While God is omnipresent and in all places at all times and has missed nothing that has ever happened, He did have special dwelling places on the Earth throughout the Bible. It began in Eden, where God’s presence was so tangible that He could be sensed in the “the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Ge 3:8). Eden was His holy temple at that point in time and the specific place on Earth where His presence dwelled (see Walton, John H. The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2015, pp. 49-50).
Of course we all know how the story of Eden goes: Adam and Eve choose to disobey God and are therefore expelled from God’s sacred dwelling place. They must now go into the rest of the world that was not the special dwelling place of God.
From this point on, God’s manifest, tangible presence will migrate to a new temple that will take on the mobile form of a tent. Sure, a tent may not seem all that glorious, but could anything human hands ever build compare to Eden, let alone God’s Heavenly temple? And so, God instructs Moses on how to design this new temple and then empowers a man named Bezalel with His Holy Spirit to build it (Ex 31:1-5). Sometime after it was finished, something interesting happened:
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.Exodus 40:34-35
God’s presence is clearly there in the tent in the form of “glory,” something that Mark S. Smith calls, “the aura or effulgence of divine presence” (“The Three Bodies of God in the Hebrew Bible.” Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 134, no. 3, 2015, p. 488. JSTOR). God has moved from Eden to a new home amidst His people—and though He is omnipresent, this sacred space will continue to be a special place where His glory dwells and He can be found. His presence will dwell within a special room in the tent known as the Holy of Holies. And this sacred area would be attended to only by an Israelite tribe known as the Levites.
Now fast forward quite a bit and the presence of God moves once again, this time to a permanent structure that King Solomon built. After this new glorious temple was created, a worship service was held in which the ark of the covenant was brought into the new Holy of Holies. Songs were played by a huge band and sacrifices were made beyond number as the celebration continued. It was then that God’s presence invaded this new sacred space; for “the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud,so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God” (2 Chron 5:13-14).
But eventually this temple was destroyed and replaced by a second temple that Herod helped build around Jesus’ time. This will be the same temple that Jesus enters into and flips tables in. However, there’s no affirmation that God’s presence was ever truly believed to have been in the second temple like it was in these other sacred spaces. We do not have stories evidencing that His glory or presence were ever imparted to this structure.
But despite this, when Jesus breathed His last breath, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mk 15:38), thus symbolically unleashing the presence of God from the Holy of Holies. God Himself is communicating this theme; for not only is this curtain torn right after Jesus died, but it was torn from top to bottom. If a human was to tear this heavy veil (if they were even capable of doing so), they would have to pull from the bottom, not the top.
And now all Christians (instead of just the select Levites) are capable of accessing the presence of God whenever we want, for the temple is no longer a building, but a person; for as Jesus once said,
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body.John 2:19-21
God dwells in Jesus, the Son of God who is empowered by the Holy Spirit. There is no more need of sacred space in a building because sacred space is the God-Man. And that God-Man invites us back to the true presence of God that we once had in the Garden of Eden; for when Mary Magdalene goes to find His lifeless body in the tomb, she mistakes the resurrected Jesus for a gardener (Jn 20:15). And so as this gardener invites us back into the garden and therefore into the presence of God, we find ourselves entering sacred space. And since we have the Holy Spirit in us because Jesus has asked the Father to send Him to us, so we too are sacred space. We are temples of God, both corporately as a church (1 Cor 3:16) and individually (1 Cor 6:19).
Yes, God’s presence was once found within the sacred spaces of buildings, but has now been released to live within the sacred spaces of our pre-resurrected bodies. Perhaps Jonah really though that he could flee from the presence of the Lord (Jonah 1:3) if he left God’s holy land of Israel—but we know better: God’s presence is as close as our very skin.
And one day that presence will be even more tangible as “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).
The fullness of God’s presence is coming, but as with most things in the phase of the spiritual timeline, though it’s coming, it’s also already here. And we find it when we turn to the Holy Spirit.