At first sight the subject now before us may seem to belong rather to the superstructure of the faith than the foundations: but it is not so. It is truly fundamental, and this we shall see as we proceed.
Both expressions which head this chapter are found in the course of the great argument on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. If their force is to be grasped, verses 35–49 should be read.
The point raised in these verses is as to the body in which the risen saints will appear, and the Apostle shows that though there is identity preserved between the body that is buried and the body that is raised, yet in condition and character the risen body will be altogether new. As to condition, the former is marked by corruption, dishonor, and weakness, the latter by incorruption, glory, and power. As to character, the former is a natural body, the latter a spiritual body.
The next fact that confronts us is that just as there is a natural and a spiritual body so there is a natural and a spiritual race. “The first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam…a quickening spirit” (v. 45).
Adam is presented to us in Scripture as the original progenitor of the human race. He came fresh from God’s hand as recorded in Genesis 2:7; his body formed out of the dust, but receiving the spiritual part of his constitution by God’s in-breathing, and in this way becoming a living soul. This threefold nature of man is clearly stated in 1 Thessalonians 5:23. What characterized Adam’s position in creation was, however, that he was a living soul—a living soul, we may say, possessing spirit as well as body. The last Adam, who is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, bears an infinitely higher character. He is “spirit” rather than “soul”; and not merely “living” but “quickening” or “life-giving.”
Here there breaks out upon us the true Divine glory of the Lord Jesus. He is a Spirit—so is God.He is life-giving because He is the Life-Giver. “Am I God to kill, and to make alive?” asked the distracted King of Israel (2 Kings 5:7). No; he was not; but Jesus was and is. But then He who is the life-giving Spirit is the last Adam, that is, really and truly Man; the Head and Source of a new race of mankind, having stamped upon it the character of spiritual as definitely as the character natural is stamped upon the first Adam and his race.
Notice, too, that He is “the last Adam.” The contrast here is between the first and the last, not the first and the second. Why last? Evidently because that word excludes the idea that any third or subsequent race can ever be needed or enter upon the scene. “He takes away the first that He may establish the second,” is what Hebrews 10:9 says. He never takes away the second in favor of a third! The second is established. The last Adam abides without rival or successor, for perfection—Divine perfection and not merely human—is reached in Him.
The forty-sixth verse of our chapter points out the historic order of the two Adams. First the natural, then the spiritual; though, of course, in importance and in the thoughts and purposes of God, the last was always first.
Verse 47 again speaks of the two heads, emphasizing the condition that marked them rather than their respective characters, as in verse 45. The one is “of the earth, earthy,” or as it may be translated, “out of the earth, made of dust.” The other is “out of heaven.” In this verse they are termed “the first man” and “the second Man”; not this time “the first” and “the last.” Now why is it second? Because here, where Christ’s manhood rather than His headship is before us, the object of the Spirit of God is to exclude every other man. After the first Adam and until the last Adam historically appeared no man counted at all. The last Adam was the second man, and not Cain, as we might have supposed.
Who and what, then, was Cain? Simply Adam reproduced. Adam “begat…in his own likeness, after his image” (Genesis 5:3). “In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him” (Genesis 5:1). This likeness, alas, was marred by the Fall, and it was not until he was a fallen creature that Adam begat “in HIS OWN likeness. He reproduced his fallen self both morally and physically. Hence from the point of view of this passage in 1 Corinthians 15 there was nothing but “the first man” until the appearance of Christ, who is the second. Adam was a marvelous and complex being, and every one of his millions of descendants during that time was an individual with characteristics that showed on the surface, if we may so put it, some fresh permutation or combination of the many features which make up the Adamic nature; yet fundamentally all were one in both nature and character.
At this point we may perhaps appreciate more fully the immense importance of the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ was born of a Virgin. There was a hint of this great fact in the first prediction concerning Him ever given. It was the Lord God Himself who spoke of “the woman” and “her seed” (Genesis 3:15). Hence, “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” (Galatians 4:4), yet conceived under the direct action of the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:35). Therefore, it is that while the Deliverer was by the woman, He was not an ordinary son of Adam at all. The virgin birth means that the Lord Jesus while truly Man was yet a Man of a new order.
Verse 48 turns to the two races, ranged respectively under the two heads, stating that the earthy race of the first man partakes of the character and position of Adam; the heavenly race of that of Christ. To understand rightly the race, we must therefore rightly understand the head.
Verse 49 links on the truth of the preceding verses with the great theme of the chapter, that is to say, resurrection, by showing that the identity between the last Adam and His race is to be complete even as to the physical body. We certainly have borne the image of Adam in our physical bodies. So shall we certainly bear the image of the last Adam, the heavenly Man. Our resurrection bodies will be fashioned in conformity with His body of glory.
The latter part of Romans 5, beginning at verse 12, should also be read. Here we find the spiritual results flowing from the characteristic actions of the two heads. Adam’s characteristic action was disobedience, whilst obedience even to the death of the Cross characterized Christ. From Adam’s sin there flowed death and condemnation. From Christ’s obedience to death flows life and justification. The main line of the Apostle’s argument runs straight from verse 12 to verse 18. Verses 13 to 17 are parenthetical, running like a loop line between the same two points and giving details which show that what is offered in Jesus Christ the risen Head of the new order cannot be confined to any section of humanity, such as Israel. It must be as universal as the calamity it is designed to overcome. Moreover, the blessings thus introduced are of a nature to meet, and more than meet, the penalties incurred by Adam’s fall.
Verses 18 and 19 are important as summing up the whole matter. One distinction which is not quite clear in our excellent Authorized Translation should be noted. We quote therefore from the New Translation of the late J. N. Darby. Verse 18 deals with “one offence towards all men to condemnation” and “one righteousness towards all men for justification of life.” Verse 19 states that “the many have been constituted sinners” and “the many will be constituted righteous.”
In these words, we observe the same distinction as we have before seen when sins were in question in Romans 3:22. It is a question of sin—the nature—here, but again the bearing of Christ’s one righteousness, consummated in His death, is distinguished from its actual effect. Its bearing is towards all with justification as the objective, only here the justification is not contemplated as being from offences, but rather as being “justification of life.” The former is, of course, perfect and absolute, but somewhat negative in its bearing, that is, by it we lose both guilt and condemnation. The latter is more positive and indicates the full and perfect clearance that is the portion of every believer by virtue of his standing in the life and consequently nature of the risen Christ as Man. It might have pleased God to clear us from the guilt of our sins without cutting the old links with the fallen Adam and implanting us in the risen Christ. This further great favor is, however, ours as believers, and consequently we are now “constituted righteous.” While we are in this world the old nature with its unchanged tendencies is still in us, as other scriptures show; but in this verse the Spirit of God is contemplating what we are in Christ as God sees us.
Romans 8:1 sums up this section of the epistle and reverts to the truth we have just considered. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” If it stated that in the day of judgment we believers should escape condemnation, that would be wonderful. What it does state, however, is that there is NOW no condemnation. The condemnation has been borne and exhausted as far as we are concerned, and we are now in the life of the risen Christ and as clear of condemnation therefore as He is.
A great many Christians, we fear, have never seriously considered this important side of truth. It deals with life and nature rather than with the overt acts in which life and nature express themselves, or, as we commonly say, with what we are rather than with what we have done, and hence it is not quite so easy of apprehension. Still, it really conducts us to that which is the secret of the profound blessedness that characterizes Christianity, and we are great losers if we ignore it.
What is the difference between “the first man” and “the old man?”
The first man, as the context in 1 Corinthians 15 shows, is Adam personally, if the expression be taken in its primary sense. There is, however, a secondary sense, as is clear from the fact that we do not meet with the second man until Christ appears. How then shall we designate the millions of humanity that came between? They were all “first man” in character; so that in a secondary sense “the first man” covers Adam and his race.
The “old man,” on the other hand, is a purely abstract conception. It does not indicate any particular human being or group of human beings, but rather is the personification of all those moral features which characterize fallen Adam and his race. It is the fallen Adamic character personified.
“In Christ” is a phrase often met with in Paul’s Epistles. What, in a few words, is its significance?
As 1 Corinthians 15:22 shows, it is an expression in contrast with “in Adam.” We are all “in Adam” by nature, that is, we originate from him and stand before God in exactly his nature, position, and status. The believer is “in Christ” by grace, inasmuch as we owe our real and spiritual existence to His quickening action as the last Adam. We therefore stand before God in exactly the nature, position, and status of the risen Christ, as Man.
We might use the process of grafting as an illustration, if at liberty to exactly reverse what is actually carried out by the gardener. He grafts the good into the worthless, whereby the worthless is condemned, and the good dominates and characterizes the tree. In Romans 11 grafting is used as an illustration of God’s dispensational dealings with Jews and Gentiles, and the Apostle points out in verse 24 that he uses the figure in a way “contrary to nature” by supposing the wild olive branch grafted into the good olive tree and thereby partaking of the virtues of the good. This is the adaptation of the process we want for our illustration. The Christian is one disconnected from the “Adam” stock by God’s work and grafted into Christ, partaking of His fulness. He is “in Christ,” though the flesh is still in him.
Does “in Christ” then only refer to the believer’s new position or status before God?
If the early part of Romans 8 be read, we find that verse 1 gives us “in Christ,” but this is followed in verses 8 and 9 by, “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.”
Now “in the Spirit” is as clearly contrasted with “in the flesh” as “in Christ” is with “in Adam,” and it indicates the new condition or state which corresponds to the position in Christ.
Now these two things, though distinct and distinguished thus in Scripture, are not to be disconnected. There is no such thought as a person being in Christ and not “in Spirit,” nor vice versa. They are two parts of one whole. Speaking generally, we may say, then, that the expression “in Christ” often covers the fact of our new state as “in Spirit”; yet if we come to a closer analysis, as in Romans 8:1–9, it mainly refers to the believer’s new position rather than his new condition.
Has all this anything to do with that “new creation” of which Scripture speaks?
It certainly has. It says, “if any man be in Christ he is a new creature” or “there is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
New creation clearly does not mean the destruction of personality or identity. If that reversed form of grafting—“contrary to nature”—of which Romans 11 speaks could be carried out in nature we should see the once wild olive bearing good fruit, and generally behaving as the cultivated stock. It would indeed be newly created, yet the identity of the engrafted twig would remain.
Still, it is creation: as positive a work of God as the creation of Genesis as Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to good works…” To be God’s workmanship is a wonderful thing.
The first man is evidently superseded by the second Man. When did this take place?
If we consider things from the standpoint of God’s purpose, He never had any but the Second before Him. We never were chosen in Adam in any sense whatever. God has “chosen us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).
If, however, we consider things from our standpoint, we may say that the true character of the first man was fully revealed at the Cross. There he was judged, and at the same moment the perfection of the second Man also came fully to light and He was glorified (see John 13:31). Historically, therefore, the Cross was the supreme moment. The first was judged and superseded by the Second, who was tested to the uttermost and raised from the dead.
In the new heaven and new earth of Revelation 21:1–7 new creation will characterize the whole scene. “Behold I make all things new” is the word.
The supersession of the first by the second will then be absolute and complete.