Understanding the importance of the image God and its progression through redemptive history is not only helpful but a necessary venture to bring the Bible’s teaching to bear on modern humanity. However, just like the topic of work, leisure and rest, so also biblical theologies on the image of God are weak and sparse. The following will briefly show how the Bible relates the image of God in redemptive history.
God’s image transfers to children. Genesis 1:26–27 state that God made both male and female in his image. To be made in God’s image means to image God in the world as his physical representatives who participate in a plethora of differing relationships. Genesis 5:1–3 shows that the image of God passes from father to son. Adam fathered a son in his likeness named Seth (Gen 5:3).
This implies that God’s creating people in his image bestows sonship. This is precisely the connection Luke makes in his Gospel. In Luke 3:38, we learn Adam was “the son of God.” Thus, the transfer of God’s image implies sonship.
God’s image remains after the fall of mankind. In Genesis 9:6, the reason murder requires the death penalty is because “God made man in his own image.” Thus, the fall of man did not destroy or damage the image of God. The sanctity of life is guaranteed because people still possess God’s image. Later Old Testament writers speak of the special glory humanity received from God, which hints that God’s image abides in people (Ps 8:5). In the New Testament, persons must not curse each other because humans are made in the likeness of God (James 3:9). Therefore, the image of God remains after the fall.
However, a persistent problem exists. Individuals cannot image God properly because of the pollution of sin. The history of the Old Testament is a history of moral failure, failure to spread God’s name and fame across the globe . The first Adam failed to image God through his life, and no other king, prophet or priest imaged God perfectly. A need for a coming one to redeem humanity existed.
Adam was a type of Christ. According to Paul, Adam “was a type of the one who was to come” (Rom 5:14). Adam typified, that is, related to another Adam-like person, Jesus Christ. Adam failed to manifest the righteousness that images God’s righteousness, but Jesus succeeded, even sharing that righteousness with “many” (5:19). Paul concludes, “so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” As Adam represented the race and led it into sin, so Jesus leads the human race into righteousness.
Jesus fully imaged God in earth. According to Hebrews 1:3, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” He reflects God’s glory as humanity in God’s image was meant to do. Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15).
When believers trust in Jesus Christ, they become “in Christ.” Jesus prays in John 17:21–23:
that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
Notice the discussion of being in Jesus and in God and how this relates to receiving God’s glory. When one is in Christ, one is in God and manifests God’s glory. The purpose of redemption is to forgive the sins of mankind through Christ, so that humanity can be in Christ and so manifest God’s glory to the world. Believers become one with Jesus in their redemption.
Believers are so identified with Jesus that they die with him and rise with him (cf. Rom 6:1–11). Paul can say in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” To be saved is to be in Christ. To be in Christ means one is identified with God and share in glory. In fact, Romans 8:30 explains the end goal of salvation is to be glorified.
The goal of believers today is to image Christ because he imaged God perfectly. So Romans 8:29 says the purpose of God’s predestination is for believers “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Paul exhorts believers who “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col 3:10). Similarly, Paul can say in Ephesians 4:24 “to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” The reason believers are transformed into the image of Christ is because he images God perfectly (cf. 2 Cor 4:4). Jesus is the full manifestation of God and perfectly images him on earth, being God himself (cf. John 1:1, 14, 18).
Believers image God through imaging Christ to spread God’s glory across the world. So Paul can say in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” In the future, believeres will share in God’s divine nature (2 Pet 1:4) ruling over all the earth in his kingdom (Rev 20). In this kingdom, saints will perfectly image God in bodies that Jesus provides through his resurrection.
Before concluding this discussion, the follow chart will help illustrate the historical progression of God’s image from Adam, to Jesus, and then to Christians.
|Adam is God’s image||Jesus is unique image of God||Christians become like unique image of God, Jesus not Adam|
|Adam receives sonship (Gen 5:1, 3; Luke 3:38)||Jesus is unique son of God||Christians become like unique son of God|
|Adam receives glory (Ps 8 )||Jesus uniquely is God’s glory||Christians destined to same glory as son of God|
Some basic conclusions follow: The concepts of image, sonship, and glory are connected. This connection exists in the New Testament for believers. However, distinctions exist since the Old Testament’s sources these three concepts in Adam, while the New Testament sources these in Jesus.
For our purposes, believers now image Jesus Christ, since he redeems humanity and brings believers into him. As the perfect image of God, believers must image Jesus to image God. So an exploration into how Jesus worked, enjoyed leisure, and played is the most important way believers to balance their lives today.
***And this is precisely what we will explore later this week, as we see how Jesus images God.
 The sparse treatment by G. L. Bray [“Image of God,” New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D. A. Carson, and Graeme Goldsworthy, 575–6 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000)] helps as much as a two-page article can help. For some reason, this biblical-theological theme is largely ignored in studies of progressive revelation, whereas every systematic theology will give large discussions on the image of God.