I think one of the hardest sells for us Christians to make to unbelieving world is the fall of all mankind in Adam as our representative. Why, over simply eating a fruit from a tree was there such a fall, such a curse?
I actually agree that if it was just a simple touching of a tree or a little bite of fruit, it seems excessive. But if we look at the biblical text it was far more than that. It was a complete betrayal of God, and an agreement with the deceiving enemy. It was a failure to do what he should do and a taking and doing what he should not do.
To understand the scope of the sin we need look no further than the biblical text itself, but not just at the text of the event itself, but the greater context of the environment, situation and duty Adam had in the garden that shows this was much more than an issue of intemperance. Which is exactly the point that John Calvin makes:
We must, therefore, look deeper than sensual intemperance. The prohibition to touch the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil was a trial of obedience (obedientiae examen), that Adam, by observing it, might prove his willing submission to the command of God (Institutes,2.1.4)
Calvin points out that Adam’s situation was that he was undergoing a “trial”. It was a “trial of obedience”. We know that in Romans 5, Paul tells us that Adam was a type of the one to come (Christ) -Romans 5:14.
We can understand a lot more about how this was a trial by looking at a the testing that Jesus went through in the wilderness in Matthew 4. Immediately at the start of Jesus ministry he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. How this parallels with Adams’ temptation is not a coincidence, but this is actually at the heart of Christ’s mission on earth. Christ is the promised Seed of the woman, and this battle with Satan is exactly what Christ came to succeed at where Adam failed.
We may note that Christ came into a fallen world, into a harsh wilderness instead of a safe garden, and with intense suffering and hunger instead of a full stomach. He endures, he succeeds, and does what Adam should have done. He faced the tempter three times! Each time, Christ obeyed God. Instead of agreeing with the tempter, Christ vindicated God, and sent the serpent way! This is what Adam should have done.
If we look earlier in Genesis we see that in Genesis 1:27-30 that God made Adam in His own image, and gave him dominion over everything. Adam was God’s great creation, created above the rest of the creation on earth and given dominion over it. He had a job to do.
God also put the Tree of Life in the garden along with establishing the Sabbath rest. These are signs relating to eternal life, a rest or competition of the probationary trial and entry into consummation.
We see the environment of the trial of obedience starting with Genesis 2:15, which most of our English translations don’t do a good job of translating the word “keep it” in relation to the garden.
The Hebrew word “shamar” there is actually better translated to “guard”. It’s used that way in Genesis 3:24 describing the action of the cherubim with the flaming sword that turned every way to “shamar” (guard) the way to the tree of life. Adam should have guarded the garden from the invading serpent.
This same word is used of the Levites who were to “shamar” (guard) the whole congregation, the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and the people of Israel:
Numbers 3: 5 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 6 “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. 7 They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. 8 They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle. 9 And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the people of Israel. 10 And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall guard their priesthood. But if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.”
Based on the understanding of the scope of duties assigned to Adam, God’s representative on earth, given dominion over everything and being given the duty to guard the garden, instead of killing the serpent on sight, or at the very least kicking him out of the garden, we find Adam fails to do his duty from the very first moments of the incident.
Even more, he tolerates this invading creature as he starts spouting anti-God propaganda, calling God’s word and character into question, as if God were keeping something good from man by prohibiting him to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil!
It’s not as if Adam were taken off guard, which he was indeed off guard, but He is present as this happens to and through Eve, as if standing over the situation in silent approval, He goes along with the whole thing, and then eats the fruit himself.
To use a military example, this would be as if the captain of a battleship with all of his orders and vows, and duties, allowed a foreign enemy to come onto the bridge of the ship in his presence, and then start speaking of how his home country was really betraying his interests and that He should disregard his vows duties and orders and instead do the opposite.
Of course, in a war costing everyone under him their lives, that traitorous Capitan should be court marshaled and given the death penalty. Which is exactly the promise given by God for touching or of eating of the tree. It was exactly what Adam deserved, and worse Adam ,was a representative of all humanity in this.
After Adam’s eyes were opened, he was afraid of God. Rightly so, his nakedness was more than physical. He was morally naked, and exposed before a Holy God as a traitor. He was a transgressor under penalty of death.
But out of sheer mercy, God didn’t kill Adam immediately as He deserved. In Genesis 3:20 we read that God took some animal skins and covered Adam and his wife. Then the real weighty promise God makes in Genesis 3:15. There is a seed of the woman, an offspring that will bruise or crush the serpent’s head.
This of course begins the story of redemption after the fall, and of course the promised offspring is Christ. God is going to take on our nature in the person of the son and fulfill what Adam did not. We find in the gospels that Christ came to accomplish two things on earth. In John 1, we see his work is to be the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and starting in Matthew 3, we see that he comes to be the obedient one that fulfills all righteousness.
These two tasks, of obedience and sacrifice are the mission, and Christ perfectly fulfills both, turning away God’s wrath, and also meriting a righteousness beyond any probation for a people He represents, God’s elect, all who will believe, and put their faith in Christ alone.
Unlike the first Adam, who’s sin is imputed to mankind, on the cross, Christ bears away or is imputed our sins, and we receive (have imputed) His righteousness, the wonderful consequences of His obedience. This is the basis of our Justification before God.
Our hope of eternal life is secured. Heaven is secured by Christ, whom Paul calls the last Adam (1Cor 15:24). By His obedience and sacrifice, Christ has secured eternal life and the heavenly rest that Adam failed to secure. This is good news for all who rest their faith on Him.
Adam’s transgression was heinous, it was cosmic treason. The promise of death and perdition that hung over the trial were equal to their opposite, of eternal life and the blessings of God. If we do not like the fact that God imputes sin to mankind, then what do we say of his imputation of our sins to Christ on the cross, or even more, the imputation of Christ’s record of righteousness to us?
We can rejoice in the good news of what Christ has secured by knowing more how amazing it is, what a great salvation we truly have. We, sinners who deserve condemnation are instead made sons of God in Christ, and given eternal life and an eternal inheritance. This is good news that almost seems too good to be true. Christian, our salvation in Christ is secured by Christ. What an amazing savior we have.