus has ascended into heaven for the time being, God is still dwelling with His people today: His Holy Spirit dwells inside every believer.

One last example from the history of the first heaven and the first earth is a period that is yet future: the thousand year reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1-6).  During this period of history, Jesus will once again be dwelling among us, but this time as the victorious king and the recognized ruler over all nations.

"I will dwell among you."  God yearns so much for an intimate relationship with us that He takes extreme measures to be close to us.  This componant of God's ultimate goal is seen in various times and in various ways throughout the Bible.  As C.S. Lewis once wrote regarding the actions of God, "things never happen the same way twice."*

We were created to be in God's presence, as Adam and Eve were before the Fall.  It is comforting to know that a crucial element of God's ultimate goal is that one day we dwell with him, enjoying an intimate fellowship with our Creator forever.

*C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian, The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 2, Chapter 10.