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Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
—Charles Wesley, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing (1739)
If He did not rise, but is still dead, how is it that He routs and persecutes and overthrows the false god, whom unbelievers think to be alive, and the evil spirits whom they worship?
—Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word (c. 320)
At the Beginning
At the beginning of human history, God promised to establish warfare between the serpent and the woman, and between his seed and hers:
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel (Gen. 3:15).
This enmity is personal, covenantal, and cultural. It is at all times religious. The serpent propounded a worldview of cosmic evolution, one that was both secular and magical. The serpent denied the reality of the personal Creator God and had nothing left to offer mankind but practical atheism and an impersonal universe, run and beset by “natural” forces. When Adam and Eve signed on to Satan’s rebellion, they embraced this worldview religiously. That is, they committed themselves to it as the religious presupposition of their thoughts and actions. That’s because only in such an impersonal, God-less universe could they themselves be free to be “as gods,” deciding good and evil (Gen. 3:5).
Left to themselves, Adam and Eve would have continued their alliance with Satan and suffered the eternal consequences. After all, God is the Creator. He rules and sustains all things by the power of His word. He is holy and just and will not tolerate rebellion in His universe. But God is also merciful and gracious. And so, here at the beginning of human history, He pledged to bring the woman and her seed back onto His side through one particular Seed, the One who would crush the serpent’s head underfoot.
In Genesis 3:15 God tells the serpent, Satan, that the woman’s Seed will bruise or crush his head. This means complete, though perhaps not immediate, destruction. In return the serpent will inflict a heel wound on the Seed. A heel wound isn’t fatal, though it might be disabling for a while. In other words, God here predicts the complete overthrow of Satan and his kingdom at a real, though relatively minor, cost to the coming Seed.
Satan understood this prediction, at least in its broad outlines. Sometime, somewhere, a woman would give birth to a Child who would be his undoing. Naturally enough, he determined to kill that Child as soon as possible. Now Satan, at least officially, rejects the reality of a sovereign Creator. But he knows that God exists and that He is very powerful and subtle. So Satan believed the threat, but didn’t believe in its inevitability. For nearly four thousand years, he believed he could destroy the promised Child, thwart God’s plan for history, and somehow come out on top in this cosmic war.
The Old Testament is, in part, a record of Satan’s ongoing attempt to destroy the Child. From the murder of Abel in Genesis to the genocidal plans of Haman in Esther, Satan struck over and over again at the Seed. And yet, in every case, God wrought marvelous deliverance, sometimes through incredible miracles, more often through subtle providences or the heroic faith of ordinary believers.
What Satan couldn’t understand was that God actually intended the death of the Seed—at the right time and place. That’s what He meant when He spoke of a bruised heel. The Seed would die. But He wouldn’t stay dead. And in that death and resurrection would be the destruction of Satan and all his works. The death and resurrection of the Seed, the Child, the Savior, would be the salvation of the world.
Because Satan’s worldview rejects creation and so then, the possibility of ethics, of absolute good and evil, he can’t properly understand God’s real concerns and intentions. For Satan, the war was and is all about power and he is the author of graceless, power religion. But God is the Creator and absolutely sovereign. He hasn’t lost control of history and, ontologically, Satan is no threat at all to His authority and power. God’s concerns are ethical. He values His own justice. And mankind has rebelled ethically against Him and broken His law. His war against Satan had to deal with that reality. God had to bring about a way of reconciling sinful men to Himself. Such reconciliation would have to include two related things. First, the lawful forgiveness of sins and the ethical transformation of the forgiven. But the second depended on the first. God had to provide for the forgiveness of men’s sins if He was ever to restore men to faith and obedience.
A Second Adam
The human race fell into sin through their covenant solidarity with Adam (Rom. 5). Another covenant Representative could undo the results of the Fall (1 Cor. 15:22, 45). A Second Adam could stand where Adam fell. He could remain faithful to His Creator and yet bear God’s wrath against lost sinners. He could provide atonement, reconciliation, and redemption—as long as He was a sinless man. As long as His life and death were of infinite value… as long as He was truly God.
The gospels tell us that Jesus Christ is just that. A true and righteous man, and the eternal God made flesh (John 1:14). He came to Earth to die; He died as a penal substitute for those who would believe in Him. He was delivered for our offenses and raised again for our justification (Rom. 4:25). He is the Second Adam and the Son of God.
Only a Heel Wound
The death of Christ was real. For a few dozen hours, hell celebrated. Satan thought he had won. The Seed was dead. And then Jesus came back to life. Heartbeat, brain waves, respiration, pulse, warm and living flesh—it all was real in Him again. He walked out of the grave and into a real garden; and then down a real road. We aren’t dealing in faerie tales or in neo-orthodox upper-story experiences. We are talking about history and physiology. Jesus Christ came back to life.
His resurrection declared that He was innocent of any sin. That the sins He bore for His elect were paid in full. That His heavenly Father was well pleased with His obedience and sacrifice; and that Satan’s power was shattered. So that, in the future, God could, with perfect justice, forgive and transform all those for whom Jesus died. Jesus was and is empowered and authorized to bring forgiveness and resurrection life to all His seed. He is currently saving His people from their sins and has all power in heaven and earth to accomplish that goal (Matt. 28:18-20).
Halting toward Zion
A man with a heel wound limps and he moves slowly, perhaps awkwardly. Jacob limped after he spent a night wrestling with God (Gen. 32:31). The Church limps through history. She stumbles through her own unbelief. She trips over her over sins and compromises. But she halts forward to victory, for she is the Body and Bride of Christ. In every generation, the defeated serpent wages war against the “rest of the woman’s seed”—those who “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 12:17). And in every generation, God promises that the Church will share her Lord’s victory: God will bruise Satan under her feet (Rom. 16:20; cf. Rev. 12:10; Jas. 4:7; 1 Jn. 2:14). Satan is a defeated enemy.
From the beginning, God, in all His omnipotence, could have ordained the swift and overwhelming destruction of Satan. He didn’t. He chose instead to work through weakness, humility, and wisdom. Through a virgin womb, a little baby, an old rugged cross; though death—and only then— through resurrection. Now the risen Savior works through believers so that His Father might receive the greater glory. But His victory is absolutely sure. That much you can depend on. Nothing is more sure in the universe.
He is risen indeed.