The Cosmic Temple & Spiritualized Eschatology, Part 1

Israel’s temple was a symbolic shadow pointing to the eschatological “greater and more perfect tabernacle” (Heb. 9:11) in which Christ and the church would dwell and would form a part. If so, it would seem to be the wrong approach for Christians to look in hope to the building of another temple in Jerusalem composed of earthly “bricks and mortar” as a fulfillment of the OT temple prophecies. (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 634)

The above quotation presents one of the logical outcomes of adopting the position that the garden of Eden was designed as a “temple,” which in turn symbolized the created cosmos, which needed to be subordinated to its Creator. This micro-cosmos Eden “temple” was to be expanded by mankind, we are told, until it covered the surface area of planet earth. The tabernacle and the temple of Israel were related to the Eden “temple” in that they too were mini-cosmoses; yet they also functioned as types of the final temple, the church in Jesus Christ. The church is the new and real temple which is to expand its “sacred space” until it spreads over the whole of creation.

Explaining the Cosmic Temple Idea1

If one spends time reading the older commentaries, articles and Old Testament theologies, one will find no mention of the idea of a Cosmic Temple.2 Today the situation has changed and there is a widespread consensus about cosmic symbolism in the ancient world, the Hebrew Bible included.3 There are, to be sure, impressive parallels between ancient views about temple complexes, the concept of rest, the symbolism of trees and so on, in Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures, and certain ideas in the Old Testament.

If we put to one side the vital question of the sufficiency of Scripture for the moment and concentrate on the issue at hand, we can put together a decent picture of the way the ancient Jews, among other peoples, saw the temple as symbolizing the universe. But whether the Bibleought to be thought of as reflecting this same outlook, as some evangelicals claim4, is an altogether separate question.

The basic concept involved is well expressed in the following quotations:

It is now widely known that archaeological ruins and texts from the Ancient Near East portray ancient temples as small models of heavenly temples or of the universe conceived of as a temple.5

The setting for the world’s true story is the cosmos God made. In this cosmos he intends to be known and worshiped by his image and likeness. In that sense, the world God made is a cosmic temple. Within the cosmic temple God planted a garden, and it appears that [man] was charged to expand the borders of that garden until the glory of the Lord covered the dry ground as the waters covered the sea.6

The Ancient Near Eastern temples are also compatible with the…conclusion that the three sections of Israel’s temple represented the three parts of the cosmos.7

Our thesis is that Israel’s temple was composed of three main parts, each of which symbolized a major part of the cosmos: (1) the outer court represented the habitable world where humanity dwelt; (2) the holy place was emblematic of the visible heavens and its light sources; (3) the holy of holies symbolized the invisible dimension of the cosmos, where God and his heavenly hosts dwelt.8, 9

Eden as a Cosmic Temple?

Greg Beale, who has been at the forefront of this movement, thinks that seeing Eden as a temple, fated for worldwide expansion, has a lot of promise, helping us to comprehend the Bible’s grand narrative. His case is built up from allusions, hints, strands, and possible scenarios. Beneath the surface it is all very speculative, and he often has to qualify his assertions (“possibly”, “perhaps”, “no explicit evidence”). Rarely does he point to plain and clear statements of Scripture to prove his thesis. For example, if one asks, where is this idea most clearly spelled out? Beale answers with Ezekiel 28:

Ezekiel 28:18 is probably, therefore, the most explicit place anywhere in canonical literature where the Garden of Eden is called a temple.10

The passage in question reads:

You defiled your sanctuaries by the multitude of your iniquities, by the iniquity of your trading; therefore I brought fire from your midst; it devoured you, and I turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you. – Ezekiel 28:18

As Beale explains in another place, “Ezek. 28:18 says that the sin of the glorious figure ‘profaned your sanctuaries,’ which alludes to Eden as a temple being profaned.”11

The Hebrew word miqdashim (“sanctuaries”) is plural, but it may be that the plural is used simply for emphasis12, so that in itself does not derail the identification of Adam as the “glorious figure” or Eden as a profaned temple.” But everyone will admit that the passage has been given many interpretations, and the “Adam interpretation” feels less than airtight.13 Bruce Waltke believes that, “the description of the king of Tyre is not apt for Adam. Rather, the imagery fits Satan quite well; an angelic cherub in God’s court…”14 When all is said and done, if Ezekiel 28:18 is the most unambiguous place where Eden is referred to as a temple the thesis does not enjoy a very solid biblical foundation.

This Eden as temple approach has become very trendy of late.15 Whether one accepts it or not there is nothing terribly controversial about a connection between Moses’ Tabernacle or Solomon’s Temple and Eden (or its garden), so long as it is the right connection and it is held at bay. But Beale’s theology extrapolates to a significant degree.


1 Although I rely on many authors, the sources from which I have mainly formed an understanding of this position are Jonathan Klawans’ detailed chapter “Temple as Cosmos or Temple in the Cosmos” in his Purity, Sacrifice and the Temple: Symbolism and Supercessionism in the Study of Ancient Judaism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 111-144; Gregory K. Beale’s, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, esp. 29-60, and various chapters in his A New Testament Biblical Theology, and John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 71-112.

2 One might expect to find discussions of this idea in the works of respected OT scholars. But, as a matter of fact, many of them, e.g. Von Rad, Eichrodt, Scobie, Goldingay, give the subject little or no attention. Even the IBR Bibliography of Old Testament Theology by Elmer A. Martens fails to include it as a theme. Cf. also William Dyrness, Themes in Old Testament Theology. This is a very new teaching. Recent strategies to make it a determining concept in Biblical Theology ought therefore to be treated very cautiously.

3 See, e.g. Jonathan Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice and the Temple, 115, 280 n.22

4 To be clear, these writers are not always saying that the biblical authors borrowed from the worldview of their neighbors. Rather, they claim that the ancient Israelites also saw things in these ways. E.g. see John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 78, and G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 51.

5 G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 51

6 James M. Hamilton Jr., God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, 356. Upon reflection this paragraph is problematical. If “the world God made is a cosmic temple” that needs expanding and where God wants to be worshipped, then why was it not all originally created as such? Why was the actual temple only a garden upon the earth? This contradicts Hamilton’s statement above. He might have said that the garden was created as a temple on the earth, and mankind was to enlarge it over the surface of the planet. But if one is going to base this idea on ANE temples, it should be noted that they did not require enlarging because they were not intended for most of the populace. Therefore the concept breaks down, there being no clear biblical support for it.

7 G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 58

8 Ibid, 32-33. Some other writers believe that the holy of holies and not the outer court represented the earth. See e.g., T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 37-38 n. 50.

9 As a matter of fact, ancient temples did not always signify a god’s presence with the people. It was Elmer Martens’ view that: “… a temple may bespeak the presence of the deity, but it does not guarantee it.” – Elmer A. Martens, Interpreting the Old Testament: A Guide for Exegesis, ed. Craig C. Broyles, 196. This is contrary to Walton’s assertion that “If God is not in it, it is not a temple.” – John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 87. Walton’s point cannot be true since it is flatly contradicted by Ezekiel 40:1-43:10. Neither were these temples open to the ordinary populace, but usually only the priests and nobles. See Rodney Stark, Discovering God: The Origin of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief (New York: HarperOne, 2007), 75

10 G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 75-76. Also G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim, God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014),18

11 G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 361 n. 7

12 Keil considers and rejects this explanation. – C. F. Keil, The Prophecies of Ezekiel, 416-417. Fairbairn makes good sense when he makes the sanctuaries the holy mount of God, and the garden of God which both figure in the immediate context in Ezekiel 28. – Patrick Fairbairn, An Exposition of Ezekiel, 313-314 n.1. Daniel I. Block, in an essay we shall consider below, believes the plural “sanctuaries” distinguishes them from the garden. – See “Eden: A Temple: A Reassessment of the Biblical Evidence,” in From Creation to New Creation: Biblical Theology and Exegesis, (Peabody, MS: Hendricksen, 2013), Daniel M. Gurtner & Benjamin L. Gladd, eds., 10 n.4

13 I take up the identification of the “covering cherub” in the chapter on Ezekiel

14 Bruce K. Waltke, Old Testament Theology, 274

15 See, e.g., Scot McKnight, “Covenant” in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), Kevin J. Vanhoozer, General Editor, 141

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There are 5 Comments

Phil Siefkes's picture

Helpful article, Paul. Thanks.

One sees a similarity to this line of thought in Randall Price's "The Coming Last Days Temple," especially chapter 9 on Sanctuary Symbolism.

I have often said that your view of Eschatology reveals not so much your view of Eschatology but rather your view of Scripture.

Keep writing.

Discipling God's image-bearers to the glory of God.

ScottS's picture

I don't have time to communicate all my thoughts on why I hold this view about the meaning of "sanctuaries" in Ezek 28:18, but perhaps a short summary will be enough to express it. Let me express first, without defense (which I believe I can defend well) that I see the king of Tyre in Ezek 28:11ff. to be a reference to Satan/the Devil, so my interpretation is based on that.

A study about the cherub (plural, cherubim) in Scripture shows that they are primarily tasked with guarding "holy" places (places set apart in some way for some reason). Such were set to guard access to Eden (and specifically the tree of life) after the fall of Adam and Eve into sin (Gen 3:24), and such were embroidered in the curtains that covered access to the Holy and Most Holy places in the tabernacle (Exo 26:1, 31), as well as over the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant itself (Exo 25:18-22). They tended to the mobile throne of God in Ezekiel chapter 10.

So the "anointed cherub" (Ezek 28:14) was most likely guarding something specific, something set apart. Indeed, it seems that his task was to "cover" whatever it was from visual sight (Ezek 28:14, 16). I believe the "covering" of jewels that he possessed (Ezek 28:13) was external to himself and given to him as part of his ministry of covering, for the term used there for covering is מְסֻכָה (mesukah), a word only used here in Scripture, but it is a feminine form of מָסָךְ (masak) that means covering or screen,1 most often in reference to the coverings in the tabernacle (and always in reference to an external covering, not something intrinsic). The feminine form of a singular Hebrew noun can be used to express a collective idea,2 and I think that is the intent here, that the anointed cherub had a singular covering of "every precious stone" (v.13), so a bejeweled tapestry or veil that was a collection of these stones (probably woven together with gold strands) in this singular "covering" used in the appointed task of what was being covered.

What was to be covered? My view is built on circumstantial evidences from this part of Ezekiel 28, Isaiah 14:12-19 (which I also believe refers to the cherub that would become Satan), and Genesis chapter 3. I believe the anointed cherub's original task was to use his covering to prevent visual sight of the tree of knowledge of good and evil from Adam and Eve, a tree that was "set apart" from their use, and a tree that kept them "set apart" from sin. Notice a number of facts that relate to this (I have only some listed here):

  • The anointed cherub was "in Eden" (Ezek 28:13, which implies that was the location of his covering duty), and this task was a special one, since the idea of anointed implies something set apart and distinct from other cherubim. Similarly, the serpent (which I take as a reference to the "natural" beastly form of this cherub, for Satan is described as a dragon in form, also called a serpent, Rev 12:9; notice that cherubim, when described in detail, always have beastly aspects to their form, Ezekiel 10) was "in Eden" by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3).
  • Apparently, this stationing on the earth was not desirable to this cherub (indeed, he may have been the only angel stationed on earth), for he wanted instead to "ascend into heaven" (Isa 14:13), above above the clouds and take a position for himself to be "like the Most High" (Isa 14:14); this desire was not, I believe, to usurp God's position, but rather the position of the creature that God created to be like God, humanity (Gen 1:26; the noun דְּמוּת [demuth] "likeness" in this passage is from the verb דָּמָה [damah] "be like" used in Isa 14:14). The cherub looked at his own beauty (Ezek 28:17) compared to humans and was lifted up in pride as to who should be given the status of likeness to God; he looked at his lowly station on earth in comparison to the angelic host in heaven and felt slighted; and so this cherub fell in his pride (1 Tim 3:6). What had been a perfect and obedient creature had iniquity arise within his heart (Ezek 28:15).
  • So this cherub sought to discredit and destroy humanity, the creatures created to be like God, in a plot to usurp their position. The first part of Ezekiel 28:16 notes the progression of the downfall following the prideful iniquity that came about in v.15 (NKJV):

    By the abundance of your trading [see below]

    You became filled with violence within,

    And you sinned.

    The word "trading" (or some translations, "merchandise") is רְכֻלָּה (rekullah), only used in Ezekiel 28 (3 times) and Ezek 26:12. The term comes from the Hebrew verb רָכַל (rakal) that has the idea of "go about, from one to another (for trade or gossip)" and so is used of trading in goods, but also as a root for the word for slander or talebearer. My take on this is the latter is intended, that the cherub began trading in lies, for the Devil is the father of them (Jn 8:44), first internally about what his position should be (self-deception), but then as violent thoughts emerged, he lied to Eve (Gen 3:4; he at that point "sinned" in act) and removed the covering he was responsible for so that she "saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes" (Gen 3:6), so bringing upon humanity the death that God had promised as punishment (Gen 2:17). These were violent actions against humanity, intending their death, for the cherub had become Satan (שָׂטָן; the adversary); and having caused humanity to sin, it gave Satan the grounds for accusations against people whenever he could cause them to sin, so he became the accuser (Rev 12:10), though he would even accuse people without grounds (e.g. Job 1:9-11), and earned the title of Devil (which means slanderer).3

So I point out all the above to get to my point on the "sanctuaries," which were this cherub's "sanctuaries" (the set apart places, plural, that he was responsible for), that were defiled by the cherub's iniquities and specifically the iniquity of his "trading" (Ezek 28:18), which places I believe were the "place" of God's image on earth, the persons of Adam and Eve. Their persons were the set apart places where God's likeness was to be visible to the creation, but the cherub's actions defiled those places in deceiving and tempting Eve into sin, who then herself turned and tempted Adam to sin with her. And for this act of defiling mankind, Satan was temporarily brought lower still, not only below humanity, but below the animals of the earth (Gen 3:14), and he would be crushed by a creature of those he envied (Gen 3:15) and mocked by them all (Isa 14:15-17), and then he ultimately will be punished by eternal fire (the last part of Ezek 28:18, Mt 25:41, Rev 20:10). But until his final judgment, this cherub would still have freedom to go about the earth (Job 1:7), come into God's presence (Job 1:6), and deceive a number of other angels (as he clearly gained his own "angels" as a following, Mt 25:41; 2 Pet 2:4, Jude 6; I believe this was also tempting them about their worth compared to humanity as well, and may have even happened prior to his trying to deceive Eve).

I know there are a number of theories about Satan, about the Ezekiel and Isaiah passages, and such; but to me, the view above makes the most sense in cross comparison of the passages regarding what we know about Satan and what information is given in those passages.


1 Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), s.v. מְסֻכָֿה and מָסָךְ. Any other definitions of Hebrew terms are found from the word entries in this lexicon.

2 Ronald J. Williams, Williams' Hebrew Syntax, 3rd ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010), p. 6 sec. 26.

3 William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), s.v. διάβολος.

[NOTE: Not sure why my superscripts are not showing as superscripts in my text, as they are set as such.]

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

TylerR's picture


I first came across the cosmic temple motif when reading T. Desmond Alexander's book on the Pentateuch. I thought at the time that it was speculative, and not derived from the text. I thought it was more of a "motif gone mad" kind of exegesis. I haven't spent time delving into it at all, in the years since. In fact, I want to re-read some of the OT theology texts I read at Seminary, with the benefit of several years of pastoral ministry and life experience behind me. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Paul Henebury's picture

Your explanation above looks speculative in places, moving beyond where I would be comfortable.  Still, you make some interesting connections, and your theories are at least grounded in a respect for the words of the texts themselves.  

I agree that Satan is the "anointed cherub who covers" but further than that I cannot say.  It appears to me that normally Scripture is addressed to humans, and so only certain things about the spirit realm are revealed to us.  I wish it were more, but there is quite a lot if taken seriously.  However, in Ezek 28 and Isa 14 I like you believe that Satan is addressed.  It is a word to him that we get a window on.  But some things addressed to him are mysterious to us.  Why the partial revelation?  I'm not sure, although I do not think anything is superfluous.  

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

ScottS's picture

Yes, as I noted specifically about the "covering" duty, it is built on some "circumstantial evidences," and so definitely that part is more speculative, which then makes my view of the "sanctuaries" fall within that speculation. But I don't see it as any more speculative than other sanctuary theories, since the text is not clear what that word was specifically referring to. And I agree, knowledge of the spirit realm is extremely limited in Scripture, and also agree that know revelation in Scripture is superfluous.

I do believe there is a stronger, much less speculative case, when taking all the revelation we have on Satan, for the fact that his target was the destruction/discrediting of humanity, the creature God created to be like Him, so that Satan, in his pride, could be the creature to take that position. At the time of his fall, Satan would not have known that God was planning to incarnate into humanity (and so Satan's attack on humanity was ultimately a direct attack on God); but he still showed pride in thinking that he knew better than God which creature should be exalted to be like God, and so even then, his attack on humanity was a questioning of the wisdom and authority of God.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

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