Christ the Image of God

A. E. Long, Nutley

As to His essential Deity, Scripture everywhere teaches that mortal man cannot see God. So John wrote, "No man hath seen God at any time", John 1.18. Even of the Jews of His day, who supposed that they were nearer to God than any other people, Jesus said, "Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his form", 5. 37. Paul is even more explicit, since he describes God as "dwelling in light unapproachable; whom no man hath seen, nor can see", 1 Tim. 6. 16. Man's inability to see God stems from two reasons.

First, that of God's invisibility. Paul writes that God is "eternal, incorruptible, invisible", 1 Tim. 1. 17. The Lord described the nature of Deity as "God is spirit", John 4. 24 marg., although having personality consistent with being "spirit", but in His spiritual nature not to be perceived by man. A paradox of Scripture is that Moses, in escaping from Egypt, "endured, as seeing him who is invisible", Heb. 11. 27, while Paul, similarly, affirms of first-century pagans that they were "without excuse" for their ignorance of God, since "the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity", Rom. 1. 20. In creation, that which is seen witnesses to the unseen God.

Second, man could not endure the sight of Deity. Binney expresses the thought in the well-known words "Oh, how shall I, whose native sphere is dark, whose mind is dim, before the Ineffable appear, and on my naked spirit bear the uncreated beam?". Moses stood in a privileged relation to God. Of him God testified, "with him will I speak mouth to mouth . . . and the form of the Lord shall he behold", Num. 12. 8. Of Moses it was said that "the Lord knew (him) face to face", Deut. 34. 10, and that "the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend", Exod. 33. 11. None the less, even Moses could not see God's face, for the Lord said, "Thou canst not see my face: for man shall not see me and live", 33. 20. In the event, Moses was only allowed to see God's "back", for, said God, "my face shall not be seen", v. 23.

Nevertheless, some Scriptures seem to suggest that there were certain persons who, on special occasions, were permitted a close encounter with God. Jacob, who wrestled with "the angel" at Peniel, so named the place "the face of God", because, said he, "I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved", Gen. 32. 30. Manoah, at whose request the angel of the Lord appeared a second time, said to his wife, "We shall surely die, because we have seen God", Jud. 13. 22. The seventy elders of Israel, called to meet God with Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, "saw the God of Israel... and they beheld God", Exod. 24. 10-11. These experiences, however, can scarcely be thought to invalidate the truism that God dwelleth "in light unapproachable; whom no man hath seen, nor can see". It cannot be supposed that Moses, Jacob, Manoah or the seventy elders saw God in His essential Deity. Such could only have been limited revelations of His Deity. In the facts of His invisibility and unapproachability lay the questions as to how He should communicate Himself to man, how He might reveal Himself to man. Man is the creature of time, limited in comprehension and, above all, a sinner, "alienated from the life of God". God is the Creator of eternity, boundless in knowledge and unspeakably holy. Between God and man, there was "a great gulf fixed", which needed to be bridged for such communication to be made.

From this problem arose the relevance of Christ's coming into the world. He came to bridge that "gulf". John saw both the problem and the answer in his words, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him", John 1. 18. And such a declaration was not only oral, but a declaration of God in the person and life of the Lord Jesus become incarnate for that purpose, v. 14. He was the eternal "Word", uttered for the first occasion in time, in His incarnation. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews envisages the piecemeal revelation of God through the prophets as being consummated in God's Son, "God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son" (Greek: omit his), Heb. 1. 1, 2. All that Christ said and did and was seen to be, constituted that final revelation of God to men. As partaking of "flesh and blood", 2. 14, the Lord Jesus became, visibly, what God was invisibly. Paul therefore described the Lord as "the image of the invisible God", Col. 1. 15. "Image" is not to be thought of in those ways which we customarily accept, either as being an artificial imitation of the external form of an object or an optical appearance or counterpart of an object produced by rays of light reflected from a mirror, for neither of these ideas answers to Christ as "the image of God". The Hebrew Epistle describes Christ as "the very image (marg. the impress) of his substance", 1. 3. Conybeare says of this "Literally, impression, as of a seal in wax". As the impression of the seal upon the wax perfectly answers to the seal, so does the Son to God Himself. All that God is, such is Christ, exactly. Conybeare renders Paul's words in Colossians 1. 15: "Who is a visible image of the invisible God", adding a foot­note, "It is important to observe here that St. Paul says not merely that our Lord was when on earth the visible image of God, but that He is so still. In Him only God manifests Himself to man, and He is still visible to the eye of faith".

Only those with faith comprehended God's revelation of Himself in Christ and saw the Lord as "the visible image of the invisible God". Most of His contemporaries saw Him merely as a man among men, "the carpenter", of whose family connections they were well aware but in which they saw nothing remarkable or calling for faith, Mark 6. 3.

There is an exact identity between the Father and the Son. To Philip's request, "Shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us", Jesus replied, "Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father... I am in the Father, and the Father in me", John 14. 8-10. Indeed, He also said, "I and the Father are one", 10. 30. We may say that the Lord was not only one in essence, but He was also the complete revelation of the Father. The Gospel is many-sided in its definition; among other things, it can be said to concern the revelation of God's image among men, in the person and work of the Lord Jesus, Christ making God known in terms of "flesh and blood", the Son declaring Him, uniquely, as being in the centre of His affections. Paul envisaged the gospel in these terms, "the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them", 2 Cor. 4. 4. Satan has a vested interest in keeping men in the darkness, as a result of which they love the darkness rather than the light, John 3. 19. Hence he seeks to blind their thoughts that they may not perceive that revelation of God's image in Christ which the Gospel presents. He snatches away the good seed of the Word of God from the mind of the casual hearer, and will blind his thoughts to the light of the gospel which focuses on Christ as "the image of God", in order to prevent either that seed from taking root and germinating, or that light from dawning upon him.