Summary: A contrast between Adam and Christ.
Here is Paul’s argument: (1) a penalty implies a broken law; (2) death is a penalty; (3) sin is not imputed [charged to one’s account] when there is not law [in other words, a person is not found guilty for something if there is no law against it.]; (4) Adam’s sin was the transgression of a law; so were the sins of the people of Israel under the law; (5) between Adam and the time of Moses sin did not partake of the character of transgression because there was no law; (6) yet death reigned from Adam to Moses; (7) since death is a penalty of a broken law, all men were subject to death because they transgressed God’s command in Adam. It is true that we do inherit a sin nature from our parents and that we do commit individual sins, but it is also true that Adam’s sin was directly charged to us when he sinned.
". . . who [Adam] is the figure of him that was to come" (5:14b).
Who is “him that was to come”? It is Jesus Christ. Paul writes that there are similarities between Adam and Christ.
First of all, both Adam and Christ committed one memorable act. Adam’s act was his sin of disobedience; Christ’s act was his obedience in His death on the cross.
And second, Adam’s one act of disobedience and Christ’s one act of obedience have affected all people. Verse 19 says, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Because of Adam’s disobedience, every person is a sinner, and because of Christ’s obedience, every person is able to be right in God’s sight.
Now Paul presents a contrast between Adam and Christ.
1. There is a contrast between sin and grace.
"But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many" (5:15).
The sin of Adam affects all; while grace has been extended to all through Christ.
2. There is a contrast between condemnation and justification.
"And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgement was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification" (5:16).
Condemnation is the product of one man’s sin, but justification is possible despite all of our many sins. In Adam we got what we deserved, condemnation. In Christ we have received much more of what we do not deserve, grace.
3. There is a contrast between death and life.
"For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.). Therefore as by the offence of one judgement came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous" (5:17-19).
On one hand, death is seen reigning over all mankind by Adam’s sin. On the other hand, those who receive grace and gift of righteousness, shall reign in life by Jesus Christ. Notice that we can not only have life, but we can also reign in life.