Sermon: Adam as Priest: Genesis 2:4-17

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 2:4-17

“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘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 2:4–17, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Hebrews 4:14–16

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16, ESV)


Brothers and sisters, I hope and pray that you are not growing tired of our rather tedious journey through the first few chapters of Genesis. All scripture is important, but there are some passages that are more foundational than others. Genesis chapters 1 through 3 are foundational. They communicate truths that are basic and seminal. These chapters lay down foundations necessary for a worldview that is biblical and true. And so it is good that we take our time here. 

It is so very important for us to have a worldview that is biblical and true. By “worldview” I mean the way in which we view the world. A worldview is a philosophy of life. A persons worldview is the sum total of what he or she thinks of life biggest questions. Where did we come from? What and who are we? What is our purpose and destiny? It is so important that our worldview be biblical and true, for it will undoubtably shape the way that we live our lives. By “true” I mean that we must have a worldview that corresponds to the reality of things. And by “biblical” I mean that our worldview must come ultimately from God’s word. 

I hope that you would agree that God is the only one capable of communicating to us a view of the world that is thoroughly true. Yes, unbelieving scientists, philosophers and theologians may seek to establish their own worldview independent from God through their observation of the natural world and by use of human reason, but they are terribly limited by their own smallness, their creaturely limitations and especially their sin. Do the unbelieving scientists, philosophers and theologians come to some true conclusions? I’m sure they do, for God does reveal himself to some degree through the world he has made. But there are many things that lay beyond our ability to comprehend apart from God’s word. This is due to our creatureliness, not to mention our sin which blinds our eyes and clouds our judgement. 

The true child of God happily acknowledges that we are dependent upon God for truth. He alone is qualified to communicate it. He has graciously revealed his truth to us, and we are to receive it happily and humbly. 

The same questions that God put Job are appropriate for us to consider here. In Job 38:4–7 God questioned Job, saying, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” God’s questioning of Job goes on and on in that passage, and we need not read it all to understand the point of it. “Where were you when [God] laid the foundations of the earth?” We must reply by saying, “Lord, I did not exist. I was not there to witness it.”

Who is qualified to reveal foundational truths to us? Can any man do it on his own? Can any man simply reason his way to the answers to life’s biggest questions? The Christian is content to say, “no, not infallibly.” But God can reveal truth to us infallibly, because he was there in the beginning. More than that, he himself is the source of all things. Just as we are dependent upon God for life and breath, so too we are dependent upon him for truth. If we are to know truth – ultimate truth – then he must reveal it us. 

Thanks be to God that he has revealed it, for “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV). What a treasure the Word of God is! Brothers and sisters, let us treasure God’s word. May it be to us more “desired… than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10, ESV).

Let us open God’s word often. And whenever it is opened let us listen attentively so that we might understand it, believe it and live accordingly. Friends, let us “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save [our] souls” (James 1:21, ESV).

What are the foundational truths that have been established for us so far in our study of Genesis 1 and 2. Among other things we have learned that God is the Creator and we are his creatures. I cannot think of a more basic truth than this, and yet so many live as if it were not so. Many live as if they were God, and God was theirs to create. No friends, God is God, and we are his creatures. We have been made by him and in his image. As image bearers of God we were created to commune with God. We were created to imitate him in his kingship. Man, as he came from the hand of God, was to exercise “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26, ESV). The man and women together were to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28, ESV). 

What does this have to do with you and me? It has everything to do with you and me for it reveals something of the purpose for which God created man.

In Genesis 2 we learned that God entered into a covenant with the man. It was a covenant of obedience or works. Evidently the man and women were placed under a time of testing. Two trees were set before them – the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  They were created with a free will. God created “man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice.” They were “neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil” (LBC 9.1). The man and women were put to the test. The reward for obedience was life – a higher order of life than they had experienced in the garden, eternal life, a glorified life. The stated consequence for disobedience was death – spiritual death, as well as physical. “God created man upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatened death upon the breach thereof… (LBC 6.1). The two tree functioned as sacraments, symbolizing obedience and life on the one hand, and rebellion and death on the other. 

What does this have to do with you and me? It has everything to do with you and me, for it shows what it means to born into this world fallen and in sin. Though we have not yet come to this part of the story, you know it well enough. Adam did not keep the covenant, but broke it. And we are born in Adam. We are born under the covenant of works, which is broken. It cannot give life. It only brings death. 

What does this have to do with you and me? It has everything to do with you and me, for it also shows what Christ has accomplished. He, being the second Adam, has kept the covenant of works. He has paid the penalty for sin, which is death. And this he has done for all of God’s elect – for all who have and do and will believe upon his name.  

God planted a garden in a place called Eden and there he placed the man and woman whom he had formed. The garden was the place where this covenant was made. It was not just a garden, but it was a temple or sanctuary. There in that place man enjoyed communion with God, for God was present in that place. It was in the garden that man was to fulfill his purpose as he lived in perpetual obedience to the God who made him. it was in the garden that Adam was to keep the covenant. Adam and Eve were to worship and serve God there in that place. They were to reproduce and teach their children and their children’s children to worship and serve God there in that place. They were to fill earth with the image of God by bearing children and by working to expand the garden of God. This they were to do until the whole earth was filled with God’s glory.    

What does this have to do with you and me? It has everything to do with you and me, for it shows God’s original purpose for humanity. Also, it makes it possible for us to understand what Christ has earned. Not only has he earned the salvation of individuals, but also the new heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells. The first Adam was to accomplish this – he was to fill the earth with righteousness until heaven and earth became one – but he failed. Thanks be to God, the second Adam, who is Christ our Lord, has succeeded through his obedient life and his sacrificial death. He, by virtue of his life, death, burial and resurrection, has been “appointed the heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2, ESV). He is the one who has earned the “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13, ESV), for which we eagerly await. 

Understanding Adam’s original place in the garden also shows what has been restored to us if we are in Christ Jesus. If we are in Christ Jesus, being united to him by faith, then the image of God has been renewed in us. If we are in Christ we are again called sons of God, as Adam was. We again stand before God aright, our enmity with God having been wiped away by the blood of the Lamb. And so too our purpose has been renewed. We who are in Christ have this task, work towards the expansion of God’s kingdom to the ends of the earth. This was Adam’s task, and it is also ours if we are in Christ, the second Adam. The difference, of course, is that we must work towards the expansion of the kingdom of God in a world that is fallen, whereas Adam was originally woking in paradise. He was to work towards the expansion of the garden while also keeping it. When we expand the kingdom of God we do so m=by pushing back the gates of hell.  And we are to work towards the expansion of the kingdom of God, not by pushing out out the borders of the garden sanctuary of God and through reproduction, but through the proclamation of gospel, which is the good news that God has provided a Savior for sinners, Christ Jesus our Lord. And so our work looks different, doesn’t it? But our task is not altogether different from Adam’s original one now that we are in Christ. He was to works towards the expansion of God’s kingdom and so are we.   

All of this matters greatly, friends. When we handle the first few chapters of Genesis we handling things that are absolutely essential to a right understanding of our faith. I hope that you would agree. 

The foundational truth that I wish to emphasize today is a simple one. It is that Adam was not a farmer (as many suppose), but a priest in the garden temple of God. Put differently, Adam’s work was not only to dig irrigation canals and to plant and cultivate trees – his work was not only to bring order to the unordered parts of the earth – but he was also to function as a priest. He was to work and to keep the garden temple of God. His task was to drive away any intruder who would seek to undermine the proper worship of God in that place. Adam was to draw near to God, he was to live holy before him, he was to promote the worship of God, he was to keep the garden, driving away any who would attempt to defile its sanctity. He was to do the work of a priest.   

How do we know that Adam was a priest? By the way, remember that he was also a prophet and king. He was a prophet in that he was to proclaim God’s word to Eve and to his descendants, saying, “thus saith the Lord!” And he was a king in that he was to exercise dominion in imitation of his Maker with Eve his helper at his side. That Adam was a prophet and king seems obvious. But how do we know that Adam was a priest? I have four answers to that question, and then suggestions for application.

One, we know that Adam was a priest by paying careful attention to the narrative of Genesis chapters 2 & 3. 

Notice where Adam was placed after being created by God. He was placed within the garden which, as it was established in the previous sermon, was a temple or sanctuary of God. This is where priests work – in the temple.  

Notice also Adam’s proximity to God. Adam stood in the presence of God. God walked in the garden amongst the man and woman. His presence was in that place. 

Lastly, notice Adam’s work. God commanded him to “work” and to “keep” the garden. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15, ESV). This is precisely the work that the priests under the Old Covenant were to accomplish. The Levites were to “work and keep” the tabernacle, and later the temple of Israel.  

In Numbers 18 the work of the priests of Israel is described. And notice that their “So the Lord said to Aaron, ‘You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear iniquity connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity connected with your priesthood. And with you bring your brothers also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may join you and minister to you while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony. They shall keep [šāmar – same as in Gen 2] guard over you and over the whole tent, but shall not come near to the vessels of the sanctuary or to the altar lest they, and you, die. They shall join you and keep [šāmar – same as in Gen 2] guard over the tent of meeting for all the service [ʿaḇôḏāh – noun form of verb, to work in Gen 2] of the tent, and no outsider shall come near you. And you shall keep [šāmar – same as in Gen 2] guard over the sanctuary and over the altar, that there may never again be wrath on the people of Israel. And behold, I have taken your brothers the Levites from among the people of Israel. They are a gift to you, given to the Lord, to do the service [ʿaḇôḏāh – noun form of verb, to work] of the tent of meeting. And you and your sons with you shall guard [šāmar – same as keep in Gen 2] your priesthood for all that concerns the altar and that is within the veil; and you shall serve [ʿāḇaḏ – verb, to work, same as in Gen 2]. I give your priesthood as a gift, and any outsider who comes near shall be put to death” (Numbers 18:1–7, ESV). 

The priests of Israel were to “work” and “keep” the tabernacle, and later the temple, just as Adam was to “work” and “keep” the garden. The terminology of “work” and “keep” is shared in common and deliberately so. Why? To show that the garden was a temple and Adam was a priest. The temple of Israel was a microcosm of creation and of Eden, and the priests of Israel were a reflection of Adam in is his original priestly function. 

Adam was to “work” in the garden to the glory of God, laboring towards its universal expansion. And he was to “keep” or to guard the garden from all intruders, preserving its sanctity.  

How do we know that Adam was a priest? First, by paying careful attention to the narrative of Genesis chapters 2 & 3.

Secondly, by observing the development of the theme of “priesthood” in the history of redemption. 

Adam was a priest. In fact the original design for humanity was that all would function as priests. By this I mean that Adam and all his descendants  were to minister in the presence of God. All were to live holy before him, promoting his worship while they preserved the sanctity and extended the bounds of his holy tabernacle.

But notice that after the fall God, by his mercy and grace, still appointed priests. I am thinking of Melchizedek and Arron, the Levites as well as others. What was the meaning of this? Can you see that the presence of priests after the fall communicated that a way to communion with God was still open, despite mans fall into sin. What an extraordinary thing this is! It fits hand in glove with what was said in the previous sermon concerning the temple. Eden was a temple, and the presence of temples after the fall communicated that a way to communion with God was still open, despite mans fall into sin. No longer could we work our way to God, but we could come to him through the offering up of a substitutionary sacrifice – animals at first, and then Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of he world. The fact that priests remained the world from Adam to Christ communicated that a way to communion with God was still open.  

But notice this, Aaron and the Levites – that is, the priests who ministered to God under the Old Mosaic Covenant in Israel’s tabernacle and temple – were not the first priests. They are the best known priests. Their work is most clearly described for us in the pages of holy scripture. But they were not the first, nor were they the last.  

Adam was a priest. All others are an echo of him. 

Adams children knew to make sacrifices to God. Cain did so badly, but Able got it right. Think about that for a moment. Where did they learn to bring sacrifices to the Lord? The text doesn’t explicitly say, but Adam must have taught them. Making sacrifices to God is priestly work, is it not? Able functioned as a kind of priest, then, as he offered up sacrifices to God as an act of worship before him. This he probably learned from Adam, his priestly father.

And then we have that mysterious figure, Melchizedek. He lived long before Moses, Aaron and Levi, and yet he was a priest of the Lord Most High, and the king of Salem. The book of Hebrews makes it clear that Christ was a priest in the line of Melchizedek, and not Aaron, as the priests of the Old Covent were.

Aaron and the Levites were not the first priests, nor were they the last. Christ himself is the High Priest. And we are priests in him, as we will shall see. 

To solidify the connection between the priests who minister after the fall and Adam as priest, simply consider the imagery of the tabernacle of Israel and the priests who ministered there. The high priest of Israel was to enter the most holy place once per year. He represented the people as he entered the most holy place into the presence of God through the shedding of blood. Picture it now. The priest would walk up to that large curtain embroidered with seraphim. He would enter the most holy place and there he would see the ark of the covenant with the two cherubim on either side guarding that place. Was this not an image of the priest walking back into Eden as it were? After the Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden and cherubim were appointed to guard the entrance. But under the Old Covenant the high priest was invited to enter. A sacrifice had to be made, prefiguring Christ. But a way to the throne of God was still open, thanks be to God. 

Not only did the Old Covenant priests of Israel point forward to Christ, they we also and echo of Adam.

Thirdly, we know that Adam was a priest by comparing Adam, who was a type, with Christ, our great high priest, who is the antitype. 

Paul says directly in Romans 5:14 that Adam “was a type of the one who was to come” (Romans 5:14, ESV), namely Jesus the Christ. 

What is a type? A type is a picture or model or foreshadow of something that yet to come. The Old Testament scriptures are filled with “types” that pointed forward to the coming Savior, who would then be the antitype, or the thing to which the type corresponds. 

C.J. Williams has some wonderful things to say concerning the typology. He says in his book, “The Shadow of Christ in The Book of Job”, that “the person and work of Jesus Christ was imprinted on the history that led to his incarnation, through people and events that were invested with prophetic meaning by God, offering glimpses of the coming Savior, and reassuring God’s people of the promise of his coming.” Another way to say this is that God communicated to his Old Covenant people that the Christ would come not only by speaking through the prophets, but also by types and shadows – historical people and events which “said” something about the coming Christ, but not through words. 

The historical person named Adam was a “type” of Christ. Certain things about him communicated things that would be true concerning the Christ once he arrived. Adam was human – the Christ would be human. Adam was a son of God – Christ would be the Son of God. Adam was born under the Covenant of Works – the Christ would be born under the Covenant of Works. Adam was head or representative of others – Christ would be a head or representative for others. Through Adam’s headship death came to all whom he represented – through Christ’s headship life would come to all he represented. At first it seems inappropriate to compare Adam with Christ. In some respects they couldn’t be more different given the terrible failure of the first and the wonderful success of the second. But the scriptures say that Adam was a “type” which pointed forward to Christ, the antitype. 

Here is the point. If Christ is our high priest, then wouldn’t that mean that Adam was also a priest. This they share in common. The difference between the two is that the one was faithful in his priesthood, whereas the other was found to be unfaithful. This is why there is only :one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5, ESV).

Lastly, and very briefly, we know that Adam was a priest by considering that in Christ we have been renewed to function as priests before our God.

The work of Christ is a work of renewal. Christ restores in us what was lost or marred at the fall. 

Adam was created a son of God. We, in our fallenness are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3) – children of the devil (John 8:44). In Christ we are restored, adopted as children of God by the Spirit by whom we cry out “Abba Father”. 

Adam was made in the image of God. We, in our fallenness, find that the image is greatly marred and distorted. In Christ the image of God is renewed. “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9–10, ESV).

Likewise, Adam was created to live as a priest before God. This was God’s design for all mankind. In our fallenness we do live as faithful priests. But in Christs our priesthood is restored. 

Listen to the way that Peter speaks to the Christian. “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house…” Ah, you are a God’s temple – do you see it? But there is more! “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4–5, ESV).

Did you hear it? If you are in Christ – if you are approaching God through faith in him – then you are God’s temple and you are a priest. What was lost with Adam has been restored in Christ. 

No longer is the priesthood restricted to only a few. Now that Christ, the second Adam, and our faithfully high priest has died and risen, the priestly role has been restored to all who are in him. You are sons of God, each one. You are being renewed in knowledge after the image of your creator. You are a priest before God, as was Adam was a priest, prior to his transgression. Those in Christ, “like living stones… being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”


Brothers and sisters, do you see that God’s original design for humanity was that all would function as priests before God?

I wonder if you would consider how far we have fallen. How many from amongst the children of man are interested in coming before God to worship and serve him faithfully according to his revealed will? How many are interested in living holy before him to and to promote his worship amongst others? The answer is that none are interested, unless God intervenes. In our natural and fallen state we happily serve as false priests to false gods. We serve ourselves. We worship the things of this world, and we encourage others to do likewise. Oh, how distorted we are in our sin!

But God is merciful. He has provided a Savior, Christ Jesus our Lord. He is our faithful high priest. He served God faithfully all his life. And in the end he offered himself of for our sins. Are you trusting in him? He is indeed the only mediator between God and man. He is the only priest who can led us to God. Any others who claim to be priests or mediator are liars and should not be trusted. Faith alone in Christ alone can effetely bring us into a right relationship with God. 

If you are in Christ then you have been renewed in the image of God, and you are to walk as a priest before him. Are you?

Are you drawing near to God so as to enjoy his presence?

Are you living holy before him, or are you content with your sin?

Are you faithful in prayer? Prayers for yourself and on behalf of others? 

Are you eager to worship God and to promote the worship of God amongst others?

Are you concerned to bring others to God through faith in Christ, or have you grown complacent?

If you are a husband, father or head of house, are you functioning as a priest in your home? Are you faithfully leading your wife and kids to God through Christ? Are you promoting the worship of God there? Are you interceding for those who God has entrusted to your care? Are you preaching the gospel to your family so that the kingdom of God might be expanded realm over which God had given you dominion?

This is the kind of work that a priest is to do, and you are a kingdom of priests. “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4–5, ESV).


Comments are closed.

"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

© 2011-2022 Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church