Jesus in Genesis 1-3

Note: This article is part of a series on Old Testament Christophanies.  For important background information, see An Introduction to Old Testament Christophanies–with Justin Martyr.

From the Beginning

Jesus was there from the very beginning, on the first page of our Bibles.  In Genesis 1, the phrase “Then God said” occurs immediately before the Lord issued each of His decrees on the six days of creation (vv. 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26).  This is immensely significant.  Psalm 33:6 tells us why:

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,

And by the breath of His mouth all their host.

When God spoke, it was the Word of Yahweh who went forth.  The apostle John confirms that it was through this same Word, the Logos, that all things came into being (John 1:3).  When God issued a command to create, the Word made it come to pass.

On the first day, God said “Let there be light” and then there was light (v. 3).  However, the sun, moon, and stars were not created until the fourth day (vv. 14–19).  This has caused many a Bible critic to cry “contradiction!” when there is none.  The light on the first three days wasn’t emanating from the sun, but from the Son.  The apostle Paul directly references this light, connecting it to Jesus:

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.  (2 Cor 4:6)

Paul and his fellow apostles preached Christ because their minds were illuminated by He who had ordered the light to drive back the darkness.  It was Paul’s desire to share that same light with the world.  The apostle was likely alluding to his encounter with the Damascus Christophany, where he witnessed God’s glory radiating from Jesus (Acts 9:3–5; 22:6–8; 26:13–15).  Notably, Paul said that the light coming from Jesus was brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13).

Furthermore, in the New Jerusalem there will be no need for the sun because the Son will be there to illuminate the city (Rev 21:23).  The implication is that the sun is only a substitute for the unveiled glory of the Son.  The light on the first three days of creation was the Shekinah Glory.  It was the role of the Word as Creator to implement God’s orders.  God spoke and the Word shined forth His light.

God began each of His creation decrees with either “Let there be” or “Let the” (Gen 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24).  But before beginning His second work on the sixth and final day of creation, the Lord made a notable change:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  (Gen 1:26–27)

The shift to “Let Us make” signaled that what was to follow was of unprecedented importance.  While the Lord had made the universe, plants, animals, and even angels, He had never before done what He was about to do; create beings in His own image and likeness.  There is a great deal of conjecture as to what it precisely means to be made in God’s image and likeness.  In the broad sense, it means that like God, man has a spirit, an autonomous mind, a sense of morality, and the desire to have close relationships.  Of course, even the unfallen Adam and Eve were inferior to God.  But the idea that man was in any sense made to be like God is truly remarkable.  This about this for a moment: the Lord God Most High, He who cannot be fully comprehended, the Creator and Possessor of heaven and earth, decided to make living symbols of Himself—resembling Him in form and spirit.  You could say that God finished His creation work with a personal touch.  Mankind is fallen, but we still retain God’s image, marred as it may be.

Since man was made in God’s image it follows that he was, to some extent, patterned after the Son.  The crucifixion, and therefore the incarnation, was always part of God’s eternal plan (Acts 2:23).  Man being made in God’s image allowed for the Word to take on a familiar body; one which He retains in its glorified form (e.g., Phil 3:20–21).

Let Us

God’s use of the 1st person plural to refer to Himself is a stumbling block for many, though it doesn’t need to be.  Among others, many rabbinical scholars imagine that God was speaking to angels when He said “Let Us,” “Our image,” and “Our likeness.”  Such an interpretation is at odds with the normal reading of Genesis 1:27. For it results in man being made in the image of both God and the angels, instead of in the image of God alone.  Moreover, nothing is said about God speaking with the heavenly court, as is the case in 1 Kings 22:19–23.  Another rabbinical theory is that God was speaking to the elements of the earth that were about to be used to form man (Gen 2:7).  This answer inappropriately conflates the inanimate materials that make up man with the image and likeness of the Divine.  And it too would result in man being made in the image of God and something else, which militates against what is plainly stated.

Some suppose that the majestic plural form was in use, such as when a king would say “we” when speaking of Himself.  There is no evidence from the context and the directness of the passage that this is so.  And while this sort of royal language was used in later biblical and apocryphal literature (e.g., Ezra 4:18; 1 Macc 10:19; 11:31), it is doubtful that it would have been in use when Moses penned Genesis a thousand or more years earlier (ca. 1440–1405 BC).

The simple answer is often the correct one.  And the simple answer here is that God used the plural to refer to Himself because there are several persons that share in one divine substance.  Indeed, the Hebrew Elohim, translated as “God” in not only Genesis 1, but throughout the rest of the Old Testament, is plural.  There is an inherent plurality to the one true God.

Later revelation, principally John 1:1–3, makes it clear that more than one person of the Godhead was involved in creation.  And just as God speaking forth creation was a reference, in germ, to the Son, it would seem that the “Spirit of God” in Genesis 1:2 was the Holy Spirit.  “Let Us make man,”  “Our image,” and “Our likeness” are used in harmony with “in His own image.”  The move from the plural to the singular is easy to embrace for those who believe that God is three in one.  A formal proof for the Trinity cannot be derived from Genesis 1.  Nevertheless, what would grow into a fully developed doctrine as more of God’s Word was revealed, was there as a germ in the beginning.

Justin Martyr had no patience for those who would twist Genesis 1:26–28 in order to conceal a powerful truth:

And that you may not change the [force of the] words just quoted, and repeat what your teachers assert,—either that God said to Himself, ‘Let Us make,’ just as we, when about to do something, oftentimes say to ourselves, ‘Let us make;’ or that God spoke to the elements, to wit, the earth and other similar substances of which we believe man was formed, ‘Let Us make,’—I shall quote again the words narrated by Moses himself, from which we can indisputably learn that [God] conversed with some one who was numerically distinct from Himself, and also a rational Being.  These are the words: ‘And God said, Behold, Adam has become as one of us, to know good and evil.’  In saying, therefore, ‘as one of us,’ [Moses] has declared that [there is a certain] number of persons associated with one another, and that they are at least two.  For I would not say that the dogma of that heresy which is said to be among you is true, or that the teachers of it can prove that [God] spoke to angels, or that the human frame was the workmanship of angels.[1]

The father quoted Genesis 3:22 as proof that God spoke to a separate person, and not to Himself or to the dust of the earth.  And while angels are rational beings, they don’t share in the substance of God.  Justin could have also looked to Genesis 11:7 and Isaiah 6:8 as further evidence that the members of the Godhead converse among themselves.

The Shema

God’s fundamental nature as a complex unity is perhaps best summarized in Judaism’s most central verse:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!  (Deut 6:4)

This is the beginning of what observant Jews refer to as the Shema (Hebrew for hear).[2]  Jesus answered what the foremost commandment was by quoting from it (Mark 12:28–30).  “One” is translated from the Hebrew echad.  Its specific meaning is based on the context in which it is used.  Sometimes it indicates oneness in number, while at other times it means oneness in unity.  Given that “The Lord” (Heb. YHWH) is singular, while “God” (Heb. Elohim) is plural, the oneness of the Shema is of unity.  The Lord God of Israel is a unity of multiple divine persons.

There are many other passages where echad is used to speak of a unity of components or persons.  Included among them is Genesis 2:24, where a man and woman are said to become “one” (echad) flesh in marriage.  Likewise, the tabernacle became “a unit” (echad) after it was constructed from several components, including curtains, gold clasps, and bronze clasps (Exod 26:6, 11; 36:13, 18).  Echad is also used to identify the “one” nation of Israel (2 Sam 7:23; Ezek 37:22) and the “one” people who assembled in Shinar to build the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:6).   Jesus used this same concept to characterize His relationship with the Father.  He asserted His deity by declaring that He and the Father are one (John 10:30).  The Son was not saying that He and the Father were the same person, rather that they were of one mind, purpose, and divine substance.  It is no wonder that, in their unbelief, the Jews sought to stone Him for blasphemy (John 10:31, 33).  Jesus was essentially making Himself out to be the God of the Shema!

If it was Moses’ intent to teach that God was numerically one, he could have used the Hebrew yachid, which would have left no doubt.  But that wasn’t the issue at hand anyway.  The point of Deuteronomy 6:4 is that, in the midst of nations worshipping a myriad of false gods, the Lord was to be worshipped as the only God of Israel.  And because such a direct proclamation on the Lord was made, it naturally included grammar supporting who God is as a complex unity.  In this regard, the Shema affirms what we first see in Genesis 1.

The Word in Eden

This brings us to the first Christophany in the Bible.  After creating man, the Word of Yahweh—He who glowed with the glory that lit up the world and who would Himself become a man—visited with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden:


They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  (Gen 3:8)

When Adam and Eve heard the Lord walking in the garden, it was Jesus who they hid from!  Such a direct account of Yahweh walking among men would be reason enough to think that this was the Son.  Beyond that, there is some additional support that is easy to overlook.

This translation of the passage, and those similar to it, lead the reader to conclude that Adam and Eve heard the sound created by the Lord walking in the garden.  The Hebrew allows for a far more significant possibility: they heard the sound itself walking in the garden.  The Hebrew qowl can also be translated as voice.  And some translations, such as the Authorized King James, do in fact use voice in order to add the necessary nuance.  The voice of the Lord is what He speaks; it is His Word.  The author of the Targum reached the same conclusion:

And they heard the voice of the Word of the Lord God walking in the garden in the evening of the day; and Adam and his wife hid themselves from before the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  (Onkelos)[3]

Near eastern languages scholar and Messianic Jew, Michael L. Brown’s response to the Targum is fantastic:

What a difference an extra “word” makes!  To speak of the Lord walking in the garden seemed too familiar, too down to earth.  So the Targum made an adjustment: It was not the Lord who was walking the in the garden, it was the Memra’ (Word) of the Lord!  This Word was not just an “it”; this Word was a him.[4]

Based on the same evidence, the famed 18th century-theologian John Gill recognized that it was his Savior who was in the garden:

. . . the voice of the Son of God, the eternal Word, is here meant, who appeared in an human form, as a pledge of his future incarnation, and that not only as a Judge, to arraign, examine, and condemn the parties concerned in this act of disobedience to God, but as a Saviour of men, to whom, as such, he made himself known, as the event shows, and therefore they had no reason to entertain such terrible apprehensions of him, as to flee from him; and so the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan paraphrase it, “the voice of the Word of the Lord God”, the essential Word of God then with him, and since made flesh, and dwelt among men as the Saviour of them; and to him agrees what follows: walking in the garden in the cool of the day . . .[5]

It is quite unlikely that the Lord would have only chosen to fellowship with Adam and Eve after they had sinned.  The implication is that He regularly strolled through the garden; perhaps customarily in the evening.  When the Word became flesh, He dwelt among mankind (John 1:14).  And so He did before taking on flesh, beginning in Eden.

The Lord God called out to Adam, asking “Where are you?”  In response, the man said “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”  (Gen 3:9–10).  As you might have guessed, to match their version of verse 8, verse 10 in Targums Onkelos and Jonathan reads “The voice of Thy Word heard I in the garden . . .”  It was the voice of the Word that Adam heard calling out to him.

The Last Adam

Jesus walking in the Garden of Eden laid the foundation for His grand work of redeeming all of creation as the last Adam.  There are a few related reasons for this.  First, the Lord let the serpent know that his corruption of man was only temporary and that his days were numbered:

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”  (Gen 3:15)

Genesis 3:15 is the first prophecy of the Messiah, and is known as the Protoevangelium, for it is also the first declaration of the gospel.  The genealogies recorded in Scripture are all done so according to the male line.  And yet, it isn’t the man’s offspring that is mentioned, but the woman’s.  This is because no man was to be involved in producing the Messiah—He who would crush Satan’s head.  Satan received His first major blow with Jesus’ death on the cross paying for the sins of the world (John 19:30).  And he will permanently be crushed when he is thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:10).  Then, the curse brought upon by sin will be no more (Rev 22:3).

The scope of the Protoevangelium is vast.  Unpacking each of its points and how they were or will be fulfilled would require considerably more treatment than can be provided here.  Furthermore, the verse’s terminology has been applied elsewhere to speak of the saints overcoming evil by the power of God (Ps 91:13; Luke 10:19; Rom 16:20).  As a tiny seed contains the giant sequoia, so Genesis 3:15 contains the entire story of redemption.  The first person to ever hear this incredible prophecy was the devil.  And he heard it directly from the One who was to fulfill it.  The Word of the Lord prophesied His own virgin birth and victory as the Redeemer of the world!

Second, Jesus personally made garments of skin to cover Adam and Eve’s naked bodies (Gen 3:21).  It wasn’t Adam’s nudity that caused him shame—that had never been a problem before.  It was that he became so keenly aware of it as a consequence of his sin.  Preparing skins to cover the man and woman required the shedding of blood.  All legitimate sacrifices to the Lord, beginning with this one, point to the Messiah shedding His own blood to cover the sins of those who would receive it by faith (Rom 3:22–25).  Without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sin (Heb 9:22).

Finally, the kingdom was active in Eden with God among His people.  It is unlikely that the Lord only first visited with Adam and Eve after they had sinned.  The implication is that He regularly strolled through the garden, perhaps customarily in the evening.  But when Adam sinned it created a rift between God and man, tearing the kingdom apart.  The Lord drove mankind from the garden, and on the eastern side He stationed cherubim and a flaming sword to block the way to the Tree of Life (Gen 3:22–24).  The good news is that even before God created the world, He had already determined a way to bring His people back to paradise.

Mankind continued to migrate eastward from the garden, settling in Shinar to build Babel and her tower (Gen 11:2–9).  When Lot separated from Abram he moved to Sodom in the east (Gen 13:8–12).  In contrast, when Abram returned in victory from the battle against Chedorlaomer and the other kings of the east, he came to Salem (Gen 14:17–20), the city that would later become known as Jerusalem (Ps 76:2).  Once back in the west, Abram found himself in the land that the Lord was about to promise to him and his descendants (Gen 15:18–21).  And as we’ll see, Abram had personal encounters with the Lord in the Promised Land.  It would seem, then, that the movement to the east indicates a falling away from God while Abram traveling back seems to indicate a return to Him.

This supports the intuitive notion that the Promised Land is where the overall land of Eden was and that Jerusalem is where the garden once was.  Jerusalem is referred to as the “navel” of the world in the Septuagint translation of Judges 9:37 and in the literal translation of Ezekiel 38:12.  The navel is not only the center of an organism; it is also where nourishment and life is first received.  Zion is also called the “apple of his eye”—for she is cherished by God above all other cities and nations (Zech 2:8).  Both of these names can be equally applied to the Garden of Eden.  The most notable object within the garden was the Tree of Life (Gen 2:9).  The New Jerusalem is currently home to the Tree of Life (Rev 22:2), and the saints will eat from it in this true garden of God (Rev 2:7).  And while Adam was prevented re-entry into the garden, the saints will be blessed as they enter through the gates of the New Jerusalem, having a right to the Tree of Life (Rev 22:14).  Just as many of the holy buildings and items were copies of the things in Heaven (Heb 9:23–24), so too was the Garden of Eden patterned after the Jerusalem in Heaven (Gal 4:26).

After the Messiah returns, the Promised Land will be renewed and refreshed.  He will make her wilderness like Eden and her desert like the garden of the Lord (Isa 51:3).  What was once desolate will become so alive with vegetation that those who pass by will comment on how it has become like the Garden of Eden (Ezek 36:34–35).  It hardly seems likely that Jerusalem would be made like the garden alongside a restored Garden of Eden—in effect making two gardens.  Rather, the future Jerusalem and the restored garden are one in the same, signifying that the sin of the first Adam has been overcome by the last (cf. 1 Cor 15:45).  It is from the same place where man became corrupted by sin where King Jesus will bring about the regeneration of all creation (e.g., Zech 14:9, 17; Acts 3:20–21; Rom 8:18–23).  The kingdom will come and God will dwell among His people once again.


[1] Roberts et al., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume I, 228. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter LXII.

[2] The Shema originally consisted of Deuteronomy 6:4 alone (see Talmud Sukkah 42a and Berachot 13b).  Over time, recitation of the Shema came to include Deuteronomy 6:4–9, 11:13–21, and Numbers 15:37–41.

[3] Targum Jonathan also adds “word” to the passage.

[4] Brown, Answering Jewish Objections Volume 2, 19.

[5] John Gill, Exposition (Washington, DC: Osnova, 2012), Gen 3:8, Kindle.


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