Back in 2006 I began to study the Epistle to the Hebrews. One of the prominent themes in that book is the concept of sonship. Both Hebrews and the Pauline corpus have developed theologies of sonship; for instance, they both oppose sonship to servitude. Through these studies I became convinced of the deep spiritual unity of the entire New Testament. Different emphases may be present in different writers, redemptive historical events may be organized and presented variously, but the substance is the same. The entire New Testament testifies to the divine Sonship of Jesus Christ.
In researching the genealogy of Jesus, I noticed for the first time the remarkable culmination of St. Luke's genealogical sequence: "Adam, the son of God." Adam was the first son of God to be born in the world. In biblical cosmology, firsts and lasts are always highly significant. The Lukan genealogy outlines the entire range of human development from its historical alpha, the first man, to its eschatological omega, the last Man.
Through his creative acts the Creator God introduces concrete principles into the world and superintends their development toward their appointed ends. These ends cannot be thwarted, though they can be delayed by creaturely free choice.
Adam was created after the divine Image, the eternal Son, and the created image, though defaced, was never effaced. Immediately after the first sin, the Lord sought out the man and his wife. God’s wrath is primarily directed at the serpent, though Adam and Eve must suffer the consequences of their sin. Chief among these consequences is the sentence of death that came upon them and all their posterity. And though Adam and Eve were banned from Eden, this was for their protection (Gen. 3:22-24). Our first parents were driven from Eden, while being simultaneously directed to hope in the Seed God would raise up to crush the serpent and, by implication, destroy death.
Cain, the first son of man to be born, was born outside of Eden. He was also the first murderer, committing the first act of fratricide. Following the first sin, these creaturely acts introduce other—alien—principles into the world. A necessary consequence of these is that the promised deliverer had to come through a younger son. The eschatological blessing was taken away from the eldest and devolved to a younger (though it must be maintained that natural inheritances still pass to the eldest unless forfeited).
We know Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God, and therefore the First; Adam and his race must then be sons only derivatively by way of participation in Him who is the incarnate divine Image. Jesus is also the younger Son of Man, born not by a (human) father’s will but through a Virgin. Jesus is the Seed of the Woman that was promised.
Jesus was born into the world as God’s beloved Son. The inheritance of all things predestined for him he possessed by right potentially, if not (yet) in actuality, by virtue of his Person. Jesus demonstrated the reality of his sonship by performing acts of filial piety culminating in the sacrifice of his life, but he never positively performed some work that meritoriously upgraded him all the way from the status of disfavor (non-sonship) to the status of favor (sonship) in the Father’s sight.
Indeed, Jesus did take upon himself the form of a servant, but he was always materially the Son. He assumed the form of servitude in order to exercise a universal High Priesthood in solidarity with all humanity. The prodigal son intuitively takes this form when he seeks to return to his father’s house. This is the expression of genuine contrition that a son ought to show after he realizes the enormity of his fault. Servitude is a self-inflicted condition after the Fall; it does not belong to the original order of things.
All this has been written to argue against the Federalist theory that God put man under the kind of legal contract under whose terms positive rewards were rendered for services strictly performed (the wages of servitude). Federal theology is a distortion of biblical teaching. It grossly underestimates the significance of the sonship-inheritance dynamic and conceives of humanity’s relation to God and Christ in purely extrinsic legal terms. Filial merit is essentially different than the merit of servitude, which always must fall short in comparison.
Adam never lost his natural status of divine sonship. This status can never be earned or lost; only its blessings can be forfeited through personal choice. Hell is the anguish of those sons of God who, through their own fault, are eternally deprived of their inheritance because they persist in impenitence. They want what they want on their own terms, not the Heavenly Father's.