The Image of God and Jesus the Christ



Image-bearers in spite of the fall
Adam and Eve’s fall into sin had immediate and devastating effects on their relationship with God (hiding and separation), with each other (blame and recrimination) and with themselves (shame and guilt). The judgment which followed struck at the heart of God’s blessing to them (pain in childbirth) and of His mandate to tend the garden and develop culture (pain in work); it also made this a lifelong sentence, to end only with death.[1] 

Nonetheless, Adam’s responsibility to act as God’s steward was not taken away: he and his descendants continued to be God’s image-bearers. Now, however, their job would be infinitely harder. 

In the midst of the devastation brought about by sin and judgment, however, we have a word of hope. God told the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. And he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15) This promise, known as the protoevangelium (first Gospel), points to a day when the “seed of the woman” would deliver a fatal blow to the serpent but would himself be wounded in the process. 

Over the Old Testament Scripture, the seed of the woman would be narrowed down to the seed of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of Judah, and of David; we learn in Isaiah that the promise would be fulfilled by the child of a virgin, who would be God with Us. Ultimately, all of these promises and prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus, the child of a virgin mother, “who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness….” (Rom 1:3b-4a) 

In other words, giving Adam and Eve free will ultimately involved the risk that they would disobey God’s commands and thus throw the world into chaos. But God was ready for their sin, and put in motion a plan He had in place even from before the foundation of the world (cf. Rev. 13:8). And the scope of that plan is nothing short of breathtaking. 

God’s eternal plan in Jesus
First, Jesus dealt with our guilt. God had told Adam that on the day he ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he would die. Spiritually, he did, but not physically: God provided a substitute, an animal that died to provide the skins that would cover Adam and Eve’s shame. Here we have the first substitutionary sacrifice, pointing ahead to the sacrificial system of the Law and ultimately to Jesus’ death on the cross, whereby he delivered the death blow to Satan and was himself wounded in the process. All of the earlier sacrifices from Eden on were pictures of the coming sacrifice of Jesus, whose death finally and definitively paid in full the debt we owe to God for our disobedience. 

In order for Jesus’ death to be effective for us, however, He needed to be sinless Himself. And for that He needed, like Adam, to be born without the taint of original sin dragging Him down.[2] He had to be, in essence, a new Adam, one who faced the test of obedience but who remained faithful in the midst of that testing. He also experienced the full brunt of suffering in this world and God’s judgment on Adam—He worked as a skilled craftsman; he experienced hunger, thirst, and exhaustion; He was misunderstood and slandered, rejected, betrayed by those closest to Him, mocked, tortured, and killed. But through it all He never lost His trust in God and never wavered in His obedience and submission to God’s will. 

And as if that were not enough, He rose from the dead, His transformed body a paradigm for the bodies His followers will receive at the resurrection. But even in this world, the resurrection matters: Jesus’ death broke the hold of sin and death over our lives, and the resurrection then gives us new life and the power to live in obedience to the calling God has given us. We participate in the Great Exchange: Jesus takes our guilt, and we take His righteousness; Jesus takes our punishment, and we receive His reward; Jesus suffers death for us, and we receive His life in this world and the next. 

And all this is predicated on faith and trust—the very place where Adam and Eve failed. In essence, we get what we place our trust in: if we trust Christ, we receive what He deserves; if we trust in ourselves, we get what we deserve. If we trust in Christ, we get His power to live the way we were made to live; if we trust ourselves, we’re on our own. 

The new Adam
So Jesus is truly the new Adam (1 Cor. 15:45, cf. Rom. 5:12-21), the progenitor of a new humanity that is redeemed from guilt, delivered from death, and empowered to carry out God’s mission and purposes in this world. 

But there’s still more: Col. 1:15 tells us that Jesus “… is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Humanity was made in the image of God and continues to bear it, but Jesus is preeminently the image of God, the one who is God’s definitive representative on Earth, who speaks with God’s voice and authority, who is quite literally the face of God on Earth—the fullness of deity in bodily form (vs. 19).

As the firstborn[3] of creation, Jesus is the heir of all things, the means by which everything came into existence and the one who holds everything together, as Col. 1:15-20 explain. This makes him preeminent over the created order, the one who fully exercises the dominion given to humanity. Salvation is thus truly cosmic in scope: John 3:16 tells us that God loved the cosmos, the ordered world that was subject to futility because of human sin (Rom. 8:20). And just as the bodies of the redeemed will be transformed at the resurrection, so will the creation as God brings forth a new heavens and earth where righteousness dwells (1 Pet. 3:13). 

Until then, we are living in a new reality in this world. Sin may have marred the image of God and made our mandate to “tend and keep the Garden” under God’s authority far more difficult, but in Christ the power of sin over our lives has been broken. We are thus freer than we have been since Adam to fulfill God’s original calling to humanity, to act as His stewards in all that we do in the world. Our redemption in Christ restores to us the ability to fulfill the cultural mandate that God gave Adam and never revoked.

As we carry out the Great Commission and make disciples for Jesus, the image of God and our sovereign king, we are actually to be calling people not just to Heaven, but to live out the Lordship of Christ in every area of their lives and thus to fulfill our original calling on Earth. 

For more insight to this topic, get the book,
The Faith, by Charles Colson, from our online store. Or read the article, “The Invasion of God,” by Charles Colson and Anne Morse.

[1] This is one reason Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden: to keep them from eating from the Tree of Life and never dying. In a world of suffering and change, natural death and an end to toil and pain can be a mercy.

[2] This probably has something to do with the virgin birth, though how exactly sin is transmitted is not explained in Scripture.

[3] “Firstborn” is not always literal in Scripture; it also refers to someone who is an heir (whether the firstborn or not) or someone who has precedence over something. Given the following verses, it is clear that Paul is not describing Jesus as the first created being but rather as the one who is preeminent over all creation, including the spiritual world.



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