Who doesn’t love a good prequel? Imagine you’ve savored every page of an amazing story and are sad when you come to the end. To your surprise, you discover the author has subsequently published a prequel that gives the whole backstory. While you read, you’re delighted to find that it brings greater meaning to the events in the original story.
As a child, I fell in love with The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. They were introduced to me in their original order, which started with Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter first stumbling into the magical land of Narnia in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. It was not until book six in the series, The Magician’s Nephew that I discovered how Narnia had been created, where the evil white witch came from and how a lamppost ended up in the middle of the forest in Narnia. These details had context and meaning for me because I’d already become captivated with the setting and characters in earlier books.
For many Christians, the New Testament is like reading a great story that happens near the end of a series. We often hear about Jesus before we learn anything else. Our first exposure to the Christian faith focuses on the crucial fact that Jesus died for our sins. But without context, we may not understand why we even need a savior. If we don’t understand the significance of all that came before it, the story is not complete. To understand the deep meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we must go all the way back to Genesis to examine the “prequel.”
To start, we need to understand the concept of a covenant, which defined simply is “a binding relationship based on a promise.” Pastor and author Tyler Scott explains: “In order to fully appreciate the meaning of this new covenant [made by Jesus in the New Testament], we need to understand what the old covenant meant. The old covenant first began to take shape in Genesis 2. There, God makes a covenant with Adam in language that is strong, clear and definitive:”
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’.” (Genesis 2:15-17 NIV)
Scott continues: ‘This is covenant language. God says, in effect, ‘I will give you this, if you keep the conditions of this covenant, I will do these things for you—but if you violate the conditions of this covenant, you will suffer certain consequences.’ That’s God’s covenant with Adam in Genesis 2…From the covenant with Adam and Eve, we move through the Old Testament and we see God making different types of covenants…and each of these Old Testament covenants anticipates the ultimate covenant, the new covenant, as it would be established and secured through the blood of Jesus Christ.” (The Marriage Ref pages 26-27)
Genesis 3 describes Satan in the form of a serpent tempting Adam and Eve to break their covenant with God, and ultimately bringing sin into the world. He plants seeds of doubt about God’s goodness. He influences them to be ungrateful for all that God has given them and to think He is holding out on them by not letting them eat from two of the trees in the garden. Verse 15 describes the enmity between humans and snakes. “The offspring of the woman would eventually crush the serpent’s head, a promise fulfilled in Christ’s victory over Satan—a victory in which all believers will share.” (Zondervan NIV Study Bible notes)
The choice Adam and Eve made had a ripple effect that changed the world for all time. The consequences of their choice changed the relationship between God and humans and forever altered the course of human history
Author and apologist Josh McDowell explains: “The Bible indicates that God created man and woman so he could share his love and glory with them. But Adam and Eve chose to rebel and go their own way. They left God’s love and protection contaminating themselves with that self-willed, grasping, prideful nature we call sin… God dearly loved Adam and Eve– even after they spurned Him—he wanted to reach out to them and save them from the deadly path they had chosen. But God faced a dilemma. Because God is not only loving but also holy, righteous, and just, sin cannot survive in his presence. His very holy, just, and righteous nature would destroy the sinful couple. “ (Josh McDowell, More than a Carpenter p. 153)
Romans 6:23 makes this concept clear: “The wages of sin is death.” God’s holiness cannot coexist with sin. His holiness is like a fire that burns anything unholy in its presence.
God had a problem to solve when Adam and Eve chose to sin. Although He loved them, their choice to sin separated them from Him. “The Godhead—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—made an astounding decision. Jesus, God the Son, would take upon himself human flesh.” (Josh McDowell, More than a Carpenter p. 153)
“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8, NIV)
“Because He was not only finite man but also infinite God, he had the infinite capacity to take on himself the sins of the world. When Jesus was executed on the cross more than two thousand years ago, God accepted his death as a substitute for ours. The just and righteous nature of God was satisfied. Justice was done; a penalty was paid. So at that point God’s love nature was set free from the constrictions of justice, and He could accept us again and offer us what we had lost in Eden—that original relationship in which we could experience his love and glory.” (Josh McDowell, More than a Carpenter p. 154)
“When Jesus died on the cross, he died not only for us, but he also died to meet the holy and just requirements intrinsic in the basic nature of God. The contamination was removed so we could stand clean in his presence.” (Josh McDowell, More than a Carpenter p. 155)
“When God looks at us, in spite of his tremendous love for us, he has to bring down the gavel and say death because He is a righteous and just God. And yet, because he is also a loving God, he was willing to come down off his throne in the form of the man Jesus Christ and pay the price for us, which was his death on the cross.” (Josh McDowell, More than a Carpenter p.156)
“But God demonstrates his own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV)
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-22, NIV)
Jesus made right what Adam and Eve had made wrong. Anyone who accepts the sacrifice He made can be reconciled with God.
“Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19, NIV)
Understanding the prequel to Jesus’ death and resurrection makes it so much more meaningful to me. In the next few weeks I’ll wrap up our discussion of Why Do You Believe That? Then, in future posts, I’ll examine some of the other Old Testament covenants that pointed the way to Jesus. I hope reading the “prequels” will bring you a deeper understanding for what Jesus did for us. At the same time, I hope your appreciation for Scripture will grow as you see the many ways the Old and New Testaments weave together to make a complete story showing God’s incredible love for us.
(Side note: If you’ve never read the C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia go and get them from a library or bookstore and start reading!)
Click on the link to hear Kari Jobe’s song “Forever.” It’s a great reminder of what Jesus accomplished for us through His death and resurrection.
Lewis, C.S.; The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe & The Magician’s Nephew; HarperCollins; 2010.
McDowell, Josh & Sean; More Than a Carpenter; Tyndale House; 1977, 2005, 2009.
Scott, Tyler; The Marriage Ref: God’s Blueprint for a Happy, Healthy, Enduring Marriage; Condeo Press; 2011.
NIV Study Bible, Zondervan, 2008