Adam’s sin—together with the depravity and corruption that he brought on all his descendants—manifested itself in the worst way in the life of his firstborn son. Cain killed his brother, shedding Abel’s blood into the ground that Cain, incidentally, tilled as a vocation. The Lord confronted Cain with these words: “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10). Cain had sought to hide the body of his brother in the ground, but the blood of Abel cried out to God for vengeance and judgment on Cain.
The author of Hebrews picked up on the idea of Abel’s blood crying out when he set out the privileges that belong to the members of the new covenant church:
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem . . . to Jesus, the Mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Heb. 12:18–24)
Abel was a righteous man who put his faith and trust in the promised Redeemer (Gen. 3:15). Abel also serves as a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as Cain—the seed of the serpent—murdered Abel, the seed of the woman, so the apostate Jews and unbelieving Romans murdered Jesus (Matt. 3:7; Luke 3:23–38; John 8:44; Rev. 12:1–5). There is, however, a contrast between Abel and Jesus. The blood of Abel cried out from the ground for judgment on the ungodly; the blood of Jesus cries out for redemption and salvation for all those for whom Jesus died. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus agonized under the realization of what He would suffer for His people. Luke tells us that His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. The blood of Jesus fell into the cursed ground when He was in the garden and when He hung on the cross. On the cross, He secured the restoration of this world that had been subjected to futility on account of Adam’s sin (Rom. 8:20). When He hung on the cross, Jesus wore the crown of thorns—the symbol of the curse of God upon the ground. He was showing Himself to be the sin-bearing last Adam who came to regenerate the entire cosmos by His death and resurrection. The Apostle Paul captures this truth when he says that God’s eternal plan was to “unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10).
This idea is strengthened by the linguistic relationship between the Hebrew word for land and earth. The word aretz can be translated either as “land” or “earth.” It is used in Genesis 12:1, where God promises Abraham that he will inherit the “land.” One can immediately see how Paul understands the development from the idea of the land of Israel (as being the typical inheritance) to the inheritance of the entire world. God’s promise to Abraham functioned on two levels: (1) the typical, earthly promise, and (2) the eschatological realization of this promise in the new heavens and new earth.
It is, in fact, the case that Abraham’s descendants (those who have faith in Christ; see Gal. 3) become heirs of the “world” in Him who overcame and received the inheritance of the world from His Father. In Christ, we too become heirs of God and of the world. This is also the explanation of the words of our Lord, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5), and Peter’s reference to new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13). Believers will come to possess “all things,” as the Apostle explains in Romans 8.
In the book of Revelation, all of the places that were representative of the sphere of God’s blessing (the garden, land, and city) become descriptions of the church. Redeemed humanity becomes the sacred space of God’s dwelling, the eschatological sphere of blessing. The covenant promise that God would dwell with and in His people is typified by His various dwelling places from Eden to Christ, and then from Christ to the new heavens and new earth.
The interchangeability of biblical language—in which the church is likened to a garden, land, city, and temple—is founded upon the fact that man is taken from the original dwelling place of God with man (the earth/land/ground). It is only through the shed blood of our Savior Jesus Christ that the ground is redeemed, and man again enjoys (and now to a much greater degree) the blessings of God on the land. The blessings of Christ on the land are really typical of His blessings on His people. It will be fully realized in His dwelling with His people in the new heavens and new earth—a completely renovated habitation in which only righteousness dwells. It is image bearers with which God is most concerned. The environment of God’s dwelling with redeemed mankind is the totality and comprehensiveness of His riches in Christ Jesus. The writer of Hebrews suggests that all of this was God’s original intention for Adam and has been now accomplished by the last Adam, Jesus Christ. “We do not,” he wrote, “see all things put under mankind” in world to come, “but we see Jesus.” He has secured this habitation by His death on the cursed tree. In this way, we can say that “he came to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 27, 2018.