Not so long ago, when you took film to the drugstore to be developed it would come back with the negatives. Along with your pictures you would receive small strips with the images imprinted in reverse color. With the popularity of digital cameras, the photographic negative is now often only a special effect in software.
The photographic negative provides a helpful analogy to understand Paul’s comparison of Christ to Adam in today’s passage. In some ways, these two might seem to have little in common. Adam was created, while Jesus Christ was the Creator. Adam was merely man; Jesus Christ was God in the flesh. Adam sinned, but Jesus Christ did not. Adam was a source of condemnation. Jesus Christ was the agent who accomplished our justification.
But both Adam and Christ had the role of representatives. Just as Adam stood in our place when he sinned, Jesus Christ lived a perfectly righteous life on our behalf and took our place on the cross. Today’s passage notes that sin entered the world through Adam, and as a result death came to all (v. 12). The universal experience of death provides objective proof that all men and women are guilty in God’s sight, even those who had not received the written law. Christ’s position as “the last Adam” means that righteousness and eternal life are freely available to all who put their faith in Him.
One important distinction between the gift of Christ and the trespass of Adam was that Christ’s grace goes beyond Adam’s sin. The righteousness of Christ does more than make up for Adam’s trespass. It exceeds it. As our representative, Jesus Christ was everything that Adam was not. His sacrifice more than made up for Adam’s sin. As Adam’s counterpart, Jesus Christ defeated death’s dominion and introduced a reign of righteousness. As a result, righteousness is now the ruling principle in the lives of all who belong to Christ.