The Cursed Serpent and a Glimmer of Grace

By Mark D. Roberts

July 17, 2015

The LORD God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.’”

Genesis 3:14-15

The 2004 film The Passion of the Christ opens with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. As he is kneeling and agonizing in prayer to his Heavenly Father, Jesus sees someone we recognize as Satan. The tempter tries to undermine Jesus’ conviction that he must die for the sins of the world. When this temptation seems not to work, Satan releases a serpent who slithers up to Jesus, apparently to strike him. But Jesus stands, looks at Satan, and powerfully crushes the head of the serpent under his foot.

This imaginative vision of Jesus in the Garden does not come directly from the New Testament gospels. Rather, it is based on a Christian reading of Genesis 3. From the first part of this chapter, the tempter, whom we later understand to be Satan, takes the form of a serpent in order to draw the first humans into sin. After his temptation succeeds, God curses the serpent “among all animals and among all wild creatures” (3:14). In addition to sentencing the serpent to a diet of dust, God adds, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (3:15).

Verse 15 suggests a reading beyond the literal. Yes, snakes will bite humans and humans will kill snakes. But there is something more in this text, according to classic Christian interpretations. God says that the offspring of the woman will “strike the head” of the serpent’s offspring, effectively destroying it. When did this happen definitively? When did the offspring of woman destroy the offspring of the serpent? At the cross. Jesus, born of Mary, eviscerated the deadly impact of the serpent’s work when he died for the sin of the world.

So, in the creative presentation in The Passion of the Christ, we know that when Jesus crushes the head of the serpent beneath his heel, Satan’s temptation has failed. Jesus has chosen to go to the cross, to bear the sin of the world, to mend the brokenness that began with the serpent’s beguiling words. This is good news for the woman, of course, since she will be the one through whom salvation comes to the world as she gives birth to the Savior. But it is also good news for all human beings.

I’m not suggesting that the original author of Genesis 3 understood this implication. But I do believe that God intentionally planted clues to his future saving work throughout the Old Testament, even as early as Genesis 3. The one whose temptation brought sin into the world will be crushed by the offspring of the one who first gave in to temptation. The one who first sinned will be the source of the Savior. Though God’s intentions for the world are scrambled by sin, God’s grace will ultimately prevail as he saves and renews his creation, including you and me.


Does the traditional Christian reading of Genesis 3 make sense to you?

Why does God plant hints of his saving work in Scripture, rather than plainly telling the whole story up front?

In what ways do you “strike the head of the serpent” in your life and work?


Gracious God, thank you for not abandoning us in our sin. Thank you for determining, from the beginning to save us. Thank you for choosing to use the woman in a special way, through her offspring. Thank you for the “seed” who is to come, Jesus, fully divine and fully human, Savior of the world.

Lord, even as I receive the gift of your salvation through Christ, may I participate in the crushing of the serpent’s head, in my leadership and my followership, in my work and my family, my church and my community. Amen.


Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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