There’s a popular kind of media that I struggle to watch– the kind that fosters skin-crawling secondhand embarrassment. You know the type. You desperately want to look away but can’t. That’s how I feel sometimes when I read Genesis 3. It’s a horrific story that causes me to cringe, but I can’t look away.
The curtains close on Genesis 2 to a joyous melody; the curtains reopen for Genesis 3 and the atmosphere has noticeably shifted. The serpent is present; the serpent tempts; Adam and Eve sin. It’s tragic, truly. Paradise is now paradise lost.
The reader is invited into the story, to see that this is the common story of humanity. It is as much my fall as it is Adam’s. The secondhand pain of failure is inescapable as each of us is brought into the plot. And now, we’re all in search of rescue. Where is our help? Will there be good news for us, or are we doomed?
Thankfully, we don’t have to wait long for an answer. The first mention of the Gospel, contrary to what many might think, is not in the early pages of the New Testament. It’s in the early pages of Scripture as a whole. You might not notice it immediately if you’re on the lookout for words like “Jesus” or “cross” or “resurrection.” While all of those words are crucial to our understanding of how God’s plan to save sinners has unfolded, they aren’t the words that we see in Genesis 3.
Here is the earliest Gospel message recorded in Scripture: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (v.15).
Tucked in a set of consequences that God is outlining to the serpent, Eve, and Adam is this verse. Some people question why God didn’t intervene right when they sinned; I think the text is clear that he did. Although the details themselves are sparing at this point in the story, God is clear: the serpent will be defeated. Evil will be overcome by good. And this defeat will come at the hands of Eve’s own offspring, who we will later see is Jesus himself.
Let me walk you through how we see this.
The serpent, Satan, is promised that there would be future strife between his offspring and Eve’s offspring. On face value, this seems a bit vague, admittedly. Does this really point to Jesus, or is it a more vague promise that humans in general will defeat evil? With the latter view, our whole understanding of the Gospel would be undermined, as it would mean that we have the ability within ourselves to overcome evil.
But that’s not what the text is saying. The offspring of Eve here is not referring to all human beings in general. What we see throughout the entire Biblical text is that there is not only a physical element to the idea of offspring, but a spiritual element. Later, for instance, both Jesus and Paul will emphasize that Abraham’s descendents are descendents by faith, not blood. Look at Jesus’ words to the Jews in John 8: “They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did… You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (v.39-44). Paul adds this in Galatians: “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (3:7). The message is clear: the wicked are the serpent’s offspring and the righteous (by faith) are Eve’s offspring.
So, at the very least now, it’s evident that there will be a triumph of the righteous over the wicked, but the question remains if this is a collective victory of all righteous. Will the good people one day band together in one last hurrah– the few against the many– and win? Is this a story of the underdog sports team beating the best team in the nation off the power of friendship?
No. It’s not.
It’s the story of a single descendent rising up to defeat the serpent in combat. The underlying Hebrew sentence structure strongly suggests that this promised offspring is referring to an individual. This means that a manhunt has been set in motion the second we read Genesis 3:15. From that point forward, as we read our Bibles we ask the question, “Who will be this serpent-crusher?” By the time we get to the stories of Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, among others, we should be looking eagerly to see if they will be the promised one. With each one’s failures, our senses of both hope and desperation heighten as we scour the Bible’s pages, asking, “So where is he?”
This is the buildup of the entire Old Testament. God, in his grace, provides more and more details as to who this individual will be as the story unfolds. He will be a descendent of Abraham (Genesis 22:17-18); he will be a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-18); he will be in the line of David (2 Samuel 7:16).
When Jesus arrives on the scene, we hear the triumphal announcement of Mark: “The beginning of Jesus Christ, the son of God” (1:1). This is who we’ve been waiting for. This is our serpent crusher.
As the Gospel story unfolds, we see our serpent crusher crushed by crucifixion. Surely, this was a shock to all the onlookers of the day– even to us today who are appalled at the notion of a crucified savior– but here is where the words of Genesis 3:15 must echo in our ears: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Jesus was bruised. The cross was a fatal wound, but it wasn’t a final wound. But as for the serpent, he would be totally crushed.
The Revelation of John bookends the story. In chapter 20, we hear that Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where he will be tormented for eternity (v. 7-10). In chapters 21-22, in the great Garden City, there is no longer any serpent, but only God and his creatures in eternal bliss. Praise God.