An article written for the All Saints Presbyterian Church July 2011 newsletter:
The very first hero in the Bible is Adam. But after reading Adam’s story (Genesis 1.26-3.24), you might think to yourself: he cannot be the first hero in the Bible—he is not really a hero at all! He is given a beautiful, perfect world, but he ruins everything. He is anything but a hero.
If you think that, then you understand Adam’s story perfectly. In literary terms, Adam is the quintessential tragic hero. Tragedy starts off well, with a noble person in a state of peace and happiness, but that person’s situation rapidly deteriorates—usually because of some lack of knowledge or understanding—and he ends up utterly ruined.
Examples of classic tragedies include Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Othello, modern plays like Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire or Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and films like The Alamo and Bridge on the River Kwai. Adam’s story certainly belongs at the top of the tragic list:
1. He was made in the image of God (Genesis 1.16-27), but he caused that image to be tarnished by sinfulness. In many ways, he became more a reflection of the serpent than of God.
2. He was given a chance to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1.28), but instead of being the father of a fruitful, productive people, he became the father of sin and destruction, passing it along to all who come after him.
3. He was given a beautiful bride—look how he sings about her in Gen 2.23! But instead of preserving and protecting her, he stood silently by and allowed her to fall into sin (Gen 3.6) and then blamed her for his own sin (Gen 3.12).
4. He was given paradise: see how the beautiful garden is described in Gen 2.8-14. But instead of tending and nourishing it, he turned it into wasteland: Gen 3.17-19.
This is the true tragedy of tragedies: God’s own representative, made in his image to be like him as he governs the world, has turned his back on God and become a source of sin and cursing rather than of goodness and blessing. Because of Adam, the perfect, wonderful world has been cursed and the beautiful bride has been corrupted.
Why would God let this happen? If he knew Adam was going to ruin everything like this, why did he create the world at all?
The answer is that he had a better plan in mind all along: he allowed Adam to ruin everything in order to display the glory of the one who is greater than Adam: Jesus.
Everything that Adam destroyed, Jesus restores. And he does not simply restore, but rather he makes these things far better than they ever were:
1. Jesus bears the image of God in that he is God himself in human flesh. Unlike Adam, he does not allow that image of God to be marred by sin, even though he was “in every respect . . . tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4.15). Instead, he takes the most sinful and corrupt things in the world – human hearts – and makes them clean again.
2. Unlike Adam, who was the father of a sinful people, Jesus is the father of a holy people, a people who will carry out God’s command to “fill the earth and subdue it” by obeying Jesus’ words, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus’ people are described as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2.9-10).
3. Unlike Adam, who allowed a perfect, beautiful bride to be ruined, Jesus took a corrupt, unfaithful bride and made her pure and beautiful again. The New Testament repeatedly calls the church “the bride of Christ.” That bride was once marred by sin, but she has now been made holy and beautiful again.
4. Unlike Adam, who took God’s perfect world and ruined it, Jesus will take this cursed world and create a new heavens and earth that far exceeds this one: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21.1-5).
Jesus is the new Adam, only he is infinitely greater than the first. Only Jesus can undo the tragedy that grips our world and even our souls. He has created a new world, a new bride, a new people, a new image of God given to man, and each is even better than the first.