Why is Jesus the Last Adam?

The question of whether or not Adam was a historical person has generated a lot of debate. It’s common for arguments to look at Scripture passages that relate Jesus and Adam, referring to Jesus as the “second Adam”. The term is often derived from passages such as Romans 5:12-21, although the phrase itself not actually in Scripture. Instead, Paul describes Jesus as the last Adam:

Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 1 Corinthians 15:45

The more popular term may be a reasonable summary, but it’s not clear why we use a human-derived statement instead of the clear statement in Scripture. Perhaps the Scripture makes us uncomfortable, or is more likely to confuse people. But are those valid justifications for obscuring the Word? Instead, consider what God is saying here.

The difference between “second” and “last” is that the latter implies more than two, generally more than any small number. Using the term “last” begs the question of how many there were. The immediate context doesn’t seem to supply any obvious clues, but the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to make that statement for some reason.

Perhaps it’s related to the reason the Spirit led Moses to write this about the name of Adam:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Adam when they were created. Genesis 5:1-2

The passage above is from the ESV translation, but with the last use of “adam” kept as original. The first sentence is clearly talking about the creation of an individual man, but when referred to in the second sentence, “he” is referred to as “them”. Then, as if to clarify what’s going on, the Word essentially states that when the term “adam” is used as a name, it refers to all men and women.

In other words, the name Adam is really a reference to humanity in general, so perhaps the awkward use of he/them tells us that when the individual man is referred to with that name, it is to be understood as a symbolic representation of humankind in general (or at least humanity in the OT).

So the Spirit inspired Moses to describe this bestowing of the name Adam, then inspired Paul to describe Jesus as the last Adam. Could it be that God wants us to understand the man Adam as a picture of all who live under the Law?

Maybe the narrative in Genesis 3 isn’t the beginnings of the fallen state, that somehow mystically gets transmitted through the generations, but a description of all people before the cross. Perhaps it’s a profound way of describing how “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, so that we can explore fundamental aspects of the sin nature that apply to each of us.

Frankly, I’m still working this out, but really don’t understand why we substitute for the Holy Spirit’s term. And why is it more important to believe in some mystical sin inheritance, instead of making us each individually accountable before God? We tend to read an awful lot into Romans 5:12, but completely gloss over the passages above. I’m still seeking the right view, but wanted to share the question with others. Comments welcome.

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5 Responses to Why is Jesus the Last Adam?

  1. Aviyah says:

    Great thoughts! I am not sure what I can bring to your table, but here goes! You have given so much here to consider (and I have been considering all day!). Did God want us to understand the man Adam as a picture of all who lived under the Law? Is Genesis 3 about the beginning of the fallen estate, or a description of people before the cross? (That, by the way, is a huge leap of time between Adam and Moses at Mt Sinai, and then Moses to Yeshua at the cross. Fortunately, we know that YHWH is the same yesterday, today and for all time, and even Yeshua lived under the law ☺)

    Adam was prior to Torah, but after they sinned in the Garden, YHWH made the law clear to Adam. Had they not sinned, YHWH would not have had to sacrifice one of His creatures to make a blood atonement for their sins and cover their nakedness. Had He not instituted the blood sacrifice, Adam and Eve would not have known He had a law (or laws, plural, since the only “law” was “do not eat of this tree.”) Had Adam and Eve not known of His law, they would have only told their kids “don’t eat of this tree,” and all would have been well. But Cain and Able had YHWH’s law passed down to them, and they clearly knew what sacrifice would be acceptable to Him.

    In addition, when we consider how sin is passed on, we know 2 things: first, that we model what we see in our parents, our surroundings, and our culture. And second, that at the tree, our understanding became 100% different than YHWH’s original blueprint. Our innocents was compromised, and with the introduction of sin, we negated our ability to be truly free in our willful decision making since we now have two distinctly opposed perspectives from which to choose. Some have even argued that our DNA was altered, which is a fascinating discussion that I won’t be able to do justice to here… (Interesting side note: ever consider the circumcision as a way for man’s seed to pass through the blood of the covenant – a foreshadow of Yeshua’s blood, and the circumcision of our hearts?)

    You touched on the individual accountability for sin: I would offer that we must recognize that prior to Yeshua’s arrival (from Abraham on), YHWH was carving out a chosen people. After Yeshua’s arrival, YHWH began to work on the individual and their personal accountability to uphold the covenant via Yeshua.

    Why is Jesus/Yeshua the last Adam? Perhaps another way of looking at the word “last” is that He is the ultimate Adam, as an antitype. I find it interesting that Paul does not write of Yeshua, “the last MAN (or anthropos in Greek) Adam,” he merely writes, “The last Adam.” (This ties in perfectly to 1 Corinthians 15:45 where Paul writes that He became a life-giving spirit.)

    Also of interest is that Yeshua’s being “last” does not mean that time (or mankind) has ceased to exist, or that it has ended with Yeshua’s work. He, being outside of time, can offer new life, and makes us new creatures in preparation for His Kingdom. The impartation of His Spirit is a guarantee of our inheritance –of what is to come, when we return to the estate originally created in the Garden, but now coming in the form of a holy city!

  2. jim0211 says:

    Aviyah, you’ve given me a lot to chew on, too! I’m afraid I won’t be able to do your response justice tonight, but some initial thoughts…

    I hadn’t thought about the eternal perspective of Yeshua’s existence, but that makes perfect sense. Relating that to the idea of an antitype is really interesting, kind of a counterpoint to Him being the firstborn of all creation. He is the beginning, but in Paul’s context here, the end of death. (For a chuckle see this — Christ is the end of mortality: http://vrblog.wholereality.com/?p=543.)

    Regarding the passing on of sin, the behavioral and genetic thoughts are interesting. But does that mean that children raised by (hypothetical) sinless parents, would end up being sinless? Not sure how DNA fits into sinlessness, but it seems to me that DNA is a physical property, while sin is a spiritual one. Animals have DNA, but they don’t have the imago dei.

    Regarding the antitype idea again, perhaps we can compare the two in terms of the gardens they represent. Adam in Eden, made a willful decision to act against God’s will. Jesus in Gethsemane, made a willful decision to act according to God’s will. In this sense, the story of our relationship with God is the story of two gardens: broken in one, and restored in another.

    (Or was it Eve’s sin in Eden? Or was Eve part of Adam, in that sense… 🙂 )

    • Aviyah says:

      Ooh! Good questions and thoughts. My intention in using the term “antitype” was not to question Yeshua’s being firstborn of all creation. We see this in the Hebrew language especially! Perhaps “antitype” is not choicest of words… But I definitely see the “types and shadows” between Adam and Yeshua, and the garden scenario you had mentioned!

      Re the topic of DNA: I understand man to be tripartite; flesh (or body), soul (or will) and spirit (the chamber of the Holy Spirit). So, I would only go as far as offering that a DNA change would have made their physical lives different – in their case, as with all, the wages of their sin was death [to their physical bodies]. But I believe there is ample Scriptural and perhaps scientific evidence (such as spacetime fabric?) that the soul and spirit live on eternally. Theologically, since God could no longer walk with man in his flesh, because man was made unclean or unholy, the only way to even offer a right relationship (on the eternal horizon) would be to allow for a second birth through Yeshua and the eternality of the spirit-man.

      All that to say, brother, that I cannot at this point find any evidence to link DNA to sin. Whew! 🙂

      I have always wondered why Adam was named as the sinner in the Garden!? Eve was there for his protection, as an ally and help, and she totally dropped the ball to that crafty old snake! Adam probably felt so scared and badly for her decision that he just followed along with her… Poor guy. Yet, I do feel that man is the head of woman, and throughout Scripture man was always made accountable for his wife… Makes me want to live and walk all the more closely to my Father for the sake of my husband since he will be called out on the carpet one day! 🙂

      Thanks for giving me so much scriptural nourishment. Have a wonderful week!

  3. Bruce R Bloomberg says:

    It does seem that the section in Cor. 15, is at the heart of this matter and perhaps we should start at verse 35 since it does seem to start this thread. Given that, it appears that Paul writes in generalities since the ‘facts’ described by Paul could be applied to anyone so called by God, including Jesus. For Jesus had a natural body, and it was sown in the dishonor of the cross, Jesus being forsaken by God (according to his own testimony), being in the likeness of sinful flesh,,,, condemned sin in the flesh. Jesus sows the perishable and is raised imperishable, and promises the same to all called into believing. One little hiccup, Paul writes that it is raised spiritual, yet Jesus is quoted after the resurrection saying touch me, does a spirit have flesh ? There is much I don’t understand that I’m sure will be revealed sometime. However, Adam is someone special, he had fellowship with the God, who made him exclusive, among all the ‘homosapiens’, who may or may not existed at the time, but it is true today, that the elect are exclusive among all the others.

  4. jim0211 says:

    Yes, Paul packs a lot of spiritual truths into these passages, and I don’t understand them either. In this case, I’ve been struck by how other passages illuminate what’s going on here, at least a little. Perhaps it’s a matter of digging even more into other Scripture. Thanks for the comment.

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