Bible study series: The Beginning and the End - Genesis and Revelation
The Reflection - The fall and restoration of the image of God
by I Gordon
Human. If you are reading this then the chances are pretty high that you fall into that category. Though I can't be completely sure. According to scientists there is a slim chance that you are a baboon (apparently... though I wouldn't want to get that wrong!) but if you have got this far then I'll go out on a limb and say you are human. That means that amongst all of God's creation, you were the one that was created in His image. Not the cherubim, nor other angels and certainly not the baboons. You were created in the image of God. Now that sounds pretty cool... But what does it mean?
In this study I want to look at the fall and restoration of the image of God in humanity. We'll start in Genesis obviously... add in a little touch of Jeremiah... include some New Testament sprinklings and season it with the crowning scene from the book of Revelation. But it will all revolve around this theme of the image of God. So let's start with Genesis...
Let us make man in our image...
Genesis 1:26-27 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
So on the last day of God's creative act, He made His most glorious part of creation - Us. And you will note that in the above passage it says four times that we, male and female human beings, were created in His image1. Four times! So what does that mean? In what were Adam and Eve created in the image of God? And are we still in the image of God today?
Firstly we must remember that God is Spirit (John 4:24) so it is not talking about a physical likeness. It is something else. Some Bible teachers speak of different ways in which mankind was created in His image like personality, morality, creativity, choice, emotions etc. All of these are true as secondary issues. But the bigger issue is that mankind was created to REFLECT Him! We were, in dependence upon Him, to reflect His glory.
Think of it another way... if I were to create something in the image of myself, what would it look like? Well, to be fair, it wouldn't look very good and you probably wouldn't have any idea who it is meant to be! But let's go completely wild and say I have incredible creative abilities. I am the Michelangelo or Leonardo De Vinci of the 21st century. So I create a painting or sculpture in my own image. It is a masterpiece... obviously. What would it look like? It would look like me! It would reflect something of who I am so that all who see it can get a small glimpse... of me. Humanity was created in the image of God. We were created to reflect His very nature and character so that others could see a glimpse of the vastness of this One we call God. But I don't need to tell you that something went horribly wrong. The image was horribly marred at the fall! It would be like spilling a cup of coffee over this marvelous portrait of yourself that you had just completed. People might be able to make parts of it out but it would be a mess. The image would be forever tarnished. One Bible teacher2 pictures it like this:
"Here's the picture in my mind. I was created like a mirror. And a mirror that was supposed to be 45 degrees with the clear reflective side pointing upward so that as God shone on it at the 45 degree angle, it would bounce off, and it would make a 90 degree turn and be reflected out into the world. And at the fall, Satan persuaded me that my image is more beautiful than God's image, and so I flip the mirror over. Now the black back side is toward God. It doesn't reflect anything. Instead, the mirror casts a shadow in the shape of itself on the ground, and I fell in love with the shadow. That is what happened. And we have been loving ourselves ever since."
You were born... in the image of the first man
Genesis 5:1-3 This is the written account of Adam's line. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. (2) He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them "man. " (3) When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.
As we move on in Genesis it speaks again of Adam and Eve being created in the likeness of God. It says that 130 years later they had a son, Seth, who is said to have been born in their image. Unfortunately, between Man being created in the image of God and Seth being born in the image of his parents, we had the fall. All of Adam's son's, as seen dramatically with the first (Cain) killing the second (Abel) have been born in the same fallen, marred image. And that has continued down through the ages with each new human being, not very long after being born, demanding attention and its own way. Could humanity once again reflect God's image? Is there hope? If so, what would it take?
The marred image and desperately wicked heart... can still do one wise thing!
As we look down through the ages we come to a well known passage in the book of Jeremiah that describes the extent of the fall and how incredibly the image of God (in mankind) was marred. It is this:
"The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings. (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
Speaking of the human heart the Lord says it is 'deceitful and desperately wicked'. That clearly is not one that is going to be a good reflection of the Lord's character and nature. And yet as I read this the other night, another part of the passage stood out to me. After saying that the heart is desperately wicked, the Lord went on to say that He searches the heart to give according to his ways. So the question I had was 'Lord, if the heart is desperately wicked, why are you searching it? Surely you're going to be disappointed! What are you looking for? What 'ways' in a deceitful heart are you hoping to find?'
Having asked the question the thought came to read the context. Duh! Ok...that's Bible reading 101 but sometimes I'm a bit slow. As I read I found a poem. Given by the Lord. One which encapsulates what 'ways' He looks for even in a wicked heart. You see there is something that even a wicked heart can do which helps restore the image of God within the creature... and that is realise it's own wickedness and turn the eyes onto and cry out to the only One who can help. The poem is in Jeremiah 17:5-8 but the contrast between those who turn to the Lord and those who don't is better seem when laid out side by side. It is an important passage both for salvation and for every day life. Even in the current crazy uncertain current days of the worldwide virus pandemic!
|Who is your strength?
||Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind And makes flesh his strength
||Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD
|Where is your heart?
||Whose heart turns away from the LORD
||Whose trust is the LORD
|What will you be like?
||For he will be like a bush in the desert
||For he will be like a tree planted by the water, That extends its roots by a stream
|How will you react?
||And will not see when prosperity comes,
||And will not fear when the heat comes;
|What will you produce?
||But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, A land of salt without inhabitant.
||But its leaves will be green, And it will not be anxious in a year of drought Nor cease to yield fruit.
So yes, there is hope even for a wicked heart if it turns to the Lord. In the next chapter, the Lord gave Jeremiah a little object lesson to show the same thing. It shows that yes, mankind is incredibly marred... yet with the Master Potter there is still hope!
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message. So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me: O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does? declares the LORD. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. (Jeremiah 18:1-6)
The immediate context of this passage is a wayward house of Judah during the days of Jeremiah who were about to be judged unless they turned back to the Lord. But the wider implication is that all of us were marred through the fall. God's creation, like the Potter's vessel, was made from the clay of the earth, but was severally marred. It seemed fatal. Yet the master potter can still make something of this clay. It's image and usefulness can be restored. But it would take something radical!
The means of the restoration
My mother is an artist. She paints. Very well actually though I might be biased! Over the years she has used oils, water colours, acrylics and now, her favourite weapon of choice - pastels. I remember one piece, a lovely picture of poppies, that she finally finished after months of meticulous and loving work. For a reason known only to the good Lord above (she doesn't even know why!) she put it outside on a table. You might know where this is going! She then forgot about it. Then it rained. And if there was any doubt, it was proven quite quickly that pastel paintings and water are not good friends. Speaking frankly they don't have a lot of time for each other and certainly don't mix well. So needless to say the painting was ruined. One beautiful image, lovingly created, now marred beyond repair.
But could the Lord however restore His lovingly created image in humanity? If so, what would it take? God, being God, actually had a plan to restore His image and glory in mankind even before time began! A couple of verses that speak of this are:
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 8:29)
We speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. (1 Corinthians 2:7)
So there is that word again, image. We have been predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. God destined something, even from before time began, for our glory. What, or more accurately, who, was that? It is the One who would come in the exact perfect image of God, to restore that image to a messed up humanity!
He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (Colossians 1:15)
The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation (image) of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:3)
One came that was the complete, 100% image of God... in a body! And He came to die, then rise, then restore His life to all who believe so that the image of God could shine forth once again in you and me.
Application - the image today
So what of the image today? How does the image of God get displayed in our life today? How can we reflect His glory today? That's obviously a huge topic so I'll just mention and focus on three verses that speak of this process today.
||And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 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; (Rom 8:28-29)
||Today is the day we are conformed into His image - by all that happens to us. Despise it not! Tomorrow is the day that we are transformed, in the twinkling of an eye, into the full image of the Son, our Lord. As I write the Covid-19 pandemic is in play. Across the world people are in lockdown! The writer of Hebrews speaks of a shaking in the last days. He writes: "See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken-- that is, created things--so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, (Heb 12:25-28) This is not THAT shaking. But it is A shaking. And EVERY shaking has this purpose - that your grip on the worldly temporal things may loosen and be removed, while the eternal spiritual matters may remain. It is all part of 'the conforming'. God uses every 'shaking' that occurs for this purpose.
||Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him- (Col 3:9-10)
||Being renewed into the image of One who created us occurs in connection with a true knowledge;. This is where the renewing of the mind comes in. Don't be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. The word for 'transformed' in Rom 12:2 is 'metamorphoo' from which we get the word metamorphosis. There is a metamorphosis taking place in a believer! You are being changed from a wrinkly, sometimes prickly, old earthly caterpillar into a beautiful heavenly butterfly. You are being renewed into the image of the One who created you! But you play a huge role in that. Lay aside the old practices, the Bible says, and renew your mind with who you are now - a new creation in Christ Jesus!
||Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 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. (2Co 3:17-18)
||You might say, "yeah I feel like an earthly old caterpillar most of the time. How does this current transformation take place?" This verse in 1 Corinthians tells us that the transforming occurs as we behold Jesus' glory3. It says it is like a mirror that then reflects onto and through us. But what does that mean practically? It means we renew our minds with who He is and that He is adequate for every situation. We remember, in every difficulty, that He has given us Himself, and we thank Him for it. To give an example, in the days of Covd19, the only thing spreading faster than the virus is fear. People are panic buying toilet paper! A lady in my country took a 2 meter ruler down to the supermarket with her and poked people with it and yelled at anyone who came closer to her than 2 meters! What makes someone do that? Fear does. When the media only speaks of the negative cases and outcomes, and makes it sound like your life is on the line, it is easy to let fear take control. But the 11th commandment is, or should be, 'thou shall not fear!' But how do we do that? We turn our eyes off our circumstances and situation and behold Him, remembering that He is fully adequate for today and more than adequate for tomorrow! As we renew our mind with who He is, the fear dissipates and the peace of God returns. And we do this with an unveiled face the scripture says. That is, we are honest, open, and unveiled before the Lord.
You were born again to be transformed into the image of the second man
So what of the future for believers? Will the image get fully restored? Come on... of course it will!
Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 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)
Our first physical birth means that we have all born the image of the first man, Adam. Yet our second spiritual birth means we will bear the image of the second man, Jesus Christ. The image of God in humanity is going to be complete! All born again believers will be changed, in an instant, on the day of Jesus' return into His image. We will all display the glory of God's nature and character to the entire universe4. The marred image of mankind will be completely replaced by the hands of the Master Potter. And how is this pictured in the book of Revelation you ask?
Revelation - How does this transformation end? A clue... Do do do-do, do do do-do
I won't talk too much about this because I am saving it for another full study in this series. But the Apostle John got a glimpse of what is to come. He got a glimpse of what the complete body of believers, changed into the image of their Saviour, Jesus Christ, looked like. And her she comes. The doors open, the music starts and down the aisle she gracefully walks. Radiant, glorious, without spot or blemish. The bride of Christ, prepared for her husband.
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: "Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!' " And he added, "These are the true words of God." (Revelation 19:6-9)
John not only saw what was to come, but he also heard it. There sounded like a great multitude. Everyone was excited. It was like the roar of great torrents of rushing waters. And yet there were loud shouts like claps of thunder. What were they shouting? They were shouting 'HALLELUJAH! The marriage of the Lamb has come and the bride has made herself ready!' A once fallen marred humanity... saved, forgiven, transformed, glorified, perfected. And now to be married. I bet the angels, who rejoiced over creation all those years ago, will be in awe at this turn of events! The image of God completely restored.
What a plan! What a future for believers! What a day that will be when we are fully restored and transformed into the image of His Son! Until that day arrives be transformed, little by little, by beholding Him. Learn to thank Him in all things. Bring Him into you life in all things. Be open and honest about your needs, your failures, your fears and concerns... He knows them all anyway. But as we do so, as it were with unveiled faces, nothing hidden but all open to Him, that metamorphosis takes place and another little glimpse of the image of God, who He is, is seen through your life (and maybe even mine).