“Be killing sin or sin will be killing you” – John Owen

The Last Adam – 1 Corinthians 15:45

“Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45).

One of the most neglected studies in the doctrine of Christ is that of our Lord as the second Adam. Paul uses the word “last” instead of “second” here in our verse. It incorporates everything that Adam was not and lost. The word “second” might imply another Adam to come (i.e.; a third or fourth), but there is no other man to come. The man has come. It is important for Christians to understand all that the first Adam represented and all that our Lord, as the “last Adam,” represents.

Adam and Jesus stand against each other as two great representatives. The one represents death, and the other life. In our verse, the first Adam received life and the last Adam gives life. Verse 47 states that “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.” The result of being connected to the first Adam is found in verse 22: “as in Adam all die.” Being in Christ, according to the same verse, is “so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” The contrast in 1 Corinthians 15, that Paul is making, is between that which is natural (Adam), and that which is spiritual (Christ).

In order to speak about Christ as the last Adam, we must examine the first Adam. Both Adam and Eve were special, unique creations from God. Adam was made from the dust of the earth, and Eve was made from a rib taken from Adam’s side (Gen. 2:7; 21, 22). The result of this creation was Adam’s recognition that Eve came from him and belonged to him. This is the first definition of marriage. It is a creation ordinance, and not a man–made custom, and the resulting commentary from God in Genesis 2:24 was: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Adam was created by God from the dust. God was like a potter working at the wheel. Into that dusty form that God had fashioned, he breathed the “breath of life” and Adam became a “living soul” (Gen. 2:7). Not only did God create Adam, but also gave him dominion over all things. In Genesis 1:26 we read: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’” (also Gen. 1:28, 29). Adam is thus blessed with a wife and the possession of all things.

But there is an additional aspect to Adam’s creation that is absolutely crucial. He is said to be created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:26, 27). God poured himself into Adam. The character of God in all of its beauty, wisdom and knowledge went into Adam. How beautiful and glorious a man he must have been. He stood unique before all others. He came directly from the hand of God. Eve also stands unique, because she too came from the creative hand of God. This is why we recognize in the context of Genesis, that the image of God refers to the plurality of male and female within the wondrous unity of humanity. All of these points are also connected to the last Adam, but in a different way. This is why it is important to believe in the literal creation of Adam. His possession of headship and authority, and the trouble relating to both because of his sin, stands in direct contrast to the last Adam—our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is also our head, and possesses all authority, all power, and all dominion. But the recovery of these things was not as we might imagine. Jesus was not like an earthly king displaying the trappings of power and wealth and conquering his enemies. Rather, Jesus loses his life to gain all that Adam lost in his spiritual death. So just as Adam represents all humanity as their federal and seminal head, so too does our Lord Jesus. If you deny this headship and authority given to Adam in his creation and then lost, you will fail to hold to the federal headship of Christ, and that has major consequences to doctrine and faith.

Edenic purity and beauty was lost in the Fall of Adam and Eve. Their rebellion against God cost them spiritual life, and would bring about physical death. They disobeyed the word of God in its covenantal obligations. They hungered for power and independence from God. Indeed, they desired to be like God. Even though Eve participated first in transgressing, Adam was held accountable because he was the covenant head (Gen. 3:9–12; Rom. 5:12, 18, 19).

The results of the Fall were catastrophic. Curses came from God as a result: a curse upon Satan, upon Adam and upon Eve. These curses were not just for Adam and Eve, as if we would be exempt. No, we are also subject to these curses because Adam was our federal head, or representative. He was the best man to stand for us in our place as our representative. Not one of us, in our fallen condition, could ever have stood strong. Adam was the very best to stand for us. The effects of the curse are profound. They affect childbirth, the marriage relationship, daily work, and they always end in death. In Adam, all die (1 Cor. 15:22). We die physically and we are dead spiritually in our natural estate.

However, in the midst of the cursing of God stands the covenantal promise of life. There would be someone who would conquer and win back all that was lost. Genesis 3:15 contains this first gospel promise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

This offspring will be a man, yet special. He will work and conquer. He will defeat the evil one. He will undo the effects of the Fall. He will open the gates to Eden. He will obey where Adam disobeyed. He will keep the law where Adam transgressed. He will satisfy the demands laid upon Adam. He will recover life. We know this man to be our Lord Jesus. He bears all the curse of toil, sweat, affliction, even death on a cross, and descent into the dust of the earth. He will penetrate into the Holy of Holies by his death. He will triumphantly recover Adam’s loss, or as the hymn–writer puts it: “our helpless estate”. In this sense, Jesus is the last Adam. Nobody else can do or could ever do what he did.

In Romans 5, we find comparisons made between Adam and our Lord. Adam brought sin and death; Jesus brings grace and life (5:15). Adam brought condemnation; Jesus brings justification (5:16). Adam brought a reign of death; Jesus brings the reign of life (5:17). Adam stands as the corporate covenant head of all humanity, but our Lord stands as the covenant head of his people—the redeemed. Paul describes Adam’s fall as: “sin” (Rom. 5:12, 14, 16), “trespass” (vv. 15–18), and “disobedience” (vs. 19). For Jesus as the last Adam, Paul refers to “one act of righteousness” (vs. 18), and “obedience” (vs. 19). In the first Adam, there is condemnation; in the last Adam, there is salvation or justification. Christ’s one act of righteousness stands against Adam’s one trespass. This righteous act is not just Jesus’ atonement, but also his obedience to the will of God. Adam ruins his race—all men. But our Lord Jesus rescues his race—the many. The destiny of everyone is linked to these two men—the first Adam or the last Adam. Jesus is the “life–giving spirit.” His resurrection body is imperishable and immortal, and Jesus gives to his people his likeness and his life. O what a life has been won for us and is truly ours.