“And the Lord God made coats of skin for the man and his wife and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21)
The word “coats” is KUTTONETH in Hebrew, and by its usage in the OT one learns that it was usually a loose fitting garment with sleeves that was worn next to the skin, and reached down to just below the knees. We have no way of knowing whether, in this very earliest mention of the word in the Bible, the tunics God made were exactly according to that later model, but there seems little reason to think otherwise. But whereas in the Torah these tunics were made of linen, Adam and Eve’s tunics were made of skin. Perhaps some form of chamois leather, light and airy.
Now here is an important point. For tunics to be made of skin, animals had to be slain, and that signified death. It was the first time that death had entered the pristine world. Remember, God had pronounced the sentence on disobedience, saying “in the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die.” (Gen.2:17) But they didn’t die. However, animals died to make their tunics. These animals died as a substitute for human death. The tunics God made were a satisfactory covering for Adam and Eve. But the creaturely death was itself just a figure for a greater, and far-reaching truth.
“The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev.13:8) The last book in the Bible explains the first. The Lamb of God is none other than the Lord Jesus. No one will doubt that. John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) We learn therefore that the true substitute for Adam and Eve’s death was not the animals, but the Lord Jesus Himself, who had pledged Himself to carry away Adam’s sin. This didn’t happen immediately, indeed it was some 4,000 years later, as Paul recorded, “When the fulness of time had come, God sent forth His Son.”(Gal.4:4) As is often the case, God’s purposes may be clearly understood, but the timing of His actions leaves us in perplexity.
Shall we contemplate the reaction of Adam and Eve to this event? They had tried to hide their shame using vegetable matter, in other words the large leaves of the fig tree. But although this may have been satisfactory from the point of view of human vision, it was far from satisfactory in God’s eyes. Habakkuk tells us that “God’s eyes are too holy to look upon evil.” (1:13) But once the skin-tunics were in place, God could once again speak with Adam and Eve.
Paul tells us that “By one man sin entered the world, and by means of sin came death, and death passed through to all men” (Romans 5:12) Adam and Eve must have appreciated the gracious act of the Lord in providing a satisfactory cover for their sinful state. We say this because Cain and Abel were clearly trained in understanding the meaning of sacrifice, and therefore they must have learned this from their parents.
Now it is one thing to know that Jesus died “to take away the sin of the world”, as John announced, but quite another to realise that unless Jesus had been raised from the dead, the work of redemption was incomplete. Paul said, “If Christ be not raised, you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor.15:17)
At this point we must go back to see an important truth emerging. When the Great Transaction was entered into, at the time of our first parents’ sin, the only human beings on earth were Adam and Eve, and God covered them with tunics of skin. Death had occurred with the animals, and 4000 years later God’s Son paid the price Himself. The fact that Adam and Eve were thus covered meant that the whole human race was covered. We are all descended from Adam and Eve. This is why Paul said, “the first man Adam was made a living soul, but the last Adam a life-giving spirit.” (1 Cor.15:45)
In Biblical theology there are only two “men”. There was the First Man, whose name was Adam, and the Last Man, whose name was Jesus Christ. The First Man sinned. The Last Man died in his place. Paul said, quite distinctly and emphatically, “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor.15:22) We are all born “in Adam”, and the purpose of God is that eventually all will be found “in Christ”. Don’t struggle against this declaration. Scripture upholds it for us to believe. Paul said, “In the administration of the fulness of seasons God will sum up all in Christ.” (Eph.1:10) That may be a long way off, but remember it was 4,000 years before “the seed of the woman” came to this earth. God is not in a hurry.
The One who created the races of mankind, and who gave them the gift of freewill, knowing that sooner or later sin could enter, also reckoned that this precious gift would not be an eternal hindrance to obtaining His goal. The risk in imparting the gift of freewill was covered by the supreme sacrifice of Himself. Such is the measure of divine love. This is why God is not in a hurry. See how long it takes before some men are willing to bow the knee to the Lord when continually confronted by the terms of the Gospel. God doesn’t want to end up with automatons who are made to believe. He wants freely given positive responses to Jesus Christ. When God has achieved that goal He will have a human race of willing and obedient men and women, and it will be to His glory.
Let’s go back again. Adam and Eve’s tunics of skin were an ideal covering. The OT uses the word atonement to describe what this means. The Hebrew word is KAPHAR, and it means “to cover”. The first occurrence is in Gen.6:14. God told Noah to “make an Ark, and cover it within and without with resin.” The resin was an ideal caulking agent to keep out the waters of the Flood. Likewise Adam and Eve’s coats of skin were ideal coverings to keep out the slaying wrath of God upon their sinful lives. The process of atonement pervaded the whole of the OT.
But atonement never occurs in the NT. Does that come as a surprise? Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, sins are no longer “covered”, they are “taken away”. “The blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4) OT sacrificial blood only coveredman’s sin. Therefore it would be quite inappropriate to speak of “Christ’s atonement”. It lowers the value of His sacrifice to that of merely “covering” man’s sin. This is a very common mistake found in the evangelical world. Some speak of atonement as At-one-ment, but true reconciliation only comes as a result of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Now, let us go one step further. We have seen that Paul made a distinct pronouncement, saying, “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Adam and Eve were saved from death. All mankind have therefore been saved from death because we are all “in Adam” when we are born. But this is God’s great purpose, and Paul saw the truth of it and peppered his writings with the greatness of this good news. “The grace of God that brings salvation to all men has appeared.” (Titus 2:11) [The word order in the AV is misleading.] “God our Saviour wills that all men shall be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim.2:4) That which is the will of God, no man can annul. That which He purposes, He will eventually achieve.
However, this truth, although it cannot be denied without violating the Scriptures mentioned in this writing, is little understood by the Christian Churches. The great universal truth of God’s purpose is enough to blow the mind when once appreciated, and can change one’s whole outlook. We realise there are strange passages that on the surface seem to contradict this, but the solution must always be based on the sound theology of Paul’s declaration, that in Adam all die, but in Christ shall all be made alive. One cannot argue backwards from the particular to the general. The method by which God accomplishes His great work is very complex, and creates problems for many who try to thrash out their theology in terms of what they call “the limits of salvation”, without realising that God does not have limitations in respect of His plan for salvation. In this Gospel Age God is taking out a people for His name from amongst all nations. But when He has achieved that Goal, this elected company will be put to service to reach out to the rest of the world. And so the cycle will repeat itself until “all things are under His feet.”
Unless Bible students begin with the coats of skin on Adam and Eve, representing the salvation of the whole race of mankind, they are bound to create false limits. Paul knew that this would be the case, and he declared that God’s work would be a very long process.“Christ Jesus gave Himself a ransom for all, which will be testified in its own seasons.” (1 Tim.2:6) We have only travelled through some of those seasons, and others await their time, in exactly the same way that God refrained from sending His Son to the earth until “the fulness of the time had come.” Likewise there has been another long wait during the “Gospel Age”, as we have just declared, for God’s Kingdom to be inaugurated, during which that greater evangelistic work will be accomplished. The Lord Himself encouraged us to anticipate this greater work, “When you pray, say, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We do not know the day or the hour when the Kingdom will be inaugurated, but we are enjoined to pray for it, and therefore those who do so on a regular basis will be acting in faith-obedience.
Our God will not be satisfied until this work is complete. Because His Son died for all, He cannot allow even one person to be left out, or destroyed, otherwise it would be an insult to Jesus’ sacrificial act. However, the gift of freewill must remain. God will not abrogate this gift, but employ it until all men willingly “bow the knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Phil.2:11) The Body of Christ is God’s instrument to bring mankind to the knowledge of salvation, not to enjoy an exclusive existence in heaven. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Cor.5:19) Any form of theology that tries to make God the Saviour of a mere selection of mankind does despite to the spirit of grace.
For the love of God is broader than the measures of man’s mind,
and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow by false limits of our own,
And we magnify His strictness with a zeal He will not own.
Words from the hymn, “Souls of men” by Frederick William Faber, (1814 – 1863)