It is clear from the early chapters of the Bible that God’s plan formed in eternity (Tit.1:2) was to give the mortal man he had created in his image eternal life and a glorious inheritance. (1* Adam’s native mortality must be strongly stressed since Augustine of Hippo taught that he was created immortal, perfect, holy and righteous. The mere fact that all men have a beginning in time points to the fact that they are not eternal like their Creator who has neither beginning nor end, cf. Heb. 7:3.) This is evident first from Genesis 1:26-28 which the Psalmist interprets as involving glory and honour on earth (8:5f.) and the author Hebrews by extension as ultimately promising glory in heaven (Heb. 2:9f.). Second, in Genesis 2:16f. we read of the promise of life on condition of keeping the commandment. (Paul and Peter merge these two promises in Romans 2:7, cf. v.10, and 1 Pet. 1:3f.,7 respectively.) But Adam, like Eve under the influence of the devil, allowed his fleshly appetites to overwhelm him (Gen. 3:6). By transgressing he forfeited his hope of life and glory and sank abjectly into the earth from which he had emanated in the first place (Gen. 3:19).
Despite Adam’s failure and that of all his immediate posterity who also sinned and earned their wages in death (Gen. 5; Rom. 5:12), God graciously persisted with his plan of human salvation. Even when he made a new start by establishing a covenant with Noah, mankind failed to attain the mark. Eventually the Creator made a promise to Abraham that he would make him and his posterity a blessing to the world (Gen. 12:1-3,7) but since sin and unbelief persisted, the divine plan appeared to be permanently precarious. While rescue from slavery in Egypt seemed to promise better things, Israel’s immediate lapse into idolatry at Sinai shortly after the giving of the law appeared to jeopardize future hope (Ex. 32). The law that promised life (Dt. 30:15-20) apparently had the effect of exacerbating the situation (cf. Rom. 7:10). Though God continued to test his people (Ex. 16:4; Dt. 8:2,16, etc.), they nonetheless continually came short. While the heathen remained lost in idolatry, immorality and superstition, the pattern of blessing, probation, apostasy, punishment, temporary improvement, relapse and repentance became a permanent feature of the lives of the people of God (see espec. Judges and 1 & 2 Kings). Though the exile ridded Israel of some of the worst excesses of heathen idolatry, it failed to produce the godliness and obedience their sovereign Lord required. Punishment was frequent, but a “full end” was avoided. The hope of the Messiah inspired many, and God told his people through the prophets that he still had plans to give them a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11; 30:11; 32:37-41, etc.).
Throughout the OT the law continued to promise life (Lev. 18:5; Dt. 30:15-20; 32:46f.; Jer. 21:8; Ezek. 18:5-9, etc.) but, as was frequently recognized, no one could keep it (1 K. 8:46; Ps.130:3; 143:2, etc.). This was something strongly stressed by the apostle Paul in the NT (Rom. 3:9,12, 23; 5:12). Jew and Gentile failed to attain to the standard their Creator required of them. The need for a second Adam to tread the path to perfection by keeping the law and thereby gaining righteousness and life on their behalf was paramount (Mt. 19:16-21).
Even in the OT God not only promised life but made it plain that only he would save his people (Isa. 43:11; 45:21-25). So if man was to be saved in righteousness by keeping the law, that man had to be God. This is exactly how the issue is presented in the NT. We are left in no doubt that in Christ God became man (John 1:1f., etc.). The birth stories of Jesus all testify to this. And as the author of Hebrews insists, Jesus came to fulfil the law (Heb. 10:5-7, cf. Mt. 5:17f.). But having fulfilled the law in the flesh on his own account, Jesus went further and sanctified his people by offering his own body as a sacrifice for sin once for all (Heb. 10:10,14).
Since Jesus’ sacrifice served as a ransom for sin (Mark 10:45), it involved his death. However, as the only man ever to keep the law which promised life, he had not personally earned the wages of sin and was not liable to death on his own account. Rather he had gained life. In view of this, death could have no permanent hold over him, and he was raised. In accordance with his own prediction, he regained the life he had laid down (John 2:19-21; 10:17f.). But since the eternal life he had gained could not be lived in the flesh and on a corruptible earth destined to pass away (Mt. 24:35, etc.), he ascended transformed into heaven (cf. John 20:17; 1 Cor. 15:51f.): his earthly body was replaced by a body of glory (Phil. 3:21). In other words, he had attained the heavenly glory and honour implicitly promised in Genesis 1:26-28 (cf. Heb. 2:9). Having gained the life and incorruption (2 Tim. 1:10) that characterizes the perfection of God (cf. Mt. 5:48), his human nature now complemented his divine nature. At last the way was prepared for the people he represented to follow in his steps (Heb. 2:10), become fellow heirs with him (Rom. 8:17) and to share the glory he had with the Father before the world began (John 17:5,24; Rom. 5:2; 2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 1:27; Rev. 3:21, etc.).
Despite the failure of Adam and all his posterity to keep the law which promised life, God nonetheless accounted Abraham righteous, that is, regarded him as a law-keeper, through faith (Gen. 15:6). This was a point of great significance, for, as Paul particularly in Galatians 3 makes clear, all who believe as Abraham believed in the promises of God are justified by faith. The need for faith underlines yet again the fact that God is the Saviour of his people and that before him no flesh will boast (Rom. 3:19f.; 1 Cor. 1:29; Eph. 2:8f.). And if Abraham is the father of the faithful, it is through faith in Christ that his blessing comes on the world (Gal. 3:14). All who believe are heirs of God according to promise (3:28f.). They have the promise of life in Christ (1 John 2:25, cf. John 3:16; 6:40, etc.).
The Holy Spirit
On attaining to glory the Lord Jesus sent the Spirit to apply the victory he had gained in the flesh (John 7:39). It is thus that countless people (Rev. 7:9), paradoxically including even those who lived before him (cf. Heb. 11; 9:15), exercise faith in Christ’s finished work and inherit the promised Spirit or eternal life (Gal. 3:14). All alike eventually attain to glory and are perfected in union with their Saviour (cf. Eph. 1:4; Heb. 11:39f.). Where he is at the right hand of God (Heb. 1:3,13,etc.) they will be also (John 12:26; 14:3; 17:24). And they will reign forever as the glorified children of God (Rom. 8:14-17; 1 John 3:2).