The Seed of the Woman in the Fullness of Time

If you think the Christmas story begins in the Gospel of Matthew, you missed it by only 39 books.  The Christmas story begins in Genesis.  The unfolding narrative in the Bible’s opening chapters makes clear why Jesus had to come, and it is here we glimpse the first promise of his coming.

The cosmic canvas of Genesis 1 gives way to the smaller, more intimate stage of Eden in Genesis 2, and there God puts Adam to work and guard a sacred place (2:15)—a place where certain choices can change everything for everyone.

God’s Words to Adam

In the sanctuary of Eden’s garden, the first recorded words of God to Adam were about bountiful provision and a single prohibition: every tree of the garden is for food except one (Gen 2:16-17), the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  And God’s last words to Adam in the garden were also about the forbidden tree, but this time they were words of chastisement.  Because he ate from that tree, the ground is cursed, and the dust he came from will one day welcome him back (3:17-19).

What happened between those first and last words to Adam in the garden?  God’s voice had been clear, but Adam had listened to another voice, “the voice of your wife” (Gen 3:17), to be precise.

What did Eve say to Adam?  The text doesn’t tell us.  When we look in Genesis 3 at the scene where Adam and Eve ate the fruit, it’s clear she ate first (3:6).  Then the narrative says “and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”  Not a word between them is recorded, yet God’s words to Adam in 3:17 make clear that tasting the fruit wasn’t carried out in silence.  Adam “listened to the voice” of his wife, so she said something.

Perhaps we have an idea what she said to Adam.  She later told God, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen 3:13), so the reader is reminded that another voice had been speaking in the garden, and to her specifically.  The crafty creature sowed seeds of doubt with duplicitous insistence: “You will not surely die” (3:4).  Is this what she repeated to her husband, whom we know was there at least when she ate the fruit?  Did she assure him, “We won’t surely die.  God knows we’ll be like him, which is why he’s kept this fruit from us”?

They ate, their eyes were opened, and God subjected the whole world to futility (Rom 8:20).

God’s Words to the Serpent

After Adam and Eve disobeyed, God addressed them one at a time, starting with the man (Gen 3:9-12).  Adam pointed his finger at his wife, so God focused on her next (3:13), but Eve blamed the serpent who tricked her.  Thus God began his decrees of judgment (3:14-19) with the instigator (3:14-15).

It’s remarkable the serpent even stuck around in the garden after his scheme succeeded.  Why not just deceive Eve and let things unfold?  Why not head out the same door he slipped in through?  Maybe he wanted to watch.  Did he stay in the garden to relish the tragic effects of his ruse and gloat with victory that he had ensnared God’s image-bearers?  He had front-row seats.

And to this deceiver God now turns.  Instead of a blessing, God speaks something not yet heard in his good world.  Inside the boundaries of Eden, within the luscious garden that Adam was to work and guard, God pronounces a curse (Gen 3:14).

But that wasn’t the only word to the serpent.  God didn’t proceed to his judgments upon Eve and Adam (Gen 3:16-19) until he followed his curse with a prophecy known as the protoevangelium, the first glimpse of the good news fulfilled by Jesus: “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” (3:15).

Note that the serpent receives these words, not Adam and Eve.  This first word of salvation for sinners is also a promise of judgment on the serpent.  The woman will have offspring, and a singular Seed will be victorious over the serpent, a triumph pictured by head-crushing.

Genesis 3:15 is both a declaration of war and an assurance of victory: war between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, and victory for the woman’s offspring over the serpent.

As millennia passed, the seed of the serpent continued to oppose the people of God through cycles of exile and captivity.  Would the Victor ever come?  Would God keep the promise to raise up Someone who would lift his foot at just the right moment and take aim?

In the Fullness of Time

The hope of Genesis 3:15 swells to new heights of expectation when the angel Gabriel visits a virgin named Mary.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

Remarkably, Jesus will be the seed of a woman because of a conception accomplished by the power of God.

The long-awaited moment had arrived.  Or in the words of Paul, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman…” (Gal 4:4).  This would be no merely human offspring but God’s Son taking on flesh.

The ancient prophecy was coming to pass, but the battle was only just beginning.  Jesus had come to announce and inaugurate a kingdom not of this world, the saving reign of God that would be as light to darkness.

According to the prophecy, the promised victor of Genesis 3:15 doesn’t defeat the serpent unscathed: his heel is bruised—or, in the events of redemptive history in the first century, Jesus casts out the prince of this world by dying on a cross (John 12:31-33).

Jesus’ death is temporary since he rises on the third day, but his blow to the Enemy’s head is decisive.  Jesus disarms the rulers and authorities and shames them with his triumphant resurrection (Col 2:15).

The mission of the manger had a destructive purpose: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14).  It is finished.

7 Sentences Summarizing the Bible’s Teaching about the “Image of God”

The Bible’s teaching about the “image of God” is important to trace and understand.  Here’s a 7-step summary of it:

(1) God made man in His image to fill the earth with image-bearers who represent Him and rule over creation with wisdom and royal dominion (Gen 1:26-28).

(2) After the Fall, mankind still bears the image of God (Gen 5:3; 9:6; Jam 3:9).

(3) Because of sin, though, unregenerate image-bearers cannot function as faithful representatives of God’s rule because of the corruption of sin and subsequent idolatry (Rom 1:18, 21-23, 25; 3:23).

(4) But God never recanted His creation mandate about multiplying the earth with image-bearers and exercising dominion (e.g. Gen 15:5 17:6, 20; 22:17; 26:22; 28:3; 35:11; 41:52; 47:27; 48:4).

(5) At the appointed time, God sent into the world His Son, an unmade Person who is the very image of God (Col 1:15; Heb 1:3; 2 Cor 4:4), who–by virtue of his death and resurrection–has all authority over heaven and earth and has been given the name above every name, over any opposing power, over every conceivable dominion (Eph 1:21; Phil 2:9; Col 1:16; 2:15).

(6) Now, when sinners are united to Christ by the Spirit through saving faith, the image of God is being restored in believers as we are being inwardly renewed (2 Cor 4:16; Eph 4:23) and transformed into Christ’s image (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10; 2 Cor 3:18; Rom 8:29), so that we can rightly represent Him as the Church of God mediating the knowledge of Him to the world (Matt 28:18-20; 1 Pet 2:9; Col 2:10; Eph 3:8-9; Phil 2:15).

(7) God will complete the restoration of His image in us when Christ returns to raise the dead, for only then will we–who for now return to dust at death–exercise dominion over God’s renewed world in incorruptible bodies in the likeness of the Last Adam (1 Cor 15:45-49).

Next to the Gospel, Santa is Dull

The glory of the Incarnation, the scandal of a Virgin Birth, the eruption of heavenly angels in chorus, the fulfillment of ancient prophecies, messianic hopes swelling to the peak of expectation, Good News bursting with great joy, the arrival of the Seed of the woman who would crush the Serpent and turn back sin’s curse–all of this is infinitely more exciting than Santa Claus.

Next to the Gospel, Santa is dull.

Next to the greatest and most thrilling announcement the universe has ever heard, Santa is boring.

Next to the Savior, Saint Nicholas is a sinner in desperate need of the Miracle lying in a manger.

Despite what the preceding sentences might sound like, I’m actually not anti-Santa. But I’m really, really, really pro-Gospel, because Jesus is better. It’s a matter of emphasis, of keeping the main thing the main thing.

Parents, your kids will be excited about what you’re excited about. The best news for children isn’t, “Santa is coming” but “Jesus has come.”

The Word became flesh and changed the world.

“A Manger Throne”: An Advent Poem

Hebrews 2:9a, 14a, 16 say, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus….Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things….For surely it is not angels he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.”

Here’s a poetic reflection on those verses.

“A Manger Throne”
December 7, 2012

Not for the seraphim did God
Say to his only Son,
“At last the moment has arrived,
The rescue has begun.”

Not for the cherubim did Christ
Descend to fallen earth
And take unto himself a state
Beneath infinite worth.

But for the seed of Abraham,
For those with flesh and bone,
For us the King was born and placed
Inside a manger throne.

Jude, the Servant of Jesus and Brother of James (v. 1a)

A typical Greco-Roman letter begins with the author’s name, and the last New Testament letter meets this expectation.  The opening words in v. 1 are:

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James

Visualize the phrases like this:

  • Jude
  •          a servant of Jesus Christ
  •          and brother of James

While New Testament letters mostly conform to a first-century rhetorical and epistolary pattern, the biblical authors invest theological meaning in the phrases that fill the mold.  Put another way, the authors take in their hands a certain rhetorical mold and then add or omit what serves their agenda.

The beginning of Jude’s letter is important because of how he identifies himself.  We don’t just find the name “Jude” followed by the recipients.  There’s a twofold description (“servant of Jesus Christ” and “brother of James”) that distinguishes Jude from others who bear his name.

“Jude,” after all, was a popular name, most accurately rendered “Judas.”  But that probably makes you think of the Betrayer of Jesus, right?  Translators help us avoid that confusion by rendering the name as just “Jude.”

So how do the terms “servant” and “brother” help his readers know who’s writing to them?

First things first.  Paul (in Titus 1:1) and James (in James 1:1) both identify themselves as servants of God.  When a biblical author called himself a “servant of God” it was more than a humble posture.  Old Testament background helps us see that “servant of God” was a title given to men like Abraham, Moses, David, and other prophets.  A servant of Yahweh was set apart as the mouthpiece of Yahweh, his representative before people.  Such a servant acted on God’s behalf, not according to his own will.

Therefore, when a New Testament writer calls himself a “servant of God,” he’s saying he belongs in the long line of Yahweh’s representatives.  More than a humble posture, here “servant of God” is an office, a position of responsibility.

Look carefully at Jude’s first words.  Where you might expect to find “servant of God” Jude wrote “servant of Jesus Christ“!  This replacement indicates Jude’s high christology, but Jude hasn’t abandoned his monotheism.  Far from it!  God’s Son Jesus is divine, and to be his servant is to represent God himself.

More specifically, Jude is the mouthpiece of the Messiah; he is commissioned by the risen and reigning Son of God.  The first description, then, “a servant of Jesus Christ,” is a claim to write with authority.  The readers should heed the words of Jude’s letter because it comes to them as more than the concerns of a fellow Christian.  These twenty-five verses have christological weight!

The second opening description, “brother of James,” clarifies further who this Jude (or Judas) is, for other men bear that name–such as the disciple Judas the son of James (Luke 6:16), the courier Judas Barsabbas (Acts 15:22), the Judas who lived on Straight Street (Acts 9:11), and Judas the brother of Jesus (Matt 13:55).

How does “brother of James” help narrow down the contending Judases?  Normally a Jew would identify himself in relation to his father (“Jude, son of ____”).  Moreover, this is the only place in the New Testament where a writer refers to a sibling as a way to distinguish himself.  This fact, coupled with the simplicity of the unelaborated “James,” suggests that the readers were familiar with the man in view.

The readers would have recognized this “James” as the prominent leader of the Jerusalem church, a “pillar” according to Paul (Gal 2:9).  This James was Jesus’ brother who believed after the resurrection (Matt 13:55; John 7:2-5; see especially 1 Cor 15:7).

Let’s recap.  After Jude’s self-designation there are two further descriptions.  To preempt the question “Why should we listen to Jude?” he writes that he’s “a servant of Jesus Christ.”  His pen bears messianic authority!  And to the expected question “Which Jude is this?” he clarifies that he’s the “brother of James.”

One final important point.  If Jude is the brother of James and this James is the brother of Jesus, then the Jude (Judas) who wrote this letter is Judas the brother of Jesus.  Does it seem surprising Jude didn’t mention this relation?  He calls himself “a servant of Jesus Christ,” but why not declare to everyone that he’s “the brother of Jesus Christ”?

Perhaps some people think that if they were related to Jesus and writing this letter, they’d mention their relation as an authoritative appeal: “You should listen to what I have to say, for don’t you know I’m Jesus’ brother?”

But Jude knows better.  More important than biology is christology: Jesus is the Messiah!  Jude’s authority rests not on the fact that he’s Jesus’ sibling but that he’s Jesus’ servant, which is why you don’t read Jude describing himself as the “brother of Jesus.”  The brother Jude grew up with is seated at the right hand of God, and that preeminent status changes how he thinks about him.

So the readers should heed the words that follow v. 1a.  As one under authority, Jude also writes with authority.  His pen is a mouthpiece, and the written words are the words of Christ.

O Wonder of Wonders: There Will Be Blood

The manger and Mount Calvary are separated only by the years it took to get from one to the other, for Christ’s mission concerned both places.

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death…” (Heb 2:14)

God’s Son was born in order to die.  His mission was not derailed by the cross.  The Place of the Skull was not “plan B” after a failed attempt at securing earthly rule and renown.  The incarnation happened for the purpose of crucifixion.

The cross was always the point because on that tree he died.  And he could only die if he was human.  God’s Son was born outside Jerusalem, and he’d die outside that city too.

His bloody birth was the way to his bloody death.  But there’s power in this blood.  In it sinners are washed white as snow.

O Wonder of Wonders: God’s Son Born A Man

Growing up I used to wonder why God sent his Son to become a man.  It’s an important question to ponder, and the Bible gives us the answer:

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things…” (Heb 2:14a)

In other words, God’s Son became a man because the objects of his rescue (“the children”) were flesh and blood.  The Word became flesh, entering our human experience.  He laid aside his majesty and put on skin.  He descended into time, becoming subject to aging, pain, and death.

The incarnation should leave us in awe.  Jesus learned, developed, and obeyed.  He grew a specific height, had a certain complexion, and weighed a particular number of pounds.  He experienced weariness, hunger, and thirst.  His walk, voice, and fingerprint were all distinct.  He was fully human.