In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we looked at the ongoing search for God’s promised seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent. Though many of the patriarchs and Israel’s national leaders seemed to come close to fulfilling that role, they ultimately all fell short. Now we make the final turn and watch the promised Messiah enter the scene.
Jesus: The New Adam
In Romans 5, Paul paints the portrait of Christ as the new Adam by outlining the respective work of Adam and Christ when he says, “the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Also, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul contrasts the ministries of these two men by specifically referring to the first Adam and the last Adam.
It is interesting that one of the titles that Jesus uses most often to describe himself is “the Son of Man.” This particular title actually appears over 80 times throughout the Gospels, used mostly by Jesus himself. What is fascinating is the fact that this title has firm roots in the Old Testament.
Think for example how the phrase is used by David himself in Psalm 8:
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!… When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
A strong case could be made that this text is referring to mankind, personified by the first man, Adam. Though he was created a little lower than the angels, he is still crowned with honor and significance, having been made in God’s image. Furthermore, the dominion that we see ascribed to him in this psalm appears to be the same kind of dominion that God gave to Adam over the beasts, birds, and fish.
Yet, according to the book of Hebrews, this verse ultimately pointed to the work of Christ, the second Adam, where true dominion ultimately rests. In commenting on Psalm 8, the author of Hebrews writes, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
What is even more remarkable is the way that Psalm 8 reads in the original Hebrew. When we come to verse 4 and read the question, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him,” the phrase “son of man” in Hebrew reads ben adam, or “son of Adam.” You see, Adam’s name actually means “man or mankind,” and so in Hebrew if you were to say the son of man, it most often appears as “Ben Adam,” or the Son of Adam. When the Jews were taken to Babylon and returned home speaking Aramaic, and when Jesus’ Aramaic words are translated into Greek and then to English, a little something gets lost in translation. We catch the messianic significance of the phrase Son of David which appears nearly 40 times throughout the gospels, but rarely do we think about the importance of the phrase Son of Man by connecting it to the promise delivered way back in Gen 3:15–that one day, a son of Adam and his wife, Eve, would be born and ultimately crush the head of the serpent. This I believe is the ultimate significance of Jesus’ title The Son of Man.
When he grew up, this son of Adam never caused anyone at anytime to repeat God’s lines from the old script of Genesis 3, those haunting words that we have heard echoing again and again in countless narratives, “What is this you have done?” Rather, at his baptism, God was finally able to declare: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus is not only the new Adam, he is also the greater Noah who saves us from the flood of God’s ultimate wrath. This is not hyperbole but is the very language that Jesus uses of himself in Matthew 24. He is also the true offspring of Abraham in whom all the world is blessed, a point that Paul specifically outlines in Galatians 3:16. Jesus is also greater than the great patriarch Jacob. Renamed “Israel,” this was the father of the twelve sons from which the twelve tribes of Israel emerged, and the greater Israel calls twelve disciples of his own to be the ambassadors of his new kingdom.
There is another scene in Jesus’ ministry that particularly highlights his identity as a kind of new and greater Jacob in John 4 starting in verse 7:
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food). The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans). Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
The woman’s question in verse 12 is poignant: “Are you greater than our father Jacob?” One only has to reflect about the quality of Jacob’s life and character for half a second to answer this question. But it is really interesting to notice how often this sort of comparison appears in the Gospels. Jesus himself will say, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here” (Matt 12:6), or “behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matt 12:41), or “behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Matt 12:42). Jesus is not merely the new Adam–he is the true temple, the ultimate place of both priests and sacrifices. He is also the ultimate prophet and the true, holy, and everlasting king.
Returning to John 4, it is interesting to note that Jesus is speaking to a woman at the site of Jacob’s well. Think for a moment of the various scenes we encounter in the Old Testament where events at a well foreshadow a marriage soon to follow. One of the most memorable events of this type happened to Jacob himself. As we read in Genesis 29, when Jacob saw his future bride, Rachel, he came near the mouth of the well, rolled away the stone, and watered her flock.
Can you think of another place in the history of redemption in which the rolling away of a stone plays a significant part of the plot line? I can think of one. At Jesus’ resurrection, life emerged from the place of death as the stone was rolled away and the announcement of that amazing news became the water of life that nourishes Christ’s flock. Interestingly, this was essentially the subject of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well. As they discuss water, it quickly becomes apparent that the woman is thinking of plain old ordinary water while Jesus seems to mean something utterly different–something supernatural and eternal.
At the end of his conversation with her, Jesus revealed to the woman that he was indeed the promised Messiah. She in turn left her water jar by the well and went to tell others about Christ. She had come to the conclusion that Jesus was indeed more important than either Jacob himself or the water that she had come to draw from his well. But as Jesus spoke to her about this water of life, we soon discover that he was also providing water for her entire flock, as she ended up announcing the good news to her fellow countrymen in Samaria.
Here is where we discover the real significance of this passage, for meetings at wells have foreshadowed wedding celebrations elsewhere in scripture. In the past, Yahweh had covenanted himself with the people of Israel, which included the scene of water flowing from a rock. But in this passage, the new Adam (the new Israel), says to a non-Jewish woman of Samaria, (representative of the new international character of the people of God in the new covenant), that “the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”
Here at this well, Jesus is calling a new bride to himself. This scene was not meant for this woman only. Rather, the living water that Jesus spoke of that day was ultimately intended for ALL those who hear his call from every tribe and language, people and nation. This scene at Jacob’s well foreshadows a great wedding celebration still to come–namely, the great banquet to which all of history points.
Before Christ, weddings sounded good at first, but were always followed up by so much sin and sadness. Adam and Eve seemed like they were literally just made for each other, but soon they are found bickering and passing the blame regarding the high treason they had each committed. Abraham, in fear of his own life, twice offered up his wife to be defiled by local kings. His son Isaac, the child of promise, followed his father’s footstep and committed the very same sin. King David, Israel’s most revered king, went even further by defiling a married woman and having her husband murdered.
Unlike Adam, however, Jesus never gave into temptation, and never placed any blame on the woman given to him. Rather, he took all her blame upon himself. Unlike Abraham and Isaac, he was not afraid to die on behalf of his bride. His life is a complete reversal of David’s sad story, for rather than killing a man in order to defile his wife, Jesus delivered himself up to death so that his bride’s every defilement might be completely removed. This is what Paul was getting at in Ephesians 5 when he wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
This is the big picture of the Bible. It is the story of a sinful and rebellious race, and God’s amazing rescue plan. Through all the plot twists and turns, one thing is clear: the church is not, nor ever has been, the gospel. Yahweh is salvation. Let us put our trust in him, and him alone.
© Shane Rosenthal. All Rights Reserved.
Editor’s note: This is the last installment of a three-part series.
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- A Uniform Concept Of Covenant Faithfulness For Adam, Israel, and The New Covenant People
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- Covenants, Adam, Modernity, and Context Pt 2 (HC 15)
- Resources On The Role Of Abraham In Redemptive History
- Berkhof Contra Dispensationalism On The Essential Unity Of Redemptive History
- The Abrahamic Covenant Unifies Redemptive History
- Olevianus: Lasting Reconciliation With God Through Covenant
- Roberts: God Made An Implicit Covenant Of Works With Adam
- Resources For A Redemptive-Historical Reading Of Scripture
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Shane, thank you for your article.
I would like to discuss your significant point that “We catch the messianic significance of the phrase Son of David which appears nearly 40 times throughout the gospels, but rarely do we think about the importance of the phrase Son of Man by connecting it to the promise delivered way back in Gen 3:15–that one day, a son of Adam and his wife, Eve, would be born and ultimately crush the head of the serpent. This I believe is the ultimate significance of Jesus’ title The Son of Man.” I was so excited to hear you make this point. I agree that Jesus’ title as the son of man is pointing back to the Genesis 3:15 passage, and that Jesus using the term son of man is showing himself to be that long-awaited Ben Adam. He is the promised wounded victor who will crush the head of the serpent and restore humanity’s access to the tree of life.
The more frequent connection made of the term Son of Man is to Daniel 7:13-14. It is also true that he is the one like the son of man who ascended from earth to take his place with the Ancient of Days and receives dominion, glory, and a kingdom –restoring to humanity God’s image and vocation lost through the fall. This is fulfilled in Jesus’ ascension to the Father. What isn’t discussed often is why he is called one “like the son of man.”
It is helpful to put all of this together by taking a close look at two themes that are significantly developed in the Psalms. We can often miss this because we fail to read the Psalms in literary context and as cohesively designed whole. Psalms 1&2 introduce the Psalter. Psalm 1 blesses the man who refuses all temptations to wickedness and delights in God’s instruction. He is like a fruitful tree that prospers in all that he does. Psalm 2 introduces us to the LORD and to his Anointed who the LORD sets as king on his holy hill, calls his Son, and gives as an inheritance the ends of the earth.
As we go through the psalms there is a repeated refrain that links the blameless man of Ps 1 and the Anointed Son of Ps. 2 together. Who will ascend the hill of the LORD? What is to rescue Israel & all humanity, for that one blameless, blessed man to be installed as God’s king on his holy hill. [See Ps. 15]. The holy hill points to the place where God is enthroned. We see this again in Ps. 24:1-8. Israel [and thus all humanity] has a pressing need—to ascend the hill of the LORD and to be able to stand in his holy place. But this is only possible for one who has clean hands and a pure heart. . . This One Righteous Man who will accomplish this for all humanity will receive from the LORD blessing and righteousness and his offspring will inherit the land (Ps.25:11-13). As the psalms progress the problem for humanity worsens as David becomes an adulterer (Ps 50-51), the Davidic monarchy eats the dust (like Adam’s generation) and Israel experiences the futility and death of all the sons of Adam (Ps. 89:39,46-48).
All Israel’s hope gets fixed on the need for and promise of One Righteous Man who will fulfill the calling of the Davidic Son as the promised son of Adam who will do for Israel what Israel needs to do for the world. Luke, in his gospel, appears to be using Jesus’ favorite term for himself as son of man in this way—to show that Jesus is this One Righteous Ben Adam. We see this quite clearly in the Luke’s genealogies (Luke 3:23-38) sandwiched between Jesus’ baptism and his temptations in the wilderness.
Jesus is called out as God’s beloved son in 3:22, commended by the Father echoing Ps. 2 and Isaiah 42. Luke defines what it means to be God’s son tracing his genealogy through David, Isaac, Abraham, Adam, to son of God. Then immediately after the genealogy, Jesus’ identity as son of God that is challenged in the temptations; but, Jesus refuses to capitulate to the devil and refuses to compromise the pathway the Father has laid out for him to reclaim the kingdoms of the earth from under the devils power (Luke 4:5)
I think this is significant because it shows both terms for Jesus—son of Adam, and son of God side by side (Luke 3:38) and through this literary sequence Luke defines them for us. Jesus is son of Adam who bears in his incarnation all the promises of God for redemption of Israel & the world, along with Adam’s sin. Through the gospel Luke will show us Jesus’ intentional journey to Jerusalem until he can carry all Israel’s and all Adam’s sin under purifying fire of God’s wrath. Only the One Righteous Man promised is able to do that and pass through death and come out alive on the other side (Gen 3:15). But Luke doesn’t stop at son of Adam. The genealogy continues one step further and declares Jesus to be the son of God. We often default to a credal understanding of this term (which is true) but isn’t the primary point that Luke is making when he uses the term. Luke is showing us that Jesus is going to win back what Adam lost (confirmed in the temptation sequence following in chapter 4) and thus defeat Satan’s hold on humanity and perfectly reflect God’s image, glory, and kingdom vocation into the world. Thus, the primary emphasis on Jesus as son of God throughout Luke is that Jesus is the second man – the founder of a new kind of humanity.
Now to tie this all back into the opening three verses. Jesus comes in the incarnation as the son of man, the One Righteous Man [Luke points this out 5 times in Luke 22-23 and has Peter & Stephen call Jesus the Righteous One in Acts 3:14 & 7:52) who will not only fulfill the calling of the son of David but also the calling of all humanity as the promised offspring of Adam in Gen 3:15. In this sense, Jesus is the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45) – the final member of the generation of Adam (Gen 5:1-3) bound by Satan, sin, and death. But Jesus leads an exodus out of Satan’s tyranny (Luke 9:31) by defeating that all at the cross, by becoming an offering for sin, and taking God’s purifying wrath upon himself. Thus, Jesus puts sin to death atoning for it in his body. In his resurrection Luke proclaims a new day of the week (24:1) –the end of the old creation and the launch of the new creation. In the resurrected Jesus God is reshaping Israel & all humanity in Christ’s image. Thus, he is one “like the son of man” no longer the son of Adam but now son of God—a second man (1 Cor 15:47). Jesus has reclaimed humanity’s God-given image and vocation, freed us from the image of the beast, and now is like a son of man but in a new spiritually animated body, free from sin, no longer reflecting the image of the man of dust but fully reflecting the Father’s image into the world.
So, my proposal is that that Luke, especially through his gospel uses the terms son of man to illustrate Jesus as the Gen 3:15 promised offspring who bears our sin (Is 53:4-12)—what Paul terms the last Adam; and the term son of God to show Jesus as the second man – the author of a new kind of humanity restored to God’s image and vocation. In this way, we can see clearly from Jesus in the gospels how Paul finds the basis for his “in Adam” & “in Christ” teaching in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.