Perhaps most explicitly, the garden of Eden was oriented toward the east, and after the expulsion of Adam and Eve, cherubim—fierce, composite creatures—were stationed to guard the garden’s entrance (Gen. 3:24), features that in the ancient world commonly marked the entrance to a sanctuary. The only other place in the Pentateuch where cherubim show up again is in connection with the curtains and atonement-lid of the tabernacle (Ex. 25:18–21; 26:1, 31), which also faced east (27:9–18; Num. 3:38).
The main point of these parallels is that the tabernacle system (including furnishings, the priesthood, sacrifices, calendar, and rituals), as a gift from God, was meant to recapture God’s ideal for creation, reaffirming His intention to dwell with humanity. The glory cloud’s movement upon the tabernacle in Exodus 40:34, therefore, represented a new creation filled with the glory of God, with Aaron and his line serving the role of a new Adam in this “creation.” Theologically, then, to say that the cosmos was God’s original tabernacle is to understand that the tabernacle was created to reflect creation, that the Holy of Holies represented the garden of Eden, and that the priesthood functioned by office as a renewed humanity. Put differently, the tabernacle system was like a snow globe, a microcosm within the cosmos, a ritual model of creation complete with its own humanity. That the priests were to be healthy and whole physically (Lev. 21:17–23) and were to refrain from mourning (10:6–7; 21:1–3), for example, was part of their role in portraying humanity’s Edenic life with God.
The analogy between tabernacle and creation leads to three important observations. First, rituals find their significance in relation to creation and, particularly, to the early narratives of Genesis. On the Day of Atonement, especially, we find the story of humanity’s expulsion from Eden reversed: as an Adam figure, the high priest would journey westward through the cherubim-guarded entry into the garden of Eden—that is, through the cherubim-embroidered veil into the Holy of Holies—and this with the blood of atonement. On this holy autumn day, the sins of God’s people were visibly removed “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12) as the scapegoat was driven away eastward and the tabernacle itself, as God’s dwelling and model cosmos, was ritually cleansed of the pollution of Israel’s sins.
Second, the analogy between tabernacle and creation also makes clear that the drama of rituals like the Day of Atonement, which cleansed only the model of the cosmos, would need to take place on the stage of creation itself for the sake of God’s original house, the cosmos. This is part of the message of the book of Hebrews, whose author turns the scandal of Jesus’ not having a Levitical lineage, precluding Him from priestly ministry, into a logical necessity: If Jesus were a Levite, His sacrifices and ministry would have been limited to the model of the cosmos (that is, the temple). Jesus, however, has accomplished the true Day of Atonement by entering, not the model of heavenly paradise (the Holy of Holies), but the reality—indeed, He has entered “heaven itself,” and this not with the blood of bulls and goats that had represented the life of humanity, but with His own blood (Heb. 9:11–15, 23–28).
Third, when God ushers in the new heavens and earth, creation having been cleansed by Christ’s atoning work and renovated by the fires of the Holy Spirit, there will be no need for a temple—for God’s people will dwell with God in the house of God’s new creation. The tabernacle and temple were provisional for the era between creation and new creation.