I used to think that the story of Adam and Eve in Eden was a lovely start to the Bible but not that relevant to the rest of the Bible or the story of Jesus. But I’ve come to see that I was wrong! The story of Adam and Eve, the two trees in the garden and the snake sets up the whole narrative of our faith.
So how is that?
Well, let’s take a brief look in this post and see.
The story of the garden
The story of the garden is familiar to most people but let’s remind ourselves of the essential elements. God creates Adam and Eve and puts them in a garden where everything is good. God wants Adam and Eve to rule over and care for His creation. And He tells them that they can eat eat (that’s how the Hebrew emphasises that they can ‘freely eat’) of all the trees in the garden. Especially the Tree of Life which will, as they eat, imbue them with the wisdom of God.
But there’s another tree right beside the Tree of Life called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. And God warns Adam and Eve that they should not eat from this tree because, if they do, they will die die (surely die.)
Well, you know how the story goes.
Adam and Eve are happy in the garden with God. But then a snake appears and persuades Eve that God is trying to hold something back from Adam and Eve. And so she eats from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. And then Adam eats too.
After this, evil and death are unleashed. God banishes Adam and Eve from the garden and sets up a guard so that they cannot eat from the Tree of Life – as this would mean an eternity of evil and death.
Then God makes a promise to Adam and Eve. He talks about a descendent of Eve whose heel will be struck by the snake but who will ‘strike and crush the head of the snake.’
And the whole of the Hebrew Bible then becomes about who this ‘son of Eve’ is, who is the one who will defeat evil and death and enable humanity to return to the garden, to be back in relationship with God.
Abraham, Judah and David
So then we see God single out Abraham as the family through which this blessing will come. And then later through the family of one of his great grandsons, Judah. And then, generations later, through the family of David, the King of Israel.
But no one in these families seems able to crush the head of the snake – to defeat evil and death. Everyone goes their own way, eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and following their own gods. Gods of money, sex and power.
It all seems hopeless, especially when the Jewish people are taken into captivity and exiled by the Babylonians.
But God still keeps speaking to the people through his prophets. And the prophets keep reminding people of God’s promise - that one day a son of Eve, a son of Abraham, a son of Judah, a son of David will be struck himself and yet crush the head of the snake, finally defeating evil and death.
This is what Isaiah is referring to when he writes the wonderful Servant Songs that we read in Holy Week each year.
The New Testament
So, with all this in mind, when we get to the New Testament we see the people in Jesus’ time still waiting for this deliverance by a special God-anointed person whom they call the Messiah. And Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all trying to show them, and us, that this person is Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus is a son of Eve (Luke traces his family tree back to Adam.) He is a son of Abraham (Matthew traces his family tree back to Abraham.) Jesus is from the tribe of Judah. He is a descendent of King David.
And Jesus goes around proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come. And has come through him. He is identifying himself as the one who provides the way back to Eden, to a relationship with God. ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,’ he says in John’s Gospel. ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’
And we start to see Jesus confronting evil and death by healing people and forgiving them. And many people start believing that maybe this really is the one they have been waiting for all this time. The Messiah.
The cross and resurrection
Finally, Jesus takes on the full weight of humanity’s evil and the power of death when he suffers death on the cross, when the snake strikes him. It looks like the snake has won. But Jesus is raised from the dead on Easter Day and triumphs.
This means that Jesus has power over evil and death. And, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, he shares that power with his disciples and with us so that evil and death might be confronted in all parts of our world.
But evil and death are still with us?
The Bible ends, in Revelation, by looking forward to a time when Jesus will return and finish the war against evil and death, when the snake will be destroyed once and for all. At this time there will be a new earth, an earth that resembles the garden God first created, where there is peace, love and goodness. Where ‘God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away’ (Revelation 21.4.)
What a wonderful story, what a wonderful promise, what an amazing faith.
May we keep our trust that God is with us and, through Christ, we will be with him always, as Jesus said at the end of Matthew’s gospel, ‘even unto the end of the world.’ Amen.