Images of the Savior (3 -- The First Gospel)
After our first father Adam had rebelled against the word of God, thereby losing all of the blessings and privileges of the glorious state into which he had been created, and inheriting instead a most fearful curse, the promise of death, and an expectation of the terrible wrath of God; instead of receiving only the judgment which he deserved, he was immediately comforted with a promise so rich in the gospel truths of Christ, that theologians have long referred to it as the â€œprotoevangelium,â€ which is a designation meaning simply, â€œthe first gospelâ€. It would be hard to overestimate the importance of this first gospel promise: the rest of the scriptures, both in the old and new testaments, simply unfold the meanings which inhere in this brief statement, and make good upon the promises which it contains.
Earlier, God had given a solemn and irrevocable warning that disobedience would merit death and judgment; and because of the fall, his very righteousness, justice, and faithfulness demanded that this death and judgment come about. But now, at the issuance of this simple promise, the very righteousness, justice, and faithfulness that necessitated the exaction of punishment equally came to necessitate salvation and deliverance from that judgment, and ultimate victory over the serpent who had sown the seed which bore such tragic fruit. That God's very character now demanded both a curse and a blessing, both life and death, both judgment and deliverance, poses a dilemma which will take all of the scriptures and human history to resolve; and of the One in whom the dilemma would come to its resolution, so that God might remain just in his dealings with sin, and likewise be just in his promise to justify sinners (see Romans 3:26), it is immediately apparent that he must be absolutely unique and eminent in his person and office to undertake so monumental a task. In short, the first promise of a Savior, coming immediately after the first transgression of mankind, already requires an altogether strong and wonderful Messiah, the nature of whom, one might suspect, could be subsequently revealed and testified to in countless different ways, without the risk of ever reaching the bottom of his manifold excellencies. And today, after many thousands of years of history, this is an opinion which we are only confirmed in; and no doubt, we will continue to confirm the verdict throughout an eternity of plumbing the depths of this amazing Messiah and never coming to the bottom of his lovely person or redemptive love. What a Savior we have been introduced to so early in our journey through the scriptures!
But let us reflect a little further on this text. We see first that the Savior here promised would be human, that is, a true seed of the woman. Although â€œseedâ€ has sometimes a collective use, and then means no more than â€œoffspringâ€ in a general sense, it is clear that the sense here demands a solitary person that should be born of a woman, due to the unique nature of what is being said of him; and we are confirmed in this opinion by that designation â€œhe shall bruise your head,â€ which in the Hebrew is a masculine singular pronoun, whereas the grammar would have required a feminine pronoun if the collective sense were intended, inasmuch as the Hebrew for â€œseedâ€ is a feminine word. And it is most fitting that any Savior would have to be human: it was human failure that resulted in the curse, and only a human victory could accomplish what Adam had failed to accomplish. It was a human loss in that first struggle with the serpent, and only a human conquest could reverse the outcome. It was God's design for a human to rule the earth, and for his image to be displayed in a human, and many other things which necessitate that, if one were to reverse Adam's failure, he must be human himself. But most importantly, it was human death and judgment that Adam had merited, and that sentence had to be exacted upon a human. If the first promised Savior had not come as a human, he could not have been the Savior which God here promised.
Second, we see that this coming human would take up again the conflict between the woman and the serpent, which at the first had issued in such a disastrous result; for between this Seed and the serpent there would certainly be enmity. But likewise, we see that the Seed, even while accomplishing deliverance for some men, would also be at enmity with other men, who are here viewed as children of the serpent â€“ for it is not just the serpent, but also the serpent's â€œseedâ€ which would continue to be at enmity both with the woman and her Seed. Thus we see that the struggle which would ultimately issue in the destruction of the serpent would be carried on in two classes of people throughout world history. The serpent's collective seed would ever rage against the woman's collective seed, until the Seed of promise came to destroy both the serpent and his offspring. Thus when Christ was upon this earth, he called those men who opposed him the children of the devil, but those who trusted in him his own brothers and sisters (John 8:44; Matthew 12:48-50).
Third, we see that this Savior would be bruised by the serpent in his conflict. We have already noted that God's justice required human death, and this due to the victory of the serpent in his first struggle with mankind. Now we see that the serpent will indeed inflict a wound upon the promised Champion; and we have no reason but to suppose that this wound will indeed be the venomous sting that he had already shown, viz., bringing down upon him the wrath of God, and death. And so we have a strong indication from the beginning that the Messiah should be made to undergo the wrath of God against sin, and that the devil should have a hand in bringing this judgment about.
But fourth, we see that, notwithstanding this bruise, the Messiah should be finally victorious; in that, although he should receive but a bruise to the heel, he would deal out to the serpent a crushing blow to the head. And thus, in a figure, we obtain the first notable glimpse of what transpired on the cross, when the devil raged against the Messiah with all his venom, and slew him; but in that very act, he sealed his own fate: for the death of the cross became the means of free justification for mankind, and the blow which Satan there wrought was not final, God vindicating his Christ by raising him from the dead three days later, and putting all his enemies under his feet. So that, when the serpent struck the Savior in the heel, and poured out his blood on the cross, that very blood became the instrument by which Christ would put him to an open shame (Colossians 2:13-15), and cause all the seed of the woman whom he first defeated (which is the Church), to trample upon him in victory (see Romans 16:20).
Fifth, we see that this conflict would bring down the full effects of the curse upon the serpent and his seed, while entirely freeing the woman and her seed from all of its effects. Thus the very promise of deliverance for the woman, and the very hope of deliverance from wearisome toil for the man, is given in the form of a curse for the serpent and his seed. And so we see too, that while the blood of the cross brings absolute freedom and forgiveness to those who, through faith, certify that they belong to Christ indeed, and frees them from any curse of death or the wrath of God (see 1 Corinthians 15:54-57; Hebrews 2:14-15); yet to the one who despises that blood, it brings only a more fearful curse (see Hebrews 6:4-8).
Sixth, we see this truth illustrated most notably in the curse upon the woman, who had first been defeated by the devil: for her, the curse involved an increased sorrow and travail in childbirth, that is, in bringing forth seed. Now the promise of deliverance was in a coming Seed; but because of sin, the woman, who hoped in this Seed for deliverance, must be in great travail and sorrow until he should come into the world to deliver her. Thus it was that the Old Testament Church groaned in travail, being persecuted by the wicked seed of the serpent and groaning under the toilsome existence of the curse, until she had brought forth, as it were, the Messiah; and then she had abundant joy and consolation (see Revelation 12). This is why, when Christ told his disciples that he should be put to death, and they should grieve; and that he would then would then arise, and they should rejoice; that he compared the whole process to the labor of a woman giving birth, who is first in much travail, but afterward is filled with joy that a man is brought into the world (John 16:20-22). So the Church, in every age, is burdened with much toilsome trouble while the serpent's seed mocks on; but later, when the Christ appears, she rejoices, while her enemies are filled with great terror. This is the story of the Christ and his gospel work: and every time a woman gives birth in this cursed world, she acts out the gospel message â€“ which shows just how deeply ingrained this first promise is in the very fabric of existence in this world. And this is also why it is said, somewhat enigmatically, by the apostle Paul, that the woman would be saved through childbearing (1 Timothy 2:14-15).
And so it is that, woven into the very fabric of the fearful curse that God brought upon mankind, after they had rebelled against his word, was a glorious promise of a unique and wonderful Savior, who should bring down the full measure of the curse upon that arch-enemy, the serpent, together with all his seed, but at the same time deliver the woman and her seed from the enmity of the serpent and the just wrath of God. This first glimpse of the promised Messiah is already staggering in its manifold and wonderful proportions; but it is still as the first faint ray of the dawn, that glimmers upon a dark and gloomy horizon before the sun has risen in all its strength. Ah, how beautiful will the daylight be, when the Sun which shed forth such a beautiful ray has come up in all its strength? Ah, what a Savior shall we meet with then?