October 8, 2009

Grace and Judgment in Genesis 3

2009 1528 page25 capN GENESIS 3, AFTER THE FALL, THE LORD’S OPENING WORDS WERE ALL interrogatives, questions: “Where are you? . . . Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? . . . What is this you have done?” (Gen. 3:9, 11, 13).
God’s first declarative statement in that chapter, a statement of fact, follows these questions. Speaking to the serpent (Satan) He declares: “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And 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” (verses 14, 15).
God’s first declarative statement to the fallen world, then, is a condemnation of Satan; yet even in that condemnation He gives humanity the gospel (verse 15). As He declares Satan’s doom He proclaims humankind’s hope. Despite their sin, the Lord immediately revealed to Adam and Eve the promise of redemption.
2009 1528 page25Notice, too, that only after this promise, only after hope of grace and salvation is given in verse 15 (known also as the “first gospel promise”) does the Lord pronounce judgment on Adam and Eve: “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing. . . .’ To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife. . . .’” (Gen. 3:16, 17).
Don’t miss this point: The promise of salvation came first, followed by judgment. Only against the backdrop of the gospel does judgment come; otherwise, judgment would mean nothing but condemnation.
In Genesis 1 and 2 God uttered declarative statements: “Let there be light” (1:3). “Let the land produce living creatures” (1:24). “It is not good for the man to be alone” (2:18). All these declarations deal with Creation, and with establishing humanity in that Creation. The next declarative statement recorded in the Bible occurs in Genesis 3:14, 15, in which the Lord offered humanity the gospel. Thus, in Scripture, God’s initial declarative statements deal with Creation and then with redemption—and that redemption occurs in the context of judgment itself. It would have to. After all, what’s the purpose of the gospel, what’s the “good news” if there were no judgment, no condemnation from which to be spared? The very concept of the gospel carries within itself the concept of condemnation—a condemnation we don’t have to face. That’s the “good news”! Though we have violated God’s law, and though God will judge those violations, in Christ Jesus we are spared the condemnation that this judgment would, inevitably, bring.
Gospel and judgment appear not only in the early pages of the Bible but in the latter pages as well. “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water’” (Rev. 14:6, 7).
Here, too, is a declaration of God as the Creator, a key theme in the opening pages of Genesis. In Revelation 14, however, the “eternal gospel” comes first, followed by the announcement of judgment, as in Genesis 3. Judgment’s there, but not before the gospel.
Thus, the foundation of our present truth message has to be grace, the good news that though we deserve condemnation, we stand pardoned, purified, and justified through Jesus. Otherwise, our message would be—what? Judgment is coming and you’re toast because you have violated God’s law. Without the gospel, our destiny would be the same as the serpent’s and his seed, not the destiny of the woman and hers. And, fascinatingly enough, these sacred truths appear even in Eden, in God’s first declarative words to a fallen world. 
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. He’s also featured on the Hope Channel’s program CLIFF! (Published October 8, 2009).