I was recently asked to comment on Paul’s “Second Adam theology” including what implications I believe it has for who Jesus really is. What follows is the bulk of my brief (e-mail) reply.
. . . Yes, the Apostle Paul draws some parallels between Jesus and Adam that are very instructive I think. Essentially Paul points out that Adam was the first man and thus the first creature made in “the image of God.” As such Adam was created for greatness. In the Genesis creation narrative, immediately after God creates man in the image of God, God says that man (man and woman) shall rule over the rest of God’s creation (Genesis 1.26). Elsewhere in the Old Testament we find this theology as well. Thus the Psalmist says that God put all things in subjection to man (Psalm 8), and elsewhere that “the heaven, even the heavens, belong to Yahweh (God), but the earth he has given to the children of men.” (Psalm 115.16). So Paul takes up this Old Testament theology of man made in the image of God and as such meant to rule over all other things in God’s creation on behalf of God, and Paul applies it to Jesus with a special focus on Adam as first man, and Jesus as second or last man. Adam, created in the image of God and tasked by God to be ruler over all the rest of creation on God’s behalf, failed to fulfill his mission. The serpent promised him (via Eve) equality with God (“God knows you will be like God knowing good and evil when you eat from the tree of knowledge” - Genesis 3.5), and Adam tried to seize this in violation of God’s command not to eat from the tree of knowledge. Not so Jesus, the second and last, or ultimate Adam. Jesus, being a man like Adam, also was created in the image of God, or, what is saying the same thing, “the form of God” (Philippians 2.6). But rather than attempting to seize equality with God like Adam did, that is, rather than trying to put himself on God’s level, Jesus humbled himself and obeyed God, walking in the path God set before him. Adam spurned the path God set for him and thereby abused his creation in the image of God. God wanted him to be king over all things with only one exception: God. God was to be God and Adam, made in the image of God, was to be just below God ruling over all other things in the universe except God alone. But this was not enough for Adam; he tried to seize full equality with God. He was not content with the high position God gave him but tried to go even further and be equal with God in accordance with the promise (lie) of the serpent. But Jesus did the opposite. Where Adam was disobedient, Jesus was obedient. Indeed, Jesus was obedient to a mission that went (far) beyond what Adam was asked to do. God tasked Jesus, the second Adam, with a more difficult mission than Adam: God tasked Jesus with the mission of living like the lowest of men, though Jesus was a king. Indeed, God tasked Jesus with the mission of suffering, even suffering to the point of cruel, ignominious death by Roman crucifixion. But what did Jesus do? Did he disobey God as Adam had? No, even though tasked with a more difficult mission, Jesus, the second Adam, obeyed God, he obeyed God even to the point of death, death on a cross. For this reason, Paul tells us, God has been pleased to exalt Jesus to the highest position, installing Jesus as king, or lord, over all things (except God! see 1 Corinthians 15.26-28), so that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is king, that Jesus is lord.
What implications does this have for who Jesus really is? Well, if we take our theology from the Apostle Paul, it means that Jesus is a man who has been exalted to the position of lord over all things except God. I suppose it does not absolutely prove Jesus is not somehow actually God himself, God the Son, but I can only ask if it makes sense for Jesus to be God but yet exalted to the position of lord or king? Would not Jesus have always been lord over all things if he is God? Likewise, if Jesus is God, does it make good sense to say that Jesus has been exalted to lord over all things except God and that he will in the end be subjected to God “so that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15.26-28)? This does not sound to me like the theology of someone who believes Jesus is God. And if the Apostle Paul does not believe Jesus is God, then why should we? I think the New Testament’s view of Jesus is really quite simple: Jesus is a man like any man, like you and me. But what makes Jesus extraordinary is that God filled Jesus with God’s spirit in a way he had never filled a man before (“without measure”), and God gave to Jesus the greatest mission he’s ever tasked a man with, namely, the mission to be the Messiah, the king. The mission was a most difficult one: Jesus was asked first to suffer, even suffer greatly, and then enter into his kingship, or become lord over all things. And the teaching of the New Testament is that Jesus has faithfully fulfilled this mission given to him by God, and therefore God has made Jesus lord (as Peter proclaimed in the first recorded Christian sermon - Acts 2) or exalted Jesus to the position of lord (as Paul says in Philippians 2). This is an incredibly high view of Jesus but it is not the view that Jesus is actually God. That view of Jesus that developed hundreds of years later under the influence of pagan philosophy and religion contradicts the New Testament view. Or so I think.
Hope this helps. I would encourage you to try reading Philippians 2.6ff (the so-called “Christ hymn”) with the Adam-Jesus theology in mind and see if it makes sense to you of that passage. Most trinitarians read this passage as teaching Jesus is God but became man, but I think it is better read as teaching what I explained above in terms of the “Second Adam” theology of Paul. And several of the best trinitarian New Testament scholars agree.