First Prophecy


(Picture Courtesy British Museum. The clay impression [my caption Gen. 3.15] is of a 2nd millenium B.C. cylinder seal from the northern fertile crescent. The seal depicts a dominant man trampling a dragon, a subordinant man following, and a woman picking fruit from a tree. This seal, I believe, portrays the prophecy of the Christ given before the foundation of the world.)

Often Christians have heard the term “Protoevangelium” applied to Gen.3.15  which means “First Gospel.” This passage gives the good news about a virgin-born Savior that will crush the serpent’s head while the serpent will bite this Savior inflicting a deadly wound. Notice too that it explicitly says this Seed will crush the serpent’s head not the “seed of the serpent” even though enmity exists between the Savior and those persons as was stated earlier. It is the Old Serpent’s head that will be crushed after the Divine Man conquers death on behalf of humanity. The only way for humankind to escape the sentence of death eternally (spirit death after punishment) is to have a proxy pay the penalty in their stead. God didn’t need rescuing from death but humans did and now the God-man possesses the “keys of death and Hades” (Rev.1.18) by His resurrection to unlock eternal life for all who put their trust in Jesus.

Good News indeed for the Christian believer. But there is more. Gen.3.15 is also the first prophecy given of this truth and forms a strategic view of the whole of redemption. Rev. 19.10d states: “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Another translation is: “The spirit of prophecy is to bear witness to Jesus.” This is where all prophecy points and is ultimately about: the redemption of humans and the eventual destruction of our enemy “The Serpent.” Therefore it can be said that Gen. 3.15 is also “Protopropheteas” the “First Prophecy.” While some may say that God’s prohibition to the first couple not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil lest they die was a prophecy, it is better to view this first prohibition as a covenant. The first covenant (of works), which Adam broke as Hosea 6.7: “Like Adam they have broken the covenant.” A last Adam (the perfect God-man Jesus) had to fulfill all righteousness (works) that humans might be redeemed by Christ’s substitution and that humans could now have God’s righteousness placed in their account forensically or in an juridical sense . Also Christ’s fulfillment of the Law (God’s holy, righteous, and good Law) enables these same humans through the indwelling Spirit to display righteousness in an everyday practical sense.

In future posts I will trace this first and overarching prophecy of Gen.3.15 in history with the primary purpose of the call of Abraham and the establishment of the nation of Israel as the source for humanity’s Savior: “The seed of Abraham.”

Why is the Bible so Mysterious?

This topic of the use of parables or cryptic revelation in the text has been on my mind for a long time. It seems to me redemptive revelation needs to be cryptic for several reasons, not all of them apparent. Much of the O.T. is parabolic as was much of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus explained to His disciples why He spoke in parables but His answer may have been partial since it only dealt with “why He spoke to people.”

Immediately after the fall the language turns metaphorical in the curse on the serpent: the Seed of the woman will have his heel crushed (substitutionary atonement at the cross) while the serpent and his seed will be crushed in a future setting.

During the temptation of Jesus, the devil quoted scripture of this promised Seed and angelic protection. The devil understood the Genesis curse since in that section the next thing is about trampling on the (false) lion and serpent (Ps.91.12). The devil is quite interested to know about his demise and how he can thwart individual’s and humanity’s redemption, I believe.

Eph. 3.9-10: and to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan—a secret that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things. The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms.

Crucified skeleton found near Jerusalem

Often what Christians need to explain is “significance” or “Biblical relevance.” This is particularly true about artifact discoveries. By the example of Paul (and it is imperative to follow his example for all Christians [this too needs explaining definitively but this is not the subject of this post]), he was ready always to give a defense and rationale of the Christian faith. Peter also says: “be ready always to give a reason for the hope (here “hope” means-confident expectation) that is in you.”

To show this artifact’s relevance we must look for how it relates to the accuracy of the Biblical text. As I have commented previously about Gen. 3.15, from the beginning, when humanity fell in Adam, the “curse on the serpent” provided the promise of deliverance through “The Seed of the woman” who would crush the enemy’s head and for the sake of humanity would have His heel pierced.

Here is evidence of the Roman crucifixion practice of piercing the heel unlike what is often displayed by later artists’ depiction of nails through the instep of the feet of Christ. So this artifact is strong proof of the accuracy of the redemptive promise set forth from the foundation of the world.

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The Romans were adept at crucifixion, according to many historical sources. The first archaeological evidence of crucifixion was uncovered in 1978 [1968; see comments] when an ossuary (bone box, or receptacle) was found north of Jerusalem containing the bones of a man who had been crucified. His name was “Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol.” He is thought to have been between 24 and 28 years of age, and was about 5 feet 6 inches in height.

Both the ossuary and a replica of the heel bone are displayed in the Israel Museum. When Yehohanan was removed from the cross the nail pulled away from the wood.

On Pentecost, Peter proclaimed the truth about Jesus. He said,

This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (Acts 2:23 NIV)

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I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; 

He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

This verse is a curse on the serpent for deceiving the woman into eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thereby causing her to become a sinner. Many theologians think that when Adam took the fruit from Eve and also ate it that they died spiritually. Initially the first pair were innocent but without eternal life which presumably would have been theirs had they passed this test. Now however, their sin nature was evident since they hid from God when He visited them in the evening.

All Adam’s and Eve’s offspring also subsequently share their progenitors’ fallen nature: 

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” (Eph. 2.1-3 TNIV)

God in His grace clothed Adam’s and Eve’s nakedness and cursed the serpent (not snakes per se but the entity behind this particular serpent: the devil). The curse formula is given in somewhat cryptic terms but Satan was aware that his head would someday be crushed by a human supernaturally born of a woman. Satan, it is thought, searched out aspects of this divine human in the scriptures so to thwart the Messiah in some way. during Christ’s temptation, the devil quoted from Psalm 91:  Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. (Mt.4.6 NIV)
This quotation is from Psalm 91.12. The very next verse is the promised Seed’s retribution on the devil: “You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.” (vs.13)
The promise of this divine man is all of mankind’s hope and is reflected clearly, I believe, in some cylinder seals from Mesopotamia in the Fertile Crescent just north of the Promised Land. Abraham was called from Mesopotamia and given the promise that: “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen.12.3b NIV).

Mesopotamian Cylinder Seals

(Courtesy British Museum)

Here is a seal (on the right) with the impression in clay. This one features Adam, Eve, the tree of forbidden fruit, and the serpent.

It is significant to note that all these cylinder seals were produced by Gentiles and appropriate also since the Gentiles share in the promise of the deliverer who would crush the serpent’s head given in Gen.3.15. This impression in clay seems to portray the serpent coiled somewhat under Adam’s chair. Notice Adam reaching his hand in a receptive manner.

Gen.3.15 cylinder seal II

Gen.3.15 cylinder seal II

(courtesy of The British Museum)

This impression has all the elements of the Genesis story: A king treading a horned dragon with limbs, a woman picking fruit from a tree, an additional lesser figure who may depict Adam.

This seal is truly amazing and undoubtedly refers to the Promised Seed of the woman from Gen.3.15.

The Burning and Shining Lamp: John the Baptist

John the Baptist

Jesus used the figure of an oil lamp to speak about the revelation and ministry of John the Baptist. In responding to those Jews who opposed Him, Jesus claimed John’s witness: “You sent a delegation to John, and he testified to the truth. Although I don’t accept human testimony, I say these things so that you can be saved. John was a burning and shining lamp, and, at least for a while, you were willing to celebrate in his light.” (Jn.5:33-35 CEB)

In the Gospel of John, the apostle, introduces the Baptist in the first chapter and records the testimony John gave to the Jewish leaders: “The Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask John who he was. John gave witness to them. He did not try to hide the truth. He spoke to them openly. He said, ‘I am not the Christ.’” (Jn.1:19-20 NIRV). Upon further questioning, the Baptist quotes Isaiah 40:3 as who he was and describes his ministry as the Lord’s forerunner announcing His arrival: “John replied, using the words of Isaiah the prophet. John said, ‘I’m the messenger who is calling out in the desert, Make the way for the Lord straight.'” (Jn.1:23 NIRV). This “making the way straight” refers to the Jewish people’s spiritual condition that they should return to the Lord individually: “Before Jesus came, John preached that we should turn away from our sins and be baptized. He preached this to all Israel.” (Acts 13:24 NIRV).

John the Baptizer would be the “Elijah” sent before the Lord’s advent as announced to John’s father by the angel during the incense offering in the Holy Place: “He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Lk.1:16-17 CEB). The angel quotes some of Mal.4:6 and seems to refer to verse 5 also when he mentions John’s ministry: “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.” (Mal.4:5-6 NLT). This section in Malachi constitutes the last verses of the Old Testament and seems expectant for the Messiah’s arrival.

Immediately after the revelation of God on the Mount of Transfiguration where Jesus appears glorified with Moses and Elijah speaking with Him, the disciples ask Jesus about the common understanding of the Elijah prophecy in Malachi, and Jesus seems to answer with possibly two Elijahs: “As they went back down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’ Then his disciples asked him, ‘Why do the teachers of religious law insist that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes?’ Jesus replied, ‘Elijah is indeed coming first to get everything ready. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, but he wasn’t recognized, and they chose to abuse him. And in the same way they will also make the Son of Man suffer.’ Then the disciples realized he was talking about John the Baptist.” (Mt.17:9-13NLT). This seems to imply three Elijahs, since in The Transfiguration the Old Testament Elijah appeared.

Additionally, Jesus gives testimony to the importance of John and quotes Malachi 3:1: “He is the one written about in Scripture. It says, ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you. He will prepare your way for you.’ What I’m about to tell you is true. No one more important than John the Baptist has ever been born. But the least important person in the kingdom of heaven is more important than he is.” (Mt.11:10-11, Lk.7:28 NIRV). In one way, the Baptist was more important than other prophets because at least in two places in the Old Testament he was foretold.

The fact of John’s preparatory ministry before the Lord’s revelation to Israel also makes him supremely important. John’s message was the same as Jesus’ proclamation but from a different perspective as Jesus describes the general reception both received from the nation: “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces, who call to their companions and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you didn’t dance. We mourned for you, and you didn’t lament.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children [actions].” (Mt.11:16-19 WEB).

John’s parents were told that he would be a Nazarite from birth, thus showing his separation from the world in a very outward, physical manner. John the Baptist would also be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb: “for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.” (Lk.1:15 NIV). While John was in his mother Elizabeth’s womb he rejoiced when the virgin Mary, now pregnant with Jesus, greeted his mother: “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Lk.1:44ESV).

The questioning from the Pharisees seems to show that either they expected the Messiah or His forerunner to baptize: “The ones who had been sent were from the Pharisees. They asked him, ‘Why then do you baptize, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’” (Jn.1:24-25 WEB). This raises the question of what John’s baptism actually signified. Some Bible students believe it pictured the experiences the Israelites went through in the Red Sea crossing and the Jordan River miracles. The idea is that The Prophet who would be like Moses in authority and other aspects needed to have this similarity somehow. Further, it is significant that Jesus’ name is the same as Joshua of the O.T. who took the Israelites into the promised land. In a future post, I plan to show the similarities of Jesus, the promised Prophet to Moses, but will focus on the Baptizer here.

John, of the house of Aaron, seemed to understand or it was revealed to him that the sacrificial system of the Jews was about to be fulfilled. Notice that he announced Jesus, not in the role of “the Son of David,” (and therefore King) though Jesus was David’s promised son, but as Jesus the substitute, for that was what the sacrificial system was all about: “The next day, he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is preferred before me, for he was before me.’” (Jn.1:29-30 WEB). John also knew of Jesus’ divinity from this statement and Christ’s greater role of Savior of the “world.”

In another way, very possibly, that John recognized this ministry of Jesus’ sacrifice was in the words John used against the shallow professions of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and much of the crowds who came to be baptized of him: “He said therefore to the multitudes who went out to be baptized by him, ‘You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” (Lk.3:7 WEB). This echoes the words of Gen.3:15: “I will put hatred between you and the woman. Your children and her children will be enemies. Her son will crush your head. And you will crush his heel.” (NIRV). In this passage, God both pronounces a curse on the serpent (the Devil) and promises redemption for humanity by the Seed of the woman (virgin birth). By calling the Jewish leaders and the fickle crowd viper offspring, was John prophesying to the nailing of Jesus’ heel in crucifixion? I plan to post a more detailed discussion of Gen. 3:15 in a future post, but, the Baptist’s words seem a striking fulfillment.

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