Jesus of Nazareth: The Image of God (SBD 9)

[Note: I am attempting to keep these SBD installments under 2000 words each, but that is–of course–quite inadequate for the topics covered. Consequently, these contributions are more programmatic than they are explanatory or defenses of the positions stated. You may access the whole series at my Serial page.]

The Word, the Son, became flesh and lived an authentic human life as the image of God.

Christology lies at the heart of Christianity because the Christian Faith believes that God is in Christ restoring the world to communion with the Triune God. Christianity is Theocentric because God reconciles the world but it is Christocentric because Christ is the means by which God accomplishes this. God through Christ redeems the creation.

Redemptive-Historical Structure

The structure of the Christian narrative is Creation, Fall, and Redemption. This structure is a cosmic drama from the Garden of Eden to the Eschaton. It is also a historical drama in the life of Israel as it repeats this cycle throughout history (e.g., Judges). But, most importantly, it is the personal history of God in Jesus.

Though the Logos, the Son of God, was present at and even the instrument of creation (John 1:1), the Son humbly became a human being who was broken by the cosmic fallenness (e.g., he died) but was exalted by the Father to his own right hand in the heavenlies (e.g, resurrection and ascension). This is the Christological story that appears throughout the Christian Scriptures. The below chart illustrates the pervasive nature of these themes.

Creation (Pre-existence)

John: The Word was God (John 1:1)
Hebrews: Through whom he made the worlds (Hebrews 1:2)
Paul: He is before all things (Colossians 1:17)
Peter: Manifested in these last times (1 Peter 1:20)
Matthew: Immanuel, God with Us (Matthew 1:28)
Luke-Acts: The Son of God (Luke 1:35)

Fallenness (Humiliation)

John: The Word became flesh (John 1:14)
Hebrews: Made lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:8-9)
Paul: Born of woman (Galatians 4:4)
Peter: Suffered for us in the Flesh (1 Peter 4:1)
Matthew: Came to Serve and Ransom his Life (Matthew 20:28)
Luke-Acts: He was numbered with the transgressors (Luke 22:37)

Redemption (Exaltation)

John: Glorified Together with God (John 17:5)
Hebrews: Heir of all Things (Hebrews 1:2)
Paul: Seated in Heavenly Places (Ephesians 1:20-21)
Peter: At the right hand of God (1 Peter 3:22)
Matthew: All Authority given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18)
Luke-Acts: God made him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36)

The same one through whom the cosmos was created is the same one who became flesh and lived among us. The same one through whom God made the worlds is the same one was made a little lower than the angels. The same one who was before the creation of the world is the same one who was born of woman. The one who lived in eternal fellowship with the Father and the Spirit is the same one who joined the human race in order to commune with it as a human. The Son became human and his Sonship (relationship with the Father) was declared at his birth, baptism, death and resurrection.

The Son in the flesh shared our fallenness. He is tempted; he hungers, thirsts, experiences pain, and ultimately dies. The humiliation of Christ is his identification with us in our fallenness—from his birth through his baptism to his death he stands with the lowly, he shares the rituals and death of sinners. He was born among shepherds, he was baptized with those who confessed sin, and he died between the transgressors. He shared our fallenness without guilt and sin, but along with humanity he suffered under the curse of creation which Adamic sin brought upon the world. The Son of God experienced humiliation.

But the same one who suffered in the flesh is the same one who was raised to the right hand of the Father. The same one who ransomed his life is the same one who received all authority in heaven and on earth. The same one who was numbered with the transgressors is the same one who was appointed Lord and Christ by the Father. After he suffered, he entered into his glory—the reigning, resurrected heir of the cosmos. His resurrection and ascension revealed Jesus to be what he already is, that is, God’s Son.

The Divine-Human Identity

The unity between the pre-existent one and the incarnate one is fundamental to Christian theology. This is the mystery of the divine-human identity of Jesus of Nazareth. The same one who existed as God is the same one who humbled himself as Jesus of Nazareth. The divine Logos, with a distinct personal identity from the Father and Spirit, is the same person who assumed flesh as Jesus of Nazareth. It is one person who experiences cosmic reality through two natures—divine and human. This personal (hypostatic) unity preserves the identity of the one through whom the world was created as the same one who was humbled and then exalted to the right hand of the Father.

Philippians 2:6-8 is one of the classic texts for the exploration of this identity. It easily divides into two stanzas. The chart below represents the structure.

Stanza A (vv. 6-7a)


Stanza B (vv. 7b-8)


          in the form of God existing         in the likeness of humanity becoming
          did not think to exploit the equality with God        and being found in appearance as a human being
          emptied        humbled
          taking the form of a slave        becoming obedient to death even the death of the cross

The one who existed in the form (morphe) of God took on the form (morphe) of a slave—this is the act of incarnation. The morphe in which this one (Son) existed was equal with God (the Father). Rather than exploiting this equality toward selfish advantages (NRSV), the Son “emptied himself” by taking on another morphe. The Son became a slave, subject to the humiliation and brokenness of a fallen world. Becoming human, he became obedient to the death, even the humiliating and shameful death of the cross—this is an act of self-humiliation.

  1. The text affirms the pre-existent equality of the Son with the Father. The Son existed in the “form of God” so that he was equal with God the Father.
  2. The text affirms the choice which the Son made in humility to become incarnate, that is, to take on the “form of a servant.” The free self-giving of the Son is emphasized—the abasement of his own interests for the sake of the interests of others.
  3. The text affirms the personal unity between the one who existed in the form of God and added to himself another nature, the form of a servant. It is the same person who is both divine and human.
  4. The text affirms that this condensation (humiliation) was done through taking on additional nature—the form of a servant. This is the content of the emptying. There is no hint that this one ceased to be God. It is, rather, the self-humiliation of God.

This theological understanding is the root principle of the ethical appeal in Philippians 2:3-5. The theological model of the Son’s self-humiliating act of incarnation is a call for believers to emulate this selfless service for the interests of others.

Authentic Human Identity

Stan Grenz summarized the authenticity of the human life of the Incarnate Son as truly human, true human and the new human (Created for Community, 117-123). While the categories are his, the sentiments below are my own.

The Son is truly human in that the Son authentically experienced human reality as a human with a human psyche. He experienced human existence limited by the finitude of creaturehood (e.g., bounded by time and space). He grew in knowledge and wisdom like other human beings. He experienced the brokenness of the world like other human beings. He hungered, thirsted and grew fatigued just like others. He was perfected through suffering. He wept at graves, struggled with decisions (Garden of Gethsemane) and was tempted by sin just like other human beings. His humanity knew no inherent power or knowledge that transcended the rest of humanity. The Son was fully immersed in human creatureliness. The Son fully and completely identified with humanity and empathetically experienced its suffering. This is the kenosis (emptying) of the Son–he pours himself out into fully experience human life.

The Son is true human. As the remnant of Israel, he is a true Israelite. As the remnant of humanity, he is fully the image of God authentically representing God in the world. He is what humanity was supposed to be from the beginning. Imaging God, Jesus knew no sin but fully embraced the mission of God in the world. His authentic walk with God did not arise out of a special humanity or a quality that was not available to others but arose out of his surrender to the leading of the Spirit in his life. Jesus had no advantage over other humans or otherwise his example is meaningless to us and his temptations were mock imitations of human fallenness. The difference between Jesus and others is that he surrendered while others, including myself, resist.

The Son is new human. Through death he became the fountainhead of a new humanity, a transformed and redeemed humanity. He is a new Adam, a second Adam, that leads a new humanity. We already experience this new humanity through the present gift of the indwelling Spirit but we anticipate the fullness of this new humanity in the future resurrection when body and spirit will be fully transformed into the likeness of the new human Jesus. The resurrected Jesus—in a transformed human body that has conquered death—is Life-giving Spirit to our bodies and souls which are thereby fitted for the new heaven and the new earth.

So What?

The Logos–the Son–follows humanity into their brokenness to heal them and lead them in their journey back to God.

The Son became one of us to be present within creation as a creature and unite creation to God. The Son’s union with creation through the flesh, through becoming a human being, sanctifies creation, redeems it, and communes with it. Becoming flesh, living in human skin, and being raised in a glorified but yet still human body bears witness to God’s intent to live in relationship with creation itself rather than simply relating to “spiritual” ghosts floating through the “spiritual” clouds. The incarnation is God’s testimony that–and means by which–God intends to unite creation with the divine community.

The Son became one of us in order to reveal God to us. The life of Jesus tells the story of how God would act as a human being. In Jesus we have a concrete example of who God is, how God behaves, and how God relates to people. We see God when we see Jesus. He embodies God so that we may know who God is. Jesus is the truth, God in the flesh. He is the life and the way; he is God available to the eyes, ears and touch. We know our God because we know Jesus.

The Son became one of us in order to experience and sympathize with our suffering. God within the transcendent experience does not know what it is like to be thirsty, hungry or to experience physical pain. God in Jesus, however, experienced all of these human frailties. Now God knows what it is like to be a human being. God is empathetic and sympathetic through Jesus because he shares our pain and temptations, sits on the mourner’s bench with us, and dies with us (as well as for us). God knows humiliation through Jesus; God knows the experience of fallenness. Our God fully knows us–cognitively but also existentially and experientially.

The Son became one of us in order to redeem us through the sacrifice of his own life. As the God-Human, Jesus is the mediator between God and Humanity. It his human life that was offered as an atonement for our sins, but he did so not as an act of human blood sacrifice but as an act of divine self-substitution. God became human so that God might engage the powers of evil and defeat them. God became human so that God might bear sin, take it up into the divine life and resolve the cosmic problem of mercy and justice–however that is resolved. God became human that we might have a representative at the right hand of the Father who is one of us.

Theologically, the incarnation means that there is a “personal divine absolute within history” (Lewis and Demarest, Integrative Theology, 286). The Logos actually entered history. There is not only an “Absolute beyond history, but as an Absolute in history” as well. He is the reference point for all truth from within history. He is the exegesis of God for humanity.

13 Responses to “Jesus of Nazareth: The Image of God (SBD 9)”

  1.   Randall Says:

    Thanks for another great post. I hope you don’t mind if I offer a couple of things I am pondering.

    When you said “Jesus had no advantage over other humans or otherwise his example is meaningless to us and his temptations were mock imitations of human fallenness.”
    I fully agree that his tempatations were real temptations. He was exposed to the opportunity to lust, covet, be prideful etc. – everything that we may be temopted with. However, since he did not have our predispoition towards sin perhaps he did enjoy an “advantage” in not succumbing to those temptations. I’ll mull that over for a while, but feel free to give me a little help.

    Also, you said:
    He became one of us in order to experience and sympathize with our suffering. God in himself does not know what it is like to be thirsty, hungry or to experience physical pain. God in Jesus, however, experienced all of these human frailties. Now God knows what it is like to be a human being. He is the empathetic and sympathetic God through Jesus. He shares our pain and temptations, sits on the mourner’s bench with us, and dies with us (as well as for us). God knows humiliation through Jesus; God knows the experience of fallenness. Our God fully knows us–cognitively but also existentially and experientially.
    Perhaps God did know what it is like for us to experience hunger etc (as he seems to be pretty much omniscient) but when he did it experientially then we knew that he knew what it was like. Just thinking out loud here. Perhaps your phrase “God in himself did not know” is key to your meaning here.

  2.   Jr Says:

    JMH wrote: “It his human life that he offered as an atonement for our sins, but he did so not as an act of human blood sacrifice but as an act of divine self-substitution.”

    What does that mean; “divine self-substitution?” And does not your last phrase contradict Hebrews 9:22?

    Hebrews 9:22 “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

    This tells us the atonement for sin was His shedding of blood. His human sacrifice was the atonement. God’s great love was put on display (1 John 4:10). God’s wrath was a display of God’s love.

    JMH wrote: “God became human so that God might bear sin, take it up into his own life and resolve the cosmic problem of mercy and justice–however that is resolved”

    However that is resolved? Aren’t we told that it was resolved at the Cross and that it will also be resolved at judgment? The payment of sin for those who believe in Jesus were placed upon Jesus and the wrath of God upon sin was propitiated. God’s righteousness and justice was served at the Cross for those who believe, and will be served at the judgment for those who do not; for wrath is continuously being stored up for the day of judgment (2 Peter 3:7, 2 Thess 1:9, 1 Thess 5:3, etc.)

    If we don’t have penal substitution we don’t have the following two things: the forgiveness of sins; a righteous and just God. Scripture is very clear that Jesus was sent as a propitiation (that is, to remove the wrath due to us) for our sins (1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:9-10, Romans 3:23-25, Hebrews 2:17, among others) and that He had upon Him our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21). Hebrews also tells us that blood sacrifice is a requirement for forgiveness of sins (9:22, see also Leviticus 17:11); therefore Christ’s sacrifice – His blood shed on the Cross – is how our sins are forgiven. This is penal substitution. Jesus died in my place, for my sins and He paid the debt by nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-15). That is how He “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame”

    If we don’t have penal substitution; we don’t have the Gospel. Those who deny penal substitution; deny not only the Gospel but the justice and righteousness of God.

    Grace to you –

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I would not locate the gospel in a theory about penal substitution (a specific interpretative construal of biblical texts), but I do agree that the justice and righteousness of God must have a function in our theology of atonement. (More on this in the next post).

      I have given my version of substitutionary atonement here.

      Divine self-substitution is actually John Stott’s language (and you will see it in the above article) who claims that substitution is the heart of the gospel. The point is that it is not about human sacrifice but about God dealing with human sin through God’s own action in Jesus. The human act of sacrifice–even by Jesus–is not what redeems, but God’s act in Jesus.

      More on this to come.

      •   Jr Says:

        Just a request: can we stop calling penal substitution a “theory?” It is not conjecture nor does it lack well-established facts when, in fact, Scripture is replete in its reference.

        As John Stott wrote in “The Cross of Christ”:
        “So substitution is not a “theory of the atonement.” Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others. It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself. None of the four images could stand without it. I am not of course saying that it is necessary to understand, let alone articulate, a substitutionary atonement before one can be saved. Yet the responsibility of Christian teachers, preachers and other witnesses is to seek grace to expound it with clarity and conviction. For the better people understand the glory of the divine substitution, the easier it will be for them to trust in the Substitute.”

        Grace to you –

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        Substitution is clearly articulated but “penal substitution” (with the variations of meaning evident in the history of theology” is a theory of interpretation. The nature of the substitution, rationale for the substitution, legal necessity of the substitution, etc., are highly debated even among those who affirm “penal substitution.” I will still call it a theory. 🙂

  3.   Bobby Cohoon Says:

    Good thoughts!


  4.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    Wonderful reflection! I just finished translating 1 John 4 for an upcoming sermon I am preaching (besides all of the exegetical values, translating actually helps me to slow down and take a thorough look at the text). On thing that strikes me is the flow of the redemptive-incarnational theology in this passage. God has shown his love by giving his “one and only Son” as an “atoning sacrifice” for our sins (v. 9-10). The Spirit has now been given to us (v. 13) as a testimony of God’ redemptive work in us. This redemptive work becomes the transformative act in us whereby we learn to love with perfect love (the verb “teleo” is used 3 times in this passage in reference to love). The goal (telos) is that rather than living in fear of judgment, “that just as that One (Christ) is we also are in this world” (v. 17, my translation).

    Now here is my question as I wrestle with this text, with Christological thought, and preaching to the world we live in… I recently saw a billboard advertisement from a Atheist group that said “you can be good without God.” Now I realize that all people can do good even if they refuse to acknowledge the source from which their goodness originates. However, as orthodox believers we want to maintain that humanity is not only fallen (sinners) but cannot be perfectly restored to their created image without the redemptive-incarnational work of God in Christ. Therefore it seems we are making a claim that one cannot ever become perfectly good without the transforming work of God in Christ (and this is the claim I hear the Apostle John making in 1 John). The Atheist would refute such a claim (and may even appeal to many Atheists who live a moral life that contributes to the good of society). How should we respond?

    Grace and peace,


    •   Jr Says:

      Rex: This may be a bit simplistic and would probably need to be carried with further Scripture; but I think a good basis for a response is Isaiah 64:6 – “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

      All of mankind are descendants of Adam therefore already condemned by nature due to his sin (John 3:18). With sin upon us the wrath of God remains on us (John 3:36). Therefore any “righteous deeds” are but dirty garments because our iniquities separate us from God – they “take us away.”

      In addition, we have this Scripture we all know well. Romans 3:10-18; of which v.10-12 are key: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

      There it says: “No one does good, not even one.” And as Jesus tells us, “No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)

      By the way, Rex – have you been able to listen to that Keller message on idols I linked for you on your blog?

      •   K. Rex Butts Says:


        Yeah I have watched the video and thought Keller’s presentation was very helpful. In fact, I am actually showing that for a Wednesday Evening Bible study tonight. Thanks.

        The only thing I would have added to Keller’s speech is when he is discussing the objective and subjective way Jesus defeated the powers in Colossians 2… I would have also pointed out that Jesus defeated them by exposing the powers for what they are when he refused to be cowered into their will even in death.

        Grace and peace,


      •   Jr Says:

        Rex: Cool – I’m glad it was of some use for you and the Bible study. One thing is sure; I lost count on how many times I was convicted in that message!

        Grace to you –

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Good has multiple senses. I would suggest that given the image of God within us, God’s common grace throughout cultures and histories, and the salt/light of God’s righteousness in the world, human beings of whatever background may pursue good and do good in the world. I think we can honor the good that non-believers do.

      At the same we also proclaim a message that calls us into fellowship and relationship where God bears fruit in lives beyond even our own imagination.

      At the same time we, too, still live in the old age and the new age has not fully arrived. We continue to sin and thus are in constant need of grace ourselves for forgiveness and power to defeat evil in our own lives. To that end we pray for ourselves and for others.

  5.   rich constant Says:

    john mark
    when one looks to atonement there seems to be a problem, Absalom (bishop of Canterbury? 10Th cent or so yes) etc. on down the line to us.
    when using the mixed metaphors of the effect of the cross and the shadows of the types that cleans the heavenlies,we walk on the thin ice that the root theology of Absalom etc, is dead on.
    it would seem to me god was dealing with more than me
    he also was dealing with satan and his disobedience and unfaithfulness.
    unfortunitly for me unless you show me a reason…
    my brother
    the question i ask of truth must be answered by anyone bringing forward a theory of atonement.
    he must in some way must specifically and concreatly deal with the righteousness of god in cursing his son.
    also what i think all skirt,is Christ is righteous under law…. don’t most all if not all say yes he was…
    a a hundred years ago i would probably get my head lopped off for asking that.

    that is a root question…

    that goes to,death sin and law…
    if you can’t work with that i would say the theory is flawed.

    the question is simple and to the point…

    great post again

  6.   rich constant Says:


    what i thinks speaks loudly of this concept is the phrase “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”
    from the stand point of gods plan it is fine although it seems to me that the life of god being in the flesh had an extreme impact on our lord…and then not my will but thy will be done…
    with this much information
    predestionation seems to make Jesus deceitful in one form or another.

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