For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous (Rom. 5:19).”
One of the more important contrasts in the Bible is between the first Adam in the original garden of Eden, and the last Adam, Jesus Christ, who came as God’s gift to to the world to save people from their sins. This great contrast helps us to understand that what Adam lost, Christ has regained—and more. The most vivid of these contrasts in shown to us in the arrest of Jesus in John’s gospel as Jesus purposefully steps into our place of judgment.
The Bible presents Jesus Christ as the last Adam and promised savior of his people to come and regain, in our place, perfectly, what the first Adam lost. This being so, we shouldn’t be surprised that a garden scene is described in the Bible before the penalty of death is executed by the last Adam.
In John 18:1-11, a great contrast is drawn between the two garden scenes of the first and last Adam. John begins by telling us that Jesus went out over the Brook Kidron where there was a garden which he and his disciples entered. That John doesn’t mention Gethsemane is a purposeful omission to let the single word “garden” captivate the reader. What kind of garden was this?
The first man Adam lost everything in the original garden.
When we think of a garden, we think of a beautiful place of plants, shady trees, and that which is pleasant. John’s mention of Kidron, however, should not go unnoticed. Throughout the Old Testament Kidron was known, particularly by the designation of Jeremiah, as a place of dead bodies and ashes. Jeremiah 31:40 states,
“The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the Lord.”
The valley of dead bones, death and ashes was a place consecrated by the Lord for precisely what John 18 describes.
The first man Adam lost everything in the original garden. The garden was a place of beauty and peace. In was in this garden, however, that the crown of God’s creation, made in his image ,was seduced away into rebellion and ruin. God said to Adam,
“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.” (Gen. 2:17)
That’s exactly what happened: the garden became a place of exile and death.
The first Adam hid from God’s judgment.
To keep with the contrast in John, the reader should be reminded that the original garden scene came with a day of reckoning. Genesis 3:8 describes God coming into the garden in the “cool of the day.” This has been one of the most misunderstood verses in all of the Bible. God was not taking a casual stroll to enjoy the breeze, only to discover the half-eaten piece of fruit in the hand of Adam. Genesis 3:8 describes the final Day of Judgment in the original garden. Adam heard the sound of God’s glory coming forth in the “spirit” (ruach) of [judgment] day. What did Adam do? He ran as fast as he could the other way and hid.
Fast forward to John 18, and we have the same scene. John presents the last Adam as crossing over the valley in the shadow of death for us, into the place of dead bodies and ashes. Jesus is standing in our place to pick up the pieces where the first Adam once fell. The whole thing is meant to recall the first garden scene, provoking the question: What would have happened had God unleashed the fury of his wrath in full in the original garden and not planned a covenant of grace?
The sad story of the human race would end in eternal judgment apart from God’s grace.
The original garden scene in Genesis ended with mercy; God shed blood to cover Adam’s sin in anticipation of the last Adam to come. But we do have some idea of what would have been like had God decided to judge Adam and his posterity without mercy in the original garden. The Lord would have sent out his angels with weapons of war to arrest speechless Adam, and then execute his righteous judgment. The sad story of the human race would end in eternal judgment.
But God did something wonderful; instead, an announcement was made that he would send his Son into the word to save what Adam lost (Gen. 3:15). A covenant of grace was made and mercy was shown as God shed the blood of an animal, teaching us that apart from the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. God covered Adam and his wife in these skins in anticipation of the deliverance to come through Jesus’ shed blood.
In John 18, the arrest, judgment, and execution that we deserved is now falling on the last Adam. The scene is awful. As soon as Jesus enters the garden of Gethsemane, he cries out, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me” (Matt. 26:38). At this moment, his sweat becomes like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44). Death and darkness begins to overcome Jesus.
It’s at this moment that his arrest occurs. To connect the two scenes, the betrayer, Judas, Satan’s vice-regent, picks up where Satan left off. Judas enters the garden with a detachment of troops and officers who come with lanterns, torches, and weapons. The Greek word “speiron” is used to tell us that a tenth part of a Roman legion, about six hundred men and a magnificent force, has come to arrest Jesus with many weapons of war, along with the temple police.
Instead of hiding, the last Adam, Jesus, stepped forward on our behalf.
John doesn’t want us to miss the moment. John 18:4 says that Jesus therefore, “knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” (emphasis added). When the first Adam heard the sound of God’s arrival in the garden, they ran as fast as they could to “hide themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” What a reversal! God is now standing in our place, in a garden, and we have come to arrest him and he steps forward to his betrayer.
What makes the Christian gospel so unimaginable, unfathomable, and overwhelming is “who” is presented as coming in Adam’s place. John wants us to ponder this. Jesus asks, “Whom are you seeking?” He wasn’t wondering if they were seeking someone different. Jesus asked this question for generations of readers to ponder the marvel of who came to be the propitiation for the sins of the world. The question sounds like this: “Who do you think you have come to with torches and weapons to seize?” It’s meant to be a scary question. In their derogatory and disrespectful manner, and with complete blindness, they say, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Is that all they thought of him? Yes, that’s been the problem throughout the whole book of John.
The last Adam called himself “I AM,” the holy name revealed in the burning bush.
Jesus responded with a self-designation that our English translations don’t often capture properly: “When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:6). The personally pronoun “he” should be left out of the text to capture what is happening. Jesus plainly responded with, “I AM,” and I AM was the holy name revealed in the burning bush (Exod. 3:14). The name also has been used throughout John to reveal the identity of Jesus as God’s divine Son. John doesn’t want us to miss “whom” they have to arrest. As soon as Jesus designates himself as I AM, we read that the entire cohort, hundreds of men, “went backwards and fell to the ground.”
This was much more than a simple stumble. They were thrown to the ground as an act of devotion so as to bow the knee before I AM. Martin Luther said of this event, “Had Christ not addressed them again, they would still be lying there to this day.”
If there is any picture of what the last day will look like, we have found it in John 18. On that day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is LORD as the great I AM (Phil. 2:11). They have come to arrest “their Lord and their God”, anticipating the confession of Thomas (John 20:28). But the Scriptures had to be fulfilled, and Jesus had come to the place of judgment in our place—as our substitute—to fulfill the plan of God to bring salvation to the nations.
THE GREAT EXCHANGE
The most beautiful thing now happens in the gospel of John. Jesus, fully determined to love his sheep to the end (Jn 13:1), answers once more time, “‘I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go’” (John 18:8).
Jesus not only has the power to lay down his life, but he also has the authority to release his own. Here is the moment, dear reader, of what has been called throughout history “the Great Exchange” of the gospel. The word for “let go” is the same word that used in the Bible “to forgive.” Hear Jesus: “I AM, therefore, pardon these, let them go, forgive them, and take me in their place.”
Jesus was arrested in our place of judgment that he might forgive us all our sins.
Jesus is then taken bound, seized, and hauled off to judgment in the very place, a garden, where the first Adam sinned; and as this happens, with full authority, he commands that his sheep be “let go.” What a reversal! Jesus arrested in our place of judgment. We handcuffed God’s eternal Son in the garden—the just for the unjust, taking our place of judgment—that he might forgive us all our sins.
All of your personal sins, the sin of Adam and the condemnation that you and I deserve, Jesus carried on his shoulders, being led away as a sheep to the slaughter (see Isa. 53) as he releases you, dear believer, forever, forgiving your sins and securing a place for you in glory.
As we celebrate the passion and suffering of Jesus, leading to his glorious resurrection, meditate on the glorious truth of Jesus in your place. Christ has done everything necessary to stand in your place so that you will never face the judgment of God. This is what Good Friday is all about, so believe in him, bow the knee in submission, and give praise to your Lord and your God, who has visited you today with salvation.