When I was in high school there was a teacher there that would always ask me, “What’s the good news, Eshelman?” He was a football coach, so ending the interrogative with a surname was part of his schtick. What was the good news? I was not a Christian at the time, so I didn’t know what he was talking about, although I understood that “the gospel” was supposed to be good news according to Christian teaching.
What is the good news? Why is it good?
This summer I had the privilege of preaching the opening message at a church family conference which was on “What happened when Jesus died?” The good news was going to preached in all its multifaceted glory. I preached on the bad news.
No one ever asked me, “What’s the bad news, Eshelman?” But there is bad news. And the bad news is that Adam died. What happened when Adam died? That was my question to answer.
Genesis 2:17 reads, “For in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.”
This question of bad news is necessary to ask because without a proper understanding of Adam’s death, Jesus’s death is of little value to us. So what happened when Adam died? Here are seven aspects of the bad news.
Brought Death Upon an Entire Race
Adam died when he died. That is, of course, quite obvious, but have you considered the implications of the physical death of Adam? Adam was designed to live in fellowship and communion with God for all eternity. God had given him a command to refrain from eating from a certain tree, and he was given a command to enjoy freely from all the wonders of the creation outside of that tree. Due to his relationship as the covenant head of mankind, when Adam ate, the process of physical death became a reality in a world that had been, until that moment, perfect. When Adam died, Adam DIED.
Because of this you and I will die. And because of this the whole creation groans, because the reality of death is not how things were intended to be. And this is all because of Adam—my father, your father. Adam is the father of death—the whole creation now experiences death because of the disobedience of one. He brought physical death upon an entire race.
Made Guilty All of His Natural Descendants
Each one of us comes into this world with original sin because of the rebellion of our father Adam. Guilt is ours in Adam. And when I say guilt, I don’t mean the feeling of guilt; I mean actual moral and legal accountability—guilt as a legal declaration against us—not merely a feeling that we have, but a verdict. A judgment upon our race.
The Westminster Confession of Faith 6:2-4 says, “By this sin Adam and Eve fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed and the same death and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.”
What that means is that the guilt that Adam received when he disobeyed God is guilt that you and I receive as an inheritance. A legal judgment against us—handed from generation to generation. All of us were born into this world, not only with the physical process of death beginning in our earthly bodies, but also with the guilt of sin—total corruption in all the faculties of our soul and bodies.
And what that means for you (and for me) is not merely that by nature you are a sinner, but it means that by nature you are opposed to God and you are opposed to all things that are holy, right, good, and true. You are an enemy of God if you are in Adam. Romans 5 says that all who are in Adam are “enemies of God.”
We stand guilty and we stand stained with sin even in our deepest and most inward parts. Calvin said, “Since we through his transgression have become entangled in the curse, he is said to have made us guilty. Yet not only has punishment fallen upon us from Adam, but a contagion imparted by him resides in us, which justly deserves punishment.” (Institutes, 2.1.8)
Guilt has been imputed to us on account of Adam’s death.
Failed at Keeping the Covenant of Works
In the early pages of the Scriptures we read that Adam was given a command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This command was connected to a covenant that God established with Adam so that he could be in relationship with God. All of God’s relationships with man must be by way of covenant. Even Adam in his sinless state needed a covenant in order to be in relationship with God.
The Westminster Confession 7.1 says, “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him, as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he has been pleased to express by way of covenant.”
This statement is saying that God is so holy and this distinction is so great that there must be a covenant between God and man in order for there to be any type of relationship between the two.
For Adam in the Garden that was a covenant of works. Adam was required to have perfect personal obedience to the law that was written on his heart, and the tree in the midst of the garden was the arboreal test of that covenantal obedience. Adam was in a time of testing and if he could secure obedience in word, thought, and deed he would secure eternal life for all posterity. He would have made a perfect race of mankind who would stand in relationship with God. “Do this and live, Adam.”
But Eve saw that the fruit was good to look at, that it was nice to touch and that it was worth eating—and she ate and gave the fruit to her husband and he ate. As a result, the covenant of works was broken.
This is not just the story of our primitive parents’ disobedience; this is the story of you. Hosea 6:7 says, “All like Adam have broken the covenant.” Adam was our federal head. The covenant was made with all mankind in Adam and he ate and his eyes were opened and this broke his relationship with God.
The Covenant of works was broken. The relationship between God and man was destroyed. Man could no longer stand before God and his holiness, because man had become a covenant breaker.
Destroyed Communion With God and Neighbor
When Adam died because of eating that fruit, he feared God and he hid from God. What a contrast we see. Before the fall of Adam, he walked in perfect communion with God and the Scriptures say that in the cool of the day God walked with man in the garden. What do you think that relationship was like? God condescending to be in relationship with Adam by way of covenant and in that condescension there was a perfect relationship and a love and a fellowship that must have been so sweet and so much of a reflection of all of God’s perfections and holiness.
And then there was that relationship that Adam had between himself and his wife—a relationship that began with God forming woman from a rib in his side. Then when Adam awoke from this supernatural surgery, he saw his wife and he exclaimed in poetic rejoicing:
“This at last is bone of my bone
and flesh of my flesh
she shall be called woman
because she was taken out of man!”
Adam lived in a perfect society; he was in perfect relationship with God and he was perfectly in love with his wife for whom he wrote poems. And all of that changed when Adam died. Walking with God turned to hiding from God out of shame and out of fear.
As God came to confront Adam, we have some of the most haunting words spoken in all of Scripture. Genesis 3:9 records God coming to the Garden and calling out, “Adam, where are you?” Let those words fill your soul. If you are not in Christ, let those words echo through your soul and expose the emptiness. The God of the universe has condescended to find the man he created and brought into covenant—and we hear those haunting words:
“Adam, Where are you?”
His perfect relationship with his wife suffered as they sewed fig leaves together out of fear and out of works righteousness. And the perfect love and perfect poetic-romantic relationship was now marked by fear and shame as they stood naked before each other.
We see this destroyed community between them in Adam’s reaction to God’s confrontation. “It was that woman that you gave me!” He distances himself from the very one over whom he danced and wrote poems, the one in whose beauty and perfection he rejoiced. Now he spews blame, critique, and maybe even rage. Community is destroyed; communion is destroyed.
Shattered the Image of God
The Shorter Catechism asks, “How did God create man?” “God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness with dominion over the creatures.”
We understand that we are created in God’s image. But how many of you woke up this morning and looked into the mirror and said, “What a day it is. I am knowledgeable about the things of God and this world; I am righteous; I am holy, and in this day I will take dominion.” I doubt any of you said that. When Adam was created he was in the image of God and it was a reflection of God’s moral character and God’s perfection in holiness.
This image was marred. People still are made in God’s image, but that image has been damaged; that image has been destroyed. It does not take long in front of a television, computer screen, or radio to figure out that “knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and dominion” are not on the heart and mind of humanity.
The image has been marred, shattered, and assaulted by Adam’s death. Consider the plight of man. Consider the animalistic way in which many live. Is that God’s image shining forth?
Calvin said, “The image of God denoted the integrity with which Adam was endured when his intellect was clear, his affections subordinated to reason, all his senses duly regulated, and when he truly ascribed all his excellence to the admirable gifts of his maker… there was no part even of the body in which some rays of glory did not shine.” (Institutes, 1.15.3) The image has been marred.
Forfeited the Priestly Kingdom
As Adam was created in the image of God there was a vocational aspect to that image. There was a creative and ergonomic purpose in him being an image bearer. With Adam the idea of dominion was more than just Adam serving as a farmer or a worker of the land or a manager of the well-groomed gardens in Eden. Adam actually was serving as a regent in the place of God and in the name of God. He was a priest-king within a society that he was called to cultivate and over which he was to have dominion.
Adam was a king and a priest. GK Beale, in his book New Testament Biblical Theology, brings this out beautifully. He says:
“With regard to Adam’s royal position, Genesis 1:26 specifies that Adam is to rule not just over the animals in Eden but over all the earth. 1:28 asserts that he is to subdue the entire earth, a goal that could not have been completed by staying in the confines of the garden. He would begin to rule in the arboreal sacred space partly by subduing the serpent, and then he would continue to fulfill the goal, moving outward and reigning until his rule was extended over the entire earth. This means that there would be a heightened phase of his ruling and a climactic point at which he would fulfill the goal of worldwide dominion.”
Beale goes on to say:
“If Adam had faithfully executed his kingly and priestly task of defeating the serpent, then evil in the midst of the good creation would have been decisively judged, and from that point forward Adam and his progeny would have enjoyed endless security from the lethal threat of evil. This security would entail Adam’s endless and irreversible kingly existence.” (New Testament Biblical Theology, pp.35-36)
But friends, Adam died. The hope appeared to be gone of a future human race serving YHWH in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness under the reign of Adam the king-priest. That entire hope was shattered when Adam died.
The kingdom that was intended to expand throughout the whole earth never made it past the garden walls. Adam would be expelled and the Tree of Life would be protected from him—and he would be sent out East of Eden to a place where he would not be a priest-king, but instead would have to wait. Wait for another. When Adam died, he forfeited the priestly kingdom, and all known hope for God’s kingdom being established was lost.
I want you to consider the hopelessness of the human condition as the priest-king stood there clothed in his fabricated fig-clothes, knowing that all he was called to do in this world was totally and seemingly irreversibly lost. Adam had failed.
But even in this overwhelming hopelessness that is before us, there is a glimmer of light. A sliver of light penetrating the darkness of Adam is one of the results of Adam dying.
Began a War Between a Serpent and a Seed
God came to Adam to pronounce the curses upon mankind. YHWH looked at the serpent and cited the curse upon him which we call the proto-euangelion or the first gospel. Upon Adam’s death, a war would began—a war between the serpent and the woman’s seed—a war for your soul—and a war for God’s kingdom and the restoration of everything that was lost.
God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between your seed and her seed, he shall bruise your head; you shall bruise his heel.”
This war between the serpent and the seed is the whole story of the Bible. For the human race that lost everything in Adam, that died with Adam—this war is the story of life as the human race would await the seed of the woman who would come and have his heel crushed on the cross of Calvary in victory over the serpent. In victory on behalf of Adam who died.
Adam began a war for man’s soul—and for God’s kingdom.
So next time one comes up to you and asks, “What’s the good news?” make sure that he or she knows the bad news first. Adam died.
Yet Christ lives.
(If you would like to hear the sermon “What Happened When Adam Died” click here.)