The Bible presents Adam as the first man, and gives the Lord Jesus Christ the curious title of ‘the last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:45). What does this term mean, and why is it given? What are the similarities between Adam and Jesus that warrant Jesus having this title? What are the differences?
The Bible tells us that the first man, Adam, was created by God, in His image and likeness, directly from the dust of the ground. God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul (Genesis 1:26–27; 2:7). Thus, Adam was not the product of some form of theistic evolution.1 God did not make him in the image or likeness of an ape, nor from a ‘lower hominid’ by any lengthy or even abrupt mutational processes.2 Rather God created Adam as an immediate act, by His word (i.e. by commanding or willing this to happen), at some time on the sixth day of Creation week.3
While Adam was made in the image of God, Christ is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1:15).
The Bible tells us that the last Adam, Jesus Christ, was the One through whom God created all things (John 1:1–3; Colossians 1:15–20; Hebrews 1:2). Thus Jesus was pre-existent with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit before Adam lived (John 8:58; Micah 5:2).4 Nevertheless, in His humanity, He too had a miraculous beginning when He was incarnated as a human being—conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary (Matthew 1:20–23; Luke 1:26–35).
Adam was created a perfect man, in full possession of all human faculties, and with a God-consciousness which enabled him to have spiritual communion with God. Initially innocent, sinless, and holy, he was in a right relationship to God, to woman, to himself, and to the natural world around him.
The last Adam, Jesus, was also perfectly man, one with God (John 10:30; 17:21–22), innocent, sinless, and holy (Hebrews 7:26). Many people mistakenly refer to Jesus Christ as the ‘second Adam’, a term not found in the Bible. However, Scripture refers to Christ as the ‘second man’ (1 Corinthians 15:47). There have been many men since Adam, but Jesus Christ was only the second man to ever be completely without sin.
Unlike the first Adam, the Lord Jesus was, in addition, divine, having the attributes, offices, prerogatives, and names of deity. Being fully God, He is worthy of worship (e.g. Revelation 5:11–14).
Adam was the head of the human race. Jesus Christ is the head of redeemed humanity (see, for example, Ephesians 5:23). Since Christ died once for all time (Hebrews 7:27; 9:28; 10:10–14), there will never be the need for any further ‘Adam.’ Hence He is the last Adam.
The first Adam gave life to all his descendants. The last Adam, Jesus Christ, communicates ‘life’ and ‘light’ to all men, and gives eternal life to those who receive Him and believe on His name, giving them ‘power to become the sons of God’ (John 1:1–14).
Adam, representing mankind, was given dominion over the created world (Genesis 1:26). After being raised from the dead, Jesus Christ was elevated to God’s right hand, and given dominion over all things, which were ‘put under his feet.’ (1 Corinthians 15:27; Ephesians 1:20–22). The first Adam was lord over a limited domain, the last Adam is Lord of all (Acts 10:36).
Genesis 2:21–23 tells us that God put Adam into a deep sleep, during which time God made Adam’s bride, Eve, from Adam’s side—a wound in Adam’s side produced a bride! Note that once again theistic evolution is excluded. The text says that God made them male and female at the beginning (Genesis 1:27; 2:7; Matthew 19:4). If Adam and Eve had been sub-human before God breathed life into them, they would already have been male and female, without the need for God to have made them so at this stage.
After the last Adam, Jesus, died upon the cross—suffering the sleep of death for everyone—His side was pierced by a spear thrust (John 19:34). In His death he paid the penalty for mankind’s sins (1 Corinthians 15:1–4). Those who repent and put their faith in Him are united with Christ in a relationship which the Bible likens to that of a bride towards her husband (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:27; Revelation 19:6–8). Thus a wound in the last Adam’s side also produced a bride—the true Church!—‘a glorious bride, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing … holy and without blemish’ (Ephesians 5:27).
At the beginning of Adam’s life he underwent a period of testing as to whether or not he would obey God.5 ‘And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’ (Genesis 2:16–17).
At the beginning of the last Adam’s ministry, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted (or tested—Greek: peirazō) by the devil (Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:1–3).6
The first Adam failed the test, and in doing so involved all humanity in his defeat, dragging the human race down with him.7 As a result, in Adam we all stand condemned, spiritually bankrupt, enslaved to sin, and expelled from Paradise (Romans 5:12 ff.).
The last Adam, Jesus, was victorious over sin, the flesh, and the devil. As a result, in Christ, believers stand justified and redeemed, spiritually wealthy, liberated from sin, and included in the Paradise of God (Romans 5:18 ff.; 1 Corinthians 15:21 ff.; Revelation 2:7).
The first Adam disobeyed God. The last Adam was ‘obedient unto death, even the death of the cross’ (Philippians 2:8).
The first Adam experienced the judgment of God—he ultimately died and his body turned to dust. Because of his sin, death came upon all men, ‘For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23).
The last Adam, Jesus Christ, also died—on the cross—to atone for sin (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 2:9). But He did not stay dead, nor did His body ‘see corruption’ (Acts 2:27; 13:35–37). On the third day He rose again, thereby overcoming the devil and the power of death for all those who believe in Him (Hebrews 2:14), and bringing resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:22–23).
Creation was originally ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31), so the ‘last enemy’, death (1 Corinthians 15:26) was absent. Even the animals were originally all given plants to eat (Genesis 1:30). The actions of the first Adam brought a reign of death and bloodshed upon a once-perfect world, which ever since has been groaning in pain (Romans 8:22).8 Precisely because of the blood shed in death by the last Adam, this curse of death and bloodshed will be removed, and creation restored to a sinless, deathless state (Revelation 21:1; 21:4; 22:3).
We are all connected with the first Adam (the natural and legal head of the human race) as depraved and guilty sinners, and so are included in the sentence of death which God pronounced on him. However, all who are connected with the last Adam, Jesus, through repentance and faith in His redeeming work, are forgiven, have ‘received the free gift of righteousness’, and so ‘have passed from death to life’ (Colossians 1:14; Romans 5:17; 1 John 3:14).