The True and Better Adam
If our sole prospect for deliverance lies in the incarnate God, Christ Jesus our Lord, we’re confronted with two weighty questions:
Firstly, how does the death of a single individual lead to the redemption of the whole world? In other words, how can the wrath of God kindled against the sins of mankind be appeased by the judgment of one man?
And second, how can the punishing of the innocent wash away the guilt of the wicked? Isn’t that a failure of judicial principles? Shouldn’t the guilty be punished for their crimes?
The point of this blog post is to tackle these questions, systematically, one at a time.
How can One Man pay for it all?
In Scripture, we learn that just as death spread throughout the world because of one man, Adam, salvation came to all through another singular figure, Jesus Christ.
To understand this concept fully, we must delve into the significance of ‘covenants’ in Scripture. Covenants are foundational in comprehending God’s interactions with humanity over time. These are binding agreements or promises made by God with specific individuals, groups, or nations. They establish terms, blessings, responsibilities, and conditions for God’s people.
Consider the various covenants detailed in Scripture: the rainbow is the sign of the Noahic covenant where God promised never again to destroy the earth by flood (Genesis 9:13). The Abrahamic covenant promised him descendants, land, and blessing to the nations through Abraham’s seed (Genesis 12:1-3). The Mosaic covenant consists of laws, commandments, and regulations by which the Israelites were to live. It established the covenant relationship between God and the people of Israel (Exodus 19-24). Scripture is full of these covenants.
In essence, a covenant is a contractual agreement between two parties that carries with it the blessings of keeping the covenant and the consequences of breaking it. In all of these covenants made with Israel or with all of mankind, the one thing we see is that God enters into such agreement with humanity through specific individuals who stand as federal representatives of the many. These individuals are seen as representing or acting as the legal or covenantal heads of a larger community or group.
This concept of ‘federal headship’ explains the doctrines such as original sin and atonement. Adam, as the first human, served as the federal head or representative of all humanity. And God made a covenant with Adam, giving him the fruit of all the earth except the specific trees in Eden.
But Adam broke the covenant with God and death entered into mankind as a consequence of it. His actions affected the entire human race. His sin was imputed to his posterity.
Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden resulted in the introduction of sin and its consequences (spiritual separation from God, moral corruption, and physical death) for all his descendants. This is “Adam’s federal headship,” where his actions have a representative impact on the entire human race, leading to a state of sinfulness and separation from God for all humanity.
In the same way, in Scripture, Jesus Christ is seen as the “second Adam”, a new federal head who represents humanity in their restoration. His obedient life, sacrificial death, and resurrection are seen as countering the effects of sin brought about by Adam. Through faith in Christ, individuals are reconciled to God, and the consequences of sin are overcome, bringing about salvation and eternal life.
Hence, the redemptive power of one individual extends to all who place their faith in him. This unique Savior stands apart from Adam’s lineage. Born of a virgin, untouched by the stain of humanity’s corruption, he carried no trace of Adam’s legacy. He lived the life we could not live, and he suffered the death that he did not deserve so that we who believe in him might inherit his righteousness and be spared the death that we deserve.
How do we justify the sacrifice of the innocent for the sake of the wicked?
Because we needed a new covenant with a federal head who was without blemish. A new and obedient Adam. Jesus, in his incarnation, came in our likeness, but he was unlike us in the sense that he did not have the corrupted and sinful human nature. Therefore, as our federal head, he is able to impute to us his righteousness, and as our federal head, he is able to represent us on the cross and receive the full judgment of God on our behalf.
What theologians like to call the “beautiful exchange” which highlights the remarkable nature of Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Christ, who was sinless and perfect, willingly took upon himself the sins of humanity. In doing so, he suffered the punishment that was deserved by humanity for their sins. Through this act of atonement, believers receive forgiveness and salvation, not by their own merits or deeds, but by the grace of God through faith in Christ. We are clothed in his righteousness.
Advent is the celebration of the birth of the new and better Adam, Christ the federal head of the New Covenant.