He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.
Since the beginning of time Satan and his cohorts have been at war with God. We see that cosmic conflict reflected many times in Scripture (e.g., Job 1; Daniel 10:13). After Satan’s apparent triumph in bringing about the Fall of mankind, God predicted his eventual destruction by the Messiah, who would triumph ultimately in spite of a seeming setback (Gen. 3:15).
As a result, Satan attempted to destroy the Messianic line by destroying God’s people. When that failed, he tried to slaughter the infant Messiah (Matt. 2:16–18). When that didn’t work, he attempted to corrupt the Messiah (Matt. 4:1–11). Failure in that attempt caused him to instigate mobs to kill Him. He even tried to make sure the Messiah couldn’t come forth from the tomb.
It’s been said that hell must have been in the midst of its carnival when Jesus arrived. They were probably celebrating the victory they had tried so hard to secure—but were abruptly disappointed.
The First Messianic Prophecy
“And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
There is always something unexpected about Christmas, even when you have been expecting it for months. It is not just the presents, which you somehow anticipate anyway. It is the grace of God in sending his Son as our Savior. Grace is always unexpected. So whenever we capture even a small part of what Christmas means, the message of grace is somehow always there and surprises us.
We should not be surprised that this is the case, however, for all biblical references to the coming and birth of Jesus, including all the prophecies of his coming in the Old Testament, have this characteristic. This is particularly true of the first messianic prophecy, occurring as early in the Bible as chapter 3 of Genesis. It is unexpected because the scene in which it occurs is of judgment. Satan had tempted Eve to sin. She had believed Satan rather than God and then had sinned in eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which both she and Adam had been instructed not to eat from. Adam had also sinned in eating of the tree. Now God had come into the garden to call them to task for their sin and to mete out judgment. What fears they must have had! How terrified they must have been as they waited for a punishment perfectly suited to their crime! Do you remember that song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado in which the Lord High Executioner sings of his desire to have each punishment perfectly suit the crime? He sings:
My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time:
To make the punishment fit the crime,
the punishment fit the crime.
My favorite verse is the one about billiard players.
The billiard shark, whom anyone catches,
His doom’s extremely hard.
He’s made to dwell in a dungeon cell
In a spot that’s always barred.
And there he plays extravagant matches
In fitless finger stalls,
On a cloth untrue with a twisted cue
And elliptical billiard balls.
Well might we shudder as we think of a punishment suited to the greater crime of Adam and Eve in their unjustified and totally heinous sin against the Creator. But we find only a token judgment—pain upon the woman in childbirth, grief for the man in earning a living—and, wonder of all wonders, a promise of a deliverer to come.
This is the unexpected wonder of Christmas in its very first form: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15).
God of Conflict
At first glance this verse does not seem particularly wonderful, for it is talking about a conflict that began between the devil and Eve and continues up to the time of Christ and beyond. The verse speaks of “enmity,” which means “ill will on one side or on both; hatred; especially mutual antagonism” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary). It is hard to see how this can be good. But this enmity is good, and we should be alerted to this by the fact that it is God who creates it.
A person might ask how evil can be good or how God can be the author of enmity in any form. But the context readily explains this. We remember that Satan is a fallen angel whose original sin consisted in trying to replace God as the chief being in the universe and in trying to gather the worship of the creatures about himself rather than about God. His attempt proved unsuccessful. Now he had appeared on earth to attempt to do among the new race of human beings what he failed to do earlier. Undoubtedly, his temptation of Eve and Adam had in mind, first, seducing our parents away from the worship of God and, second, winning their allegiance and worship for himself. We know sadly that he succeeded in the first objective. He did break the fellowship of the man and the woman with God. But he did not succeed in his second objective, for God announces here that he is putting enmity between Lucifer and the woman.
It is significant that these words are spoken to Satan. For the new thing was not Satan’s hatred of Eve. Satan hated Eve from the moment of her creation, even when he was pretending to be her friend and confidant in tempting her to eat of the forbidden tree. The new thing was to be Eve’s (and Adam’s and all their true offspring’s) hatred of Satan as one aspect of God’s gracious preservation of and provision for the race.
What a blessing that was! We think many times of the love, joy, and happiness that the coming of Jesus Christ brought us, and we thank God rightly for those things. But we should not forget to thank him for a corresponding hatred of sin, sorrow at sin’s ways, and increasing misery when we find ourselves ensnared in sin’s tentacles. When we sin, we often find that we like the sin but want to escape sin’s consequences. We would like to destroy ourselves in comfort, like the addict destroying himself in the dreamlike stupor of debilitating drugs or booze. We would like to go to hell happy. But it is one aspect of grace that God does not allow that to happen. God makes sin miserable and sets up an antagonism between ourselves and Satan that modifies the hold of sin and makes it possible for us to hear God’s loving voice, even in our misery.
The Two Humanities
The enmity established by God was not only to be between the woman and Satan, however—that is, an enmity merely on the personal or individual level. It was also to be an enmity between her offspring and his. This could presumably mean between human beings and the demons, but it is unlikely that it does. For one thing, Satan does not really have offspring. He is not engendering little devils. The demons were created once by God, before their fall, and they are not now increasing in number. For another thing, the passage moves in the direction of one specific descendant of the woman, Jesus Christ, who shall defeat Satan. That is, it is moving from the general to the specific. In view of these facts, the verse probably refers to the godly descendants of the man and woman, influenced by God himself, and the ungodly descendants of the man and woman, influenced by Satan. Certainly, the Book of Genesis goes on to distinguish between the two humanities (chapters 4 and 5).
If this is so, this is a message for the godly in every age. There is a divinely created animosity between the people of God and those who are not his people, and it is for our good. It is to sharpen our will to serve God. One of Isaac Watts’s great hymns (“Am I a Soldier of the Cross”) asks:
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend of grace,
To help me on to God?
In the context of that hymn the answer is clearly no. Watts wants us to fight against the world for Christ’s sake, which we must certainly do. But there is also a sense in which the world is a “friend of grace,” for its animosity toward us pushes us to a greater measure of dependence on God.
There is also a more specific meaning to this verse. As the Book of Genesis unfolds we see God calling out Israel as a special nation through whom he would work, and we see the animosity of Satan (who heard and well understood this prophecy) directed particularly against the Jews. Here is the birth of anti-Semitism. It begins in Genesis and stretches all through history even to the end times described in the Book of Revelation. “A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne” (Rev. 12:1–5). In this passage the dragon is certainly Satan, the woman Israel, and her child the Lord Jesus Christ.
Satan’s strategy is to destroy Israel in order to destroy Christ. This is the reason for anti-Semitism, and also the reason why no Christian should ever have a part in it.
Christ Versus Satan
There is a third antagonism in these verses, more beneficial even than the others. The first two give us room for hope; they tell us that God has not abandoned us, that he has established a beneficial enmity between those who desire good and those who desire evil. This last enmity assures us, not only of hope, but also of victory. It is the antagonism between Jesus, as the specific and climactic seed of the woman, and Satan himself. It was to result in the bruising of Jesus but also in the crushing of Satan and his power.
Donald Grey Barnhouse traces the conflict like this:
When the Lord Jesus Christ was born Satan’s hatred came to white heat. We can see the hatred of Satan at every point in the earthly story of the life of our Lord. Joseph was moved to cast off Mary because he knew that she had not been his wife as yet and drew the natural conclusion that there was sin on her part. But the Lord manifested himself and Joseph accepted Mary because of this divine revelation. The child of promise, the seed of the woman, the branch of David, was born, the Eternal Word was made flesh. Satan moved Herod to kill all of the babies from two years old and under according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. But God had arranged escape in advance, and had brought gifts of gold to the family of the young child so that a flight into Egypt was made possible.
At twelve years of age he was left behind in Jerusalem among the followers of Satan and the enemies of God. The child was growing up before his Father as a tender plant and the heavenly care was about him.
As soon as our Lord was publicly manifested, Satan immediately confronted him and sought in the three temptations to turn him aside from the path laid down for him in the counsels with the Father. When he had been routed with the sword of the Word, Satan left the Lord, but returned again and again, both personally and through the religious leaders who had become veritable children of the devil, to destroy the Lord before he could come to the hour of the cross. It was Satan who stirred up the people of Nazareth to take Christ to the brow of the hill and thrust him to his death on the occasion of his first public sermon. He had announced the doctrine of salvation by grace apart from works on the basis of the sovereign will of God (Luke 4), and the heart of man rebelled against it and turned easily to the enemy who would exalt the flesh. “But he, passing through the midst of them, went his way.”
Again and again Satan played the old plot with different scenes and characters. Sometimes they picked up stones to stone him; they sent officers to arrest him; their leaders attempted to incite the people against him. Always the nerve of their action was paralyzed. Their desire was that of the carnal mind which is enmity against God. Now, for the first time in history, God was visibly before them as the object of their hatred. They were the sons of those who had killed the prophets, but they themselves would have killed their God. He described them fully in the parable of the tenants who killed the messengers and when the owner, last of all, sent his son, cried, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance” (Matt. 21:38). Always he escaped unhurt. He was master of every situation. He said, “No man taketh it [my life] from me; but I lay it down of myself” (John 10:18).
When human allies failed, Satan moved directly to kill the Son of God. On one occasion the Lord’s disciples were with him in a boat on the sea of Galilee. They were lifelong fishermen who were in their home waters. They had thought that there was not a wave that could be unfamiliar to them. But suddenly a storm of such fury broke out that even these hardened mariners were chilled with fright. They rushed to the Lord as he lay asleep in the boat and roused him with their cry of anguish, as they deemed themselves on the point of death, “Master, save us; we perish!” The gospel narrative states that the Lord arose at the call of the frightened disciples and “rebuked the wind.” Let the deniers of Scripture realize that if Satan were not behind the power of the storm, then the action of Christ must be compared with that of a child who, hurt by stumbling against a chair, begins to kick at the chair, crying out with petulance against it. But if we understand that Satan had raised that storm to kill the Lord Jesus, … we see the whole pattern of these attacks, and understand the force of the words addressed to the storm, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:35–41). The verb in Greek means “to muzzle,” and in ancient domestic life was sometimes addressed to a dog to silence him.
Finally, the prophecies were fulfilled and Satan bruised the heel of the Lord Jesus Christ and had his own head crushed in the bruising.
We know how the bruising of the Lord Jesus Christ took place. It happened at the cross as Satan finally succeeded, so it seemed, at striking back at God and silencing his meddling in human affairs forever. It was bruising with a vengeance. It included the hatred of the religious leaders, the mocking of the crowds, the beatings, eventually the crucifixion with its great agony. And yet, it was only a bruising, not a defeat, for on the third day after the crucifixion Jesus rose from the tomb triumphantly.
On the other hand, although Satan achieved what he believed to be a true victory, it proved to be a Pyrrhic victory, for his power over us was broken. I do not know precisely what Satan was thinking of as he finally achieved his goal of having Christ crucified, but I am sure he had at least forgotten this prophecy or else had dismissed it as applying to other times and circumstances. He failed to see how even his moment of triumph was to be turned to defeat in accord with this prophecy. John Gerstner declares, “Satan was majestically triumphant in this … battle. He had nailed Jesus to the cross. The prime object of all his striving through all the ages was achieved. But he failed. For the prophecy which had said that he would indeed bruise the seed of the woman had also said that his head would be crushed by Christ’s heel. Thus, while Satan was celebrating his triumph in battle over the Son of God, the full weight of the Atonement accomplished by the Crucifixion (which the devil had effected) came down on him, and he realized that all this time, so far from successfully battling against the Almighty, he had actually been carrying out the purposes of the all-wise God.”
Satan’s only true power—quite unlike his pretensions to power—comes from the character of God that declares that sin must be punished. Satan’s power consists in working within the laws of that character. He reasoned that if he could get the man and woman to sin, which he did, the wrath of God against sin must inevitably come down on them. God’s good designs would be thwarted. What Satan failed to see (and what no one ever did see clearly before the death of Christ) is how God could be both just and the justifier of the ungodly (Rom. 3:26). He failed to see how Jesus would take the place of sinners, bearing their punishment, and how he, Satan, would have his power broken in the process.
But now we do see it, if we will, for Christ’s was an open triumph. Paul says, “Christ … canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:13–15).
In view of this victory (and echoing the language of Jonathan Edwards), Gerstner calls Satan “the greatest blockhead the world has ever known.” He says, “The very fact that he is probably the most intelligent being ever created makes him the greatest blockhead, for he was supremely stupid to suppose that he could outthink the All-wise or overpower the Almighty.”
Although the victory has been won for us by the Lord Jesus Christ, there is nevertheless still another to be won by those who follow Jesus. It is a victory certain of being achieved, but it is still in the process of being achieved and will be achieved only as we who profess the name of Jesus actually draw close to him and fight in his power. Paul referred to this victory when he wrote to the Romans, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20). John referred to it in Revelation, saying, “They overcame him [the accuser of our brothers] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11).
Christ and Adam
“And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
In Romans 5:14 the first man, Adam, is called a “pattern” (niv) or “figure” (kjv) of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was to come. That statement encourages us to think of Adam and Christ together, both for similarities and contrasts, as Paul himself does in Romans 5 and in 1 Corinthians 15. Since Genesis 3:15 is the first text in the Bible in which Adam and Christ appear in proximity, it seems unwise to pass it without looking at this theme carefully.
The theme has figured prominently in Christian theology. Indeed, it is the basis of what is sometimes called “covenant” theology. According to this system, God established an agreement or covenant with Adam according to which he was to stand as the representative of the race of men and women who were to follow him. He was to stand before God on the basis of his obedience. If he continued in obedience, all who followed would also be established in obedience and would be blessed by God. If he fell, all who followed him would fall in his transgression, and sin and death would pass on to them because of Adam’s sin. We know what happened. Adam did fall, and we fell in Adam (cf. Rom. 5:12–21). On the other hand, God also established a covenant with the Lord Jesus Christ according to which he was to be representative of the great company of the redeemed. They would be joined to Christ, as all were once joined to Adam, and they—the redeemed—would be saved by Christ’s sacrifice.
To be sure, there are no explicit texts concerning the establishing of the covenant with Adam. There is very little written about Adam in the Bible at all. But there are many texts that speak of God’s covenant with Jesus (Isa. 53:10–12; Pss. 22:25–31; 40:6–8; cf. Heb. 10:8–10; 12:22–24; 13:20; John 6:37, etc.), and the explicit comparison of Christ and Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 clearly establishes this doctrine. In most books of theology the first covenant is called a “covenant of works” and the second a “covenant of grace (or redemption).”
What Adam Did
With this theological background, we turn to the first Adam, our ancestor, and consider his covenant with God in two parts: first, what Adam did in breaking it, and, second, what the consequences of his transgression were.
It has been suggested by various commentators that in eating of the forbidden fruit Adam cast reproach upon “God’s love, God’s truth and God’s majesty.” We have already looked at these in one form or another in considering the nature and effects of the fall, but we look at them again now in order to contrast what Adam did when he sinned and what Christ did in obedience. It is clear how Adam cast reproach on God’s love. God had created him in his own blessed image and had placed him in a garden of earthly delights. Adam had every pleasure he could desire. He had rule over the animal world. Moreover, he had valuable work to do both in ruling and in studying and cataloging the animals. He had every incentive to continue in obedience to such a loving God. Yet when Satan came with the suggestion that perhaps God was not essentially good, that he was essentially prohibitive in withholding the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that had power to make one wise, “knowing good and evil,” Adam (as well as Eve) began to doubt God’s goodness and eventually repudiated his love by eating of the forbidden fruit.
Again, Adam cast reproach on God’s truth. God had said, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). God taught that blessing was by way of obedience. But Satan said, “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” (Gen. 3:4–5). Adam may not have been deceived, as the woman was, thinking that he could disobey God and escape the consequences of death. But he certainly felt that he could improve his condition by rebellion. In so thinking he slanderously called the God of all truth a liar.
Third, Adam cast reproach on God’s majesty by an attempt to throw off his authority. Arthur Pink writes wisely: “As the Creator, God possesses the inherent right to issue commands, and to demand from his creatures implicit obedience. It is his prerogative to act as Law-giver, Controller, Governor, and to define the limits of his subjects’ freedom. And in Eden he exercised his prerogative and expressed his will. But Adam imagined he had a better friend than God. He regarded him as austere and despotic, as One who begrudged him that which would promote his best interests. He felt that in being denied the fruit of this tree which was pleasant to the eyes and capable of making one wise God was acting arbitrarily, cruelly, so he determined to assert himself, claim his rights and throw off the restraint of the divine government. He substitutes the Devil’s word for God’s law: he puts his own desire before Jehovah’s command.”
What were the results of Adam’s disobedience? Paul spells it out in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, showing that sin and death entered the experience of all because of his transgression: “Sin entered the world through one man” (Rom. 5:12), “Many died by the trespass of the one man” (Rom. 5:15), “By the trespass of the one man, death reigned” (Rom. 5:17), “The result of one trespass was condemnation for all men” (Rom. 5:18), “Through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners” (Rom. 5:19), “In Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22). God passed judgment on all for Adam’s sin.
People have questioned why the sin of Adam should involve his posterity, even to our time. They have judged it wrong for God to hold unborn generations accountable for the sin of their first parent. But regardless of how we may choose to judge, it is evident from observation of our own lives as well as the history of those who have lived before us that this is precisely how God operated. When Adam sinned he died. He died in his relationship to God; his fellowship with God was broken, which he proved by hiding when God came looking for him in the garden. He died in respect to his own personality; he tried to shift the blame for his sin to Eve, his companion. In time, he and those who followed did things that were much worse. At last Adam died in body and returned to the dust from which he came. Each of these results of sin has passed on to us. Consequently, we see in the universal reign of death, even over infants who have not reached the point of being able to commit any personally guilty act, proof that we are all looked on by God as guilty and are judged for it.
We may recognize these things to be true and still resent them. We may consider God to be arbitrary and cruel in so acting. But before we make this judgment we must ask whether we would not choose to live in precisely the same condition in which Adam lived and fell, if the choice were offered to us (as, in fact, it may even have been offered to Adam). Would any of us have chosen to have it differently?
Charles Simeon of Cambridge, England, wrote about this more than a hundred years ago. “How deep and unsearchable are the ways of God! That ever our first parent should be constituted a federal head to his posterity, so that they should stand or fall in him, is in itself a stupendous mystery. And it may appear to have been an arbitrary appointment, injurious to the whole race of mankind. But we do not hesitate to say, that if the whole race of mankind had been created at once in precisely the same state and circumstances as Adam was, they would have been as willing to stand or fall in Adam, as to have their lot depend upon themselves; because they would have felt, that, whilst he possessed every advantage that they did, he had a strong inducement to steadfastness which they could not have felt, namely, the dependence of all his posterity upon his fidelity to God; and consequently, that their happiness would be more secure in his hands than in their own.”
Simeon then shows that if each human being were asked whether he should prefer to be judged in Adam or in himself, the thinking person would choose to be judged in Adam. For Adam faced but one temptation, and that so small as hardly to deserve the name. Besides, he was surrounded with every possible incentive to do good. We, by contrast, are beset by many temptations and certainly do not have the fullness of Adam’s incentives for obedience. None of us would fault God’s arrangements if only we could think clearly.
The Second Adam
Still, the fullness of God’s grace in dealing with Adam is not seen even in these matters. It is seen only when we turn to the person of Christ and see his victory on behalf of those who are joined to him by saving faith.
When we were studying the works of Adam, we saw how Adam terribly dishonored the love, truth, and majesty of God. How different is the case of the Lord Jesus Christ! Arthur Pink writes:
How [Jesus] vindicated the love of God! Adam harbored the wicked thought that God begrudged him that which was beneficial, and thereby questioned his goodness. But how the Lord Jesus has reversed that decision! In coming down to this earth to seek and to save that which was lost, he fully revealed the compassion of deity for humanity. In his sympathy for the afflicted, in his miracles of healing, in his tears over Jerusalem, in his unselfish and unwearied works of mercy, he has openly displayed the beneficence and benevolence of God. And what shall we say of his sufferings and death on the cross? In laying down his life for us, in dying upon the cross he unveiled the heart of the Father as nothing else could. “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In the light of Calvary we can never more doubt the goodness and grace of God.
How Christ vindicated the truth of God! When tempted by Satan to doubt God’s goodness, question his truth and repudiate his majesty, he answered each time, “It is written.” When he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day it was to read out of the Holy Oracles. When selecting the twelve apostles he designedly chose Judas in order that the Scriptures “might be fulfilled.” When censuring his critics, he declared that by their traditions they made void “the Word of God.” In his last moments upon the cross, knowing that all things had been accomplished, in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled he said, “I thirst.” After he had risen from the dead and was journeying with the two disciples to Emmaus, he “expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” At every point, and in every detail of his life he honored and magnified God’s truth.
Finally, Christ completely vindicated the majesty of God. The creature had aspired to be equal with the Creator. Adam chafed against the governmental restraint which Jehovah had placed upon him. He despised God’s law, insulted his majesty, defied his authority. How different with our blessed Savior! Though he was the Lord of Glory and equal with God, yet he made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant. O matchless grace! He condescended to be “made under the law,” and during the whole of his stay here upon earth he refused to assert his rights, and was ever subject to the Father. “Not my will” was his holy cry. Nay, more: “He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Never was God’s law so magnified, never was God’s authority so honored, never were God’s government claims so illustriously upheld, as during the thirty-three years when his own Son tabernacled among men.
What was the result of this obedience? We have already seen the results of Adam’s disobedience. It was death for himself and all who followed him. In the case of Christ, God’s judgment is reversed. Adam brought death; Christ brings life. Adam brought condemnation; Christ brings justification. And all by the same principle—the principle of representation, the one for the many! “For just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [Jesus] the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).
Thus it is that, far from being an example of an arbitrary injustice on the part of God, the principle of the covenant is actually a means of grace. For it is only by considering all as condemned in the first Adam that God can also consider believers to be justified in the second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is one thing more. Paul compares the effects of sin and grace and concludes that the effects of grace through the obedience of Christ are far greater than those of sin through Adam: “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Rom. 5:15). How is this possible, particularly since not all are saved? How are the effects of Christ’s work greater than the inheritance from Adam? One writer suggests the following:
- The work of Christ is superior to that of Adam in respect to time. When measured by time the effect of Adam’s disobedience is temporary so far as the redeemed are concerned, while the effect of Jesus’ victory is permanent. From the perspective of earth the reign of sin seems long. But the history of earth is but a small thing in the infinitely greater expanse of eternity, and the time is coming when we who are now far too prone to sin will be freed from it and will be made like Jesus.
- The effect of Christ’s work is superior to Adam’s. It is true that when Adam sinned, death came to Adam and through him to all men and women. But the power of death could be broken. This Christ did. He “has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). By contrast, Christ’s work cannot be undone, for Satan has no power to reclaim those who have been redeemed by Christ. They are Christ’s forever.
- The work of Jesus is superior to the work of Adam in that it will ultimately affect a far greater number of people. These are described as a “great assembly” (Ps. 22:25), “a great multitude that no one could count” (Rev. 7:9).
When we look about us we may well wonder how this can be true. It seems that the majority do not believe in Christ, and we even remember the words of our Lord, who said, “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt. 7:13–14). It is probably the case that we just do not see the whole story. Christ’s words are undoubtedly true of adults living in this present age. But what of children? It is possible that those dying in infancy are reckoned among the elect. And what of the future reign of Christ on earth? It is possible that those born in that age may also be among the redeemed and may even be used by God to populate the universe with innumerable, godly offspring.
- The victory of the Lord Jesus Christ is greater than the disobedience of Adam in respect to the territory affected. Adam’s sin affected only this earth. Even though men and women may spread the contagion of their disobedience more widely through planetary travel, it is impossible that they can spread it far. On the other hand, the victory of Christ is to be celebrated throughout the universe.
- Finally, the victory of Jesus exceeds the work of Adam because Christ’s is the work of God and Adam’s is the work of a mere man. As men, we have such high opinions of ourselves that we imagine we can do just about anything. But actually we can do very little when measured by the activity of God. In salvation we can do nothing. By contrast, Christ does all that needs to be done, and what he has begun to perform he will certainly bring to completion (Phil. 1:6).
Apart from the story of the fall, little is told about Adam, as we noted earlier. But it is enough. We are told that he was created by God, placed in perfect surroundings, given a charge of obedience as representative of the race. We are told that he fell and that the effects of his fall passed on to all. We may summarize by saying that Adam was the first man and the first sinner and that we have been judged for his sin. (Lest we think too harshly of Adam, we are reminded that we would have done precisely what he did had we been in his place.) It is in Adam, way back at the beginning, that we learn the principle of the one standing for the many and see the means by which God has provided salvation through the second Adam.
Every one of us is in Adam. Some, by the grace of God, are also in Christ. Can you look to the cross of Christ and know that you are in him? You become “in him” by faith, by believing in what he has done and by committing yourself to him.
“And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
It is common to define grace as “God’s unmerited favor” or even “God’s provision for the undeserving.” But those definitions are almost too weak. They are weak because God’s grace is shown, not merely to those who do not deserve it, but to those who deserve precisely the opposite.
There is a sense in which everything God does is gracious, because none of us deserves anything. Adam deserved nothing even before his fall. The gift of life was gracious. So was God’s gift of the garden, of a wife, of meaningful work to do. But this is not the way the Bible usually speaks of God’s grace for the simple reason that the fullness of grace is seen only against the black backdrop of sin. In Adam’s case it is seen in God’s gentle dealing with him following the fall and in the promise of a deliverer to come. Later it is seen in God’s continuing care of the people of Israel in spite of their constant wandering from him. Above all, it is seen at the cross of Christ where, in spite of the sin of man in hounding the Lord Jesus Christ to death by crucifixion, God was nevertheless providing the basis by which all who call on the name of the Lord might be saved. Grace actually means that God has provided for us in every possible way, both physically and spiritually, in spite of the condemnation we deserve.
Then, too, there is the matter of the abundant or overflowing nature of grace, which may be stated as: believers gain more through the work of Christ than they lost in Adam. A poet wrote,
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured—
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
The Bible says, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:20–21).
The Life of God
Since Genesis 3:15 is the first verse in the Bible to speak about the grace of God in this sense and since it compares the great and total triumph of Christ to the lesser and ultimately ineffective blow of Satan against both Christ and Adam, it leads us to think about some of the great verses of the Bible that amplify on Genesis 3:15 by speaking of the fullness of Christ’s victory. These verses show why grace is abundant and why we have gained more in Christ, the second Adam, than we lost in the first Adam.
The first verse is Colossians 1:27, which says, “To them [that is, the saints] God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” We know from the way Paul speaks elsewhere that he is referring here to the fact that those who have believed in Christ have been made alive in him so that the life of Christ himself may be said to be within them. In Galatians he writes, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Or again in Romans, “The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you” (Rom. 8:11).
This has two important consequences. First, the divine life within us is eternal. It will not die. Second, the divine life will always strive after righteousness, for that is its nature. It will abhor sin. It will cleave to the good. It is on this basis that the apostle John appeals to the presence of righteousness within the life of a Christian as proof that he or she has been born of God. “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:4–6). “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9). John does not mean that Christians never sin. That would be untrue, and John explicitly denies this conclusion (cf. 1 John 1:8). But he does mean that the new life of Christ within any true child of God will inevitably yearn after righteousness and lead the believer in that direction day by day throughout his or her life.
This is a great improvement over the case of Adam, for the natural life of Adam (even though without any moral flaw) did not apparently so lead. On the contrary, Adam chose rebellion and death. In granting us divine life, the grace of God in Christ has abounded.
Gift of Justification
The second text is Romans 5:16, which says, “The gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.” This verse is from that great passage in Romans (which we have looked at in the last chapter as well as this one) in which Paul is comparing the entrance of death into the world through Adam and the entry of eternal life through the work of Christ. It is making the chief comparison: sin and grace (the gift), condemnation and justification. But how is it that the grace of God in Christ to justification is greater than the working of sin in Adam to condemnation? Paul answers that the condemnation was based on just one sin. But justification is God’s answer, not only for that one, original sin, but for all the many sins committed down through the many ages since Adam by the many multitudes of God’s people.
Justification is a legal term, referring to the work of God in dealing with the most basic of all religious questions: How can a man or woman become right with God? We are not right with him in ourselves; this is what the doctrine of sin means. Sin means that we are in rebellion against God, and if we are against God we cannot be right with him. We are transgressors. Moreover, we are all transgressors, as Paul says elsewhere: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The doctrine of justification is the most important of all Christian doctrines because it tells how one who is in rebellion against God may become right with him. It says that we may be justified from all sin by the work of Christ alone received by faith, and not by our own works-righteousness.
Paul puts it like this: “All who believe … are justified freely by his [that is, God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:22–24); “a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (v. 28); “to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). These verses teach that justification is God’s work and that it flows from grace. As Paul says later on in the letter to the Romans, “It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?” (Rom. 8:33–34).
In God’s justification of the sinner there is an entirely unique factor that does not enter into any other case of justification. That unique factor is Christ’s atonement for our sin coupled to God’s provision for our need of a divine righteousness through him. In justification God declares that he has accepted the sacrifice of Christ as the payment of our debt to the divine justice and has imputed Christ’s righteousness to us in place of the sin. Because Christ’s atonement satisfied the justice of God in regard to all our sins, God’s grace clearly abounds in justification.
There is another way in which the grace of God in our justification exceeds the sinful work of Adam. When Adam fell, he fell from a position of innocence, which is a neutral position, to that of being a sinner. But the work of Christ does not merely restore us to a state of innocence but lifts us up and beyond that to make us people who know both good and evil but who choose the good. We can understand this as a scale. Imagine a scale running from plus 100 down through zero to minus 100. We may say that Adam started at zero and fell to minus 100. That is, he lost 100 points. The work of Christ may be portrayed as double that work, for he restores his people not merely to the zero point but to the plus 100, disposing of the many sins by a superabundance of righteousness.
Joint Heirs with Christ
The third text is Romans 8:17, which tells us that the redeemed are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” This is an improvement on Adam’s state, for at best Adam was merely God’s regent over an earthly paradise. We, by contrast, are to inherit all that is Christ’s and actually rule with him over creation (2 Tim. 2:12).
In law there is an important difference between being an heir and being a joint (or co-) heir. Suppose a certain man dies and leaves a $400,000 estate to his four children. If they are designated his heirs, the estate will be divided equally among them. Each will receive 25 percent or $100,000. But suppose the children are designated coheirs. In this case, the estate is not divided, and together they possess the $400,000. Each one can say, “I am worth $400,000.” In human affairs things are rarely done this way, because human beings have a hard time getting along, and children finding themselves in the position of those in our illustration would probably argue. But what does not work well in human affairs will work in divine affairs, because the coheirs of Christ will have the spirit of Christ and will always work together for the good of all.
What is our inheritance? It is all that is Christ’s. Donald Barnhouse writes,
Shall the King possess something and not share it with his bride? “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Does he have riches? Then “ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Does he have love and fellowship with the Father? In showing forth this portion of our inheritance it would be possible to cite the whole of his great high priestly prayer in the garden on the Mount of Olives the night before he died… .
There are three verses in the New Testament, each wonderful in its own right, which, when taken together give us a startling picture of our association with our Savior Lord. It was on the Mount of Olives that he prayed, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:5). We know that he says that all his prayers are answered, but to Peter was given a special revelation concerning this particular prayer asking for glory. Speaking of the death and resurrection of our Lord, Peter writes, “Christ [was the] lamb without blemish and without spot, who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory” (1 Peter 1:19–21). Did you note those last words? God raised him from the dead and gave him glory—the glory that he had prayed for, particularly the night before he was crucified.
But what did he do with the glory which he received in the triumph of his resurrection? Go back to the Mount of Olives and listen to him pray, “And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them” (John 17:22).
How incalculably wonderful! Partakers of his glory! Fellow-heirs with his resurrection triumphs! We are become “the fullness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23).
Moreover, ours is an inheritance that can never depreciate in value or be lost. It is, as Peter said, “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). We know that Adam lost his inheritance through sin. But we cannot lose our inheritance because it is given on a different basis. Adam’s inheritance was based on a covenant of works. If he remained in obedience, the inheritance would be his. If he rebelled, it would be forfeited. Our inheritance is based on the covenant of grace, and since grace is neither earned nor deserved—it is based purely on the will of the unchangeable God—our inheritance is secure and certain.
Romans 8:17 says this in other language, arguing, “If we are children, then we are heirs.” We become children by the grace of God, for we are born “not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13). Since our inheritance is based on our being children and since we become children not by our own will but by the will of God, nothing can alter it. In this the grace of God in Christ also abounds over the sin of Adam.
Exceeding Great Joy
Our fourth text is the benediction that ends the Book of Jude: “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (v. 24). This teaches that our joy in God, in the future and also now, is greater than the joy Adam had in God before his fall. Although Adam’s joy was great, he had nothing to compare his state of sinlessness to and therefore undoubtedly did not value it as much as the redeemed. Nor did it run the gamut of their experience. We know what it is to be lost and to be brought from that darkness into God’s marvelous light.
We see the principle illustrated even among the redeemed, for those who have been forgiven much, love much. Take the case of John Newton. Newton had been raised in a Christian home in England in his early years, but he became orphaned when he was seven and was sent to live with a non-Christian relative. There Christianity was mocked, and he was persecuted. At last, in order to escape the conditions in the home, Newton ran away to sea and became an apprentice in the British navy. Debauched and rebellious, at last he deserted and ran away to Africa. He tells in his own words that he went there for just one purpose: “that I might sin my fill.” In Africa Newton joined forces with a Portuguese slave trader in whose home he was cruelly treated. At times the slave trader went away on expeditions, and the young man was left in the charge of the slave trader’s African wife, the head of his harem. She hated all men and took her hatred out on Newton. He tells that she exercised such power in her husband’s absence that he was compelled to eat his food off the dusty floor like a dog.
At last the young Newton fled from this treatment and made his way to the coast where he lit a signal fire and was picked up by a slave ship on its way to England. The captain was disappointed that Newton had no ivory to sell, but because the young man knew something about navigation he was made a ship’s mate. He could not keep even this position. During the voyage he broke into the ship’s supply of rum and distributed it to the crew so that the crew became drunk. In a stupor Newton fell into the sea and was saved from drowning only when one of the officers speared him with a harpoon, leaving a fist-sized scar in his thigh.
Near the end of the voyage, as they were nearing Scotland, the ship on which Newton was riding encountered heavy winds. It was blown off course and began to sink. Newton was sent down into the hold with the slaves who were being transported and told to man the pumps. He was frightened to death, feeling sure that the ship would sink and he would drown. He worked the pumps for days, and as he worked he began to cry out to God from the hold of the ship. He began to remember verses he had been taught as a child. As he remembered them he was miraculously transformed. He was born again. He went on to become a great teacher of the Word of God in England. Of this storm William Cowper, the poet, wrote:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Newton himself wrote many poems, among them:
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.
He wrote this classic.
Amazing grace—how sweet the sound—
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
And when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the vale
A life of joy and peace.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.
Newton was a great preacher of grace, and it is no wonder, for he had been lost and was found. He had been blind, but by the abounding grace of God in Christ he had come to see.
 MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 132). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.
 Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: an expositional commentary (pp. 199–219). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.