“All Scripture is breathed out by God” (Timothy 3:16) and as such, it is impossible to identify a single part of the Bible that is more or less important than another. However, there are some passages and teaching, which are so pivotal to building a faithful biblical worldview that to miss their meaning is to risk embracing an incomplete gospel.
The role of Adam in the story of God is just such a teaching. If we miss God’s intended purpose for Adam, which is on display in the garden, we will never completely understand the scope of redemption, which Christ secured on our behalf on the cross.
The Purpose of Adam
Allow me to summarize God’s purpose for Adam and his progeny. As the biblical account opens, we find the Creator busy bringing to life a good world by the power of His word. This world, as it is described in Genesis 1, is a reflection of God’s goodness, and this created world will serve as a garden temple in which God will dwell and manifest His glory. But this splendid sanctuary was not complete until God had formed his crowning jewel, man.
Man was not like all the other creatures, which God had made. Man was unique. The difference was not merely one of appearance but one of purpose as well. Adam’s purpose was clearly outlined in God’s statement, “Let Us make man in our own image according to our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).
This word, image, is pregnant with meaning. Failure to understand the force and implication of this word, as it relates to Adam and all of humanity, prevents us from ever understanding fully the metanarrative of God and our place in it and most importantly, we will fail to know and embrace the true nature of the person and work of Jesus Christ. So, what does the Creator mean when he says, “Let Us make man in Our own image?”
Let me seek to explain with a story from the Bible. In Daniel 3, we are told that a pagan Babylonian king by the name of Nebuchadnezzar purposed to erect a statue of the person he admired most in life: Himself.
The dimensions of the statue are staggering to consider as the Bible says that it measured roughly 90 feet in height and 9 feet in width (Daniel 3:1). Once the mammoth effigy was completed, the pride-filled king sent word to all the Babylonian subjects that they were to come to the iconic dedication.
Attendance, however, was not the only requirement. The moment the music and fanfare began, every person was instructed to fall down and worship the statue as though they were worshipping the real live king. But they were not bowing before the king.
They were bowing before a golden “image” of the king (Daniel 3:1-5). Nebuchadnezzar had applied his own likeness and image to the idol with such authority that to fail to bow before it would cost one his life.
When God unveils his plan in Genesis to create a people in his “own image,” the very same word is being employed as is used to describe the likeness of King Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonian king desired more than just to place a reminder of himself before the people. Rather, he intended to create a monument that was a real representation of his person and nature.
In the same way, Adam was made to represent his Creator, but not only Adam but all of humanity. As difficult as this is to stomach or accept, every human ever conceived is made in God’s own image, though many fail to faithfully reflect His identity, nature, and ways.
The first human was to be a precedent-setting role model from which all of humanity in every generation would take their cues. Adam was to “rule over” (Genesis 1:26), “subdue” (Genesis 1:28), “cultivate” (Genesis 2:5), and “keep” or guard the garden (Genesis 2:15). With his bride, Adam was also to “be fruitful and multiply and fill” not only the garden but the whole “earth” (Genesis 1:28).
Adam and Eve were to faithfully obey their Creator and represent Him and His purposes that in their obedience they were to fill the entire earth with the glory of God (Numbers 14:21; Habakkuk 2:14; Isaiah 6:3). This is our first glimpse of the Maker’s plan for His kingdom. And as the image of God, Adam was uniquely designed to be the very instrument through which God’s good world would become saturated with God’s presence.
Adam’s Purpose Unfulfilled
Tragically, instead of serving with and alongside the Creator to represent him faithfully, Adam rebelled and chose his own way instead of God’s. Adam did not rule over, subdue, cultivate, or guard what had been entrusted to him.
Instead of partnering together with God to enlarge the borders of the garden and seeing to it that all of creation and created order were immersed in His goodness and power, Adam becomes the instrument of destruction, death, and separation for himself and all of creation.
And maybe Adam’s greatest failure in the image his Creator came when Eve took the forbidden fruit. Adam was responsible for protecting and guarding (keeping, Genesis 2:15) the garden and his wife from powers and influences, which sought to mar what God had so lovingly made for his own glory. Not only did Adam fail to guard Eve, but he also failed to intercede on her behalf when she did disobey.
Have you ever thought about how this story might have turned out differently if Adam would have advocated for Eve in a similar manner as when Judah sought to offer atonement for his little brother Benjamin (Genesis 44:33)? Judah was willing to give his own life in exchange for Benjamin to go free. Adam, instead, pointed an accusing finger at the “bone of his bones and the flesh of his flesh” (Genesis 2:23), and Eve was left with no one to rescue or deliver her.
Adam’s own sin and disobedience hurled creation into a darkness from which it cannot return (Romans 8:20-22), and the curse, which was loosed in the garden, instantly blanketed paradise like a black shroud of death. The Apostle Paul says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men” (Romans 5:12).
Adam was created to rule over all the earth bestowing life, goodness, and peace to every corner of his kingdom. Instead, he became a pawn manipulated by the master deceiver in an all-out attempt to dethrone and vanquish the eternal God.
There is a very interesting story in 1 Samuel of how the Philistine army was positioned on one side of the battlefield in a face-off with Israel on the other side. The champion, not to mention the giant, Goliath, issued a challenge to his would-be opponents.
He proposed that Israel select a warrior who would fight on behalf of the entire army and in the end, those aligned with the victor would claim their stake in the triumph, and those not so fortunate would share in the agony of defeat. In the same way that Goliath fought and represented the Philistine’s in defeat, Adam’s legacy became an imprecating bondage to all.
The Second Adam Fulfils God’s Purpose
But this is not how this story ends. Paul records, “The first man, Adam became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45). Who is this “last Adam?” He is the One who would represent His Father perfectly (John 12:49; 14:10-11) and the One who would not fail to defend and seek to atone for the sins of His own bride. Jesus became a man to faithfully take the reign, which Adam abdicated, to usher Adam’s sons back into the garden and into the presence of the God whose image they bear.
This is the good news of the gospel! To the Colossians Paul said, “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” (Colossians 2:13) and again, “if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection” (Romans 6:5).
Because our Champion has crushed the serpent’s head, the entrance to the garden temple has opened once again, and the Father waits with open arms to embrace those whose reception has been secured by the second Adam, our Savior, Jesus Christ. “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh…let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19-22).
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Sabine Wagner
Rick Kirby, along with his wife and children, live in Anderson, South Carolina. Rick serves as a corporate chaplain in the upstate of South Carolina, in addition to shepherding micro-church movements, which he does in partnership with the Evangelical Free Church in America and the Creo Collective. Rick has written as a freelance writer in the past with organizations such as The INJOY Group, InTouch Ministries, and Walk Through the Bible. Rick holds a Master of Divinity degree from Erskine Theological Seminary and presently is a Doctor of Ministry student at Erskine, as well. Through the years, Rick’s family has been deeply engaged in discipling efforts globally in Brazil, Ecuador and most recently in Puerto Rico. Among the many things Rick enjoys are woodworking in his woodshop and roasting (and drinking) coffee.