“Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
But the gift is not like the trespass. 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! Again, 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. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”
Romans 5:14 – 17
Here in a few verses of his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul lays before us the whole sweep of history. In the first Adam, at the dawn of human history, we fell into our deadly condition. This condition of sin, condemnation, and death plagues us at every turn. As a river cannot rise above its source, so we, coursing through history from our fallen father, plunge only deeper into misery. Ah, but the first Adam is not the last word. There is, and is come, another Word, the second, greater, and final Adam. This new Adam, like the first, comes into the world as the workmanship of God, flesh from dust, enlivened by the Spirit of God. He is truly one of us. Yet he does not enter life at the pinnacle of human existence, into a perfect garden. He enters near the nadir of our failure, into the fullness of our misery, and as a helpless babe. Not for one brief moment in the corner of the garden, but the entirety of his life was his probation, the cruel tree always in view, death a certainty from the outset. Indeed, his death was his Father’s design, as well as the inescapable outcome of his identification with us, his lost brothers and deliberately lethal enemies.
Irenaeus, an early Church father, summed up this stupendous scriptural theme in the concept known to us as “recapitulation”. Jesus Christ, the second and greater Adam, enters into the place of the first Adam, and relives his probation for our sake. Facing temptations and challenges infinitely greater than the first Adam, he is fully obedient to the Father, yet he, born for our sake, is put to death by us for that obedience. But thanks be to God, it is at this very point that the mystery of Godliness stands the mystery of evil on its head. The death of our new Adam yields life by the power of his Spirit for him and for us, to the farthest reaches and depths of the created realm, far as the curse is found and beyond.
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to brings all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” Ephesians 1:7 – 10.