As part of the curse that came upon Adam, when he, as reported in the Scriptural narrative, failed in his commission to steward the perfect creation of the one that would to be known as the Lord God of Israel, to have dominion over the earth, and to bear the divine image as he was created to do, he was banished from the Garden of Eden. When Adam rebelled against his divine purpose, and in so doing allowed death and evil to enter into this world as indicated in the story, he was banished from the place where he would have his fellowship with the Creator God. He was removed from the place of access to his Creator.
Not only was he removed from this place of fellowship and purity and perfection and the tree of life, but the Genesis narrative informs the reader that two cherubim were stationed at the east end of the Garden. It was insisted upon and understood that this was done in order to bar Adam’s way from returning to the place from whence he had been banished. Those cherubim stood with whirling swords of fire, figuratively veiling mankind from the place of the Creator God’s presence. Prior to this, the God of covenants was said to have openly walked in the midst of His creation, freely engaging in open fellowship with the creatures that had been made in His image, but this was brought to an end through Adam’s transgression and thus would happen no more. Adam, as the representative of all of humanity, had accomplished this.
When the covenant God took it upon Himself, based on His promise to Abraham, with whom He had entered into a covenant, to redeem a people from out of bondage of Egypt, for the purpose of separating them for Himself and for His purposes, to appoint them to be the reflectors of His glory into His world, to again steward His creation and to bear His image, to be a shining light to the nations, and to be the instruments of His service, He once again, as He had done with Adam as the divine image-bearer, chose to place Himself in the midst of His creation. He chose to enter into fellowship. This time, however, there would be limitations. It was not open and it was not free. There were boundaries. It was both similar and dis-similar to the situation of Genesis.
When the tabernacle was erected, with its Holy Place and its Most Holy Place, the Creator God limited Himself to appearing in the Most Holy Place. He limited Himself to direct fellowship with Moses alone. Furthermore, it would be decreed that only the High Priest would be able to enter into His presence, and that, only once a year, as the representative of the people of the Creator God. Where did this entering into the presence of the Creator God take place? It took place behind the veil. It took place behind the veil that was decorated with angelic sentries---cherubim.
What was the penalty for a presumptuous entrance behind the veil? The penalty was death. The penalty was being cut down, figuratively, by “the flame of a whirling sword.” This was true of the tabernacle, and of Solomon’s temple, and was held to as a tradition of the second temple, which stood in Jesus’ day. There was no entrance behind the veil. Cherubim guarded the way. There was to be no direct access to or fellowship with the Creator God by man. This could be looked upon as mankind’s ongoing curse.
In Jesus’ day, it would be reasonable to presume that when the people saw the cherubim, read about the cherubim, were verbally reminded of the cherubim, and contemplated that veil of separation, their thoughts could have quite rightly turned to Adam, to Eden, to the fall of man, to the cursing of creation (a reminder of exile), to the expulsion from Eden (another reminder of exile), and to the cherubim that were set forth as a result of that fall. It becomes clear that the veil of the temple was so much more than something that prevented people from seeing what stood behind it. The veil was so much more than a reminder that man had been separated from his Creator.