What follows are just a few thoughts concerning the “image of God”, which man had, which man lost, and to which man has been restored in Jesus Christ through the new covenant. Let’s begin.
In the beginning….
God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him…” (Genesis 1:26-27)
Man was created in the image and likeness of God, and was warned….
…. But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:17)
The day man ate, he died. That is, he died covenantally (spiritually). He was separated from the presence of God, no longer bearing the image and likeness of his Creator. Man was naked, but not just physically. His nakedness was his divestment of the image and likeness of God, a nakedness he had not known before.
So, the Lord “made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them. Therefore, the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. (Genesis 3:21-23)
Man existed for thousands of years void of the image of God, clothed in the skins of animals. This “substitutionary-death system” pointed forward to and symbolized the time when man would be clothed in Christ, and would once again bear the image and likeness of his maker.
Jumping ahead to the first century….
Jesus the last Adam, comes to his own in the likeness of Adam, yet not in the image of fallen Adam, but in the image of God.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)
“Who being the brightness of glory and the express image of His person…” (Hebrews 1:3)
But, in order to redeem fallen man, Jesus must die as fallen man, yet without sin. So, Jesus dies the death of Adam, that is, spiritual separation from His Father (signified by his physical death) and spends three days and three nights in Hades, void of the image of His Father.
“Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”, which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mathew 27:46)
Three days later, Jesus rises from Hades and becomes the first to be raised from the death of Adam, that is, resurrected from sin death and separation from God. Through his resurrection, Jesus once again bears His Fathers image.
And from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead.
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit. (1 Peter 3:18)
Now let’s jump ahead another 25 years or so….
It’s now more than two decades after the cross and as we shall see, the body of Christ does not yet possess the image of a God. As a matter of fact, the new covenant teaches that man would not be restored to the image of God until the resurrection. Let’s take a look.
And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body…. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:23,29)
Notice, man’s conforming to the image of the Son (Christ) is connected to the time of the resurrection (redemption of the body). This is seen even clearer in Paul’s great resurrection teaching in 1 Corinthians 15.
Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly…. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:49-52)
Once again, we see that it is at the time of the resurrection that man is fully changed into, and once again “bears” the image of God in Christ.
So, if those of us in Christ are waiting for the resurrection to bear the image of God, how can we say that we bear his image now? It’s true, man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1), but, man lost that image through sin (Genesis 3). And scripture is clear, it is only through the consummative redemptive work of Christ (the resurrection) that we will once again bear the image of our Father.
So, I ask again. If those of us in Christ are waiting for the resurrection to bear the image of Christ, how can we say that we bear his image now? The answer is that we cannot. It is a contradiction of the highest order to say that we presently bear the image of Christ, yet the future (bodily) resurrection at the “end of time” is when we will bear the image of Christ.
I submit that the only solution to this contradiction is a proper understanding of resurrection. Biblical resurrection is not the rising of decayed corpses into a state of physical life. But the rising up of man dead in sin, into a state of spiritual life in Christ through covenantal restoration. Biblical resurrection is about the restoration of the image of Christ through the new covenant.
This is taught powerfully in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. (NASB) For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious…. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (NKJV)
(2 Corinthians 3:9-11,18)
Now, follow me very carefully here….
2 Corinthians 3 is all about the “covenantal transition” which was taking place in the first century. Verse 9 compares the glory of the two covenants, and sets the context for the rest of the chapter.
Verse 11 teaches that the old covenant had at that time (55-60AD) not yet passed away, and therefore, the new covenant was not fully established. (Also see Hebrews 8:13 and 10:9 as evidence that a covenantal transition was still taking place after the cross).
Verse 18 teaches that those in Christ were “being transformed” into the image of the Lord from “glory to glory”, that is, as they were transitioning from the glory and of the old covenant into the glory of the new covenant. Said another way, the image of God was being restored to man through covenantal transition.
From 30-70AD the old covenant was fading away, and the new covenant was being established as the fulfilment of the old. This means that as those in Christ were receiving the promises of the new covenant (recognizing them to be the fulfilment of old covenant promises), they were being transformed (changed) into the image of the “new-covenant-Man”, Jesus Christ. In other words, they were being resurrected.
As we look at what follows, it’s important to know that the Greek word translated as “image” is “eikon”. The same word is used in all three texts. Below is what I believe to be a powerful and irrefutable argument which demonstrates that biblical resurrection was in fact the first century process by which man was being restored to the image of God, and that this “resurrection process” was taking place through the transition of the two covenants.
Here it is the argument:
Man would be restored to the image (eikon) of Christ at the final resurrection, the redemption of the body. (Romans 8:23-29, 1 Corinthians 15:49-56)
But, man would be restored to the image (eikon) of Christ at the full reception of the new covenant, through covenantal transition. (2 Corinthians 3:11-18)
Therefore, the time of the establishment/reception of the new covenant was the time of the final resurrection, when man was fully restored to the image of Christ, recreated in the image and likeness of God.
So, if the Church is right now the new-creation-man in the image of God in Christ (which we are), but our restoration to the image of God is through the final resurrection (which it is), then it must be true that the final resurrection has been accomplished… and it is.
Resurrection is found in Jesus Christ and His new covenant, and is our present covenantal position in God’s new covenant world. What this means is that our redemption is complete, we have been restored to the image of God in Christ. The resurrection of the dead has nothing to do with the rising of physical corpses out of dirt, but everything to do with man’s spiritual restoration to the image and likeness of his Creator, and the fulfilment of His covenant promises made to Abraham and his Seed.
For those of us in Christ, no more are we clothed in the skins of animals to cover our nakedness, for we shall never be naked again. We are forever clothed in Christ through his new covenant, where once again bear the image and the likeness of Him who dwells in heaven. It is finished!