The pages of the New Testament open with a genealogy for a reason. As we’ve seen, the story of God throughout the Old Testament is the story of failed Adam-replacements. Every time God offered a new person the chance to succeed where Adam had failed, the person also failed. The genealogy in Matthew’s first chapter, then, offers us a look back across the whole field of people who, despite inheriting God’s promise, didn’t succeed in fixing humanity. But the genealogy carries with it a note of hope.
The list of names makes the statement: Each person had the chance to be the one we’ve been waiting for—Adam’s true heir and the redeemer of the human race. And now that list has brought us to the son of a virgin in Nazareth. Maybe he will succeed where everyone else fell short.
But, as we said, it doesn’t seem God will find a new Adam by picking humans from the available pool. Instead, the Old Testament—especially the prophets—make it clear that something’s broken in humanity: whenever humans are given the choice to trust God or go their own away, they always end up choosing autonomy over submission. Humanity, it seems, needs to be remade. In the Gospels, the author of the text introduces us to the final new Adam, but he’s different than all the ones who went before him.
In his book On the Incarnation, Early church father Athanasius offered an illustration of the problem that the Old Testament presents, as well as how Jesus is the solution:
You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself, and seek out His lost sheep, even as He says in the Gospel: “I came to seek and to save that which was lost” (On the Incarnation, 3.13).
Jesus is God. And as a result, he’s the only one who can model humanity the way it was intended to be. Where Adam had failed in his commission to live in obedient submission to God and rule the earth, Jesus shows up on the scene as our one true hope. He is the new Adam capable of succeeding where every one of his human ancestors had already failed. He is also the God-Man; his divinity is necessary to recreate humanity, because humanity itself was modeled on divinity.
So when Jesus enters the story, we already anticipate great things from him. The whole of the Old Testament looked for the arrival of Adam’s rightful heir, and, with Jesus, we now have him. Throughout his mission on earth, Jesus regularly faces the same issues that plagued the human race: temptation to go his own way, to mistrust God, to establish his own name. But over and over again Jesus succeeds where Adam and Adam’s children failed.
For the first time since the fall of creation, true humanity walked the earth again in Jesus. And the earth recognized her rightful king. Everything we see in the Gospels—from Jesus casting out demons (invaders into his sovereign territory) to calming the storm—flows not simply from Jesus’s divinity but also from his position as the true, human ruler of creation. In perfect submission to the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus lived as humanity was meant to. And, as a result, he undid the failure of Adam.
But his victory isn’t complete only in living the way he should. In the end, God’s justice in light of humanity’s sin had to be satisfied. It wouldn’t simply go away simply because Jesus lived properly. Death itself had to be unmade. In a garden much like the one in the beginning of the story, Adam’s heir wrestled with the same temptation his forebears had—to step out on his own and do things his own way. Three times he went to God and asked if the task set before him could be changed. Three times he bent his will to submit. Three times he claimed victory where Adam failed. From there, the cross was a foregone conclusion.
In the end, Jesus—the perfect human over whom death had no claim—went willingly to his death. In doing so, he satisfied the justice of God and proved that perfect obedience was worth it. God vindicated his son in the resurrection, demonstrating to everything in heaven and on earth that, through Jesus, death no longer had a claim on humanity. Adam’s curse was broken.
When we talk about Jesus today, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of thinking about him only as the divine condescending to our “level” in order to transact some kind of bargain on our behalf. But the whole story of the Bible paints a much more profound picture. In Jesus, humanity was reforged into the glorious thing it was in the beginning. In Jesus, we see the fulfillment of the commission God gave Adam: to rule the earth and subdue it; to care for creation and keep it; and, in obedience to God, to live untouched by death.
Death died, the curse crumbled, and humanity awoke to the light of renewal in the image of Jesus—the image God intended for it from the beginning. In Jesus humanity not only sees itself but it also sees God. Jesus is the perfect representation of the invisible God. In him we know both ourselves and our creator. In him we see restored relationship with God. In him we see life eternal. In him we see hope.