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.