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John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
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The Triumph of the Last Adam

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by Gregory D. Gilbert


Conflicts often have roots that go deep into history. If you read the headlines about wars, battles, and conflicts taking place on any given day, you’ll find that those events rarely materialize out of nothing. Sometimes the origins of conflicts go back centuries or even longer.


So it was with Jesus and Satan. When Jesus met and defeated the great Accuser in the wilderness, it was a culminating moment in a millennia-long conflict, one involving all of humanity. Actually, it was the beginning of the end of that conflict. For centuries Satan had been opposing God and his plans in the world, but now he came face to face with the One who would defeat him—and decisively. It’s not that Satan was unaware of who Jesus was; two of the temptations specifically pressed on his identity as the Son of God. Yet even knowing that, Satan still somehow believed he could get Jesus to sin. And why not? Every other human being in history had fallen to his temptations. Why not this one, too? Perhaps God had made a mistake by becoming human like this, by taking human flesh, human weakness, human limitations. Maybe God had finally become . . . breakable.


By the end of that first encounter with Jesus, though, Satan must have realized that was an empty hope. In fact, seeing that his best tactics had failed him, you have to wonder if he went away knowing the end was coming soon. You have to wonder if he remembered the voice of God promising him, so many millennia ago, “When the King comes, yes, you will bruise his heel, but he will crush your head.”1


It must have made him long for the days when the war against God seemed to be going better.


He Wanted to Dethrone God


The Bible doesn’t spend much time talking about Satan. Its focus is on God, his relationship with human beings, their rebellion and sin against him, and his plan to rescue and forgive them. But Satan is there all the same, the Tempter and Accuser of humanity, the greatest Enemy of God and his plans. We aren’t told much about his origins, but the Bible contains hints here and there of where he came from. Above all, it’s clear that Satan is in no way a sort of anti-God, equal in power but just opposite in character from God himself. In other words, he’s never presented as the yang to God’s yin.


Actually the prophets of the Old Testament indicate that originally Satan was an angel created by God to serve him just like all other angels. Here’s how Ezekiel describes him:


You were the signet of perfection,

full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.

You were in Eden, the garden of God;

every precious stone was your covering,

sardius, topaz, and diamond,

beryl, onyx, and jasper,

sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;

and crafted in gold were your settings

and your engravings.

On the day that you were created

they were prepared.

You were an anointed guardian cherub.

I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;

in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.

You were blameless in your ways

from the day you were created,

till unrighteousness was found in you.2


When you read the book of Ezekiel, it’s obvious that this statement is talking most directly about the king of a city called Tyre. The whole thing is prefaced by God telling Ezekiel,


“Raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre.”3 But then again, the Old Testament prophecies are wonderfully mysterious messages, and sometimes there’s more going on than what appears right on the surface. That’s the case here. From the very first words of this message, it’s clear that Ezekiel’s not talking about just the king of Tyre. After all, what would it even mean to say that this guy—the ruler of a rich but still relatively obscure coastal city in the ancient Near East—was in Eden, that he was an anointed guardian cherub, and that he was on the holy mountain of God? It wouldn’t make sense at all; even as poetry, it would be overkill to the point of absurdity and poetic failure.


Clearly something else is happening here, and the effect is almost cinematic. It’s as if the face of the evil king of Tyre is flickering in and out with another face—the face of one who stands behind Tyre’s evil, who drives it and encourages it and whose character it reflects. Do you see what Ezekiel is doing there? As a way of heightening the power of his prophecy against the king of Tyre, he’s giving us a glimpse of the one who, above all, embodies rebellion against God—Satan. So Ezekiel goes on to describe Satan’s fall from his high position: “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you.”4Another prophet, Isaiah, describes Satan’s sin like this: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; . . . I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’”5


More than anything else, Satan’s sin was pride. For all his otherworldly splendor and beauty, he wasn’t content to be what God had created him to be. He wanted more. He wanted to be, as Isaiah said, “like the Most High.” He wanted to dethrone God.


Is it any wonder, then, that when Satan decided to attack human beings, to tempt them to rebel against God and make their own way, he did it by promising them that if they would just throw off his authority, they too could be like God?


A Living Reminder That God Is King


The story picks up at the very beginning of the Bible, in the book of Genesis, and it quickly becomes clear why humanity needs Jesus. By successfully tempting the first humans to sin, Satan strikes a blow that he thinks will ruin humanity beyond repair, and at the same time will strike not only at God’s heart, but also at the very foundation of his throne.


The word genesis means “beginning,” and that’s exactly what the book describes. In its first chapters it tells of how God created the entire world—the land, the sea, the birds and animals and fish—simply by speaking them into existence, and it makes clear that when he had finished, his creation was good. It also tells of how God capped his creative work by making human beings. The first man was not just another animal. He was special, created by God “in his image,” the Bible says, and clearly set above the rest of creation. Humanity had a special place in God’s heart, and in his plan. Here’s how Genesis describes God’s creation of the first man: “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”6 The Hebrew word that stands behind the phrase “the man” is actually adam, which naturally becomes the man’s name—Adam.


God was kind to Adam right from the beginning. He placed him in a special area of the earth called Eden, in which God had planted a garden. It was a beautiful place through which a river flowed and in which grew “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” Even more, in the center of the garden stood two special trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam’s life in the garden was good, but so far it was incomplete. Adam needed a companion, and God knew it: “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” So, God did what any of us would quite naturally do at this point: he made Adam name all the animals!7


Now if you’re wondering what on earth is going on here, you’re not alone! That plot twist in the story has left more than a few people scratching their heads. Most people, even long-time Christians, just chalk it up to a nice, cute children’s story thrown in, a kind of commercial break before the story picks up again with the creation of Eve. But if you want to understand the Bible, one important principle to remember is that it is never random. The story of Adam naming the animals does a couple of important things. For one, God is giving Adam an important object lesson. As all of the animals and birds and fish and insects parade by him, and Adam calls out words like “Tiger!” “Rhinoceros!” and “Mosquito!” he comes to the realization that none of those creatures is going to work as a companion to him. None of them are like him.


Once the point is made, God puts Adam in a deep sleep and, taking one of his ribs from his side, God creates the first woman, to be Adam’s companion. Imagine Adam’s excitement when he woke up and saw her standing there! She was perfect! Especially after seeing how badly the blue whale, the giraffe, and the beetle would have failed as companions, Adam exclaimed, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”8 That’s part of why God had Adam name all those animals. He wanted him to know, without any second-guessing, that the woman standing before him was created specifically for him, even in the most intimate way from him.


There was something else happening with the naming of the animals, too. God must have delighted to watch Adam doing his work, but it wasn’t all fun and games. It was also God’s way of communicating to Adam that he had a job to do in the world. As the capstone of creation—the only creature made in God’s image—Adam was to be the ruler of God’s world. To name something is a way to exert authority over it, much as a mother and father have the privilege of naming their child. So in giving names to the animals, Adam was actually exerting authority over them. He was carrying out his job as the vice-regent of God’s creation, under God himself.


That fact is significant, too, when we realize that as soon as Adam sees the woman, he names her—“she shall be called Woman”—and later the Bible says that he named her again --


“The man called his wife’s name Eve.” You can see what God is doing here. He’s instituting a whole system of authority in which Adam is given authority over Eve, and the two of them together as husband and wife are given authority over creation, and all of it is meant to reflect the reality that God sits enthroned above it all. That’s at least part of what God meant when he said he would create the man and the woman “in his image.” An image or statue was often used by conquering kings to remind those who had been conquered of who ruled them now. Placed on a high point so it would be visible from almost anywhere in the region, it communicated to the people, “This is your king.” So it was with Adam and Eve in God’s creation. Whatever else the idea of being created in God’s image included, it meant that the humans were to stand in the world as a reminder to all the universe that God is King. Even as they were to have authority over creation, they were to do so as the representatives of the great King, God himself.


All of which must have galled Satan to no end.


The Devastation Was Near Total


Satan’s attack on the humans was exquisitely calculated to overthrow everything God had done in the garden. You see, he wasn’t just interested in getting one little human to commit one little sin against God. He wanted to upend every structure of authority, every symbol of kingship and rule that God had instituted. He wanted the whole structure of creation—from bottom to top—overturned, and he wanted God humiliated.


The Bible says that God had told Adam and Eve that they were free to eat from any tree in the garden of Eden except one—the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That tree is significant for a few reasons. For one thing, it was a reminder to the humans that their authority over creation was derived and limited; it was not sovereign. When God told them not to eat its fruit, he wasn’t being capricious. He was rightly reminding Adam and Eve that he was their King, that though they had been honored as the vice-regents of creation, he was Creator and Lord. That’s why the punishment God promised for disobedience was so severe: “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”9 For Adam and Eve to disobey that command would have been an attempt to throw off God’s authority—in essence, a declaration of war against their King.


The tree was significant for another reason, too. The first readers of Genesis would have realized immediately that “to know good and evil” was the typical job of a judge in Israel. It meant that the judge would discern good from evil and then hand down decisions that reflected those realities. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, therefore, was a place of judgment. It was where Adam should have exercised his authority as the protector of God’s garden, making sure that nothing evil ever entered it, and if it did, making sure that evil thing was judged and cast out.


It was right here—at the Tree of Judgment, the reminder to Adam of God’s ultimate rule—that Satan made his attack. Taking the form of a snake, he confronted Eve with the suggestion that she break God’s command and eat the fruit. Here’s how Genesis describes the encounter:


Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.


He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.10


It was a tragic outcome and, at least at that moment, an almost total victory for Satan. Not only did he convince God’s beloved humans to disobey him—by promising them what he himself wanted all along, “to be like God!”—but he did what he had set out to do from the very beginning: he upended the entire authority structure of creation.


Here’s how: have you ever wondered why Satan came to Eve with his temptation instead of to Adam? Even though Adam was the one given authority, and even though the rest of the Bible consistently blames Adam for the sin, Satan actually came to Eve first. Why? It wasn’t because Satan somehow thought Eve would be an easier target. No, it was because his whole aim was to humiliate God and to overthrow his authority. And he wanted to do it as convincingly and as profoundly as possible. Therefore he didn’t just want Adam to sin against God; he wanted Eve to subvert Adam into rebelling against God. But then there’s even more: did you ever wonder why Satan came to the humans in the form of a snake? Why not come as another human, or if it had to be an animal, a giraffe or a prairie dog? Same reason: it’s because Satan wanted the overthrow of God’s authority to be total and complete. So he came as an animalover whom Adam and Eve had authority, and also as (symbolically speaking) the lowest of the animals, the snake. You see? The structures of authority fell like dominoes. A lowly animal tempted the woman, who subverted the man, who declared war against God.


The devastation was near total. Adam had failed in his tasks in every imaginable way. Instead of judging the Serpent for his evil at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he joined Satan’s rebellion against God. Instead of protecting the garden and casting the Serpent out of it, he surrendered the garden to him. Instead of believing God’s word and acting on that belief, he doubted God’s word and gave his trust to Satan instead. Instead of submitting to God and faithfully executing his role as vice-regent, he decided he wanted to take the high crown for himself. Just like Satan before him, he decided he wanted to be “like God.”


A Nightmare of a World


The results of Adam’s sin were cataclysmic. With the world now in rebellion against the Creator, God executed justice and cursed the man and his wife, as well as the one who had tempted them. For the man and woman, he decreed that life would no longer be a paradise for them. It would be hard, and grueling, and painful. Childbirth would be painful, work would be toilsome, and the earth would be stingy with its goods and fruits. Worst of all, the intimate relationship Adam and Eve had enjoyed with God was now severed; they were cast out of the garden of Eden forever, and the way back was closed and guarded by an angel with a burning sword. That was the deepest meaning of God’s promise of death for disobedience. Yes, Adam and Eve would die physically in time, but the more important death they suffered was spiritual death. They were cut off from God, the Author of life, and their souls died under the weight of their disobedience.


It’s important to understand that Adam and Eve’s sin did not affect only them. It also affected all their descendants. Thus the next few chapters of the Bible show how sin progressed among human beings as the generations passed. Adam and Eve’s son Cain murders his brother Abel out of pride and jealousy, and from there sin begins to take a stronger and stronger hold on the hearts of humanity. Cain’s descendants do make some progress culturally—they build a city and manage to advance technologically and artistically—but the Bible’s story is clear that human beings are becoming more and more hardened in their sin, more and more committed to rebellion against God, immorality, and violence. One of Cain’s descendants even boasts that he has killed a man for simply wounding him, and brags that he will avenge himself seventy-seven-fold against anyone who dares harm him. Sin had created a nightmare of a world.11


At the same time, the physical effects of God’s death sentence against Adam and Eve—that their bodies would return to the earth as dust—were being executed not just against them, but . . . against all humanity. There’s an amazing chapter in Genesis which gives a list of Adam’s descendants and how long each of them lived. What’s extraordinary about it—other than how long people lived then—is how each entry ends. Time and time again, the records of the people’s lives end with the phrase, “and he died.” Adam lived 930 years, and he died. Seth lived 912 years, and he died. Enosh . . . died. Kenan . . . died. Mahalalel and Jared and Methuselah . . . all died. Just as God had said, death was reigning among humans.12


Do you see the significance of that? When Adam sinned, he did not do so merely as an individual—nor did he suffer the consequences of his sin merely as an individual. When he sinned, he did so as the representative of all who would come after him. That’s why Paul could say in the New Testament that “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” and “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.”13 Adam stood for all of us, acted for all of us, rebelled for all of us.


That reality often strikes people as being unfair. “I’d rather stand on my own,” they say, “not be represented by another.” Remarkably, though, it didn’t seem to strike any of Adam’s descendants that way. Probably that was at least partly because they knew that if God had let each and every one of them stand on their own, they wouldn’t have done any better than Adam did. But it’s also because they knew that their only hope of being saved was for God to send someone else—another representative, another Adam, so to speak—who would stand in their place again and this time save them. Adam had represented humanity in submission to Satan and rebellion against God; what was needed now was someone else to represent humanity in obedience to God and victory over Satan.


It All Came Down to This


And it turns out that’s exactly what God promised to do.


Almost immediately, in the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s sin, God promised that he would act to save humanity by sending another Representative, another Adam to stand in their place and, this time, win salvation for them. It’s an amazing moment of hope when God makes that promise, because it comes at the darkest possible moment, when God is executing judgment against the Serpent who tempted Adam and Eve to sin in the first place. Here’s how Genesis records what God said:


Because you have done this,

cursed are you above all livestock

and above all beasts of the field;

on your belly you shall go,

and dust you shall eat

all the days of your life.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel.14


Do you see the promise at the end? One day, God would send a Man to crush Satan’s head once and for all. In other words, this Man would do what Adam should have done as humanity’s representative, and in doing so, he would save them from the disaster their sin had brought on themselves and the entire world.


From that point forward, the promise of another Representative—another Adam—became humanity’s great hope. Generation after generation looked forward to the day when God


would make good on his promise, and from time to time they even wondered if this person or that person might be the promised Redeemer. So when Noah was born, his father Lamech exclaimed with hope, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief.”15 But of course it wasn’t to be. Yes, like Adam, Noah became the representative of the human race, but almost immediately after he exited the ark, he proved that he too was a sinner. This flawed second Adam failed just like the first, and it was clear that the great Redeemer had not yet come.


Throughout the ages, and ultimately through the history of Israel, the hopes of the people for the fulfillment of God’s promises rested on one representative after another. Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, the judges, the kings—each generation hoped that this might be the one. But each time, their hopes proved empty.


But then Jesus came, the last Adam who would stand as humanity’s representative and do what the first Adam failed to do. That’s why the confrontation between Jesus and Satan in the desert was so important. Not only was Jesus standing as Israel’s Champion—the Davidic King—but he was also standing as humanity’s Champion, the one who would win where humans’ first father Adam had lost.


Do you remember the three temptations Satan used against Jesus in the wilderness? They were the three famous failings of Israel, yes, but they were also right at the heart of what Satan had tempted Adam and Eve to do in the garden. It’s not hard to hear the echoes:


Turn the stones into bread, Jesus; you’re hungry; gratify yourself now.


Look at that fruit, Adam; it’s pleasing to the eye; take it now.


Does God really keep his promises, Jesus? Well, I say he doesn’t. Why don’t you make him prove it?


Did God really say you’ll die, Adam? Well, I say you won’t. Let’s put him to the test and see.


Bow down and worship me, Jesus, and I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world.


Obey me, Adam. Worship me, and I’ll make you like God!


Jesus’s battle against Satan that day was not just a personal one. Yes, he was experiencing temptation in order to be able to sympathize with his people, but he also was doing something that his people were never able to do—resist temptation all the way to the end of its strength, exhausting it, defeating it. And in the process, as he fought the battle on his people’s behalf against their mortal enemy, he was doing what they should have done right from the start. He was honoring, obeying, and worshiping God for them, as their King and Representative and Champion.


But it wasn’t over yet. Though Satan was defeated, the curse—“you shall surely die”—still hung over humanity’s head like a sword. So even though King Jesus had defeated Satan, enduring his temptations to the end and in fact living an entire life of perfect righteousness before God, justice was still crying out that the sin of his people could not simply be ignored or set aside. They had rebelled against God, every one of them, and justice demanded nothing less than that the sentence God pronounced against them—spiritual death, separation from God, even divine wrath—be executed to the full. Anything less would have called God’s very character into question.


You see, if King Jesus was going to save his people from their sins, it simply wasn’t enough to defeat their great Enemy. After all, Satan had only tempted them to sin; they had made the choice themselves to rebel against God. That meant that the sentence of death was deserved, and it was still outstanding. In order to save his people, therefore, Jesus would have to exhaust that curse. He would have to let God’s sentence of death—his righteous wrath against sinners—fall on him, instead of them. He would have to stand as their Substitute not only in life, but also in death.


It all came down to this: if his people were going to live, the Champion would have to die.

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