The Fall of Humanity,
The First Human Sin
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The fall of humanity from a state of sinlessness to a state of sinfulness is one of the pivotal events described in the Bible. It is the key to understanding the broad context of the entire biblical narrative from Genesis through to Revelation.
In chapter 2 of Genesis it is recorded that God told Adam that he could eat from any tree in the Garden of Eden except the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:17). Why? A requirement like this seems to indicate some sort of arbitrary test on the part of God. To understand this fully, the state of God's kingdom at this time must be understood first.
A look at the book of Revelation gives some insight into the state of God's kingdom:
"And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him." (Revelation 12:7-9)
It appears that, for some reason, there was war in heaven. Both sides had angels at their disposal, and Satan eventually lost the battle. He was banished from heaven and came to the earth. Part of the description points out that Satan was that "ancient serpent" - i.e. the serpent who deceived Eve.
One of the major themes of the Bible is that God is "entirely good" and Satan is "entirely evil". However, as God is the creator of everything it must be assumed that when God created Satan he was not evil. His evilness must be a choice that he made later on. With this in mind, conflict between good and evil would arise at the point where evil began - i.e. with Satan. Therefore Satan was a being that lived in heaven, who was able to win over some angels to his cause.
Amidst this controversy in heaven, it would have been irresponsible of God to leave a newly created world and its inhabitants open to any influence from Satan and his angels. So God imposed restrictions on the access that Satan had to the inhabitants of earth. Satan could only reach humans via the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. On the other hand, God did not prohibit all access to humanity by Satan - humans had to face the reality of evil and to choose to serve God rather than Satan.
Genesis 3 records the deception of Satan disguised as a serpent, and how Eve, and then Adam, ate of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. As already noted, God told Adam that he could eat from any tree except the Tree of Knowledge. Thus when Eve succumbed to the serpent and ate from the tree, her direct sin was that she had disobeyed a command of God. Satan was the facilitator of that disobedience. (Adam ate and also sinned after Eve had eaten.)
Why did Satan choose to disguise himself as a serpent? A hint to the reason for this may be found later in chapter 3. It describes how God came looking for Adam and Eve "in the cool of the day" (verse 8). The implication here is that this was a fairly normal occurrence.
Put yourself in God's place for a moment:
You have decided to create a new world with a new sentient race, a race to be formed in your own image. (see Genesis 1:26) As creator, you would take a special and personal interest in the race which you have just created. You would talk with them and walk with them on a regular basis. You would tell them about the crisis concerning Satan and evil that is currently a problem thoughout the universe. You would explain to them what caused this crisis and how to recognise its presence if it ever appears on Earth.
Satan felt the need to disguise himself. If he had announced his true identity Eve would most likely have walked away. But with the disguise, Eve listened to Satan. Satan first antagonised Eve by asking whether God had forbidden her to eat from any tree in the garden. This statement was obviously wrong to Eve, and she felt the need to respond and set the record straight by saying that they could eat from any tree except the Tree of Knowledge (which the serpent happened to be speaking from).
By saying this, Satan was drawing Eve into conversation with himself. Satan then came out with his punch-line: "You will not surely die ... For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:4,5) Eve was enthralled with the idea of being like God, and believed that what Satan had said about the real nature of the tree's fruit was true. So she ate the fruit.
Here is Eve's fundamental sin: self-exaltation. Satan told Eve that she would be like God, and have knowledge like God. She accepted this statement and decided that she wanted to be like God. Thus her real sin was that of placing herself before God - love for self rather love for God and others.
Interestingly enough, indications are that this is exactly the same sin that Satan himself committed and which lead him down the path of evil. While it is not immediately obvious from the context, the following passage seems to be referring to Satan:
"How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High."" (Isaiah 14:12-14)
It would make sense that Satan would ultimately use the same line of reasoning which appeals so much to himself.
It is interesting to note that humans seem to have been created as mortal beings. They needed fruit from the Tree of Life to continue living. Thus God could say "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." (Genesis 3:22) Restrict access to the Tree of Life and the human eventually dies. Access to the Tree of Life was prohibited as a result of sin.
On the other hand, Satan and his angels were presumably created immortal. Hence they continue to live to this day physically unaffected by sin.