The eschatological man:

The gospel according to the metanarrative of Scripture

Ty Gibson is pastor of Storyline Seventh-day Adventist Church, Eugene, Oregon, United States, and speaker and director for Light Bearers ministry in Collegedale, Tennessee, United States.

When Paul calls Jesus “the last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45),1 it is not incidental language that the apostle casually employs. “The last Adam” is, in fact, a corporate title for Christ that alerts us to the fact that a macroscopic and prototypical remake of human identity has been achieved in Him. By reaching all the way back to Adam for his framing of the gospel, Paul has informed us that it is the retelling of the human story in the person of Christ.

The Greek word translated as “last” is eschatos. According to Paul, Christ is the Eschatological Man. As “the last Adam,” He is the new corporate head of humanity, having stepped into the position vacated by “the first man Adam” (v. 45). Thus, He is the last man because He is the first man of a new order that turns out to be the ancient pre-Fall one forfeited by Adam.

Christ is the quintessential human in the sense that He is the perfect attainment of human potential as God originally intended. In Him, we see the fully realized state of redeemed humanity as it will be in its final and eternal form. Finally, He is man as human beings were meant to be and ultimately will be at the glorious teleological end to which the salvific gospel maneuvers our fatally wounded race.

The backstory

The New Testament generally and Paul’s theology in particular most robustly present a seamless continuum that completes the narrative of the Old Testament.

God “created” Adam and Eve in “His own image” and gave them the dignifying vocation of “ ‘dominion over’ ” the “ ‘earth’ ” (Gen. 1:27, 28). He charged them with a delightful task: “ ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ ” (v. 28). So Adam, with no small amount of help from Eve, was able to procreate “in his own likeness, after his image” (Gen. 5:3).

Creation and procreation—that is how the biblical narrative begins. Adam and Eve carried the image of God in their essential makeup and range of employment. It included the capacity for responsible self-governance. They would be stewards of their own domain. Biologically engineered as complementary counterparts, male and female, Adam and Eve possessed the godlike capacity of procreation. The couple was to reproduce in their own image as the means by which the image of God would be replicated in one procreative family unit after another until the whole earth would be populated with men and women bearing the image of God. They were to govern from the relational premise of other centeredness, transmitting the image of God from generation to generation, thus perpetuating a benevolent lordship of the world.

The Fall

Unfortunately, a subtle yet hostile foreign force invaded Earth. The fallen angel, formerly known as Lucifer, commandeered the serpent as his medium. Through it, he told a threefold falsehood (Gen. 3:1–5):

God is a liar.

God is restrictive.

God is self-serving.

By a volitional mental act of belief, a distorted picture of God became assimilated into the psychology of the first humans, corrupting the procreation enterprise at its source. Having been created in the image of God and intended to love as God loves, they now chose the principle of selfishness, thereby inaugurating a new governing system. Since the couple possessed “dominion” over the earth, the fall of humanity was both moral and governmental. When Adam and Eve yielded to Satan’s self-as-center philosophy of existence, they handed him the world. A nonhuman adversary became “ ‘the ruler of this world’ ” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4), the chief influencer of the world system (Eph. 2:2). Satan is the spiritual force that feeds the selfish impulses of humanity, which led to the formation of the various social, economic, political, and ideological systems of selfishness and hate. “We know,” John says, “that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19).

The promise

But that was not the end of the story. Immediately after Satan took control of the world, God issued a prophetic warning to him in the presence of Adam and Eve:

“I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;

he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15, NIV).

The first gospel promise is also a declaration of war. Through the womb of a woman, God would send forth a Warrior who was to crush the head of Satan under His heel and be wounded in the process. All of Scripture from this point forward takes the shape of an expanding body of expository commentary on this single prophetic promise. To work out the gospel plan, God had to establish a lineage through which the Promised One would enter the world to face the adversary in battle.

First came the call of Abraham, to whom God promised,

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:2, 3, NIV).

With Abraham, there began a lineage through which the promised Warrior would be born. Abraham and Sarah bore Isaac. Isaac and Rebekah bore Jacob, whose 12 sons became the nation of Israel. Then came David, the Messianic king (Ps. 2).

By His life of perfect love for God and humanity, Jesus reintroduced into the world the governing principle of self-giving love by which God intended the world to operate all along.

Promise kept

The entire Hebrew story, recorded in the Old Testament, exists for the purpose of mapping out the covenant lineage through which the promised Savior would emerge. It is unsurprising, then, that the New Testament would open with these words: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1).

While Matthew’s Gospel reaches back to Abraham for its narrative rooting, Luke’s Gospel traces it all the way to Adam: “Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli . . . the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:23, 38).

As the first and only directly created man, Adam was the “son of God” in a primary sense and, therefore, the one individual through whom all procreated humans would be born. With this narrative context in view, Luke presents Christ’s encounter with Satan as a repeat of the original human clash with the adversary: “Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, ‘All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours’ ” (Luke 4:5–7).

As a direct reference to the fall of Adam and Eve, Satan claims that the world was “delivered” to him. The first couple abdicated their dominion of Earth and gave it to the usurper. Now, as the ruler of our world, Satan offers all the kingdoms of Earth to Christ if He is willing to occupy a secondary position below himself. Jesus refuses it for one very simple and monumentally profound reason: as the Second Adam, He fully intends to take the world back from Satan’s dominion and reestablish, in Himself, human rulership of Earth.

Christ later tells a story that summarizes His Messianic mission: “ ‘When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils. He who is not with Me is against Me’ ” (Luke 11:21–23).

Echoing Genesis 3:15, Jesus declares war on the kingdom of evil. He depicts Satan as “a strong man, fully armed,” guarding Earth as “his own palace.” Then Jesus introduces Himself as the one who is “stronger than he.” He is here to disarm and defeat Satan, He explains, and then He draws sharp battle lines by announcing, “He who is not with Me is against Me.” It is a zero-sum game in which He will completely overcome Satan, and the Earth, as the spoils of war, will be returned to human rule.

Good news, not good advice

As the primary theological practitioner of the gospel, Paul worked out the implication of the Adamic mission of Christ. The gospel, he says, consists of a single historical event that operates as the new genesis of a new humanity. The life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ constitute an embodied narrative that embraces all of humanity. This is “the gospel,” the apostle declares, “by which also you are saved” (1 Cor. 15:1, 2). As a self-contained historical occurrence, the Christ event constitutes the gospel because He fully achieved the redemption of humanity in Himself. Hence, Paul speaks in the past tense of “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). “For if by the one man’s offense many died,” the apostle reasons, “much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many” (Rom. 5:15).

Jesus lived a perfect life of love, died for our sins, rose from the dead, and ascended to the victory position at the right hand of God, all as a human being, as “the last Adam,” who, in effect, replaces “the first man Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45). In the person of Christ, a fully realized human being now occupies the throne of the universe, where He awaits our arrival to “reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12). Thus, Jesus is the one human in whom all humans are now represented and into whom all are now invited.

The redemption achieved in Christ must not be confused with the doctrine of universalism, which postulates that all human beings will eventually possess the salvation achieved for them in Christ. Rather, Paul’s thinking is grounded in the biblical narrative of Adam as the representative head of the human race. So, then, while it can be said with biblical accuracy that humanity, as a kind, is redeemed in an objective and represented sense in Christ, it does not mean that every human being will be saved in a subjective and experiential sense.

Paul’s point is not that every person will be eternally saved but that no new salvational data can be added to what Christ has already achieved for humanity. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8–10). Notice that the apostle says that all the “good works” manifested in our lives were “prepared beforehand” in Christ. We manufacture nothing additional, but rather, we live both from and into the moral realities already actualized in Christ—humanity’s eschatological ideal.

Perhaps we can better grasp the point of it all by pondering the following hypothetical outcome: even if every human being were to say no to the salvation achieved for them in Christ, an actual specimen of the human race already occupies the throne of the universe. One of us, a member of the human race, is there, right now, with the Father. That is why salvation is by faith alone and not by works. We apprehend the facts of the gospel—we do not make those facts. By faith, we appropriate the already-existing data of salvation while generating no new data. Therefore, the gospel is good news, not good advice. It proclaims salvation as an already accomplished historical reality in the new Adam rather than prescribing self-help instructions for our own self-actualization.

By His life of perfect love for God and humanity, Jesus reintroduced into the world the governing principle of self-giving love by which God intended the world to operate all along. By His death on the cross, He defeated Satan by loving all others above and before Himself, even to the point of complete self-sacrifice. Explaining the significance of His upcoming death on the cross, Jesus said to His disciples, “ ‘Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out’ ” (John 12:31). Paul expounded further: “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15, NIV). While it may have looked as if Christ was defeated at the cross, He was actually triumphant by virtue of the fact that He died with God’s love fully intact within His human nature. Therefore, “by his death,” He broke “the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14, NIV). “ ‘God raised up’ ” Christ from death, “ ‘because it was not possible that He should be held by it’ ” (Acts 2:24). His resurrection was the triumph of the principle of love over selfishness.

The proclamation

“Then comes the end”—the telos—“when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24). Once the gospel plays out to its ultimate teleological end, the Eschatological Man, Christ Jesus, will have vanquished the entire world system as we know it. The total psycho-edifice of abusive power structures will be reduced, along with “the rulers of this age,” to an absolute and irrevocable “nothing” (1 Cor. 2:6).

In the light of His victory, Jesus explained that there is only one thing left to do: Go and tell the good news; go and make disciples. He says: “ ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’ ” (Matt. 28:18–20).

We carry to the world the best news imaginable:

Jesus is Lord!

Love is triumphant!

Human identity is re-created and thus redeemed in Christ!

He has defeated the enemy and brought the world back under human dominion. The victory is not ours to achieve but, rather, ours to enjoy and proclaim. As we believe the gospel, we are deployed as nonviolent warriors of love to reclaim the territory won by Christ, the territory of human hearts and minds and lives, and, eventually, the whole earth as the eternal domain of the redeemed.

  1. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture is from the New King James Version.

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Ty Gibson is pastor of Storyline Seventh-day Adventist Church, Eugene, Oregon, United States, and speaker and director for Light Bearers ministry in Collegedale, Tennessee, United States.

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