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

The Value of Land (Joshua 24)

On Sunday I preached a message on YHWH’s covenantal faithfulness and Israel’s continued fickleness as a picture in history of mankind’s need for a better covenant. In the sermon, I began with a reflection on the importance of land in the Bible and in Joshua:

In the Bible there is a great deal made of land. God created the man and put him in the garden to till and to cultivate the land (cf. Gen. 2). If sin had not ruined the project, this garden, tended by Adam and his descendents, would have domesticated the whole earth, spreading the glory of God all over the globe (cf. G.K. Beale, The Temple and The Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God). Certainly the new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21-22 pictures this, a perfect garden-city that will be inhabited by the lamb of God and all those for whom his blood was shed. And what will they be doing? Having dominion over all creation, working and serving in the land–a gloriously restored Eden.

So too, in the redemptive history between Genesis and Revelation there is much discussion of the land. Abraham is promised the land of Canaan (Gen. 12:1-3, 7). The first five books of the Bible anticipate Israel’s arrival in the promised land. Likewise, the importance of covenant faithfulness is stressed throughout the OT for the purpose of God’s gracious presence remaining with his people in the land (cf. Lev. 26:12-13; Deut. 30:15-20).

In the book of Joshua, the first five chapters report the entry of Israel into the land. This includes a reenactment of Israel’s great march through the Red Sea, when this time led by Joshua, the people cross the overflowing Jordan to enter the land. In chapters 6-12, Joshua records the many battles that ensued in taking the land. The land did not come without a fight, but God faithfully enabled Israel to conquer the wicked nations of Canaan, so that it could be said in 11:23: So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.

In chapters 13-21, the land is divided among the people of Israel. Each tribe is allotted their proper portion and they are then called to finish the initial work of having dominion over the land by casting out any remaining foreigners. Again God’s faithfulness is seen in 21:43-45: Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

Finally, in the last three chapters, 22-24, Joshua speaks to the people whom he has led for so many years, and his words too concern the land. This time it regards how the people might be able to stay in the land and retain a dwelling place with God. In chapter 23, Joshua delivers his final address and in chapter 24, the passage that I preached on Sunday, Joshua mediates a covenant renewal with the people of God, that they might remain obedient to God and enjoy his presence in the land.

Ultimately though, the story has Israel afflicted within the land and, at last, cast out of the land. Within one generation, in the book of Judges Israel’s disobedience invites foreign oppressors. But even more devasting in the history of Israel is the expulsion of Israel from the land when the powers of Assyria and Babylon come and conquer God’s obstinate people. It seems that despite all attempts, the people of God cannot keep the covenant. They are too stiff-necked and lustfully idolatrous. So it is with us!

The good news of the rest of the story is that another Joshua has come, and that like his namesake he has led his people through the waters of judgment. In Mark 1, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, in an act that would later come to symbolize his followers participation in his death and resurrection (Rom. 6). In Mark 1, Jesus passed through the wilderness unassailed by the temptations of the devil, and reentered the land, like a warrior returning home. This conquering reentry foreshadows the work that he would ultimately complete on the cross inaugurating a new covenant with his blood. So that, Luke could say that he came to lead a new exodus (9:31). The final result is that Jesus Christ showed himself to be a superior law-giver than Moses who died outside the land; he proved himself a better leader than Joshua, laying down his life so that his people might have an eternal inheritance in the land to come; and the mediator of a better covenant whose promises far exceeded those of the old covenant.

Joshua 24 is a picture of sweet OT devotion, but it is a far greater picture of another Joshua who has provided a better way to a better land, giving his weary followers the promise of everlasting rest. May we who hear the story of the ancient Israelites, now strive to enter the rest given by the new Joshua.

Sola dei gloria, dss.