Theological Hermeneutics VI — Divine Presence and Assembly (Redemptive-Historical Example)

With this post, I will lay down my keyboard for a few weeks on this topic as I leave Friday or Saturday for a week vacation without electronics.  But I will continue this series again upon my return.  I envision six or seven more articles on “theological hermeneutics” and then a new series on “applied” theological hermeneutics where I will address some ecclesiological issues significant for Stone-Campbell churches. I hope to illustrate my method and meaning in a practical way through that series.


One of the more significant redemptive-historical themes that is at the heart of the metanarrative of God’s story is divine presence.

Divine presence has several different significations within the biblical narrative–all “presence” is not of the same kind or nature. For example, one may speak of “omnipresence” by which most theologians mean that everything is present to God (or, if you prefer, God is everywhere, that is, there is no space where God is absent or that space is hidden from God). It is a spatial metaphor that basically means that all space is filled by or present to God. This a function of God’s transcendence, that is, God transcends space and at the same time encompasses it.

Another kind of presence is what has been historically called “special providence” or a special presence that works for or enables a specific action in the world through particular individuals, communities or circumstances. For example, God was “with” the Patriarchs (e.g., Gen. 21:20, 22; 26:24; 31:42; 48:21, etc.). This kind of providential action and presence may be with believers or unbelievers; it is not limited to a particular epoch of redemptive history. God still acts in special ways today just as he did in Scripture. This is perhaps what we mean when we say to someone “God be with you.”

However, in this post I am interested in the idea of divine presence in the sense of communion or dwelling. That God dwells with humanity, or communes with humanity, or enjoys resting in relationship with humanity is the sense of presence that I think is a core value in the metanarrative. In fact, one might say it is the structure of the theodrama itself (though all themes could also reveal this structure). Readers might remind themselves of my proposed acts in the theodrama and my way of thinking about redemptive history within the narrative of Scripture to fully understand my example below.

Theodramatic Structure and Divine Presence

Act One: Creation–Garden Presence. After six days of creating, God rested on the seventh day. This divine rest is not simple passivity. Rather, the rest is a kind of “resting in” or enjoying the creation. God delights (“it is very good”) in and dwells (walks in the Garden) with humanity in the good cosmos. The rest of God is the mutual enjoyment of God, humanity and the cosmos.

Acts Two: Israel–Temple Presence. This is the place God chose to dwell in the Hebrew Scriptures. God dwells in his temple; his feet rest on the footstool of the Ark of the Covenant. This is a special presence which communes with Israel in relationship. Israel experienced this presence at the temple; there they entered the earthly sanctuary (dwelling-place) which was typological of the heavenly sanctuary. This is what I see in 2 Chronicles 6-7 and Leviticus 26:11-12, for example; or alluded to so often in the Psalms such as 63 or 132. This is a form of redemptive presence as God meets Israel at the temple for the sake of grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Act Three: Incarnational Presence (Logos in the flesh). This is the presence of God walking upon the earth. God dwelt among his people in the flesh rather than in a temple. This is what I see in Matthew 1–“God with us” (Immanuel) or in John 1 (“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”). This is the climactic moment in that God becomes human.  It is an eschatological moment in that it anticipates the future when God will fully dwell with humanity on a renewed earth (“new heavens and new earth”).

Act Four: Pneumatological Presence (Holy Spirit dwells in Christians).  The Spirit dwells in the bodies of individual Christians and in the body of Christ as a community. This is another form of redemptive presence- -it is the sanctifying presence of God who transforms us by his presence. This is the presence of the Spirit on earth; our bodies are the divine sanctuary on earth and the church community is the sanctuary of God upon the earth. Through the presence of the Spirit we commune with the Father and Son in our daily walk. Through the Spirit, Christ dwells in our hearts by faith and is always present with us. This is what I see in Matthew 28:20; 1 Corinthians 3 & 6.

Act Five: Eschatological Presence (God dwells with Redeemed Humanity). This is when the new Jerusalem descends to the new earth. God–the Triune God–fully dwells with his people upon the earth. There is no temple; there is no sanctuary. The whole earth is the dwelling-place of God. This is the fulfillment of the divine intent in redemption. The whole earth has become his sanctuary. This is what I see in Rev. 21-22. The Garden presence of God is restored to the earth but it is not merely a restoration but a glorification since what is mortal has now been transformed into immortality (resurrection). Act One is not repeated but consummated and a new phase of the same journey begins–a journey into the depth and riches of communion with God, with each other and with the creation.

Assembly (Gathered Believers): An Application of this Redemptive-Historical Structure

Presence in the Heavenly Sanctuary through Assembly.  This is the “already” of the indwelling Spirit (Pneumatological Presence) but also an experience of the “not yet” of Eschatological Presence. It is the unique experience in redemptive history of Christians but yet a fulfillment of Israel’s own experience at the temple.

It is my understanding that when believers assemble (whether two or two thousand; whether on Sunday or Monday) “into the name” of Jesus they enter the heavenly sanctuary (the Holy of Holies) and join the assembly of the saints and angels around the throne of God. This is the presence of the earthly saints in the heavenly throne room to experience communion with the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). I would suggest Hebrews 10:19-25 and 12:18-24 reflect this idea as a means of encouraging some frustrated believers.

I believe there is a distinction between the Spirit dwelling in our hearts by whom we cry “Abba” and walk daily in the presence of God and our entrance into the Holy of Holies into the presence of the Triune God in the heavenly sanctuary by the Spirit. In the former the Spirit as descended into our hearts. In the latter we ascend into the heavenly sanctuary by the Spirit.

Pneumatological presence, then, enables a foretaste of the eschaological presence. The Spirit lifts up into the presence of God and the Lamb (as in Revelation 4-7). In this communal moment we experience something more than the Spirit dwelling in our hearts. We experience the throne room of God where the whole cosmos is gathered.

At one level, the indwelling of the Spirit fulfills the type of the temple presence of God in Israel. At another level it is the gathered assembly of indwelt believers that participates in the reality that was only typified in the earthly temple of Israel.  Though we gather in assembly on earth just as Israel did at the temple, our experience transcends Israel’s as we enter the heavenly sanctuary itself by the Spirit of God who unites us with the eschatological reality, the throne of God in heaven.

Our entrance into the heavenly sanctuary as a community is a cosmic communal event.  There–in the heavenly sanctuary–we are present with God, but also with heaven and earth itself, with the host of angels, with all the saints gathered into the sanctuary from all around the world, and with all the saints who have already passed the veil of death.  It is an eschatological communal event. It is an already experience of the not-yet eschatological reality. This is what I see in Hebrews 10 and 12 (as well as Matthew 18:20).

This is a topic Bobby Valentine, Johnny Melton and I have pursued in our A Gathered People: Revisioning the Assembly as Transforming Encounter (Abilene: Leafwood Press, 2007).

P. S. On the Redemptive-Historical preaching, see Michael Horton’s article in Modern Reformation.  This is but one article among many that would be helpful in thinking bout this redemptive-historical method.

9 Responses to “Theological Hermeneutics VI — Divine Presence and Assembly (Redemptive-Historical Example)”

  1.   richard constant Says:

    so where ya going or is it a secret ha ha
    cal. i hope


  2.   Randall Says:


  3.   richard constant Says:


    god is faithful
    and Jesus is faithful
    i am dead in sin
    and i am going to be faithful
    to what and how
    to render the penalty of the law of sin and death inoperative

    8:2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit2 in Christ Jesus has set you3 free from the law of sin and death. 8:3 For God achieved what the law could not do because4 it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,


    2:15 when he nullified29 in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man30 out of two,31 thus making peace

    is not the will of god the faithfulness of Christ.
    are not the words of Christ the will of god for righteous life.
    if there is only one righteous faith that gives life through the spirit.
    and that spirit attests to that faithfull life.
    then Christs words are the faithful words of of god.
    if you or the apostles under the influence of the spirit of truth.
    preach any other teaching than the words of Christ is that not UNFAITHFULNESS(Heresy).

    refer to basic command of Christ after his predicate faithfulness.(trust and obedience) to gods will which is Christ’s THAT LEADS TO GODLENESS
    mat.28.18 would not all that came under the influence of the apostles teaching through the spirit of truth.not also be baptized and told Christ’s commands on the faithful behavior of his saints in the established kingdom

    or what a true believer would teach nothing less nothing more?

    or how a true believer would teach? the gospel of Christ the righteous faithfulness of god

    Rom 3:26 for the shewing forth of His righteousness in the present time, for His being righteous, and declaring him righteous who is of the faith of Jesus.

    i think that is it

  4.   preacherman Says:

    Wonderful post and series.
    I hope you have a wonderful vacation.
    I pray that you will be renewed and strengthened. God bless all you do!

  5.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    This is a great example of how this hermeneutical paradigm begins to get play out.

    Enjoy your vacation. By the time you return I will have moved from New York State to Minnesota.


  6.   John Mark Hicks Says:


    I’m headed to the mountains of Virginia where my wife and I can retreat alone, without electronics, and seek renewal in God’s good creation.

    Rex, Preacherman, Randal,

    Thanks for the affirmation. This is the most sublime and beautiful theme in Scripture to me and thus I chose it as my illustration at this point. It is so comforting to me and important to me. I feel another post coming on…. 🙂

  7.   jim mcguiggan Says:

    Love your work and thank God for it.
    jim mcguiggan

  8.   richard constant Says:

    ata boy


  9.   randall Says:

    I appreciate your writing very much. It is edifying to me and I find much encouragement there.

    Though I am a long way from home, I grew up by the mountains of Virginia, and I know those that know you. It is understandable that you would appreciate what God has made in the Appalachians and that you would find renewal there. May the LORD bless you, bring you refreshment and renew your soul while you are there.


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