Genesis 3:15 is the single most important verse in the Bible. We cannot understand the overarching meta-narrative of the Bible until we come to understand the protoevangelium (i.e. the first preaching of the Gospel). This first of God’s promises in human history contains the entire biblical teaching on the conflict, conquest, redemption, restoration and salvation of God’s elect–the whole of the story of Scripture in seed form. But, how are we to understand all that is contained in this first promise of redemption?
The seed of the woman is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, who was “born of a woman, born under the law, that He might redeem us from the curse of the law” (Gal. 4:4). In the Old Testament, the seed of the woman was, in typical form, the covenant line of professing believers and their children (i.e. the visible church). In the New Testament, the seed of the woman is the church. In glory, God will ultimately unveil the fact that the seed of the woman is Christ and all those who are savingly united to him. When we understand this four-fold approach to “the seed” promise, we begin to piece together the parts of the story that are unfolded in the pages of Scripture. Still, there are many other facets of this first promise that we have to consider if we are to appreciate the place it holds as the foundational promise of redemptive history.
The 19th Century American theologian, Stuart Robinson, set down 8 points of interpretation of Genesis 3:15 in his Discourses of Redemption. By so doing, Robinson sought to explain what our first parents could/would have known from the first preaching of the Gospel. He wrote:
“Thus it will be seen, on careful analysis of these words, and deducing the truths embodied by implication in them, that they set forth these eight points of the gospel creed.
1. That the Redeemer and Restorer of the race is to be man, since he is to be the seed of the woman.
2. That he is, at the same time, to be a being greater than man, and greater even than Satan; since he is to be the conqueror of man’s conqueror, and, against all his efforts, to recover a sinful world which man had lost; being yet sinless, he must therefore be divine.
3. That this redemption shall involve a new nature, at “enmity” with the Satan nature, to which man has now become subject.
4. That this new nature is a regeneration by Divine power; since the enmity to Satan is not a natural emotion, but, saith Jehovah, ” I will put enmity,” and, etc.
5. This redemption shall be accomplished by vicarious suffering; since the Redeemer shall suffer the bruising of his heel in the work of recovery.
6. That this work of redemption shall involve the gathering out of an elect seed a ” peculiar people” at enmity with the natural offspring of a race subject to Satan.
7. That this redemption shall involve and perpetual conflict of the peculiar people, under its representative head, in the effort to bruise the head of Satan, that is, ” to destroy the works of the Devil.”
8. This redemption shall involve the ultimate triumph, after suffering, of the woman’s seed ; and therefore involves a triumph over death and a restoration of the humanity to its original estate, as a spiritual in conjunction with a physical nature, in perfect blessedness as before its fall.
Such, then, is the gospel theology here revealed, in germ, through the very terms of the curse pronounced upon the destroyer of the race. It will be seen that here are all the peculiar doctrines of salvation, by grace, which every Christian accepts, who exercises the faith which is unto salvation. And in the broader and higher sense of the terms, Moses, as truly as Mark at the opening of his evangel, might have prefixed to this third chapter of Genesis the title,” The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.”1
As God unfolded his plan of redemption in the Old Testament, we find that the seed of the woman was simultaneously persecuted by Satan and preserved by God. Typical representations of Satan’s kingdom—the seed of the serpent—surface in individualistic and nationalistic forms from Genesis to Malachi. Whether it was Cain threatening to destroy the promise of the Redeemer by killing Abel—for whom God appointed a substitutionary seed, Seth—or the rulers of the Egyptians, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, etc. Israel was the typical seed of the woman in conflict with the seed of the serpent.
In his History of the Work of Redemption, Jonathan Edwards explained that the conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent is seen in the early period of revelation leading to the flood. He wrote:
“God’s destroying these enemies of the church by the flood belongs to this affair of redemption, for it was one thing that was done in fulfillment of the covenant of grace as it was revealed to Adam: “I will put enmity between thee and [her seed]; it shall bruise thy head.” This destruction was only a destruction of the seed of the serpent in the midst of their most violent rage against the seed of the woman, and so delivering the seed of the woman from them when in utmost peril by them. We read of scarce any great destruction of nations anywhere in Scripture but that one main reason given for it was their enmity and injuries against God’s church; and doubtless this is one main reason of the destruction of all nations by the flood.”1
In the preservation of Noah, from whom the Redeemer would descend, we have a picture of the preservation principle of the seed of the woman. Christ was in the loins of Noah, so to speak. If there was no Noah, there would be no Christ. Though Jesus is the eternal Son of God, without beginning of days or end of life, as the incarnate Redeemer he descended from certain men and women in redemptive history (Matt. 1:1-25; Luke 3:23-38).
In order to make sense of those other difficult portions of the Old Testament, such as the book of Esther, we need to keep the seed promise in view. When the eradication of the Jews was threatened in the days of Esther, what was ultimately at stake was the destruction of the seed promise. If Haman had succeeded in eradicating the Jews (Esther 3:6), the hope of the coming Messiah would have been destroyed. When God used Esther to save the Old Covenant people, He was saving the seed promise of Genesis 3:15.
The Scots Confession of 1561 well explains the place that the seed promise holds in the Old Testament era of revelation, when it says,
“For this we constantly believe: that God, after the fearful and horrible defection of man from his obedience, did seek Adam again, call upon him, rebuke his sin, convict him of the same, and in the end made unto him a most joyful promise: to wit, that the seed of the woman should break down the serpent’s head that is, he should destroy the works of the Devil. Which promise, as it was repeated and made more clear from time to time, so was it embraced with joy, and most constantly received of all the faithful, from Adam to Noah, from Noah to Abraham, from Abraham to David, and so forth to the incarnation of Christ Jesus: all (we mean the faithful fathers) under the law did see the joyful days of Christ Jesus, and did rejoice.”
When the apostate religious leaders of Israel set themselves in opposition to Jesus and his disciples, Christ told them that they were, in fact—the offspring of vipers (i.e. the seed of the serpent, see Matt. 12:34; 23:33). The ultimate conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent came when the apostate religious leaders of Israel pursued and crucified the Son of God. Satan was carrying out his malicious intent through them in the sufferings of Christ. Nevertheless, Christ conquered the evil one by his death and resurrection. On first glance, it seemed as though Satan was crushing Jesus’ head in his death on the cross, however, the resurrection proved that Christ’s death was merely as if his heal was bruised by the evil one–a wound from which he fully and gloriously recovered.
After his ascension, Jesus poured his Spirit out on his people–in order to bring forth a holy seed throughout all the nations of the earth. Since he, the seed of the woman, now sits at the right hand of the Father–with all authority and power–his people become the exclusive objects of the malice and rage of the evil one. The persecution that the church continues in this period of redemptive history–as is symbolized in Revelation 12:13. The persecution of the church by the forces of darkness at work in political powers often appears to be completely destructive of the seed of the woman; however, it also is merely the bruising of the heal of God’s people. In the resurrection, all the world’s malice and attempts to destroy Christ and his church will be shown to be futile. Not only do they not destroy God’s purposes, they serve and hasten them. The persecution of the church hastens the coming of the Lord Jesus again in glory. On Judgment Day, Jesus will be revealed to be the glorified seed of the woman who executes judgment against the Satan and all those in his Kingdom. Nothing will stop the Redeemer from fulfilling what he came into the world to accomplish (1 John 3:8).
From the fall to the consummation, human history is an unfolding of God’s first promise of conquest, redemption and restoration in Christ. At the outset of Scripture, our eyes are drawn to the One who came to overcome the evil one and to reverse all that he did by leading our first parents in rebellion. Every one of us belongs either to Christ or to the evil one. We are either members of the Kingdom of Darkness or we have been transferred by God’s grace into the Kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13). No matter how grievous may be our sufferings and the persecutions that we endure in this life, we are assured that the Son has come “conquering and to conquer.” He has crushed the head of the serpent by His death on the cross and has assured believers of the glorious day of resurrection when the seed of the woman will stands victorious over all the forces of darkness and everything that opposes the glory of God. That’s the story of Scripture.
1. Stuart Robinson Discourses of Redemption (New York: D. Appleton, 1866) pp. 65-66
2. Jonathan Edwards, A History of the Work of Redemption, ed. John F. Wilson and John E. Smith, vol. 9, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1989), 149–150.