Generations of Christian interpreters have found in today’s passage an allusion to Genesis 3:15 and God’s promise to “bruise” or “crush” the serpent’s head. For this and many other reasons, that important verse from the first book of the Bible has been labeled the protoevangelium, or “first gospel.” In making the promise to Adam and Eve that the serpent would be crushed, God was not telling a simple story to explain why human beings fear snakes. Instead, He was proclaiming cosmic warfare, the final defeat of Satan and the renewal of the entire universe. Ultimately, this is done through Christ Jesus our Lord, the righteous seed of the woman who defeated sin and Satan by His death and resurrection.
It would be a mistake, however, to see the Lord’s promise to crush the serpent as referring only to the devil himself. Martin Luther comments on today’s passage that Satan refers to “the devil, and whoever follows him.” The war our Creator established is between Satan and all who oppose the Lord on the one side, and God and His people on the other. Our enemies—who are also the Lord’s enemies if we are in Christ—will surely be defeated. Even when the foes of God’s people seem to flourish, their ultimate loss is assured. This is an incredible encouragement for us to persevere under opposition.
Paul gives this promise to crush Satan underfoot in the context of his warnings about false teachers (Rom. 16:17–20). He likely knew that the Romans might be troubled, even terrified, that falsehood might enter the Roman church, so this promise assured them that error would not finally win the day. This good word was not intended to lead to complacency, for the Romans were still responsible to avoid the false teaching. Still, the promise reminded the Christians at Rome that it is God alone who finally brings the victory. This promise is a comfort even today. We must be vigilant to keep heresy from taking root in the church, but even when error seems to be winning, the Lord will not let it stand forever.
The Apostle also provides a simple benediction of grace in today’s passage. Divine grace—and divine grace alone—brings us into a saving relationship with God. Grace also sustains this relationship and grace preserves us forever (Eph. 2:8–10; Heb. 4:16). We depend entirely on grace at every point on our Christian journey, and without grace we are nothing. But the Lord promises to keep in grace to the end all whom He justifies by this grace (Rom. 8:29). His sovereign, effectual grace is our only secure hope.