As we read the opening verses of John’s Gospel, our minds instinctively go back to the opening lines of the book of Genesis. Both speak of the beginning—John in relation to One who already existed, Genesis of that which was called into existence “In [the] beginning was the Word … In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (John 1: 1; Gen. 1: 1). Yet the similarity between the two books does not end there. With different themes for their subjects—Genesis dealing with the first Adam and his descendants, John with the last Adam, His words and His works—there is nevertheless a marked agreement in the subjects of the first few chapters and the order in which they are narrated. This is surely not coincidental.
The first chapter of Genesis brings before us the creation of man, and a world prepared for his rule: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over the whole earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth on the earth. And God created Man in his image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen. 1: 26, 27). A creature representing God on earth and, like Him, pure and free from sin—this was the one placed as head over the physical creation. Turning to the first chapter of John, we have brought before us another Man on earth, a Head like Adam, but the Head of a new race, for “as many as received him, to them gave he [the] right to be children of God” (John 1: 12). Again, just as God expressed His emphatic approval of “everything that he had made” (Gen. 1: 31), and the man he had set over it, so God expressed His deep delight in the Word made flesh when the Spirit descended like a dove and abode upon Him (see John 1: 32, 33). If Adam was made in the image of God, and was given dominion over the whole earth, what shall we say of the One who is the “image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1: 15)? Surely He must take the first place in all things, and be marked out as such by heaven?
All creation could see in the first Adam one representing God on earth; all who had had their eyes opened by the Spirit of God, could see in the last Adam “a glory as of an only–begotten with a father” (John 1: 14). Furthermore, he declared this Father (see v18), something which Adam, though made in the image of God, could never do. Again, Adam was created, but the Word became flesh. Both had a beginning in flesh on earth, but there the similarity ends. Adam had no life before He lived here—One gave life, the other was given life. The Lord Jesus came in flesh (see 2 John v7), but He ever existed. Adam appeared on a scene prepared to receive him, the Lord Jesus entered a world ready to reject Him. Adam walked about surrounded by the works of God’s hands, the Lord “came to his own, and his own received him not” (John 1: 11, my emphasis). Adam was to receive the unqualified submission of all God’s creatures upon the earth; the Son came to give grace upon grace (see v16), and to give to all who would believe on His name the right to be children of God (see v12).
Adam’s dominion is brought out by the fact that God brought all the animals “to Man, to see what he would call them; and whatever Man called each living soul, that was its name” (Gen. 2: 19). Placed in the garden to dress it and keep it, all acknowledged his sway. To own Adam was to submit to God. To receive a name from him was as if it was conferred by God Himself. As the Psalmist could say, “Thou hast made him to rule over the works of thy hands; thou hast put everything under his feet” (Ps. 8: 6). Now if God acted in this way to Adam, what of His own beloved Son? God has “subjected all things under his feet. For in subjecting all things to him, he has left nothing unsubject to him” (Heb. 2: 8). So that when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among men, He also gave names to men. To Simon, He gave the name of Cephas (see John 1: 42), and to James and John “the surname of Boanerges” (Mark 3: 17). A day is yet to come, when the overcomer will receive from Him “a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no one knows but he that receives [it]” (Rev. 2: 17).
Of course, the glory of Adam, seen in that day in Eden long ago, soon passed away, never to be restored. Not so the King of kings. He will one day enforce the subjection of all to His authority, and “Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end” (Is. 9: 7). Adam was commissioned to subdue the earth, but had no rival to dispute his sway and no one to reduce to subjection. Christ came on this earth, on which His glory and His kingdom is to be one day revealed, with every opposition ranged against Him. In Eden there was real subjection to God; when the Lord appeared in Jerusalem, the subjection was professed, but was coupled with deep hostility to God’s anointed. And yet, as God’s Man, He will exercise the rights of sovereignty over the world. His cleansing of the temple—“my Father’s house” (John 2: 16)—provides a glimpse of that authority.
The happiness of Eden gone and gone forever, the miracle of the Lord at Cana (see John 2: 1–12) teaches us how joy can and will yet be enjoyed on this earth. Wine speaks of that which “gladdeneth the heart of man” (Ps. 104: 15), and the wine that the Lord provides, not only is superior to the transient and trivial mirth that fallen man fashions for himself, but lasts for the duration of the feast. So the Lord will minister everlasting joy when He comes back to earth in power to reign. The happiness of Eden, brought to its climax when Adam received his wife (see Gen. 2: 22), was soon marred by the bitter fruit of sin. In the happiness of the coming kingdom, the Lord’s people will know no such bitterness, for “the Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from off all faces” (Is. 25: 8).
Yet this promised display of power, beneficence and joy cannot take place without deeper matters being addressed and settled. Thus while Genesis 3 tells us of the entrance of sin into the world, and the consequences of such disobedience, John 3 brings before us the remedy, and its blessed results. In both chapters we get God and man brought face to face. In the former it is the last meeting before they parted, never again to meet on earth as they had done (see Gen. 3: 8–24). In the latter, we learn how they can meet so as never again to part, if man will only hearken to the claims of God. At that meeting in Eden, God passed a sentence of death as the penalty of disobedience (see v19). At His interview with Nicodemus, the Saviour spoke of life eternal as the portion of those who believe (see John 3: 15).
Yet another point in these two narratives must be noticed. Genesis 3 tells us of a voluntary act on the part of Adam in wilfully taking of the forbidden fruit, and an act of necessity on the part of God in driving him out of Paradise, in case he should also take of the tree of life (see Gen. 3: 6, 22-24). John 3 tells us of a spontaneous act on the part of God in giving His Son (see vs 16, 17), and an act of necessity on the part of the Son of Man, in being “lifted up” (v14) to die. It was necessary to banish Adam from Eden to prevent him living forever in sin; it was necessary for Christ to be delivered up, in order that all who had sinned might have opportunity to live forever in God’s presence. The God who executed judgment on Adam (see Gen. 3: 17–19), is the same God who sent His Son into the world, not “that he may judge the world, but that the world may be saved through him” (John 3: 17).
There are more points of comparison. Previously, Adam had been placed by God in the garden “to till it and to guard it” (Gen. 2: 15), but Genesis 3 tells us how he betrayed that trust. As a result, the garden had now to be guarded from man (see Gen. 3: 24). By contrast, John 3 tells us of One in whom God has placed all His trust: “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things [to be] in his hand” (John 3: 35). Adam forfeited what he had; Christ has been given everything. Again, Genesis 3 relates how God told Adam that “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, until thou return to the ground: for out of it wast thou taken. For dust thou art; and unto dust thou shalt return” (v19). Adam was thus to be returned to the dust from which he had originated. John 3 tells us of another Man who has also returned from whence He came: “and no one has gone up into heaven, save he who came down out of heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven” (v13). The one man had his “origin in the earth”, the other Man “comes out of heaven” (v31), and has returned to the place to which He belongs.
The next subject that the writer of Genesis takes up is that of the family of Adam, and the respective sacrifices of Cain and Abel (see Gen. 4: 1–16). How to approach God with acceptance is a question of all importance for fallen creatures, and, of necessity, follows closely on the entrance of sin into the world. The parallel passage in the fourth chapter of John also deals with a sinner approaching God, but this time of one who had no sacrifice to bring (see John 4: 4–42). How to worship God rightly is a question which must follow closely on the unfolding of divine grace in the previous chapter.
Abel brought of his flock a sacrifice. In this he admitted his condition and acknowledged that death was his just desert as a sinner, and that life for one born in sin could only be procured by the death of another. But the need of a sacrifice was not the only consequence of the fall. Sin being in the world, its fruits are rapidly made apparent, not only entailing death for Adam and his descendants, but also bringing about the murder of Abel by his brother. Just as worship and death are the prominent subjects of Genesis 4, so worship and life are the leading themes of John 4.
How Abel learned of the divine requirement for sacrifice we are not told, though, it being “By faith” (Heb. 11: 4) means that he must have answered to a distinct message from God. By contrast, in John’s Gospel, we do find out how the true principles of acceptable worship were made known—and that to the last person in the world we might have imagined. To this poor sinful Samaritan woman (who had no real relationship with God) was unfolded the new and blessed relationship in which God will now stand to all that believe on the Son. If in Genesis 4 we learn simply about the acceptance of an offering by God, in John we get a clear advance, for on the basis of “one sacrifice for sins” (Heb. 10: 12), we learn that God is to be known as Father: “But [the] hour is coming and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for also the Father seeks such as his worshippers” (John 4: 23).
Moving on to the fifth chapter of Genesis, we see there in a very full way how the sentence of death pronounced in Eden was carried out on Adam and his descendants. “He died” (Gen. 5: 5, 8, 11 etc.) is the simple statement appended to the close of the lives of all but one of the names listed in Genesis 5, for “There is no man who hath control over the spirit to retain the spirit; and no one hath control over the day of death; and there is no discharge in that war, neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it” (Eccl. 8: 8). Furthermore, the one exception in the list is not an exception to the rule that no one can deliver himself from death, for it was God’s act, not Enoch’s effort that kept him from the grave (see Gen. 5: 24). Such is the helplessness of Adam’s race in the face of death.
Turning to the fifth chapter of John, we find death and the grave brought before us again, but how different the presentation! The grave closed on Adam and on all his children; the grave shall one day open at the voice of the Son of man: “Wonder not at this, for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall go forth; those that have practised good, to resurrection of life, and those that have done evil, to resurrection of judgment” (John 5: 28, 29). By Adam’s fall, death obtained power over all his offspring, but by the Lord Jesus it shall be swallowed up in victory and finally destroyed: “For since by man [came] death, by man also resurrection of [those that are] dead. For as in Adam all die, thus also in the Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15: 21, 22). How cheering that this enemy, which entered the world by one man, shall be overcome by another, better Man! Adam involved all in death, and that not merely of the body, but also in the eternal judgment of the soul—the “second death” (Rev. 20: 6). The Lord can not only give life in resurrection to the body, but He can also quicken souls: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that he that hears my word, and believes him that has sent me, has life eternal, and does not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, that an hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that have heard shall live” (John 5: 24, 25). If the “first man Adam became a living soul”, then “the last Adam” is “a quickening spirit” (1 Cor. 15: 45). One was made alive; the other makes alive.
With Genesis 5, the history of Adam closes. Of his career after the fall, beyond that he had sons and daughters, Scripture says nothing. We read in Hebrews 11 of a catalogue of worthies, but his name is not in the list. Adam’s future position, too, is shrouded in mystery, except that before Christ (whose genealogy in Luke 3 is traced up to Adam) he will one day stand. But of the last Adam, there is no uncertainty at all. The Lord Jesus, like the first man, passed out of this world by death, but we also know He lives, and lives for evermore (see Rev. 1: 18). He has life in Himself. “For even as the Father has life in himself, so he has given to the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5: 26). He has full authority from God, and all shall honour Him as they honour the Father (see v23). The place of pre–eminence, from which Adam fell, is filled, and more than filled, by Him. Another Man has been found to be set over the works of God’s hands, both worthy to be there and able to maintain His place. We, who never saw the first Adam as head of this creation, will see the last Adam wielding supreme power, and all creation brought into subjection to His sway.
What have we received from Adam? Of what have we to boast? For a nature, we have what is wholly corrupt and “not subject to the law of God” (Rom. 8: 7), and which cannot be changed. For an inheritance—a life of sorrow, “vanity and pursuit of the wind” (Eccl. 1: 14). For a prospect—death, that “house of assemblage for all living” (Job 30: 23). What did Adam give creation? All the living creatures were indeed named by him, but because of his sin, the ground was also cursed, and the creation made subject to vanity (see Gen. 3: 17; Rom. 8: 20). Blessed be God, this condition is not irremediable, for another Man has been found who was obedient unto death (see Phil. 2: 8). Through Him we receive, a nature which cannot sin, an inheritance which cannot fade away, and a prospect of a life which death cannot touch (see 1 John 3: 9; 1 Pet. 1: 4; John 11: 26). Furthermore, once received, these things cannot be rescinded. As for the wider creation, the curse upon it shall be removed and it shall be brought into “the liberty of the glory of the children of God” (see Rom. 8: 21).
Ruin, misery, death, follow the track of the first man; blessing, happiness, everlasting life, flow from the Second. Christ gives—gives to the unworthy, gives to the undone, and gives to sinners. Giving characterises Him. Adam only left to his posterity the awful and ruinous consequences of his sin (see Rom. 5: 12). The Lord, by great contrast, gives everything the sinner needs, and to His death we owe everything that we as saints shall enjoy throughout all eternity.