Bible scholars have attempted for centuries to explain what it means that man was created in the image of God. I don’t pretend to have a definitive answer. After all, who can comprehend the incomprehensible? How can the finite know the infinite? Who can completely understand God? Who can understand the full extent of the idea that man was created in the image of God and is intended to reflect that image in the present and predestined to fully express it in eternity? It is not only that it is a vastly difficult concept to grasp but there are many hindrances to us understanding this idea of “imago Dei.”
Did Adam have any idea of what God expected of him when He made him in His image? We don’t know how long our first parents lived in the garden God planted for them where they were in intimate fellowship with God, but he must have learned something about the nature of God while he did. Did he manifest anything of the nature of God before he sinned? We are not told.
If we look back in Bible history we can see various men who perhaps had some idea of what God was like and sought to have a relationship with Him. There was Abel who by faith offered a pleasing sacrifice to God. Abel knew what God wanted and sought to please Him. Did he manifest anything of the image of God? Perhaps to an extent, but we are not told that.
What about Noah? He was said to have found favor in the sight of God. Did he have any perception of the image of God he was expected to express? It was after the flood in the so-called Noahic law (Genesis 9) that God brings up the idea of image when he was forbidding murder.
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Genesis 9:6).
Then there is Abraham who was known as “a friend of God.” God frequently spoke directly to Abraham. Could one who had such a close relationship as he had with God have not have been influenced to become to some degree like Him?
It was also said that…“the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11). How might the great leader of the Israelites have been affected by such a closeness to the Creator?
While it is likely that these all in their attempts at knowing God had some perception of the fact that they were supposed to be like Him, it is never stated in the scriptures. There is a good reason for that. Sin had separated between man and God, obscuring man’s ability to see Him in all His glory. How many times did those who were lesser than these great Patriarchs, instead of seeking to know God more closely, instead try to express their perception of Him by creating images of wood, stone or metal? Do a search on BibleGateway.com or another searchable Bible program for “image” or “likeness” and see how devoted they were to images of their own creation. And see how often they were rebuked and forbidden to do that.
It is not that God was not revealing Himself. He revealed Himself in the mighty deeds He did. He revealed Himself to an extent in the covenants He made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the covenant/law He gave at Sinai. But this was not a full disclosure of His glory. No one could look at the covenants and the law and come away with a fully satisfying understanding of God.
It was at Sinai that Moses requested of the Lord, “Please show me your glory.” (Exodus 33:18). But Moses was only permitted to see Him in a limited way. The Lord declared His name to Moses but did not permit him to see His face. However this mysterious scene might have been, it is obvious that God did not fully reveal Himself to Moses. Neither Moses nor the people of that day were ready to “see” God in the sense God would one day reveal Himself to mankind. The full meaning of the “image of God” would remain a mystery throughout the Old Testament. Such a disclosure of the divine nature was not to be vouchsafed to mankind until Jesus came into the world.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Unlike the prophets of old, Jesus didn’t just bring a message from God to mankind – He WAS God’s message. His message to the world was that if we want to know what God is like we must look at the Son. He “is the exact likeness of God’s own being (GNB).” He is not somewhat like God – he is exactly like Him.When Jesus’ disciple Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus replied to him…
“Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9).
In one clear picture we have not only an understanding of what God is like, but also what we are supposed to be like in bearing the image of God. In that Jesus lived in this world as a man – was in every sense a man – He is the perfect representation of what man is supposed to be. He was, while He lived among men, the man God means all men to be – the image of God!
Tomorrow we will look more closely at the life of Jesus as He portrayed the true image of God to men.