In every war throughout the history of mankind, there have been significant battles that would end up being the turning of the tide, for good or ill. These skirmishes have gone on to ultimately shape the course of history as we know it. Think the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, Napoleon’s demise at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the Battle of Midway in 1942, or the Battle of Stalingrad, taking place over the course of 6 months between 1942–43, which resulted in the devastating loss of Nazi soldiers and resources in their misguided quest to conquer the Soviet Union. These battles, though seemingly uneventful at the time, have now reconfigured the arena of power in the world. We can look back on them and recognize both the little things that led up to them and the big things that would result from them.
There are two other battles, though, that took place on this earth that no historian mentions. Two battles that are of no small consequence, and, indeed, are the most significant conflicts this world has ever witnessed. It is in these two battles that the sum of human existence is found, both man’s defeat and his deliverance.
The scene of the first battle is a garden, the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3 is a linchpin chapter of the Bible, the events of which have affected the lives of every person who’s ever existed since that fateful day. Everything we experience in this life goes back to the events of Genesis 3 and what is known as “The Fall.” Adam and Eve are in paradise, living and breathing the very presence of God, experiencing and enjoying intimate fellowship with him. And it’s in this paradise that cosmic conflict would soon ensue.
Eve is tempted of the Serpent, made to doubt the very words of God. The one commandment was called into question. (Gn 2:16–17), the enticement of eye-opening knowledge, and the idea of being “like God” are too alluring to resist. (Gn 3:4–5) The disputed instruction is broken, with both Adam and Eve conceding to the Serpent’s charm. They eat of the forbidden fruit and the fabric of creation is upset. Guilt enters the world, shame rears its ugly head. Pride wrests the crown from peace and begins to excuse its name. Pain comes onto the stage and sweat begins its beading. The first battle for the universe was fought and won by sin, the Serpent ruling the day and thrusting the good world into devastation and curses.
There’s not much hope in the aftermath of this first battle. The garden is closed off, the fellowship forever broken, and the sweet peace of life is in disarray. It would seem as though this story is unlike any other, in that evil gets the victory, with no “happily ever after” in view. But the story doesn’t end there. The Creator makes sure of that. The night won’t last forever. Soon the day will come. And as the second battle will show, this is merely the dark before the dawn. The victory in the wilderness undoes the failure in the garden.
The scene of the second battle is a desert, a “a desolate land, a barren, howling wilderness.” (Dt 32:10) In Matthew 4, we find another keystone passage of the Bible in which the Son of God is tempted by Satan. After forty days and nights of fasting, Jesus is famished and weak. (Mt 4:2) Led by the Spirit, the Son is met by the Accuser whose intents are only to thwart the plans of the Father’s salvation. The devil offers Christ a series of temptations (Mt 4:1–11), tests into which he leads the Son and by which he endeavors to deceive and disqualify him from being the sinless Savior the world needed. But where the Accuser hoped to sabotage the Father’s program of redemption, he merely served to bring it about in all the more brilliance. Because, you see, the Son isn’t deceived. Christ is not defeated. For every test the Tempter hurls at him, the Son endures triumphantly. Unlike the first Adam, the second Adam vanquishes the Seducer. The victory in the wilderness undoes the failure in the garden.
The first Adam’s defeat points us to a better deliverer to come. What the first Adam couldn’t do in paradise, the Second does in a desert. With all the opulence of the Garden around him, the first Adam plunged the world into sin and desolation. You see, the Bible would be all doom and gloom if it stopped before Genesis 3:15. But with a mere 27 words, God the Father ensures that the story’s not over. He’s not done with this world. Sin will not reign forever. Darkness may have its night but it will not rule the day. In Genesis 3:15, God promises to rid the world of sin and Satan, death and hell. He puts his seal on the Serpent’s demise, giving the promise of the bruised head before the bruised heel, thereby guaranteeing that the triumph of the Son would outshine the tragedy of the fall. For the one great disease of the world (sin), God the Father offers the one great eternal cure (his Son).
You see, if you reject the notion that you’re represented in Adam, you have no part in being represented by Christ, because Adam’s fall points us to the faith of the true and better Adam. The results of the first Adam’s sin are erased by the second Adam’s salvation. And where the first Adam brought us into the wilderness, the second Adam enters this bleak, dismal, and devastated wasteland to win back what’s rightfully his. By one transgression, all mankind fell; but by one transaction, all mankind are raised. By one man, we are condemned to judgment; by one Savior, we are cleared and acquitted. The temptation of the second Adam is the undoing of the first Adam’s transgression. And in every point where Adam failed, Jesus succeeds. (Rom 5:18–19) Jesus sweats blood from his brow in a garden, wears the crown of thorns on his head, and dies to the dust of the earth, thereby conquering every curse laid down by the fall. All of creation is saved both by the promise in a garden and the performance in a desert.
Jesus’s victory over Satan in the desert is the beginning of his disarmament of darkness. It’s the siren of sin’s denouement, ultimately leading us to the watershed battle for the cosmos, fought on a tiny speck of a planet, on a ratty Roman cross. The trouncing of the Accuser in the wilderness is there for you. The righteousness fulfilled that day wasn’t Christ’s, it was yours! (Mt 3:15) Your righteousness was on the line! The Son of God wasn’t necessarily modeling the way to fight back the devil’s darts, he was winning your deliverance, securing the victory into which you’re invited to share and rest and rejoice. The righteousness in which you stand at this moment was first promised for you in a garden, won for you in a desert, and sealed for you on a cross. So rejoice, Christian, because the battles you face today were already won by the true and better Adam.