Since the fall of humanity, mankind has sought to cover their sin and shame by their own means and methods, and yet has fallen woefully short of making atonement for their cosmic rebellion. As we look at the moments immediately following the fall, we will see just how inadequate we are, and how only God can redeem a fallen, sinful person by way of His Son’s life and death on the cross, and what that means for each of us who trust in that life and death in the future.
As we look at these verses and see how they continue to reveal the gospel to us, I want us to see that in this text there is expiation being given, expediency being practiced, and expulsion being imposed.
To quickly give the background to this text, God told Adam “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” (Genesis 2.16b-17, ESV). Of course they were tempted by Satan, showing up as a serpent, they ate of the tree, and their eyes were open to the world of evil. Satan had twisted the truth so that it sounded more delightful than what it was really going to be. Rather than bringing delights, it brought tragedy and shame. So Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness, their shame.
After cursing the entire universe, we see that God does something unexpected. “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin and clothed them,” (Genesis 3.21, ESV). What has happened in this one verse, has set up what will happen throughout redemptive history. God had already warned Adam that if he took of the tree he would surely die. Yet, God being both just and the justifier, allowed another to take Adam and Eve’s place. One who was not the instigator of the fall would take the fall for the instigators. The innocent would die for the guilty. And so we see the first act of expiation taking place. Now expiation is a $10 word for atonement or the purging of sin or even still, the forgiveness of sin. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins,” (Hebrews 9.22, ESV).
As the perfect sacrifice he made what we call the penal substitutionary atonement. Penal – penalty. A crime was committed—cosmic treason against eternal God—was committed by us, and a penalty must be meted out. Substitutionary – our Substitute. We deserved the penalty for our sins, but Christ received it in our place. In my place, condemned he stood. Atonement – forgiveness.
Like the animal in the garden, and like the sacrifices in the Levitical system, so Christ received our penalty and we were forgiven. But there is more. This was not only the expiation of sin as we saw in the garden. Expiation, if you remember grants forgiveness, but expiation does not take away God’s wrath. We see twice in the New Testament that God passed over the sins of old in anticipation of the coming sacrifice. You see, it is not simply forgiveness that we need—not expiation alone—but we need propitiation—the assuaging of God’s wrath. We need expiation and God needs propitiation. And so we see Paul writing,
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins, (Romans 3.23-25, ESV).
But we also see not just the expiation in the garden, but the expediency of the Lord. By expediency, I only mean that God did what was necessary and good at the moment for the good of all humanity. I am by no means implying that it was a whimsical move or that it was not given any forethought. This was planned in eternity past, and was and is part of the perfect plan.
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, let he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken, (Genesis 3.22-23, ESV).
This is often understood as God’s judgment pronounced. And in a sense, it is. But it is not a simply a display of judgment, but a display of God’s holy love. The dilemma that is shown in these verses is that man will live forever in his sin. God loves us too much to leave us in our sin. Hence, he not only provided expiation for us, but also propitiation. But until that time came, he also kept from Adam and Eve and all their progeny the tree of life. This was an act of disciplinary love. “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom the father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons,” (Hebrews 12.7-8, ESV). Discipline makes things hard on the child being disciplined. No longer would Adam and Eve be in the lush garden that may need tending to, but sent out to work the cursed ground, and as God said, “in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken,” (Genesis 3.17e-19b, ESV).
The discipline may seem harsh. It may seem too much at times, but it is done not out of hatred and not from uncontrollable rage, but from a heart that loves us too much to let us stay forever in our sins. That is why Christ came. He came to set us free from our sin.
When sin became so bad, God called one righteous man and his family. Noah, his wife, his sons, and his sons’ wives built an ark, and were saved. In the process two of every kind of animal were saved, along with seven of every clean animal. From his sons came the ethnicities of the world. Cities and eventually nations were built. One ethnicity became the center of God’s redemptive plan. God called Abraham, a descendant of Shem—thus a Semite—to start a new nation, a new people. From this people Jesus came to be the Savior of the world. Now for thousands of years, the Jews have been the most hated people-group of all time. But in the death of Christ we see that the bridge between the ethnicities has been built.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in the ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility, (Eph 2.13-16, ESV).
Why do I bring this up? Because it is detrimental to our understanding of the gospel. In expediency, for our good, God separated us from the tree of life. Thus we will not live forever in our sins. All the things that divide people, all the sins, and even languages and ethnicities, have already begun to reconcile themselves through the blood of the cross. In heaven, we all stand together. “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation [ethnicities], from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, (Revelation 7.9, ESV).
What does this have to do with the tree of life? Everything!
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations [ethnicities],” (Revelation 22.1-2, ESV). What was once banned due to God’s holy loving discipline, is now open for all to take. The differences and hostilities that were bridged at the cross, have now—because of this tree—been completely eradicated. In heaven, we are completely one! While we will have our differences, we will not have hostilities.
There is more to it than just expiation and expediency. There is still the expulsion. We caught of glimpse of it in Genesis 3.23, but verse 24 makes it clear. “He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life,” (ESV).
That’s a pretty severe word. God drove out the man. In the Greek version of the Bible, called the Septuagint, the same word is used here as is when Jesus drove out the money changers. It literally means to throw out. Like the skins and like the tree of life, the garden is but a shadow of something real. Man was separated from paradise, from God’s presence, from heaven on earth.
He was thrown out of the garden and into the lonely world. But he is not the only one to be thrown out. Part of Israel’s law was to have a Day of Atonement. On that day two goats would be presented. One would be sacrificed. The other would be presented before the LORD, have hands placed upon it, symbolically transferring the sin of the people onto it. Then it would be sent out into the wilderness, symbolically sending it out of the presence of God so that the people would not have to be.
But in identifying with Adam and Eve, being the true scapegoat, Jesus was thrown out. Not out of heaven. He voluntarily left heaven. But thrown out into a lonely place. All four gospel writers record the baptism of Jesus. There in one place do we see all three Persons of the Trinity. The Father speaks, the Son is baptized, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him as a dove. But then the first three record something John doesn’t. Jesus went out into the wilderness. Mark, unlike Matthew and Luke, used the exact same word that was used in Genesis 3.24. “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness,” (Mark 1.12, ESV). A place of loneliness and danger, just as Adam and Eve and the people of Israel experienced. I find it interesting that the first temptation that Adam and Eve had, the first sin that Israel committed, and the first temptation that we have recorded about Christ all deal with food. The first Adam failed in the temptation, so did Israel, but the Second Adam, Jesus the Christ, never gave into temptation. Because Christ died the sinless substitute, we who were once alienated from God, driven out by not just Adam’s sin, but our own as well, have been brought near. But not just a garden, a mere shadow, but a new heaven and earth.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more, And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tea from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be any mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away,” (Revelation 21.1-4, ESV).