After Adam and Eve sinned (Gen 3), God handed out punishments to everyone. The one we most remember is the punishment to the serpent (Satan): “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He shall crush your head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Gen 3.15). We understand, of course, that this was a prediction of what Jesus would do on the cross. Satan dealt Jesus harm on the cross, but the harm was only temporary because Jesus rose from the dead. But the harm that Jesus dealt Satan was much worse. Jesus’ death was an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world and provided forgiveness for the power of sin. Satan’s grip on man was undone at the cross (1 John 3.8).
There is an echo of this passage in Galatians 4.4 “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.” That phrase “born of a woman” not only means that Jesus took on human form, it also connects Jesus with the promise of Gen 3.15 by identifying him as the seed of the woman.
We might say, “OK, that passage has been fulfilled in Jesus” and let that be the end of it. But that is not the end of it. The fact is that Messianic prophecies are not just about the Messiah.
If you will look closely at Gen 3.15 again, you will see that the language is a little strange. The word “seed” is a collective noun. That is, it is grammatically singular but the word refers to a group (like the word “cattle”; we don’t call a herd of cows “cattles”). So when God says that the seed of the woman will be at enmity with the seed of the serpent, it is the descendants of both that are in view. God was saying that, from that moment on, all of humanity would fall into two basic groups: those who follow Satan, and those who follow the Lord, and there would be no friendship between the two groups. We see that this immediately began to be fulfilled in the story of Cain and Abel. Cain, says the apostle John, “was of the evil one,” and that is why he killed his righteous brother Abel (1 John 3.12).
But then something strange happens in the text of Gen 3.15. What we think is a “them” turns out also to be a “he.” The seed of woman (who is a group of people) is referred to as “he / him,” an individual: “He (the seed of woman) will crush your head … and you shall bruise him on the heel.” What is going on?
It is not a grammatical oddity, nor confusion over the word “seed.” There is, right there in Gen 3.15, an important truth: the Messiah stands for the people of God, and whatever he does, they share in it too. That is, Gen 3.15 is not about what the Messiah alone will do, it about what the Messiah and God’s people will do, as the Messiah leads them.
We see this fact in Galatians 3.16: “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ.” In that context Paul is not saying that Jesus alone is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. If you will recall, the promise was that Abraham would be the father of a great nation of people. That nation is a nation of believers (Gal 3.7), a nation of people who follow Christ. In this sense, then, Paul can say that the promise to Abraham is about a single group (made up of both Jews and Gentiles), who are collectively identified by their leader, Christ.
This idea runs throughout the New Testament. Just as Christ accepted the cross and died, so God demands that we too take up our crosses (Matt 16.24) and die to sin (Rom 6.3). Just as Christ rose from the dead, so we are to rise from our death to sin to live new lives (Rom 6.4), lives of righteousness and holiness. Just as Jesus arose to eternal life, the Bible says that God will raise Christ’s followers to eternal life as well (John 5.25; 1 Thes 5.10). What the Messiah does, his people do too. We share in the work and the victory of our Savior, Jesus.
It is in this same vein that Paul told the Roman church “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16.20). At first glance we are tempted to think that this is something that only Jesus did (on the cross). However, the fact is that Jesus overcomes Satan together with us, and us with him. Sure, Jesus delivered a crushing blow to Satan, but God’s people deliver an equally crushing blow to Satan when we follow in the steps of Jesus and imitate him. In the context, Paul was urging them to put aside all selfishness and achieve unity in brotherly love, to think of others first (like Jesus did, Rom 15.3). We share not only in Jesus’ death and new life, but we also share in his work of overcoming Satan with our righteous obedience to God, just like Jesus did.
To hear this topic presented as a sermon, go here.