The Bible connects two drastically different scenes to explain why God became man. One scene is set in a beautiful garden where we see a perfect specimen of a man eating the delicious fruit of a living tree. The other scene is set on a hill so ugly that it was called “the place of a skull.” A wreck of a man, battered and disfigured from torture, hangs there on a dead tree—a cross—gasping for His last agonizing breath. The first man is Adam. The second is the Last Adam. The Word of God reveals that God became man to become this second man—the Last Adam.
It is absolutely vital to understand that the Bible speaks of both as historic figures, real men who lived, walked, and breathed, who acted in time and space as flesh and blood representatives of the human race. It is unthinkable to regard the first Adam as a kind of mythological symbol. Many have attempted to do this, and thereby ended up compromising the person and work of the Last Adam, Jesus Christ. The two are inseparable.
Genesis 3 records how the first Adam sinned against God, and Romans 5 reminds us that the punishment he brought upon the entire human race was death, since we are all descendants of Adam (Romans 5:12).
The Scriptures also reveal that Jesus Christ (the God-man) was the Last Adam. Romans 5:12–19 says that Adam “was a pattern of the one to come” (NIV). A parallel between Adam and Christ is seen in 1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (NASB). Christ’s identity as the Last Adam is explicit in 1 Corinthians 15:45–47: “So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from Heaven” (NASB).
Jesus is the Last Adam, which also explains why He is the Second Man. As the man from Heaven, Jesus alone was suitable to replace the first.
The final outcome for all other men is determined by the representative deeds of these two men. Paul’s very theme in Romans 5:12–21 is that there are only two men from the perspective of God’s justice. God demands perfection, but with our sin natures, we humans are unable to meet this requirement. In other words, we could never save ourselves.
In the Garden, Adam was forbidden to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but he was disobedient. And because he disobeyed, he was to die (Genesis 2:16–17). Death was not the natural destiny of Adam; it was the punishment for his disobedience against his Creator. Christ’s being the Last Adam clarifies the nature of His saving work on the Cross, which consisted of total obedience to His Father (Romans 5:12–19).
The saving work of Christ consists of obedience like that required of the first Adam, but Christ’s obedience was not simply to refrain from eating of a tree in a garden. Instead, Christ’s obedience meant suffering and dying on a cross. Christ had to take on the form of a man and physically die. Philippians 2:8 says, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (NIV).
Christ’s work—as the representative obedience of a Second Adam—was both active and passive. To be the Last Adam, Jesus had to do what Adam failed to do— fulfill the required obedience in the Garden and the required sinless life of perfection, both of which Christ fulfilled. This is His active obedience. He took the death we deserved, and now death should have no sting for us. He also had to undo what Adam did. This is His passive obedience. Passive obedience refers to Jesus’ passion or suffering. He had to suffer the wages of sin.
Our eternal destinies depend on whether we are united to the first or Last Adam. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22, NASB). Have you by faith renounced the disobedience of the old Adam and embraced the forgiveness of sin made possible by the new Adam, Jesus Christ?
Whether you are rafting through the Grand Canyon via the rapids of the Colorado River, hiking through an unknown forest, or exploring a deep cavern, perilous danger could lurk around any turn. That’s why river guides, forest rangers, and cave experts guide visitors and point out the dangers.
Over the years, hundreds of people have died trying to run the Colorado River, which has some of North America’s most difficult rapids. In fact, it would be almost impossible to run the river without a skilled guide who knows the twists and turns and safest routes through which to steer the boat.
The problem with life, however, is that it is far more perilous than rafting down a river or walking through the forest. Life ends in death, and no human expert can guide you through that danger.
However, there is one Guide who has conquered every peril—His name is Jesus, and He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). And by His life, death, and resurrection He became the path to God and eternal life. To do this, He had to become a man. He had to live as one of us. He faced the same struggles; He faced the same trials; and yet He lived a sinless life only to die on the Cross to pay the penalty for our sin. He became One of us to show us the way—He was the only One who could; He’s the only One who did.
Dr. Sam Waldron, a pastor at Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky, earned his Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a professor of systematic theology at the Midwest Center for Theological Studies. He has also written numerous books, including Baptist Roots in America.
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