The Sin-Bearing, Curse-Removing Second Adam (Part 1)
When Paul says of Christ, in Galatians 3:13, that He "became a curse for us," this carries with it a world of biblical and theological meaning. Surely, the Apostle had the curse of the Mosaic Covenant in mind--as the context indicates; but what lay behind the covenant curses of the Mosaic Law was the curse of the broken Covenant of Works stretching all the way back to Adam--our federal representative--in the Garden. When we start to examine the biblical storyline, we start to see how all the pieces fall together as God directs our attention to the Second Adam and true Israel, Jesus Christ, who became the representative curse for us so that those who believe in Him might receive all the spiritual and eternal blessings of God. In the next two posts, we will consider together the relationship between Jesus and the curse of the Covenant of Works, and then Jesus and the curse of the Mosaic Covenant.
Jesus and the Curse of the Covenant of Works
When Adam disobeyed, God met his sin with a punishment commensurate. He told Adam that now, the ground (from which he had been made) would be cursed. Instead of easily yielding blessing for men, in working the ground, man would find it to be painful and burdensome. Man would now sweat in order to eat the fruit of his labors (Genesis 3:17). The ground (out of which man, who rebelled against his Maker, was taken) would now bring forth thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18). This would be a reminder of God's curse on the earth. Adam's sin, not only effected himself--it effected all of the cosmos. Finally, God told Adam that He would die. Literally, God told Adam, "in dying you will die" (Genesis 2:17). There is an intimation in the warning about the penalty of disobedience that in spiritually dying, man would physically and eternally die. Physical death would, in turn, be man's entrance to eternal death. The focus in Genesis 3:20 is on the physical death of man, because, God is again reminding man that he had come from the ground and therefore the curse would be on the ground--the sphere of life and blessing. All of the curses placed on Adam were linked to the place from which he came.
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!
Danny Hyde In Defense of the Descent
J.I. Packer and Mark Devor In My Place Condemned He Stood
John Murray Imputation of Adam's Sin