The Image of God - Now or Hereafter?

Question: Genesis states that we are made in the image of God, but how does that work? Does it mean now or hereafter?

Answer: Being made in God’s image has far reaching effects, so let’s bear in mind that we are body, soul and spirit. 

We presently bear the image of the earthly man, but we shall also bear the image of the heavenly man. 

Christians around the world look for the return of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. We look for him because we love him and desire to be with him. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will take you to Myself, so that where I am, there you also will be” (John 14:3). 

The primary object of our attention is Christ but the ramifications of Christ’s return will affect us body, soul and spirit. “Just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man” (1 Cor 15:49). 

God originally made us in his image and likeness, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness’” (Gen 1:26). So when we read that, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). We see that we are in fact made of flesh as Jesus was born of Mary with flesh. We bear the same likeness.

The early church writer, Tertullian, points out that when humanity was being formed, God willed its direction: “if He had not willed its production, He would have prohibited it, when He knew it was in progress” and even back then “Christ was in His thoughts as one day to become man”. 

So we have flesh in the likeness of the Son of Man. 

But God wants us to be like Jesus in our inner-man too, our spirit, our hearts needs to be like Christ. “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29). Hence, we must be born again, born of the Spirit. “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6). 

We are born again into the family of God, we are children of God. And that means when Christ returns we will be changed into the “image of the heavenly man”: 

“Now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2). 

We will be changed, and Paul tells us that the change will happen fast. “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor 15:51-52). 

It is our body but will then have the likeness of Christ’s resurrected body. 

The disciples “were startled and frightened” when they saw the resurrected Christ, “thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have’. When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence” (Luke 24:37–43). 

The disciple Thomas said, “’Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side’” (John 20:25–27). 

So we see that this was the same body that Jesus had before his crucifixion, but with a heavenly glory and ability to suit its entry into heaven. For our regular flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom: “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Cor 15:50).

“There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another” (1 Cor 15:40). 

So we look with eager anticipation to the fulfilment of the ages, for Christ’s great work of salvation reaches to every area of the lives of his children. We will all be changed. “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil 3:21).

“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). The Apostle Paul goes into some detail in 1 Corinthians 15 about our future state. We know that we will be changed, because Christ has been raised from the dead. His resurrected body had attributes that our natural mortal body does not have, and we too will have that body. 

“Someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Cor 15:35). 

We do not know everything that our inquisitive minds might like to know, but faith in Christ is enough to allow us to rest in the fact that we shall be changed with a body that is not subject to the ravages of time as we now know it. And so we die to self, and allow God’s goodness to fill us. 

Tertullian says our natural body “receives augmentation”. It has immortality “superimposed” upon it, and this, it seems, is correct and attested by Scripture: “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’” (1 Cor 15:53–54). 

Presently we are in mortal bodies, but we see a day is coming, and not many days hence, that this bodily frame made from the earth will be changed for a substance made of higher quality, a heavenly substance: “The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven” (1 Cor 15:47–48).

So while we are in this earthly state we humble ourselves before God, knowing that it is he who made us and not we ourselves, nor any fluke of random chance. We give praise to God for he is the maker of heaven and earth. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Ps 103:13–14). 

Yes, he is mindful of our low estate and cares for us with the devotion of a loving father. 

So while we are on earth, with its blessings and woes, we exult God and proclaim his praises. “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor 5:1–2). 

Paul finishes his discourse on the resurrected body by saying, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).