One of the great keys to understanding the nature of Jesus’ saving work is to understand the nature of the curse pronounced by God on His rebellious image bearers. No sooner did Adam sin against God, bringing guilt and corruption to the who human race, that God came with the covenant curses commensurate with the actions of His creatures. He first pronounces the curse on the evil One, who tempted our first parents to rebel against God; then He pronounced the curse on the woman and finally He pronounced the curse on the man–the federal head of all humanity. What is most fascinating about these curses is that they are strategically given in the order in which each creature rebelled, and they are strategically placed with regard to the role that each was to play in fulfilling the creation mandate to “have dominion” by being “fruitful and multiplying,” and by filling the earth and subduing it. In short, Adam and Eve were to turn the world into the Garden by obeying God and by populating and cultivating this world that God had created to be a habitable inheritance for His image bearers. Here are five thoughts about the curses and the way in which God reverses the curse through the second Adam in His work of redemption and new creation:
1. The first curse was place on the serpent because he was the first to rebel and the first to bring disorder into God’s world. The Scriptures make clear that “the Son of God was manifest to destroy the work of the devil” (1 John 3:8). The rest of the Bible is, in the words of Sinclair Ferguson, “essentially an extended footnote to Genesis 3:15.” It is the unfolding of the enmity that God set between Satan and his seed and the woman and her seed. Of course, we need to recognize that the word ‘Seed’ in Scripture is first singular and masculine in nature, but that a plurality of persons is included in it in a secondary and related sense. It carries the idea of the One (i.e. Christ) and the man. In this first curse, there is a promise. This is the first promise of a Redeemer. God promises to crush the head of the serpent, even as the serpent attacks and bruises the heal of the Seed of the woman. In the warfare between the serpent and the Seed of the woman, the serpent would experience a fatal wound while the Redeemer would experience a wound that was meant to be fatal but which would be as if he only had his heal bruised. The difference between the two wounds is that the Redeemers would be remedied in His resurrection from the dead. Stuart Robinson, an old Southern Presbyterian theologian, in his biblical-theological masterpiece Discourses of Redemption, set out eight things that Adam and Eve could have known from this first promise. He explained that they could have known:
That the Redeemer and Restorer of the race is to be man, since he is to be the seed of the woman.
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.
That this redemption shall involve a new nature, at “enmity” with the Satan nature, to which man has now become subject.
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,” &c.
This redemption shall be accomplished by vicarious suffering; since the Redeemer shall suffer the bruising of his heel in the work of recovery.
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.
That this redemption shall involve & 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.’
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.1
The Scriptures bear out the enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent in the enmity that Cain, who is said to be “of the evil one,” toward Abel, in the hostility of the world toward Noah and Lot, in the oppression of Israel by Egypt and in the conflict between Israel and the Philistines (as well as all the other nations with which they battled or were oppressed). While all Israel was not savingly united to the Redeemer, the nation–in the Old Testament–was a type of the coming Son of God and the seedbed of the coming Redeemer; therefore, it stood in the place of the Seed of the woman in redemptive history. In the coming of the Redeemer, this enmity is seen in the conflict between the Devil and Christ in the wilderness, in the opposition of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Chief Priests and Scribes to Christ who, together with John the Baptist, explained that they were “a brood of vipers” and “of their father the devil.” Finally, the warfare is seen in the worlds opposition to the church after the resurrection and ascension of Christ (Rev. 12). While Christ defeated the devil by virtue of His death on the cross (Matt. 12:22-30; John 12:31 and Col. 2:15), we await the full manifestation of the victory when Christ and His Church crush Satan under the feet in final judgment (Rom. 16:20). In short, Jesus’ death on the cross was D-Day and the final judgment is V-Day. What happened definitively on the cross will come to full fruition in the judgment.
2. The woman is mentioned in the curse placed on the serpent because she was the first to rebel and the one through whom redemption would come. If someone were to ask why the woman is addressed first in the curse placed on the serpent and then in God’s address to our first parents, we could give several important answers. The first is that it was the women who first disobeyed. It is right then that God would address the woman first. However, the Lord also removes some of the reproach from the woman–lest she should have too much sorrow to bear from the scorn of her husband for her action. The Redeemer would come from the woman. It is possible that reference to what the Lord says about the woman’s seed in Genesis 3:15 is in view in 1 Timothy 2:15.
3. The curse placed on the woman was pronounced with regard to her role in the dominion mandate.
Still, another question arises when we ask why God placed His curse upon the act of child-bearing when He pronounced His curse upon the woman. The answer, it seems, regards the role childbearing prior to the fall. Adam and Eve were to fulfill the creational mandate to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” The way in which Adam and Eve would extend the Garden-Temple out would be by populating and cultivating to the glory of God. Now that the woman has allowed herself to be deceived and has forfeited the right to fulfill the dominion mandate in the way in which God originally intended for man to do, she would have pain in the place in which she would have originally fulfilled it as a reminder that she could no longer do so. Woman would now bear corrupt children in the fallen image of she and her federal head. Too many, even in our own day, elevate their children and their parenting to such a level that it seems as though they believe that they can achieve the original intention of God at creation.
In His gracious purposes, God continued to fulfill his intention for man to have dominion and, even, in part, through child-bearing. However, it was in a way in which man could have never imagined. God would become man, born of the woman, born under the law so that He might redeem us of the curse of the Law and bring about the new creation through His own death. The writer of Hebrews makes this clear when he speaks of the “world to come” and explains that we “do not yet see all things put under man,” but “we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the Angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for all His people.”
4. The curse place on the man regarded his role in the dominion mandate. As God pronounced a curse on the women in the very place in which she was to play a role in taking dominion of the world, so He did with regard to the man. Man was to “tend and keep” the Garden. Work was one of the primary ways in which man would fulfill the dominion mandate. By using the gifts that the Lord gave him, man would subdue the world for the glory the King of Kings. Instead, God said that work would be difficult and painful for man after the fall. Man would work by the sweat of his brow in order to eat bread. The ground, out of which the man had been made, would now bear thorns and thistles. Everything that would have been easy and enjoyable prior to the fall would now be toilsome and burdensome.
After the fall, man tries to fulfill the dominion mandate by which he does–and he tries in vain. No longer would man be able to fulfill the dominion mandate by His own work. However, a Man would come who would fulfill the mandate by His work in His life and death. After His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples.” Jesus gains all authority and power and the Son of God and representative of the new creation and redeemed humanity. A Man now sits on the throne of God and is subduing all things to Himself through the preaching of the Gospel and the making of disciples.
5. Christ, the Last Adam, took the curse of Adam upon Himself in order to redeem His people. As was true with regard to the woman and her curse, the Lord mean to bring blessing from the curse placed on man. The solution to Adam’s sin and the curse is found in Jesus Christ, the second Adam (Romans 5:12-21). He is the last man–who came to represent His people who were fallen in Adam so that they might know redemption. In the words of Sinclair Ferguson, “Jesus undid everything Adam did and did everything Adam failed to do.” He became a curse in order to remove the curse from us. He kept the Law of God perfectly so as to merit righteousness for those who would believe. One of the most interesting aspects of Jesus’ work of redemption is the way in which the curse that was pronounced over man in the Garden falls on Him–in Gardens.
When Jesus was fully entering into the work of redemption, we are told that He sweat great drops of blood in the Garden. Matthew Henry noted:
Sweat came in with sin, and was a branch of the curse, Gen. 3:19. And therefore when Christ was made sin and a curse for us, He underwent a grievous sweat, that in the sweat of His face we might eat bread, and that He might sanctify and sweeten all our trials to us.
It is no small thing to see how the God-Man had to endure the burden of work as He was working to undo everything that Adam had done.
Secondly, Jesus wore the crown a thorns during His hours of suffering. This, it seems to me, is one of the most powerful pictures of Him becoming the sin-bearing, curse-removing Second Adam. Again, Matthew Henry wrote:
Thorns came in with sin, and were part of the curse that was the product of sin, Gen. 3:18 . Therefore Christ, being made a curse for us, and dying to remove the curse from us, felt the pain and smart of those thorns, nay, and binds them as a crown to him (Job. 31:36 ); for his sufferings for us were his glory.
Finally, Jesus died. One of the details about the sufferings of which we read in Scripture is that “He breathed His last” (Mark 15:24). God had given man “the breath of life.” Jesus, the second Man, gave up that breath so that we might have the spiritual breath of life. Jesus endured the curse of the fall to the full on the cross. Jesus died in the place of His people. Henry put it so well when he wrote:
Christ was really and truly dead, for he gave up the ghost; his human soul departed to the world of spirits, and left his body a breathless clod of clay.
Interestingly, just as he began his sufferings in the Garden of Gethsemane, so he finished them by being buried in a Garden. Isaac Ambrose, in his wonderful book Looking Unto Jesus, made the following powerful observation:
A garden was the place wherein we fell, and therefore Christ made choise of a garden to begin the work of our redemption…Confider him entering into the garden of Gethfemane: in a garden Adam sinned, and in this garden Christ must suffer. Into this garden no sooner was he entered, but he began to be agonized.
But Jesus did not only gave up His life physically–He also endured the full wrath of God for us. This is what many have understood the Apostle’s creed to mean when we say, “He descended into Hell.” Jesus endured the equivalent of eternal punishment on the cross. Only an eternal being can satisfy the wrath of an eternal God. As Anselm explained so helpfully, “Every sin is sin against at eternal being, and even one sin against an eternal being deserves eternal punishment.” Jesus, being fully God and fully man put himself under the power of sin, death and wrath to take the curse of the fall upon Himself for us. He broke the power of sin, removed the sting from physical death and satisfied the wrath of God to bring many sons to glory.
Man, who was taken from the ground, rebelled against His Maker and so the infinitely holy God, who made all things, cursed the place from which man sinned. Man’s sin effected the whole of the cosmos (Rom. 8:19-22). There are even intimations of this idea in God’s judgments pronounced or poured out upon man and beast at different periods in redemptive history (e.g. the flood, the judgments on Egypt, Ninevah, etc). In the Gospel, God promised to redeem–not just His believing people, but also the whole of the cosmos. The promise of redemption is the promise to all those who have trusted in Jesus, the second Adam, that they will live forever with Him in the New Heavens and the New Earth. When He sweat great drop of blood in the Garden, the blood of the Second Adam fell into the cursed ground. When He hung on the tree, with a crown of thorns on his head, He shed His blood into the ground. The writer of Hebrews draws out this parallel between the blood of Abel (which cried out to God from the ground for judgment on Cain) and the blood of Jesus “speaking better things than that of Abel.” Jesus’ blood cries out for mercy. There is a sense in which we can say that Jesus’ blood–being poured out into the cursed ground–also secures the new creation. There are depths here–depths that ought to make us fall on our knees, confess our sin and worship the God who sent His eternal Son to become the sin-bearing, curse-removing Second Adam! As John Henry Newman put it:
O loving wisdom of our God,
when all was sin and shame,
a second Adam to the fight
and to the rescue came!
*My good friend Chris Davis (A.K.A. Result) has written a brilliant song, “Curse Reversed,” in which he captures something of what God has done in the work of creation.
1. Stuart Robinson Discourses of Redemption (New York: D. Appelton and Co., 1866) pp. 65-66