Adam and Christ
Having established the doctrine of resurrection as a general topic, Paul then shows what Jesus actually accomplished in His resurrection. He writes in 1 Cor. 15:21, 22,
21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
Adam brought death; Christ brought life. More specifically, Adam’s sin brought mortality to all; Christ’s righteousness brought immortality to all. Adam’s sin was imputed to all men, because all men—indeed, all of creation—was under Adam’s authority.
By the law of headship, those under Adam’s authority were affected by his sin. By the same law, those under Christ’s authority were affected by His righteous act. Those being affected by Adam and Christ were not consulted, for the actions of the two heads were done apart from the will of those under them.
So we became mortal, not because we sinned, but because Adam sinned. And we are saved, not because we were righteous, but because Christ was righteous. In both cases, the acts of the authoritative head were fully imputed to those under their authority.
Comparing Adam with Christ
The comparison between Adam and Christ is discussed in greater detail in the fifth chapter of Romans. Rom. 5:12 says literally,
12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through [Adam’s] sin, and so death spread to all men, because [eph ho, “on which, or by which”] all sinned.
Paul says that it all started with “one man” who sinned. When Adam sinned, the penalty for sin entered into the world and that penalty was death. This did not mean that he immediately dropped dead. It meant that he was no longer immortal. In other words, he received mortality—the assurance that he would grow old and die.
Further, this mortal condition came not only upon himself, but upon all of his descendants, as well as permeating the entire estate which had been entrusted to him. Take note that it was not Adam’s sin that spread to all men, but rather Adam’s death, or mortality. Paul says that “death spread to all men.” To put it in legal terms, Adam’s sin was imputed to all, and so all had to pay the penalty for Adam’s sin. Hence, all were sentenced to death, and all became mortal.
In more common language, Paul says that we were all blamed for Adam’s sin, and so we all have had to pay the same penalty—death.
Then because mortality brought weakness to all of us, having lost the glory of God, we all sinned as well. Paul says literally that death spread to all men by which all sinned. In other words, we sin because we are mortal; we did not become mortal when we sinned. No one has been born immortal, and this is why it is possible for even the most innocent unborn baby to die before he has sinned.
There are two sins and two deaths that we must distinguish. Adam’s original sin brought the first death not only to him but to all of us with him. Our mortality was a disease or weakness that caused us to sin, for which cause there is a second death to pay for that sin.
The Second Death
Mortality is the penalty for Adam’s sin, not our own. When we ourselves sin, there is an added penalty which John calls “the second death” (Rev. 20:6, 14). John is the only one who uses this term in Scripture, but it is a term found often in the Jewish Targum. In its section on “Resurrection,” The Jewish Encyclopedia says,
“This lasting doom is called ‘second death’ (Targ. Deut. xxxiii.6; Targ. Isa. xiv. 19; xxii. 14; lxv. 6, 15, 19; Jer. li. 39; Rev. xx. 6, 14).”
The Targum was the translation and explanation of the Scriptures, made necessary after the Babylonian captivity. The Scriptures were written in Hebrew, but after spending 70 years in Babylon, the Jews spoke Aramaic, the language of Babylon. Hence, it was necessary to translate and explain the Scriptures. So also, Ezra 4:7 says that “the text of the letter was written in Aramaic and translated [tirgam] from Aramaic.”
The Targum shows that the rabbis in the first century referred to the final judgment as “the second death.” Essentially, in Revelation 20 John uses the term precisely as it had been defined in Judaism, offering no alterations or corrections to its common usage.
Yet a second death implies that there is a first death as well. The first death, quite obviously, is mortality—that judgment which was imposed upon all men because of Adam’s sin. The second death is the judgment for one’s own sins, for John tells us in Rev. 20:13, “they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.”
We know that the only reason there is a second death is because “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). Yet Paul also tells us that the reason we sin is because we are mortal, and mortality is a judgment, not for our own sin, but for the sin of Adam. If God had not imputed Adam’s sin to us, we would not have been made mortal, and we would not have sinned on account of mortality. Hence, by following the logical chain of events, we can see that Adam’s sin is the origin and cause of our own sins and that this root cause took place outside of ourselves, apart from our own will or decision.
The Temporary Injustice
It is inherently unjust for the children of Adam to be put to death on account of the sin of their father, according to biblical law. Deut. 24:16 says,
16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.
On account of this law, King Amaziah of Judah did not execute the sons of those who had murdered his father. 2 Chron. 25:3, 4 says,
3 Now it came about as soon as the kingdom was firmly in his grasp, that he killed his servants who had slain his father the king. 4 However, he did not put their children to death, but did as it is written in the law in the book of Moses, which the Lord commanded, saying, “Fathers shall not be put to death for sons, nor sons be put to death for fathers, but each shall be put to death for his own sin.”
Hence, the legal question arises when Paul says that we have all been put to death (i.e. made mortal) on account of our father Adam’s sin. By biblical law, which expresses the character and nature of God Himself, and which defines His own sense of justice, this situation cannot stand forever. It is inherently unjust for God to sentence all men to death for Adam’s sin and then hold them accountable when mortality makes them too weak to resist their own sin.
There is only one way for God to be justified—that is, for God to be true to Himself. We see the solution to this problem in 1 Cor. 15:22,
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
When Christ was sent to earth to die for the sin of the world, He reversed the original problem that had come into the world through Adam. Even as Adam’s sin brought death to all men, so also Christ’s righteous act brought life to all men. The scope of the problem became necessarily the scope of the solution, for only in that way could the inherent injustice of the problem be rectified fully.
If Adam’s sin brought mortality to all men, but Christ’s righteous act brought immortality to only a few, the problem of injustice (as defined in Deut. 24:16) would have been only partially rectified. But Paul says plainly that “in Christ all will be made alive.” He leaves out no one who received death from Adam. Death was imputed to all men, and life is likewise imputed to all men. Christ is the solution to Adam.
Just as mortality was imposed upon all men apart from the will of any man, so also the immortality from Christ’s death and resurrection is imposed upon all men apart from their will. Yet, as Paul shows later, the deeds of men will certainly be judged at the Great White Throne judgment in what is known as “the second death.”
Man’s liability for his own sin, however, is subordinate to God’s greater liability. The injustice of imposing mortality upon the children of their father Adam is the original cause of all further sin upon the earth. Mortality from Adam has made all men weak and unable to resist the power of sin. Such is human nature.
Man will indeed be judged for his own sins, but only on the level of his limited liability. In the end, God has held Himself responsible for the destiny of all men and for the creation as a whole. For this reason, He provided the ultimate solution to the problem of sin by sending “the last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45) to reverse the curse of the first Adam.
In other words, his judgment will not last forever, but will be temporary, limited to an age (aionian). Hence, God is justified.
The injustice of sentencing children to death for the sin of their father has been fully reversed by another injustice—the injustice of Christ’s crucifixion. The last Adam is a second Father, who was put to death for the sins of his children. This too was inherently unlawful according to Deut. 24:16. And yet, strangely enough, it was perfectly lawful by the law found in Exodus 21:23,
23 But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
So Jesus came to earth to give his life for those who had been sentenced to death for the sin of their father Adam. It was “life for life.” Further, Isaiah 53:5 KJV says that “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.” In bearing the penalty for our sin, He was our Father who was unjustly judged for the sin of the world. Further; it was prophesied in the law.
If God had not planned this from before the foundation of the world, we might wonder how this could happen. One can hardly understand such a divine plan without knowing the sovereignty of God.
Essentially, God took full responsibility for His creation and for Adam himself, for as the sovereign Creator, He owns all that He has created. An owner is always responsible for that which he owns.
It begins with Gen. 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” God created all things; therefore, He owns all things. Because He owns all things, He is responsible for all that He owns. Therefore, when Adam sinned, God could not simply blame Adam, for the wisdom of God could have figured out a way to prevent sin. God has never been short of wisdom, nor, in fact, did He devise a plan for creation that would make Him a loser in any way. Not ultimately.
The laws of liability, which express God’s nature, tell us that if a man digs a pit, he owns it. If he leaves it uncovered and another man’s ox falls into the pit and is killed, the owner of the pit cannot blame the ox for its stupidity or for ignoring the warning sign. The owner must pay for the damages, simply because he is the owner of the pit. (See Exodus 21:33, 34).
If an ox gores a man, the owner of the ox is held liable, along with the ox itself (Exodus 21:32, 35, 36). Punishing the ox for its “sin” does not reduce the liability of its owner. Any “free will” factor that the ox might have is irrelevant in the eyes of the law. The law concerns itself only with the law of ownership. The owner is responsible for the ox, and the owner also is given the right to discipline his ox. But these are two separate things. Disciplining the ox does not reduce the liability of the owner.
So also is it with that which God owns. Adam was God’s ox. The ox sinned, and God judged the ox—but this did not relieve God of the ultimate responsibility for the actions of the ox (i.e., Adam). So Jesus Christ came to earth in order to pay the damages caused by His ox. That is the law of liability which is in accordance with God’s very nature.
God does indeed judge the “ox” that gores (does violence to his neighbor). But as we have shown already, man’s liability for his own sin is limited, because he has an Owner, a Creator, one whose legal position gives Him greater liability. Man does not own himself, because he did not create himself.
Hence, God has obligated Himself by His own law to be the Savior of all men and to reconcile all of creation. It is the only way that God can be justified in the end. He must fully reverse the effects of putting to death the children of Adam which His own law forbids.
So, Paul says, “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ will all be made alive.” Or, as Paul said in Rom. 5:18,
18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.
Even so, not all are immortal, nor do we see the results yet of Christ’s “act of righteousness.” The results are still progressing through the ages of time. Christ’s act has rectified the root of the problem (Adam’s sin), but the problem of each man’s own sin has yet to be resolved by the second death. The purpose of divine judgment is to deal with the secondary problem as well. As we will see, the divine plan calls for two ages yet to come, called “the ages of the ages,” during which time all things will be put under the feet of Christ.