Romans 5:12-15 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned. 13 In fact, sin was in the world before the law, but sin is not charged to a person’s account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam’s transgression. He is a type of the Coming One.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift which comes through the grace of the one man Jesus Christ overflowed to the many. (CSB)
“They came to a place called Golgotha (which means ‘the place of the skull’)” (Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22; Luke 23:33). Golgotha was just outside the city gates of Jerusalem (John 19:20), so there would have been plenty of people walking by and gawking at the sight of crucifixions on that bloody hill. “Golgotha” is Aramaic for “skull.”
We often interchange the name “Golgotha” for “Mt. Calvary” – and rightly so. “Calvary” means “skull” in Latin. Both terms are literally translated as “Skull Place” or “Place of the Skull.”
Perhaps the hill upon which Jesus was crucified was called Golgotha or Calvary – the Place of the Skull – because the face of the hill looked like the face of a skull.
Or, perhaps it was named Skull Place because the hill had been literally littered with skulls from past Roman executions performed there.
However, the Gospel writers may have referred to this hill outside of Jerusalem as the Place of the Skull because Jewish tradition claimed that Adam’s skull was buried there.
There is a late Jewish tradition that Noah’s son, Shem, buried Adam’s skull near Jerusalem. It was then said to be guarded by Melchizadek, the priest-king of Salam (Jerusalem) at the time of Abraham. This tradition was repeated by the early church father, Origen (c. 184-253), that the skull of Adam was buried in the Holy City.
Byzantine icons, Russian icons, and European art often have portrayed a skull at the foot of Jesus’ cross. Or, the skull is buried just underneath the cross. Some, even depict Christ’s cross atop a cave with Christ’s blood running down into the cave and falling upon Adam’s skull inside.
Throughout history, by placing Adam’s skull at the foot of Jesus’ cross, artists are visually portraying what St. Paul described in Romans 5:12, 15: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned … But the gift is not like the trespass. For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift which comes through the grace of the one man Jesus Christ overflowed to the many.”
Adam had been given everything in the Garden of Eden. He was given every tree to eat from in the garden (Genesis 2:16). These trees were pleasing to the eye and good for food (Genesis 2:9). He was given a soul (Genesis 2:9), a wife (Genesis 2:22), and the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). Yet, all of that wasn’t enough. He still desired to be like God – knowing the difference between good and evil (Genesis 3:5). So, he accepted the serpent’s aid … and so ate of the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3:6).
As the juices of that forbidden fruit were still on Adam’s lips, he realized what he had done. With a single action, he had reversed everything that God had just created.
In a world where light had newly shone upon the earth, Adam brought a darkness that was impenetrable by human means. A spiritual darkness that would consume mankind with genocide, abortions, slavery, world wars, the Holocaust, and other unspeakable atrocities.
Into a new world that was “very good” (Genesis 1:31), Adam brought death. Immediately upon eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve recognized their nakedness (Genesis 3:7), so they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. But fig leaves dry and fall off. They were a brief fix. God took matters into His own divine hands by slaying animals, skinning them, and giving the skins as clothing to Adam and Eve. This leather was more long-lasting. With this leather, God was plainly displaying to them that the effects of their sin would have long-lasting repercussions for them and all creation.
St. Paul explains that “death reigned from Adam to Moses …” (Romans 5:14). The Holy Spirit records for us how death reigned in Adam’s family. Each paragraph in Genesis 5 gives the account of the son, grandson, great grandson, etc., of Adam. Almost all of those paragraphs end with the straightforward effect of what Adam had brought upon his own family with the words: “… and then he died” (Genesis 5:5, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31). “In this way death spread to all people” (Romans 5:12). The world quickly started filling up with funerals and cemeteries.
The world had been quiet, peaceful, and filled with life in the perfection of the Garden. But, with one disobedient act, Adam plunged the whole world into sin. At that moment, the perfection of the Garden was torn apart. The quiet became a cacophony of shrills and shrieks. The peace was followed by war. All because death had entered the Garden.
Adam became infected with the disease of sin. It is a disease that is one hundred percent fatal. It is also a hereditary disease that has been passed down to countless generations of Adam’s children. We call this hereditary sin “original sin”.
You pass on certain traits and characteristics to your children. My daughters complain that they received my lack of height, my flat feet, my poor eyesight, and even my singing voice. But, they also received something far worse than even my inability to carry a tune. I shared my original sin with them. With it, they also received death from me. “So death spread to all people because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Parents have transmitted mortality to their children.
What Adam had done, the second Adam – Jesus the Christ – has undone. Paul teaches that Adam was a “type” or “pattern” for the Adam to come: “Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam’s transgression. He is a type of the Coming One” (Romans 5:14). The “Coming One” was Jesus Christ. Adam prefigured and foreshadowed Christ. Adam and Christ bear a similarity to each other in that both did something that has an effect on the whole human race. What Christ did, however, is much greater and far superior. Adam’s sin plunged all of humanity into sin. What Christ accomplished on the cross, reversed the effect of all that sin.
Sin caused death to reign – to sit on a throne and be in command of all. All living creatures – humans, animals, plant life, the earth itself, is under the tyrannical rule of death. But, Christ knocked death off its throne with His gift of salvation.
Paul states that Adam brought universal death. But life comes only to those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Paul adds to this comparison in 1 Corinthians: Just as “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 15:21,22).
God’s grace to you is absolutely certain! It is embodied in the person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who took on human flesh so that He might become the second Adam. As the perfect God-Man, this second Adam could undo everything the first Adam had done.
The first Adam’s blood has passed the terminal disease of original sin to all of Adam’s children. The blood of the second Adam is the effective and immediate cure for this deadly disease. This cure is given to all who are made brothers and sisters of Jesus through faith in Him.
The first Adam plunged the world into death and caused the earth to be filled with sorrow, mourning, and cemeteries. The second Adam released the world from the grip of death. He has promised to open graves, wipe away tears, and turn cemeteries into parties for those who believe in Him.
The first Adam brought the curse of sin into the world. That curse has caused birth defects, infections, diseases, addictions, old age, and premature funerals. Adam brought the reality of sin and the consequences of sin – eternal death – into each of our lives. We daily live under this cruse.
Eventually, the skull of each of us will be buried under the ground like Adam’s skull (wherever Adam’s skull is really buried).
The second Adam came to overcome what Adam’s action had produced. The one Man – the God-Man – Jesus, changed everything. Jesus’ perfect life, innocent death, and glorious resurrection secured God’s grace upon cursed humanity.
Paul explains: “But the gift is not like the trespass. For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift which comes through the grace of the one man Jesus Christ overflowed to the many.” (Romans 5:15).
We often use the word “trespass” as a synonym for “sin.” And yet, there is a specific imagery for the word “trespass.” To trespass means to go where you don’t belong. You don’t accidently trespass on someone’s property. You knowingly and willfully trespass onto the property where you know you don’t belong. Adam trespassed when he went to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He knew he didn’t belong there. He willfully ate the forbidden fruit. Adam’s trespass was no accident. He didn’t stumble into eating the fruit. He didn’t trip and the fruit just popped into his mouth. This was a deliberate rebellion against God.
Adam trespassed. He knowingly and willfully went where he knew he should not go. He quietly listened to the conversation between his wife and the serpent. Then, he deliberately bit down into the forbidden fruit.
You and I trespass continually. We accidently and purposefully go where we know God does not want us to go. We don’t just stumble into lack of worship. We don’t trip into taking God’s name in vain. We don’t blunder into stealing, lusting, hating, or gossiping. We knowingly and willingly – and often, gleefully – rush headlong into those trespasses. That’s why we pray constantly in the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our trespasses.”
We may find ourselves not wanting to admit it or trying to avoid the thought that we too are sinful, but the truth is … we are sinful and live under its consequence. We are born with original sin. We act upon this inborn sin with our active sins of accidental and purposeful trespasses. We pass this sin onto our children. Every time our children are disobedient, it is a reminder they are only doing what we’ve bred them to do. Every news report of death reminds us of this reality. Every funeral we attend is a reminder of the consequence of breaking the law of God. Death came to all people, you and me and our children included, because all trespassed … yes, you and me and our children, as well.
But the gift of God is greater than the trespass. Grace is more powerful than sin. God’s willful love is superior to our willful disobedience. God’s mercy borne through the God-Man is bigger than all of mankind’s inborn sin put together.
Seeing Adam’s skull under the ground reminds us of our connection to Adam and the curse he brought upon all of us. But seeing Adam’s skull buried at the foot of Jesus’ cross also reminds us that the actions of the second Adam have overcome the actions of the first Adam.
Yes, we have Adam’s blood flowing through our veins, infecting us with original and active sins. But, that’s not the only blood we have in us! We also have the blood of the Jesus flowing down from the cross and over our skulls, over our bodies, and into our hearts. We have Jesus’ body and blood placed into our mouths. The sinful blood of the first man is powerful, killing, and damning. But the blood of the God-Man is greater … forgiving … and life-giving.
By God’s great mercy, Jesus reversed everything that Adam brought into the world.