The glory of Christ is the main purpose that God had in mind when he permitted Adam’s sin, and with it the Fall of all humanity into sin. Whatever God permits, he permits for a reason. And his reasons are always infinitely wise and purposeful. He did not have to let the Fall of Satan or of Adam happen. He could have stopped it. The fact that he did not stop it means he has a reason, a purpose for it. And he doesn’t make up his plans as he goes along. What he knows to be wise, he has always known to be wise-eternally. Therefore, Adam’s sin and the Fall of the human race with him into sin and misery did not take God off guard. It is part of God’s overarching plan with the aim of it all to display the fullness of the glory of Jesus Christ.
One of the clearest ways to show this for the Bible-and we won’t go into it in detail here-is to look at those places where the sin-defeating sacrifice of Christ is shown to be in God’s mind before the creation of the world.
For example, in Revelation 13:8, John writes about “every-one whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” So there was a book before the foundation of the world called “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” Before the world was created, God had already planned that his Son would be slain like a lamb to save all those who are written in the book.
2 Timothy 1:9: “(God) saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of is own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
Saving grace was given to us before the ages began. That is, it was given to us before there was any human sin to save us from. That means God’s plan to save us through grace was not a response to human decisions to sin. Saving grace was the plan that made sin necessary. God did not find sin in the world, and then make a plan to remedy it. He had the plan before the ages, and that plan was for the glory of sin-conquering grace through the death of Jesus Christ.
This is even more plain in Ephesians 1:4-6: “(God) chose us in (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” To what end did God predestine us sinners for adoption? To the praise and glory of his grace. That is why the plan was made. The ultimate aim of the eternal plan was that praise might be as intense as possible for the glory of God’s grace. And the apex of the glory is in the death of Jesus. So much so that the gospel of the death of Christ for sinners is called ” the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Therefore, the biblical view is that the sufferings and death of Christ for sin are not planned after the actual sin of Adam but before. Therefore, when the sin of Adam happens, God is not surprised by it, but has already made it part of his plan-namely, a plan to display his amazing patience and grace and justice and wrath in the history of redemption, and then, climactically, to reveal the greatness of his Son as the second Adam superior in every way to the first Adam.
So we look at Romans 5:12-21, keeping in mind that Adam’s spectacular sin did not frustrate God’s Christ exalting purposes, but instead served them. Here’s the way we will look at these verses. There are five explicit references to Christ. One of them sets up the way Paul is thinking about Christ and Adam. Two of those four are so similar we will lump them together. Which means we will look at three aspects of Christ’s superiority.
Jesus, “The Coming One”
Notice the way Christ is referred to in verse 14. Verses 12-14 supply the context: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and do death spread to all men because all sinned-for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” There’s the reference to Christ in verse 14: “the one who was to come.” This verse sets up the way Paul is thinking in the rest of the passage. Notice the most obvious thing first: Christ “was to come.” From the beginning was “the coming one.” Paul shows that Christ is not an afterthought. Paul does not say that Christ was conceived as a copy of Adam. He says that Adam was a type of Christ. God dealt with Adam in a way that would make him a type of the way he planned to glorify his Son. A type is a foreshadowing of something that will come later and will be like the type-only greater. So God dealt with Adam in a way that would make a type of Christ. God’s plan for Christ preceded his dealing with Adam.
Notice more closely just where, in the flow of his thought, Paul chooses to say that Adam is a type of Christ. Verse 14, “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” He chooses to tell us that Adam is a type of Christ just after saying that even people who did not sin in the way Adam did still bore the punishment that Adam bore. Why did Paul, just at this point, say that Adam was a type of Christ?
Jesus, Our Representative Head
What he had just said gets at the very essence of how Christ and Adam are alike and the way they are different. Here’s the parallel: People whose transgression was not life Adam’s died like Adam. Why? Because they were connected to Adam. He was the representative head of their humanity, and his sin is counted as their sin because of their connection with him. That’s the essence of why Adam is called a type of Christ-because our obedience is not like Christ’s obedience and yet we have eternal life with Christ. Why? Because we are connected to Christ by faith. He is the representative head of the new humanity, and his righteousness is counted as our righteousness because of our connection with him (Romans 6:5).
That’s the parallel implied in calling Adam a type of Christ:
Adam; Adam’s sin; humanity condemned to him; eternal death
Christ; Christ’s righteousness; new humanity justified in him; eternal life
The rest of the passage unpacks how much greater Christ and his saving work are than Adam and his destructive work. What we are seeing here is God’s revelation of realities that define the world that every person on this planet is included in this text because Adam was the father of everybody. Therefore, every person you meet, of any ethnicity, is facing what this text talks about… death in Adam or life in Christ.
This is a global text. Don’t miss that. This is the defining reality for every single person you will ever meet. Wimpy worldviews produce wimpy Christians. This is not a wimpy worldview. It stretches over all history and over all the earth. It profoundly affects every person in the world and every headline on the Internet.
Celebrating The Superiority Of Jesus
Now let’s look at three ways that Paul celebrates how Christ and his work are superior over Adam and his work. They can be summed up under three phases:
The abundance of Christ
The perfection of obedience
The reign of life
First, verse 15 and the abundance of grace. “But the free gift (of righteousness, v.17) is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” The point here is that God’s grace is more powerful than Adam’s trespass. That’s what the words much more signify: “much more has the grace of God… abounded for many.” If man’s trespass brought death, how much more will God’s grace bring life.
But Paul is more specific than that. God’s grace is specifically “the grace of that one man Jesus Christ.” “Much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” These are not two different graces. “The grace of God has appeared (namely, in Jesus), bringing salvation… “And in 2 Timothy 1:9: “his own… grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus.” So the grace that is in Jesus is the grace for God.
This grace is sovereign grace. It conquers everything in its path. We will see in just a moment that it has the power of the king of the universe. It is reigning grace. That’s the first celebration of Christ’s superiority over Adam. When the trespass of the one man Adam and the grace of the one man Jesus Christ meet, Adam and his trespass lose. Christ and his grace win. That is very good news for those who belong to Christ.
The Perfect Obedience of Christ
Second, Paul celebrates the way that the grace of Christ conquers Adam’s trespass and death, the perfection of Christ’s obedience. Verse 19: “For as by the one man’s disobedience (Namely, Adam’s) the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience (namely, Christ’s) the many will be made righteous.” So the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, keeps him from sinning-keeps him obedient unto death, even death on the cross (Philippians 2:8)-so that he offers flawless and complete obedience to the Father on behalf of those who are connected to him by faith. Adam was the source of sin and death. Christ was the source of obedience and life.
Christ is like Adam, who was a type of Christ-both are the representative heads of an old and new humanity. God imputes the failure of Adam to his humanity, and God imputes the success of Christ in his humanity, because of how these tow humanities are united to their respective heads. The great superiority of Christ is that he not only succeeds in obeying perfectly, but does so in such a way that millions of people are counted righteous because of his obedience. Are you only connected to Adam? Are you only a part of the first humanity bound for death? Or are you also connected to Christ and part of the new humanity bound for eternal life?
The Reign of Life
Third, Paul celebrates not only the abounding grace of Christ and the perfect obedience of Christ, but finally, the reign of life through Christ. Grace leads through Christ’s obedience to the triumph of eternal life. Verse 21: “… so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness (that is, through the perfect righteousness of Christ) to the great climax of eternal life-and all of that is “through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Or, once more in verse 17, the same point: “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” The same pattern: Grace through the free gift of righteousness leads to the triumph of life, and all of that through Jesus Christ.
I mentioned above that the grace of God in Christ that Paul refers to in these verses is sovereign grace. You can see that in the word reign. Death has a kind of sovereignty over man and reigns over all. All die. But grace conquers sin and death. It reigns in life even over those who once were dead. That is sovereign grace.
Jesus’ Spectacular Obedience
This is the great glory of Christ-he vastly outshines the first man Adam. The spectacular sin of Adam is not as great as the spectacular grace and obedience of Christ and the gift of eternal life. Indeed, God’s plan from the beginning, in his perfect righteousness, was that Adam, as the representative head of humankind, would be a type of Christ as the representative head of a new humanity. His plan was that by this comparison and contrast, the glory of Christ would shine all the more brightly.
Verse 17 puts the matter to us very personally and very urgently. Where do we stand? “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Read these words very carefully and personally: “ those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness.”
Precious Words For Sinners
These are precious words for sinners like you and me: The grace is free, the free gift is free, and the righteousness of Christ is free. The question is: Will we receive it as the hope and treasure of our lives? If we do, we will “reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” And in this eternal reign, we will enjoy as our supreme Treasure the beauty and worth of Jesus Christ whose glory shines all the more brightly against the backdrop of Adam’s spectacular sin. The point of Romans 5:12-21 is that Christ’s saving achievement is understood and cherished as it should be in view of Adam’s spectacular sin. This was not a coincidence. It was God’s purpose before the foundation of the world.
Author: John Piper
Chapter 4, pages 57-64