With Adam? Is the reader of the Gospel supposed to think that when Nicodemus heard Jesus speaking of the Creator God’s love for the world, the Son of God, belief, and eternal life, that he was not only supposed to be having ruminations along the lines of the exodus (because of the reference to Moses), but that he was also supposed to connect Jesus’ words all the way back to the beginning of Genesis? Is this what Jesus had in mind?
The case has been made that Jesus is grounding this conversation with Nicodemus in the history of Israel. Since Israel’s history and purpose is wrapped up with the Creator God’s purpose for the world, one can be fully justified in understanding that Jesus grounded His mission within His God’s purposes and plans that He would certainly have believed stretched all the way back to Adam, from whence His mission derives the fullness of its purpose. Naturally, Jesus’ statement is multi-faceted, and this study is now positioned to explore the Adamic-oriented premise of these wonderful words.
So how is it that Nicodemus is going to connect all of these things to Genesis? How can it be insisted that Jesus is making the same connection? It has to do with Jesus’ use of the “one and only Son.” Turning then to the third chapter of the Gospel of Luke (though John is not relying on knowledge of Luke, Luke presents material that would have been familiar to a member of the nation of Israel, thus a modern reader needs to be able to position himself or herself to operate with the same type of knowledge that would have certainly been held by a Pharisee and member of the ruling council), the first piece of the puzzle can be found. There, Luke provides the genealogy of Jesus.
For purposes of the point being here made, it is not Jesus’ genealogy that is important, but rather the information communicated in the presentation of the genealogy that reflects what would have then been general knowledge within the defining narrative of the covenant people. Luke’s genealogy begins with Jesus and works its way backwards. For what it’s worth, there is another genealogy in Matthew. It begins with Abraham and makes its way to Jesus. Luke’s genealogy is more extensive, as it traces Jesus’ lineage beyond Abraham, taking it all the way back to Adam.
Significantly, in his genealogy, Luke refers to Adam as “the son of God.” If Luke refers to Adam in such a way, one can rest assured that this is not a novel concept. It is quite likely (and probably certain) that Adam is widely thought of in this way by those that fill the role of teachers of Israel. If Adam is thought of as the son of God, then is it possible that Jesus is referring to Adam when He speaks of God sending His “one and only Son”? One would have to respond that it is absolutely possible that Jesus is making such a reference. This is especially so in light of the historically grounded lens through which Jesus is causing Nicodemus to look at Him and to consider the mission of the Son of Man, as He answers the questions that have been posed to Him by Nicodemus. This is even more obviously the case when one takes the time to think about the fullness of Jesus’ statement, and that with which it begins, which is “For this is the way God loved the world,” which is followed by “He gave His one and only Son.”
Again, it simply cannot (and should not) be imagined, when Jesus says this to him, that Nicodemus is supposed to connect the statement exclusively to Jesus. If that is so for Nicodemus, then those that would hear these words through John’s report of them are most definitely not supposed to think solely along the lines of a personal salvation experience. This would not have been the mental framework of Jesus, of Nicodemus, or of the author. Such thinking would make no sense, as a personal, world-escaping salvation experience, contexted by the usual, short-sighted dichotomy between the alternative eternal choices of either heaven or hell, carried absolutely no theological weight inside the Judaism of that day.