How Did Christ Fulfill The Covenant Of Works As The Last Adam?

AdamGinger writes:

…I have been trying to wrap my mind around the covenant of works given to Adam and how and if it was fulfilled by Christ, the last Adam. …How did Christ fulfill or abolish the covenant of works given to Adam at creation? I am trying to understand how this covenant ties into the Mosaic Covenant as being a covenant of grace.

Dear Ginger,

Paul calls Christ the “last” Adam (1 Cor 15:45). So, we know that there was a definite link between the two. In Romans 5:12–21 Paul intentionally wants us to think of Adam and Christ as fulfilling similar roles. Adam was the first federal/representative head of all humanity. When Adam was charged with obeying God in the Garden he was obeying not only for himself but for everyone, for all humanity. When he sinned by disobeying God’s law, he did so as the representative of all humanity. Thus, the old colonial Puritan jingle, “In Adam’s fall, sinned we all.” That’s the federal or representative aspect. This is why we speak of a “federal” government in civics. Our representatives act on our behalf and we are bound by what they decide. This notion that Adam represented all humanity and that Christ represented all those whom the Father gave to him and all for whom he came to obey and die is biblical, orthodox, federal theology and to be sharply distinguished from its corruption by the self-described “Federal Vision” theology.

The covenant of works has at least three aspects:

  1. The promise of eternal blessedness
  2. A legal condition
  3. A federal relationship/headship

Both Adam and Christ were promised eternal blessedness on condition of obedience. This was the obedience to which Paul referred in Romans 5 and to which Jesus referred in John 17 and on the cross (“It is finished”). Unlike Adam, Christ, the Second or Last Adam, entered into blessedness on condition of his obedience.

In both cases the standard was God’s moral law expressed in the garden relative to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That law was re-expressed or re-stated or re-published under Moses as part of a temporary, national covenant. Israel could not obey the law for salvation. Indeed, no sinner could. In that sense, after the fall, the covenant of works was gradually being abrogated. After the fall, the demand of the law continues in its three uses (pedagogical, civil, normative). After the fall, however, it is not possible for us sinners to keep the law for justification. That is, it’s not possible for sinners to meet the condition and thereby to enter into blessedness. The law originally given to Adam in creation was republished to Israel in 613 commandments and summarized in the 10 commandments in order to point them to Christ (1st use), to guide their national life (2nd use), and to norm their moral lives (3rd use). Insofar as the Mosaic law reflects the original covenant of works it has been said by many Reformed writers to have been “republished.” The Reformed have differed over the possible outcomes of Israel’s obedience. All have agreed that acceptance with God by law keeping for justification was impossible. Several have said that their status as a national people and their tenure in the land was affected by their obedience or disobedience. This view, however, has become hotly controversial in recent years.

The Reformed have always agreed and confessed that the Mosaic covenant, the old covenant strictly speaking, was an administration of the covenant of grace. Thus, it had a dual aspect. In some ways it was a legal covenant and simultaneously it was an administration of the covenant of grace. Clearly God did not relate to Israel strictly on the basis of performance or merit. They broke the covenant before Moses ever made it down the mountain with the tablets and yet God was gracious. The ceremonial system pointed to Christ’s obedience and death. The entire system pointed to a salvation to be earned for us and given to us. Yet it came to us clothed in types and shadows and 613 laws. The Mosaic covenant was both legal and gracious, in different ways, at the same time.

The two words that Reformed writers have often used to describe what happened to the covenant of works are “fulfilled” and “abrogated.” The covenant of works was finally fulfilled by Christ in his active and suffering (passive) obedience all his life and especially at the end. All that he did and the obedient, second, last Adam is reckoned to all those who believe. Believers before the incarnation were looking forward to the Second/Last Adam and we look back to his obedience for us. To all who believe, it is as if they had met the terms of the covenant of works. Thus, for believers it is a covenant of grace. We are freely accepted for Christ’s sake. This is as it has always been after the fall. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David all looked forward to Christ and we look back to his accomplishment even as we look forward to his return.

©R. Scott Clark. All  Rights Reserved.


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  1. Thanks Dr. Clark, Although I am a believer in the idea that there is no stupid question, I tend to think that mine still might be.

    You said: “Several have said that their status as a national people and their tenure in the land was affected by their obedience or disobedience. This view, however, has become hotly controversial in recent years.”

    Would you elaborate on this sentence.


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