By Rick Brunson
Would you be surprised to find out that the first temple on earth was actually the Garden of Eden itself? As a matter of fact, every temple constructed since the Fall has been patterned after the Garden of Eden. According to one LDS scholar, “The Garden of Eden...served as the prototype, pattern, and originator of subsequent Israelite temples.” As we shall see, there is good reason why this pattern was replicated.
When you begin to study the Tabernacle in the days of Moses for example, you may notice that the person going through the ceremony is symbolically acting out Adam’s journey, only they are doing it in reverse. Adam went from God’s presence in the celestial world during the pre-existence, to a terrestrial world in the Garden of Eden, and finally, ended up in a telestial world here on earth. On the other hand, the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, would journey from the outer courtyard, which represented the telestial world, to the Holy Place which represented the terrestrial, and finally to the Holy of Holies which represented the celestial.
This is the purpose of temples. They teach us how we can reverse the fall and end up back in God’s presence. A closer look at the Tabernacle will reveal even more details about how this is accomplished.
“When Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledgeof good and evil, they were driven out of Eden in an eastward direction.” In comparison, the Tabernacle was always set up so that the entrance faced to the east; therefore, when the High Priest would enter the tent from the outer courtyard, he would do so traveling westward, the opposite direction that Adam traveled, retracing his steps.
|The Altar of Sacrifice|
Hugh Nibley stated that after Adam was cast out of the garden, “an angel came and began to teach him what he must do to reverse his condition at once and begin his return to the presence of the father.” If the Israelites were to symbolically reverse the Fall of Adam, they would naturally begin their journey where Adam's journey ended. Just as Adam offered sacrifices on an altar upon arriving in the telestial world, so too did the high priest offer sacrifices on an altar before he left the telestial world (the outer courtyard). “And the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”
|The High Priest|
|Adam and Eve's Coat of Skins|
After the High Priest has been clothed, and sacrifices preformed, he
|The Laver of Water|
As soon as the High Priest entered into the Holy Place (terrestrial
Before the High Priest could fully reverse the fall, he needed to
|The Veil of Solomon's Temple|
It is also interesting to point out that right in front of this veil in the Tabernacle there was a small altar that burned incense from hot coals that were taken directly from a fire in the outer courtyard. This may have reference to the flaming sword that was also used to guard the way of the tree of life.
As he entered into the Holy of Holies (celestial world) on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest wore a breastplate that contained twelve large jewels. What is interesting is that some of these stones are mentioned by name as being found in the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, we learn from Ezekiel that these jewels represent the light which covered those persons who were in the Garden of Eden. This light was stripped from Adam when he transgressed. Therefore, by carrying these stones with him into the Holy of Holies, the High Priest is reversing the effects of the fall and regaining this light and glory which was once lost through transgression.
Finally, when we enter the Holy of Holies, we find the Ark of the
Covenant, which was covered by a gold lid known as the Mercy Seat. This Mercy Seat represents God’s throne. It was in God’s presence where Adam began, and it is in God’s presence where our High Priest ends. Again, “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last” (1 Ne. 13:42).
In this way, the High Priest acts out Adam’s journey in reverse and symbolically reverses the fall. In fact, the High Priest is a type for Jesus, who is referred to in the scriptures as “the last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45). The first Adam brought us into this telestial world through the fall, and the last Adam will reverse the fall through His atonement.
Types of Christ
As it turns out, the High Priest is not the only type of Christ in the Tabernacle. As we shall see, every detail was put there by design to teach of Christ. In fact, Jesus, in his mortal ministry, claimed to represent most of the items that make up the Tabernacle. Consider the following:
o Altar - The animal on the altar is the most obvious type of Christ. “The altar stood on an elevation to foreshadow the atonement of the Lamb of God.” After the animal was killed, his blood was put on the four corners of this altar, which represented Christ’s blood extending to the four corners of the earth.
o Water – The laver of water represented the living water, which is Christ, and which he offered to the woman at the well of Samaria.
o Menorah - We have already discussed how the menorahrepresented the Tree of Life which was found in the Garden of Eden, but what does the Tree of Life represent? In Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life, we learn that the tree represents Jesus, and the fruit represents his atonement. Therefore, it is not surprising to find Jesus during his mortal ministry claiming to represent this
menorah when he said, “I am the vine” (John 15:5). The menorah was also the only source of light in the Tabernacle, so it is also not surprising to us to hear Jesus say, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).
o Bread - Also in the Holy Place, we find a table of showbread. Yet again we find Jesus claiming to be this very thing when he said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35).
o Altar of Incense - Before he enters into the Holy of Holies, the High Priest would burn incense upon a small golden altar in front of the veil. The smoke from this incense would ascend upwards towards heaven, representing the prayers of the righteous. In the Book of Revelation we read,
And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God (Rev. 8:4).
And again in the Book of Psalms, we find David saying,
Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice (Psalms 141:2).
We are told to pray to the Father in the name of Christ. Thus, this altar also represented Christ, who is the “mediator between God and men” (1 Tim. 2:5).
o Veil - When the High Priest enters into the Holy of Holies, he would cross a veil. Here again we find Christ claiming to represent this veil when he said, “I am the door” (John 10:9). Paul also taught that the veil represented Christ. He admonished us to “enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus...through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (Heb. 10:19-20). From these statements we learn that the only way to get to the father is to literally go through Jesus.
o High Priest - As mentioned earlier, the High Priest wore twelvelarge jewels upon his breastplate which he took with him into the Holy of Holies. We have already discussed how the High Priest was a type for Christ; however, what we have not mentioned was that each jewel in the breastplate had the name of one of the tribes of Israel engraven on it. Therefore, when the High Priest would carry these jewels with him into the Holy of Holies, it was actually symbolic of Christ who will soon carry the House of Israel with Him into the celestial kingdom. With this image in mind, we can better understand the statement Jesus made in the Doctrine and Covenants that the righteous “shall be mine in the day when I shall come to make up my jewels” (D&C 101:3).
In addition to these twelve stones, the High Priest also wore two black onyx stones on his shoulders as he entered into the Holy of Holies (celestial kingdom). These two black onyx stones also had the names of the twelve tribes Israel engraven on them (six on one stone, and six on the other). Black is a symbol for sin. Six is also a symbol for sin. The image here is that the High Priest (Christ) had to carry the sins of Israel upon his shoulders upon entering into the Holy of Holies (celestial kingdom). This Christ fulfilled literally when he carried the cross on his shoulders and when he bore the sins of the world.
o Mercy Seat - Inside the Holy of Holies is the Ark of the Covenant, which was a gold box that contained the Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from the Mount. However, before he received these tablets of stones, Moses received a higher law from God, also written on stone, which included the temple endowment that God desired to give Israel. When Israel broke theircovenant by worshiping a golden calf, Moses broke these original tablets of stone. The subsequent tablets of stone were put in this Ark of the Covenant, and were covered with a gold lid known as the Mercy Seat. This is interesting because the Hebrew word for atonement (Kippur) literally meant “to cover.” In other words, Christ atonement covers or atones for our broken covenants in the same way that the Mercy Seat covered Israel’s broken covenant.
o Anointed – As we can see, each of the items in the Tabernacle represented Christ. In fact they were all anointed with oil before they were put in use. The Lord told Moses to, "Take the anointing oil, and anoint the Tabernacle, and all that is therein...thou shalt anoint the altar...And thou shalt anoint the laver...And shalt bring Aaron...and anoint him" (Exo. 40:9-15, emphasis added).
What is interesting is that the word Christ literally means anointed. (Another way of saying Jesus the Christ is Jesus the anointed.) So when God tells Israel to anoint each piece of furniture in the Tabernacle, he is literally telling them to make it Christ. By anointing the menorah for example, it would from then on represent Christ. This they did with every piece of furniture in the Tabernacle, and it was done in order to teach us of Christ.
o The Tabernacle – The Tabernacle itself was also a symbol for Christ, symbolizing the meeting place between God and man. Hence we find Jesus saying, “no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). The outside walls of the Tabernacle were made of white linen, white being a symbol for righteousness. While the inside was very beautiful and expensive, the outside was very plain. Isaiah tells us that the physical appearance of Jesus was similar to the outside of the Tabernacle:
He [Christ during his mortal ministry] hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him (Isa. 43:2).
Also, all throughout the inside the Tabernacle we find the three colors—red, blue, and scarlet —each of which represent Christ: Red is the color of blood, and therefore represents both mortality and Christ’s atonement. Blue the color of the sky and therefore represents heavenly things, typifying God. And purple represented royalty because it was the most expensive color dye to obtain in the old world and was therefore mostly worn by kings and royalty. Not only do all these colors represent Christ in their own way, they also represent something deeper. If you mix the colors blue (representing God the Father) and red (representing the mortal Mary) you get the color purple, which is the color of Christ, the “King of kings.” (Rev. 17:14).
The Doctrine of Christ
In conclusion, notice how the prophet Nephi compares the doctrine of Christ to the tabernacle. For commentary, I will add my own thoughts in parenthesis:
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter [compare to entering the gate of the Tabernacle]…. Wherefore, ye must press forward [compare to entering into the Holy Place] with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope [compare to the light of the menorah]….Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ [compare to the Table of Showbread found in the Holy Place]…Thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life [compare to entering into the Holy of Holies] (2 Ne. 31:17-20; emphasis added).
It by attending the temple that we learn how the effects of the fall are reversed and how we can return to God’s presence. Only through our Savior and his atonement is this made possible.
 Parry, “Garden of Eden: Prototype Sanctuary,” Temples of the Ancient World, p. 127. See also McConkie, Gospel Symbolism, p. 116; Campbell, Eve and the Choice Made in Eden, p. 56-57.
 Gaskil, The Lost Language of Symbolism, p. 151. See also, Parry, “Garden of Eden: Prototype Sanctuary,” Temples of the Ancient World, p. 132-33.
 Nibley, Approaching Zion, p. 401.
 Moses 5:6.
 Leviticus 16:6-11.
 1 Nephi 13:42.
 Leviticus 16:4.
 Moses 3:10-14.
 Exodus 25:31-40.
 Also in the Holy Place, across the room from the Menorah, we find a table of showbread. Perhaps this bread was meant to represent the fruit that Adam partook of before being cast out of the Garden.
 Exodus 26:31.
 Moses 4:31.
 Leviticus 16:12-13.
 Moses 4:31.
 Moses 3:12.
 Ezekiel 28:13-14.
 Exodus 25:21.
 McConkie, Gospel Symbolism, p. 103.
 Exodus 29:11-12.
 John 4:10.
 1 Nephi 11:21-22 tells us that the tree is the “love of God.” From John 3:16 we learn what that the Love of God is Jesus. Furthermore, Lehi tells us that the fruit filled his soul with “exceedingly great joy” (1 Ne 8:12). This is very similar to how Alma the Younger describes partaking of the Christ's atonement when he said, “there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy” (Alma 36:21). Furthermore, Nephi tells us that this fruit is “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (1 Ne. 15:36) and what greater gift has the Father given us than his Son? Another insight to this theme comes from 1 Nephi 11:4-6. Here the Spirit asked Nephi if he believed that his father saw a tree. After Nephi responded that he did, the angel said, “blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son.” Finally, Elder Jeffery R. Holland said, “the Tree of Life and its precious fruit are symbols of Christ's redemption…. The life, mission, and atonement of Christ are the ultimate manifestations of the Tree of Life, the fruit of the gospel, the love of God (Holland, Christ and the New Covenant, pp. 160-62). From these examples, we can conclude that there is a strong connection between the Tree of Life and Jesus Christ.
 1 Timothy 2:5. See also John 16:23.
 John 14:6.
 Exodus 28:15-21, 29.
 Exodus 28:9-12.
 Exodus 28:9-12.
 Gaskil, The Lost Language of Symbolism, p. 85.
 Gaskil, The Lost Language of Symbolism, p. 122-23.
 John 19:17.
 Hebrews 9:4; 1 Kings 8:9.
 See Inspired Version Exo 34.:1-2; JST Deut 10:2; D&C 124:37-41
 In Exodus 19:5-8, we read that God desired to make Israel kings and priests. Israel accepted this covenant by responding, “all that the LORD hath spoken we will do.” Because Israel accepted this covenant, the Lord had Moses ascend into the mount to give him instructions for initiating the temple endowment.
 Exodus 32:19.
 Brown, Driver, and Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, p. 497-98.
 See for example Exodus 26:1.
 Gaskill, The Lost Language of Symbolism, p. 99.
 Gaskill, The Lost Language of Symbolism, p. 89.
 McConkie, Gospel Symbolism, p. 102.