Jesus, an Adam-like Messiah
Paying a compliment the ancient way
Matthew’s first lines resemble the carefully inscribed credentials on a door plaque, concise yet highly informative. Through them, he begins to manage his reader’s expectations, reaching back to the dawn of Jewish history to tap Judaism’s longing for a new Eden and introduce them to an Adam-like Messiah.
The inspiration for Matthew’s opening comes from Genesis, a book in which the frequent repetition of ‘the generations of’ serves an interesting function. On the clay tablets used for historical narratives, it was common practice to conclude each set with a short summary1. Thus, as Genesis records the almost rhythmic founding of new branches of the Semitic people, it sums each up as the ‘generations of’ its most significant character. Genesis gives this treatment to Adam, Noah, Shem, Terah, Ishmael, Isaac, Esau, then finally Jacob2. Within the later Jewish histories, for which scrolls replaced clay tablets as their initial medium, the phrase is much less frequent. Aaron and Moses, men destined, by the command of God, to share their honour (Exod 4:14-15), share the accolade (Num 3:1). Beyond that, the Hebrew bible uses that phrase only once more, this time for Perez (Ruth 4:18), a man whose significance derives primarily from his descendant David.
Matthew’s opening line, by resurrecting an ancient convention in honour of his resurrected Lord, places Jesus firmly amongst exalted company. It declares that he was no less foundational than the patriarchs, no less significant than Moses, and no less important than David. Yet, when Matthew wrote ‘This is the book of the generations of’ (Gen 5:1a, KJV) rather than ‘And these are the generations of’, he deliberately imitated words the Hebrew Bible reserves for Adam. Of course, the Bible goes on to make even greater claims for Jesus, but placing him on a par with Adam was nevertheless a radical place to start.
Messiah, the anointed one
Not content with likening Jesus to Adam, Matthew bestows the further honour of the title Christ, the Greek version of the Jewish ‘Messiah’. Both titles implied that their bearer had been set apart to serve God by the sacrament of anointing3. Priests were routinely anointed and so were kings, however Jewish history, together with the pronouncements of their prophets, had added to that basic meaning.
After returning from exile in Babylon, the nation of Judah increasingly became the pawn of the regional super-powers, never fully recovering its Davidic standing. Dispersed among the nations as captives or refugees, its people became increasingly fragmented. Throughout this period, faithful Jews longed for the restoration of national autonomy, relief from the heavy yoke of foreign kings and the return of those who had been scattered. Their scriptures led them to look for something for the coming of a specific anointed one, or ones, who would deliver them.
From the outset, when God promised that the seed of the Woman would overcome the serpent (Gen 3:15), the expectation of a great deliverer had begun to grow. The likes of Abraham, Joseph and Moses had functioned as such and a string of judges had followed. Saul, then David, transferred the mantel of deliverer onto Israel’s monarchy, ushering in the golden age of Solomon’s reign and leaving the psalmists to extol the role of God’s ‘anointed one’, the King (Ps 2:1-12, 45:1-17, 110:1-7). The later prophets, reflecting upon this history, associated the advent of an even greater age with an individual, ‘the Servant of the Lord’ or the ‘shoot of David’ being amongst his names (Isa 11:1-2, 42:1, Hag 2:20-23). Their words, whilst usually addressing contemporary issues, nevertheless anticipated the deliverer that later generations sought.
The expected Messiah and Matthew’s Messiah
Beyond all the anointed judges, priests and kings much of first century Judaism expected the day when God would choose Messiah4. They anticipated that this ‘anointed one’ would meet numerous criteria in the prophetic texts and deliver all the promises of those proclamations5. For example, Messiah would re-establish the kingdom of David (Isa 9:7), give his people peace (Ps 37:11) and restore their land’s fruitfulness (Amos 9:13)6. He would reverse the effects of exile and the scattering of Israel amongst the nations (Amos 9:14, Isaiah 66:22), punish the wicked and end the suffering of the righteous (Job 28:3)7. Messiah would be a mighty warrior and served by foreign kings (Ps 72:11, Isa 49:23)8. A few Rabbis went even further and claimed that Messiah would represent God and had the authority to act on His behalf. According to one, ‘God will call the king Messiah after His own name’9, i.e. The Lord our Righteousness (Jer 23:6-7), whilst another expected that, like Daniel’s ‘Son of Man’, Messiah would enter intimately into the presence of God and that there he would sit at the deity’s right hand (Dan 7:13, Jer 30:21)10.
In the centuries preceding Jesus, Jewish academics remained divided over whether a single individual could achieve all that they expected11. Those who advocated a single Messiah generally predicted a great king from the line of David who would combine the roles of warrior, priest, righteous judge and wise teacher. Others argued for multiple Messiahs, variously anticipating combinations of a priestly Messiah from the tribe of Levi, a royal Messiah from the line of David and a suffering Messiah descended from Joseph. There were even those for whom Messiah was a righteous remnant of Israel. Amidst this uncertainty, it would have been quite reasonable for Matthew’s scholarly contemporaries to ask ‘What sort of Messiah is this Jesus?’ However, Matthew pre-empted any such enquiry when, in his opening words, he declares that Jesus is an Adam-like Messiah.
The image of God
Following the ‘Book of…’ summary, Genesis 5 reminds its reader that God created Adam as an image of God (Gen 1:26-28) and that being like Adam involved bearing ‘the likeness of God’ (Gen 5:1b, NKJV). It also introduces the idea of Adam fathering sons in his image (Gen 5:1-3). Adopting the perspective of the patriarchs sheds light on what that implied for Messiah, for early Mesopotamian culture believed that an image carried the essence of the thing that it portrayed. Thus, they thought that rulers could declare their authority through their images and the rational behind idols was that gods acted through images made in their supposed likeness. Significantly, they also considered that a ruler’s son was the ‘image’ of his father, thus anyone who encountered the son encountered the essence of the father12. It follows that, provided the son’s words and actions reflected his father’s will, then the son carried the authority of his father, an implication not lost on Jesus (John 8:19).
Whilst theologians debate the significance of being ‘made in the image of God’, any viable explanation must acknowledge the antiquity of the text. To the patriarchs, the Genesis creation account portrayed a supreme creator deity declaring their authority throughout the earth with living images, each tasked with subduing the earth and ruling over its inhabitants, the fish, cattle, birds and other moving things (Gen 1:26). Moreover, they would have recognised in the ‘image’ connection between God and Adam a typical relationship between a ruler and his subservient son (Luke 3:38). Thus, the newly fashioned Adam could reasonably have said ‘look at me and know my father God’. The same would be true for any Messiah like him (as Jesus explains in John 14:9).
An Adam-like Messiah envisioned
The idea that Messiah might be like Adam was not unfamiliar to Matthew and his peers, for they found him portrayed as such in the First Book of Enoch13, a popular work that, despite claiming to be ancient, was a product of the post-exilic period14. The book contains a vision that expresses across several chapters (1 Enoch 85:1-90:42) the concept that Matthew encapsulates in just a few words. In it, the author uses the metaphor of animals reproducing according to present an interpretation of Israel’s history. By this device, they infer that true replication after Adam’s kind succeeded only up until the time of Abraham, then Jacob let slip the baton, marring the process until Messiah comes and restores the process.
‘Enoch’ depicts as white bulls both Adam and those sons begotten true to kind by righteous fathers (i.e. those who chose to obey God). Easily identifiable are, Adam’s only surviving righteous son Seth (Gen 4:25), Noah who walked with God and was blameless in his generation (Gen 6:9), Abraham who walked faithfully before God (Gen 48:15, Neh 9:8) and Isaac who walked with God and emulated his father (Gen 48:15).
In First Enoch’s revelation, the ideal son is a white bull. Thus, those representing Cain, Abel and Seth are black, red and white representing imperfection, blood and perfection. The vision then mirrors the colours of Adam’s sons in those of Noah, Ham, Japheth and Shem. Later fathers beget disobedient sons in a bewildering array of colours and kinds. Thus, whilst Seth becomes the foundation of a dynasty of white bulls, the Sons of God taking the Daughters of Men (Gen 6:2) results in offspring of a completely different kind, camels, elephants and asses. The dynasty of white bulls ends with Isaac, who sires a white sheep (Jacob) and a black wild boar (Esau). After Isaac the revelation progresses with the sheep centre stage until, somewhere in the author’s envisioned future, Messiah appears, faithful to the image in which Adam was created, a white bull the like of which has not been seen since Isaac. Messiah then reproduces after his likeness, though now the method is different. Rather than siring children of his kind, he transforms others to be like him.
First Enoch’s image of an Adam-like Messiah may go some way to explain why some amongst the early Christian community chose to cite his work, his Messiah being precisely the type that Matthew claimed his readers could find in Jesus, an Adam-like Messiah who produced, by transforming others, a multitude of godly ‘children’ in his own likeness (cf. Mark 10:24).
Adam, created to replicate
For the anonymous author of First Enoch, Adam originated a process of replication that, though faulty, nevertheless carried forward his likeness into succeeding generations. From God’s Genesis command that Adam ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Gen 1:26-28), Matthew would have understood such transmission of likeness as fundamental to God’s purpose for Messiah. Like the good fig tree in an old Jewish parable that sets fruit after its kind, Messiah was to be a righteous man who begot righteous sons15, sons who shared God’s character of goodness and righteousness, whilst espousing the divine ideals of truth and justice (Eph 5:8-9, Matt 7:17-19). Adam’s task was therefore to multiply righteous sons, each, like him, an image of God. To which end he had the assistance of the Eve.
For Adam and Eve, physical replication was just the initial part of raising offspring, they also had to ensure that the child developed in accord with the image that God had set before them, His own image in Adam. This transfer of character requires parents to raise their sons to accept their father’s authority and learn through his instruction, discipline and example. The significance of such character formation is evident whenever disciples refer to their spiritual leaders as ‘father’ or people groups assert that they are ‘sons’ of an ancestor by whose precepts they still choose to live.
Cain and Abel, a choice of image
Adam, as he responded to God’s command to multiply, emulated his father by ‘creating’ them in his likeness and in his image (compare Gen 1:26 with 5:3). However, Adam had chosen to determine for himself what constituted good and evil16, therefore he was no longer a perfect image of God17. His creations, springing from a damaged mould, inevitably reproduced the flaw in his nature.
Through Adam’s one act, he not only brought guilt upon his entire family, he also frustrated the process of replication18. Thus, whilst his God given role remained that of reproducing the image of God, he was effectively incapable of fulfilling it. His nature was now a false witness whose every ungodly decision further distorted or hid his heavenly father’s nature. Still worse, as Adam ‘created19’ sons in his image, they inherited the fruit of his original sin, the ability to make independent judgements concerning good and evil. From that point onward, so long as the wildcard introduced by Adam’s sin remained in play, parents would be incapable of perfectly fulfilling their God given role within creation. Men would continue to act like Adam (cf. Hosea 6:7), rendering mankind corporately guilty and allowing death to reign over all of Adam’s heirs (Rom 5:14).
Fortunately, Genesis presents us with a solution for mankind’s problem of defective replication. God can transform the cause of humanity’s predicament into a tool for their salvation. By inviting individuals to accept divine judgements over those of their parents, God uses Adam’s faculty of independent choice to create opportunities for humanity to recover, at least to some extent, the standing of ‘true image of God’. Hence, the scripture balances an emphasis on obeying father and mother with the commendation of those who choose to obey God rather than a rebellious parent20.
The choice of embracing or subverting Adam’s sin is first evident in the lives of Cain and Abel. As young children, they lacked the knowledge of good and evil and depended upon Adam to instruct them what was right and wrong21. Yet, a child eventually has to choose how to use its freedom. Abel’s choice, of a flock keeping lifestyle that flowed out of God’s command to exercise authority over animals, enabled him to offer the acceptable ‘fruit’ of obedience (Gen 4:2-7). Cain, who followed Adam’s example and working the ground, could only offer the unacceptable fruit of a cursed land.
Abel had done what was right, but, despite God’s warning to do likewise, Cain took it upon himself to decide what was good and what was evil (Gen 4:9-12). The text uses parallelism to emphasise how Cain followed his father’s example. In both cases, they spurned the authority of God (‘do not eat the fruit’ & ‘do what is right’). In both, God revealed their guilt by seeking the whereabouts of a missing person (‘where are you’ & ‘where is Abel your brother’) and both tried to evade responsibility (‘it was the Woman’ & ‘am I my brother’s keeper’). To both God announced that getting their land to produce would become a struggle and they would face exile from it.
Isaac’s constructive rebellion
Many centuries later, Abraham was to replicate Abel’s choice as he rejected the Mesopotamian gods that Terah had raised him to serve (Josh 24:2). As he chose to believe his creator rather than men’s imagination (Gen 12:1-4), God considered it righteousness and established the covenant that confirmed Abraham as God’s image in Canaan (Rom 4:3, 9, Gal 3:6).
The clever editing of Genesis portrays Isaac, like a good image, repeatedly emulating his righteous father22. However, there is a notable exception, at the outset of his independence, when he, like his father, faced a famine in Canaan (Gen 12:10, 26:1-2). Whilst Abraham had deemed it wise to go to Egypt, God told Isaac to stay. Isaac had to choose between two conflicting aspects of his father’s example, go to Egypt and remain no more than an image of ‘Adam23’ or believe God, rebel, and continue becoming like Him. When Isaac chose the latter, God rewarded his faith by confirming the covenant (Gen 17:18-19).
Cain and Isaac demonstrate how a son inherits and builds upon the foundation of their father’s image. Abel and Abraham illustrate how a son’s subsequent choices determine the image that they bear, whether it will remain that of their disfigured ‘father’ Adam or whether God, crediting their faith as righteousness, will transform them. Thus, for a Messiah descended from Adam to be an image of God, they had to judge only as their heavenly father judged and live a life of faithful obedience to those judgements.
Spotted sheep and the transformation of nations
Abraham’s example was a blessing for Isaac, for he could simply emulate his father’s righteous decisions, whilst remaining prepared to give God’s judgements precedence. The account of Jacob’s flocks provides hope for those who are not so fortunate.
As Laban’s shepherd, Jacob had negotiated any black lambs and spotted or speckled goats as his pay. However, he then set about using the authority God had given him to conform the flocks to the image he wanted, declaring that authority in the places where they conceived and setting before them an example of what he expected. The staff (maqqēl) with which he crossed the Jordan (Gen 32:10) embodied his authority, just as an almond rod would for Aaron (Jer 1:11) or a ‘stick’ would when David went against Goliath (1 Sam 17:43)24. Therefore, Jacob fashioned striped rods (maqqēl) of plane, poplar and almond, each bearing the characteristics of his flock, and placed these ‘images’ strategically before the best animals as they came to drink. Then, as they mated, he set before them some of his flock. When these animals came under the god given authority of this shepherd and observed the example that he set before them, they obediently bore the fruit he wanted (Gen 30:37-40).
The account of Jacob and his rods illustrates that what a person looks at and the authority that they are under will influence the offspring they produce. Thus, God can transform a nation of unrighteous men by placing before them an image and showing them the example of his flock. As the author of First Enoch envisaged, this was to be how God would work through Messiah.
Messiah’s wisdom and its outcome
In Isaiah 11, the concept of Messiah and the idea of another man like Adam once again entwine (Isa 11:2). Many Rabbinical teachers claimed that exceptional righteousness coupled with great wisdom such as that of Solomon, would be the foundation of Messiah’s achievements25. These characteristics, they believed, would enable Messiah to judge with the insight and fairness necessary to restore the rule of godly law (Ps 72:1-4)26. Isaiah 11:1-5’s description of a ‘shoot of Jesse’ was widely held as a proof text for such beliefs.
Not only does Isaiah 11 illustrate Messiah’s righteous judgement, but also its outcome. Lions, wolves and leopards are no longer a threat to lambs, kids and calves, the lion eats straw and the bear grazes (Isa 11:6-7). Similar imagery appears in a tradition preserved by the Talmud27. It claims that the steps of Solomon’s throne bore sculptures of carnivores and herbivores, effectively lying together28. In both cases, the symbols portray an Eden-like environment where animals, complying with the decrees given in the first creation narrative, have no reason to fear one another. The Talmud suggests that this shared image speaks of wisdom and righteous judgement enabling a ruler to maintain a place of peace.
The carvings on Solomon’s throne are not the only echoes of Eden in this wise ruler’s life. When David trumped Adonijah’s rebellious coronation, he did so by crowning Solomon ruler at the symbolic source of the Gihon (1 Kgs 1:33-34), namesake of the second river that watered Adam’s lands, a river whose source was Eden (Gen 2:13). Solomon’s interest in the natural realm finds its precursor in Eden where Adam named the animals (Gen 2:19-20, 1 Kgs 4:31-33), a task that the ancients considered the province of the wise29. Solomon, like Matthew’s Messiah, probably used such knowledge to express his wisdom through natural parables, as was the custom of his day. In God’s promise that Solomon would call Him ‘Father’ and that He would consider Solomon His ‘Son’, we also find something of the intimacy of relationship that God and his image, Adam, enjoyed in Eden (1 Chr 28:6, 2 Sam 7:14). Thus, although Solomon was far from perfect, his rule provides further hints of what one might expect from an Adam-like Messiah.
Before leaving Isaiah 11, we should note that the passage adds one further prediction concerning the Messianic ‘shoot’. It suggests that the advent of his rule would enable the whole earth to know what God was really like30. Adam fulfilled such a revelatory role until he fell. Likewise, at Solomon’s zenith, ‘the whole earth’ sought his God given wisdom (2 Chr 9:23). Isaiah 11 enrols Messiah, like Adam and Solomon before him, into the business of revealing God to creation.
On the threshold of a new Eden
In the first few words of Matthew’s Gospel, the Apostle places some amazing credentials on Jesus’ nameplate. To a visitor who has some understanding of Jewish roots, they are simply stunning. Through his initial phrase, Matthew succeeds in portraying Jesus as a man who was just as significant as any of their patriarchs were. Not only that, but he claims this Jesus was set apart for God’s service as Judaism’s long awaited Messiah, the ruler of a new Eden. They might have expected one Messiah or many, a warrior messiah or a priest, however Matthew manages skilfully, re-focuses his reader’s expectations on the concept of an Adam-like Messiah. Matthew was encouraging them to expect a true image of God, faithfully representing his heavenly Father and carrying divine authority. The Rabbis anticipated that Messiah would judge with unsurpassed wisdom and, in Solomon, the Bible presents us with the imperfect forerunner of such a man. Yet, whilst Solomon had attempted to establish another Eden and had failed, the advent of an Adam-like Messiah held out a better hope. By conforming people to his image and turning them back to trusting God’s judgements, this later day Adam would finally establish the new paradise.
of The Emmaus View book
1 R. K. Harrison, “Genesis,” ISBE 2:431-443. Specifically 2:436.
2 Adam in 5:1; Noah in 6:9; Shem in 11:10; Terah in 11:27; Ishmael in 25:12; Isaac in 25:19; Esau in 36:1, and Jacob in 37:2. Ham & Japheth are listed together with Shem at Genesis 10:1.
3 Examples of such anointing include Jacob’s anointing the stone that marked the house of God and Moses anointed the Tabernacle and the altar (Gen 28:18 & 31:13, Exod 30:25-28, Exod 29:36, 30:30). Israel also used it to set apart people, such as priests, kings and prophets, for God’s service (Exod 28:40-41, 1 Sam 10:1, 1 Kgs 1:34, 2 Chr 23:11, 1 Kgs 19:16, see also the parallelism in Psalm 105:15).
4 Within Judaism, normal practice is to refer to ‘Messiah’ rather than ‘the Messiah’.
5 O A Piper, “Messiah” ISBE 3:330-8. Specifically 3:332-333.
6 Tom Huckel, The Rabbinic Messiah, (Philadelphia: Hananeel House, 1998), Is 9:7, Ps 37:11, Job 1:14.
7 Huckel, Rabbinic Messiah, Is 66:20, Job 28:3.
8 Huckel, Rabbinic Messiah, Gen 49:10, Is 33:20.
9 Huckel, Rabbinic Messiah, Je 23:6.
10 Huckel, Rabbinic Messiah, Ps 18:34, Ps 21:5.
11 For more background on the bewildering array of opinions see: L. W. Hurtado, “Christ”, DJG, 106-17; Piper, “Messiah” ISBE 3:330-8.
12 Victor harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, IVP Bible Background Commentary, (Electronic ed.; Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000), Ge 1:31.
13 The Letter of Jude
cites First Enoch (Jude 14-15) and allusions to it may also be present
in the Acts of the Apostles, Revelation and other N.T. books, see
Hartin, P. J., “Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha” in, Stanley
E. Porter and Craig A. Evans, Dictionary
of New Testament background
(Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000), n.p..
Robert Henry Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (Bellingham, Wash: Logos Research Systems, 2004), 2:178.
14 Although it claims as its author the Enoch of Genesis 5:22-25, scholars believe it arose at a time when would-be prophets routinely ‘hi-jacked’ the identity of a more illustrious forefather to get their point across. For further background, see “Book of Enoch”, Charles, APOT, 2:163-281.
15 Hymen Polano, The Talmud (London: Frederick Warne, 1969), 200-202.
16 The word generally translated ‘knowing’ in Gen 3:22 also carries the sense ‘distinguish’, as in passages such as Jonah 4:11.
17 This raises the issue of how to treat those with an imperfect image of God, for which see Appendix A.
18The distinction between original guilt and inherited corruption is useful, e.g. see Wayne Gundrum, Bible Doctrine (ed. Jeff Purswell, Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press,1999), 213-6. However, passages such as Ezek 18:20 and Exod 34:6-7 guarantee that we are not held guilty for Adam’s sin and yet they do not stop us inheriting his corruption. Supplications such as Psalm 79:8 infer that even pre-christ an individual could be forgiven their forefathers sin.
19 In the NET, Gen 4:1 portrays Eve acknowledging her creative act in birthing Cain as her as akin to God’s creation of Adam. This contrasts with God’s explicit involvement in the birth of Seth (Gen 4:25).
20 E.g. compare Exod 20:12, 21:15,17, Deut 21:18-19 with Deut 33:8-9 & Matt 10:37.
21 In Deut 1:39 Moses explains that the Israelites young children lacked the knowledge of good and evil.
22 For both the Lord enabled their wives to conceive (Gen 17:19, 25:21), both misled Abimelech in the similar ways (Gen 20:2, 26:7) and both entered into a covenant with him (Gen 21:27, 26:26-28), both dug the same wells (Gen 26:18), and, when the Lord appeared, both built altars (Gen 12:7, 26:24).
23 Adam is both a personal name and the Hebrew for a man or mankind.
24 Elsewhere maqqēl seem to act as symbols of meagre or perverted authority in passages such as 1 Sam 17:40 & 43, Jer 48:17, Hos 4:12, Num 22:27. Your maqqēl was the one essential item to take out of Egypt (Exod 12:11). In Zech 11:7, 10, 11, it represents a shepherds staff.
25 E.g. see Huckel, Rabbinic Messiah, Ps 72:1, 4, Ps 119:34.
26 Huckel, Rabbinic Messiah, Is 11:2, Ps 72:4.
27 Oral traditions and commentaries (of uncertain antiquity) that were documented well after the first century.
28 Polano, The Talmud, 209-10. The Talmud’s throne appears to differ from the one described in 2 Chr 9:17-19.
29 Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVP Bible background commentary, 1 Ki 4:33.
30 Resulting from the Messiah’s activities amongst Israel (as described in Isa 60:1-22 and implied by Hab 2:14).