The Probation of the First Adam Revealed in the Probation of the Last

One of the contentious issues of covenant theology is the idea that in the Garden Adam was put under a probation as a condition of the Covenant of Works. The idea is that if Adam passed the probation (the temptation offered by the serpent) then he would achieve life, and that life would be imputed to all his posterity.

As it stands, death is what has befallen Adam’s race. Under the terms of Covenant of Works, Adam is banished from the Garden-Temple of God’s Presence – from life – and we along with him. But what about that probation? Is it biblical? What even might be the significance of such a doctrine?

I want to suggest that Adam being put under a probation is an essential part of any Reformed covenant theology – even essential to a more fully comprehended doctrine of salvation – and that we see the doctrine very clearly in the typological counterpart of Adam: the Last Adam.

Jesus Christ is identified as “the Last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45). Adam was a type of Christ (Romans 5:14), “prototyping” (the “first Adam” is protos Adam) if you will, what Jesus would accomplish at the inauguration of the eschaton (the “last Adam” is eschatos Adam). Jesus is made further alike to Adam by Luke who identifies both Adam and Jesus as “the Son of God” in the context of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Luke 3:22,38, 4:3). However, unlike the First Adam, the Last Adam “was tempted in the wilderness by the devil and did not succumb to temptation” (Barcellos, Getting the Garden Right).

In addition to the clear typological connection made in the New Testament, we see this typological correlation as we analyze the similarities and differences of the probations/trials/temptations endured by Adam and Jesus, the one by the First Adam in the Garden, the other by the Last Adam in the Wilderness. The similarities:

  1. Both are tempted by Satan
  2. Both temptations involved Satan twisting the Scriptures

These are the nature of the probation common to both Adams. The differences highlight the opposite contexts, outcomes, and results of the probations:

  1. Adam is tempted in the Garden; Jesus is tempted in the Wilderness
  2. Adam succumbs to Satan’s twisting of Scripture; Jesus refutes Satan with Scripture

The reason for these differences is because Jesus is reversing what the First Adam caused, which again shows the connection of these two probations/trials/temptations.

As the action of the First Adam led his federal body out of the Garden and into the Wilderness, so the action of the Last Adam leads his federal body out of the Wilderness and into the Garden.

Additionally, as Adam failed to invoke the positive command of God which he had received against the twisting of the command of God, Jesus succeeded in keeping the word given by God by appealing to that word.

Why else would the Last Adam, being identified as the Last Adam, endure such comparable trials except on account of the First Adam’s failure to endure the same?

At this point we should recognize that this isn’t just about the idiosyncrasies of covenant theology. This is at the heart of the gospel. If Jesus Christ isn’t fulfilling what our father Adam failed to complete according to the Covenant of Works, then we lack the righteousness that he failed to attain and remain under those curses. The significance of Jesus’ probation unto life is more fully comprehended against the backdrop of Adam’s failure to complete that same probation. As by his disobedience the First Adam brought death to all men, so by his obedience the Last Adam brought life to all men (Romans 5:12-21). His probation unto life reverses Adam’s probation unto death.

Jesus’ clear achievement of life (Luke 24:26; Romans 1:4; Hebrews 12:2) is the assurance of righteousness he has earned in our place, a righteousness that reserves the unrighteous effects of Adam’s work. According to the terms of the Covenant of Works, Jesus fulfills the same probation faced by Adam, and earns the righteousness we never could. By this extra nos righteousness, imputed to us by faith, we are restored to the Garden-Temple presence of God – to life. As Machen said, “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”

In conclusion, we see that the eschatological Adam is put through and completes what the protological Adam was put through and did not complete; specifically, the probation unto life. And that life earned by Jesus Christ we received by faith in him, our federal head.

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