Last Things First: Meditations on the Image of God

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15).

This weekend, I will be preaching from some of the richest Christological verses in the Bible, Colossians 1:15-20.  And in preparation this week, I have been reading JV Fesko’s Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis 1-3 with the Christ of EschatologyFesko’s treatment of “protology,” eschatology, and Christology are incredible stimulating and illuminating.  Seeing that Genesis 1-3 is not just a polemic against Charles Darwin, nor a proof-text the age of the earth, but rather a glorious beginning to the story of Jesus Christ–his creation, redemption, and new creation.  Fesko effectively demonstrates that these passages are about the Triune God and the true man, Jesus Christ. 

Drawing on a rich history of commentators, Fesko quotes Anthony Hoekema, G.K. Beale, and John Calvin as they seek to explain the context and the concept of the Imago Dei.  Their reflections are worth pondering in order to better understand this tremendous biblical truth–namely, what it means to be made in the image of God, and that Jesus Christ himself is the Image of God!  Quoting from Hoekema’s The Image of God first, Fesko remarks: 

The image of God in man must: “be seen as involving the structure of man (his gifts, capacities, and endowments) and the functioning of man (his actions, his relationships to God and to others, and the way he uses his gifts).  To stress either of the of these at the expense of the other is to be one-sided…To see man as the image of God is to see both the task and the gifts.  But the task is primary; the gifts are secondary.  The gifts are the means for fulfilling the task” (A. Hoekema, quoted by Fesko in Last Things First, 47).

To Hoekema’s balanced representation of structure and function, Fesko incorporate’s Beale’s cultural-historical observations:

G.K. Beale explains the connection between monarchs as images of deities and explains, “ancient kings would set up images of themselves in distant lands over which they ruled in order to represent their sovereign presence.  For example, after conquering a new territory, the Assyrian king Shalmanesar ‘fashioned a mighty image of my majesty’ that he ‘set up’ on a clack obelisk, and then he virtually equates his ‘image’ with that of ‘the glory of Assur’ his god.  Likewise, Adam was created as the image of the divine king to indicate that earth was ruled over by Yahweh” (G.K. Beale, quoted by Fesko, 49).

Finally, Fesko quotes the great reformer, John Calvin, whose comments highlight the dignity bestowed upon humanity’s nature. 

The chief seat of the Divine image was in his mind and heart, where it was eminent…In the mind perfect intelligence flourished and reigned, uprightness attended as its companion, and all the senses were prepared and molded for due obedience to reason; and in the body there was a suitable corresondence with this internal order’ (John Calvin, quoted by Fesko, 50).

In short order, John Fesko, summarizes some of the most important aspects of the doctrine of humanity.  He supports a holistic definition that incorporates Calvin’s substantive understanding, that mankind has essential properties that reflect the Godhead; Hoekema’s dual understanding that mankind is made to rule (function) and that God has given mankind gifts and abilities to carry out that task (structure); and Beale’s cultural-historical understanding of humanity’s place as delegated vice-regents to rule over creation, to expand the glory of God by ruling over creation and proliferating the image of God.

Of course, there is much more to say because this original program was aborted as soon as Adam’s feet touched earth.  Humanity proceded to reflect the image of God, but in a marred and perverted way.  Nevertheless, eternal God’s intention for the true Imago Dei was never thwarted!  As highlighted by Last Things First, Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ was always the intended telos of mankind.  We are made in his image, but He is the image of God (cf. Col. 1:15; 2 Cor. 3:18; 4:4; Heb. 1:3).  Fesko distills the preceding quotations well, so we will finish with his summary:

Set against the ancient Near Eastern religions in which the ‘forces of nature are divinities that may hold the human race in thralldom, our text declares man to be a free agent who has the God-given power to control nature’ (Nahum Sarna, Genesis, 13).  Moreover, no man or any other creature is a deity.  Rather, God’s image, his incommunicable attributes, were given to man so he could rule as God’s vice-regent over the creation (50).

Made in the image of Christ, may we rejoice in the True ImageoDei, Jesus, and press on to Christ-like conformity as we embrace our roles as vice-regents, looking for the day when our bodies are redeemed and we will ever reign with Christ (cf. Rom. 8:23; 2 Tim. 2:12).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss