In Romans 5:14 Paul tells us that Adam was a pattern of Jesus. This suggests that there are strong parallels between the two. Everything Paul says about Adam however is negative, so how can a man who disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden be a pattern of a Man who never disobeyed God? The answer to this question is so important that it undergirds the very foundation of Paul’s doctrine of salvation.
Why does Paul call Jesus ‘Adam’?
1 Corinthians 15:45 “The first Adam became a living being, the last Adam a life-giving spirit.”
Earlier he had said this:
1 Corinthians 15:22 “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
To be ‘in Adam’ means eternal death; to be ‘in Christ’ means eternal life. Paul calls Jesus ‘Adam’ because he wants us to see him as the new head of humanity. What both heads of humanity did had consequences for us all.
What does it actually mean to be ‘in’ Adam or Jesus? A good illustration of what it means is found in Hebrews:
Hebrews 7:9-10 “One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body loins of his ancestor”.
Levi was the great grandson of Abraham and here we are told that not only Levi, but all his descendants were in the loins of Abraham their ancestor. This meant that when Abraham tithed all the Levites tithed as well – even though they were not yet born! To be in Abraham in this instance means that he was the representative head of the family of Levi. What Abraham did as representative head was imputed to the Levites. When Abraham tithed the Levites were credited and imputed with tithing as well. So, to be ‘in Adam’ or ‘in Jesus’ means that we are in the same relationship with God that our representative was in.
As Adam was cast out of God’s presence because of his rejection of God, so all who are in Adam live outside of God’s presence. As Jesus was taken into God’s presence after his resurrection, so all who are in him live in God’s presence (Ephesians 2:6). According to Paul, the concept of corporate imputation (crediting what the representative does to the entire group) forms the very basis of the gospel.
Federal headship it not really so strange to us; it is the basis for government in Australia. In Australia we operate under a system of federal government, which simply means that we have individuals and parties who make decisions that affect the whole nation. When the federal head of government makes a decision that involves war with other nations, then it is viewed that the whole nation has also made that decision – regardless of their active participation in that decision! In the same way, those who are in Adam share in the consequences of his choices; so too those who are in Christ.
Do we die the second death because of our sin in Adam, or for our personal sin, or both? Admittedly the phrase ‘through one man sin entered the world because all sinned’ can be understood either way. But as we have already seen, in 1 Corinthians 15:22 Paul tells us that it is not only ‘through’ one man that humanity dies, but because they are ‘in’ that one man.
Since we sinned in Adam, death reigned over us all personally as a result. The remainder of the passage bears out this very point. In Romans 5:15 Paul says “many died by the trespass of the one man.” He does not say that death reigned because of the many sins committed by many people; rather, it reigned through the one sin of one man! “By the trespass of the one man death reigned through that one man.” (Romans 5:17). That is clear; death reigned over all Adam’s offspring from the moment Adam sinned. Paul reveals that death reigned over all Adam’s offspring, even though they did not exist at the time of his sin.
Conversely, Paul reveals that death reigned over humanity from the moment Adam sinned, not from the moment each son or daughter of Adam individually sinned. Not once do we read in this passage that humans die because of their personal sins. We are told repeatedly that we die because we are in Adam and are therefore partakers of his sin. A careful reading of Romans 5:12 reveals this.
The idea of federal representation and imputation forms the very fabric of the gospel for Paul. If we question that we die in Adam, then we must also question that we live in Jesus. If Adam is not our representative, then neither is Jesus our representative! We were in Adam when he sinned, as much as we were in Jesus when he died for our sins. ‘If one died for all then all died’ (2 Corinthians 5:14). This idea of federal representation and imputation applies equally to Jesus and his offspring, as it did to Adam and his offspring. To call one into question is to call the other into question as well. Hear some more from Paul:
Romans 5:13-14 “Death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the One to come.”
Most people quickly gloss over these verses, but they are critical to Paul’s argument here about whether or not we die because of Adam’s sin or ours, or both.
The implications of this passage are radical. In the previous verse Paul described the one sin of Adam and its consequences for humanity. He now explains why people, who did not have the law, died immediately after the time Adam sinned. He admits that ‘before the law was given sin was in the world’ but he is careful to say that God was not crediting these sins to the people who committed them, because he had not given them specific commands to break as he had done for Adam. The Bible says, ‘Sin is not taken into account when there is no law.’ This seems very clear.
People sinned after Adam and before the giving of the law but since these people never had a specific law given to them to break, God did not hold them accountable for their sinning. ‘Nevertheless,’ Paul says, ‘death still reigned.’ This begs the question: Why then did death reign over people if God was not holding their personal acts of sin against them? This question is what this whole passage is about: our death is a result, not of our sins, but of Adam’s.
What Paul is saying here is crucial – he is laying a foundation for the way we are to understand what it means to be in Jesus, ‘the last Adam’. Just as all the curses of judgement, condemnation and death were imputed to Adam’s offspring on account of his one sin – even though we do not deserve them. So too all the blessings of justification, acquittal, righteousness and eternal life are freely imputed to those who put faith in Jesus – even though we don’t deserve them. This is in essence what federal headship is all about. It is the heart of the gospel for Paul. Being in Jesus or Adam has nothing to do with good works or bad works – the issue is over who we choose as our representative, Adam or Jesus.
The fact of the matter is this: No human being will ever receive eternal death because of their own sins, or eternal life because of their own acts of righteousness. Paul makes it clear in Romans 3:25 that God punished Jesus for the sins committed by humans – all of them! People are not punished for their acts of sin because they have already been paid in full, people die the second death because of Adam’s sin, the sin of choosing to live without God! The burning issue is simple: Are we in Adam and share in his sin and death, or are we in Christ and share in his justification and life? The wrath of God remains only for those who, like Adam, reject the Lord (John 3:36).
The system of federal headship and imputation was established by God, in Eden, on purpose, so that Jesus, the last Adam, could impute his righteousness to the believer. Just as I receive death simply through my union with Adam, without any personal input of my own, so too, I receive life simply through my union with the last Adam, without any input of my own! It is mine by faith alone. What a blessed arrangement that God established!
We serve a marvellous God.