The following is an expansion of The Preeminence of Christ: Part One, To the Glory of God the Father, 16-19.1
Scripture speaks of only one creature as being made in the image of God: Man. Genesis 1:26-28 (at):
26And God said, “Let Us make Man in Our image, according to Our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the cattle and over all the earth and over all the crawlers crawling on the earth.”
27And God created Man in His image;
in the image of God He created him;
male and female He created them.
28And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing crawling on the earth.”
Special among all creation, Man is purposed to show what God is like, which is language similar to manifesting God’s glory. Psalm 8, which is commentary on Genesis 1:26-28, opens with Yahweh’s transcendence: “You have set your glory above the heavens” (v. 1). Then our Lord’s immanence appears through His care for Man whom He has crowned with glory and honor (royal terms, v. 5).2 The apostle Paul joins the concepts of image and glory in 1 Corinthians 11:7, teaching that Man “is the image and glory of God.” Man was created not simply for the glory of God; Man was created to be the glory of God!
It is actually quite tricky to pin down what it is about Man that comprises the image of God. Scripture does not break this down categorically.3 Therefore, some teachers focus solely on the function of Man as what images forth God’s likeness. In context, the purposed function is ruling (Gen. 1:26, 28). However, it seems that the grammar4 and logic should be clear that God’s image is what we are, and what we are as God’s image enables us to do the function of ruling.5 We also gain this clarity from the historical context of the book of Genesis.
The original recipients of the book of Genesis were those who grew up in Egypt and traveled to the land of Canaan after the Exodus. Genesis does not stop to give an in-depth explanation of “image” or “likeness,” because the original readers would have been familiar with these concepts. Peter Gentry teaches:
The epithet or descriptive title of the Egyptian king as a “living statue of such and such a god,” was common in Egypt from 1630 b.c. onwards and, therefore, was well-known to the Israelites. In Egyptian thinking, the king is the image of god because he is the son of god. The emphasis or stress is not on physical appearance, e.g., a male king could be the image of a female goddess. Rather the behavior of the king reflects the behavior of the god. The image reflects the characteristics of the god. The image reflects the essential notions of the God.6
Gentry provides an example from an inscription in the Karnak Temple that celebrates the triumph of Thutmoses III (c. 1460 b.c. [the same century as the writing of Genesis-Exodus]). In the poem’s prologue, the god Amon-Re calls the human king his son. In what follows, the “I” is Amon-Re, and the “you” is the king:
I came to let you tread on Djahi’s chiefs,
I spread them under your feet throughout their lands;
I let them see your majesty as lord of light,
so that you shone before them in my likeness.7
Gentry summarizes that “image of god,” in the fifteenth-century b.c., “would have communicated two main ideas” to those in the Near East: “(1) rulership and (2) sonship. The king is the image of god because he has a relationship to the deity as the son of god and a relationship to the world as ruler for the God.”8
The ancient Near East background is quite instructive because Adam indeed was considered “the son of God” (Lk. 3:38) and was endued with power9 to rule on God’s behalf (Gen. 1:26, 28; Ps. 8). Because Man is the Creator’s “son,” Man’s nature is uniquely capable of relating to God the Father. Man can receive the spiritual realities of God, process them with God-like reason, emotions, and will, and then incarnate them into the physical realm with speech and action – glory, the “going public” of God’s goodness.10
However, to the Egyptians and Mesopotamians, it was only the pagan kings who were images of their false gods.11 The king was a “living statue” made to resemble and represent the god’s presence and power over his territory.12 In truth, though, all humans are images of the one real God. All humans are purposed to be God’s royal representatives who manifest His character in benevolent dominion. Therefore, God empowered and commissioned Man to be fruitful, multiply, fill, subdue, and rule (Gen. 1:28). God wanted to fill the earth with image-bearers in order to fill the earth with His glory (cf. Num. 14:21, Hab. 2:14). Faithful image-bearers in every part of the earth could subdue the enemy and the wasteland by the blessing of God, thereby extending the Garden of Eden so that the whole earth could be a suitable dwelling place for the God of glory.13
We can become so accustomed to the teaching about Man in God’s image that we lose our sense of its strangeness. Most often in the Hebrew Scriptures, “image” is used of idols! Yahweh expressly forbade His people from crafting images of Him, idols, because He had already made His images – us!14 We are God’s (appropriate) idols! Piper asks well:
What would it mean if you were to create seven billion statues of yourself and put them all over the world? It would mean you would want people to notice you! God created us in His image so we would display or reflect or communicate who He is, how great He is, and what He’s like.15
Our very existence is preeminently about God. We are purposed to always think, feel, speak, and act in a way that directs everyone’s attention to the glory of God the King.
Read more in The Preeminence of Christ: Part One, To the Glory of God the Father to consider how the image of God in Man was marred by sin, then perfectly displayed in Christ, and now is being “renewed” in those who receive the Spirit of Christ in repentant faith.
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