The LORD God said to the serpent, Because you have done this, 

cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; 

on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring 

and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” 

(Gen 3:14-15)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Restoring the image in which God created us requires that the original sin that tarnished the divine image in us must be accounted for and overcome. The cycle of sin and death must be overcome because human progress is fleeting. It is not enough to condemn the sin or to console the brokenhearted because our heart need to be transformed. Divine intervention is required because we cannot do it on our own. This is why Christ needed to pay the penalty for sin on the cross and we need the intervention of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives..

Restoration of the Image

If sin were an isolated event, then it might be possible to apologize, make restitution, and learn from the event, never to repeat it. Restoration might be considered feasible. Too often, however, sin is seldom not an isolated event in our heavily populated world. Too often wars break out, entire cities are incinerated and people groups are subjected to ethnic cleansing. Even the body counts in these wars are often wild guesses. If you are alive, it is because someone in your family tree participated in such wars.

The curse of Satan in Genesis 3:15 cited above includes the prophesy of a deliverer, the offspring of a woman, who will successfully contend with and overcome Satan. The Prophet Job speaks of a redeemer:

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall asee God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27)

Job’s vision is significant because he not only sees the need for a deliverer, but also anticipates resurrection and bodily re-creation. This is in spite of his own vindication by God himself (Job 42:10). When Jesus submits to God’s will and to his own crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane, it seems no accident that he finds himself in a garden, like the Garden of Eden. 

Heaven itself is pictured in Revelation as a garden. The idea of gaining a heavenly body is consistent with the total re-creation of divine image, both as a physical and spiritual restoration.

Deuteronomic Cycle not Progress

The idea that forming a community will somehow result in progress towards righteousness among fallen human beings is unfounded. The biblical expectation cited earlier is the cycle of sin and death prophesied by Moses in Deuteronomy 30: doing evil, angering YHWH enough to produce historical subjugation, crying to the Lord in need, and raising up a deliverer (Brueggemann 2016, 59). This is not an endorsement of cultural progress, but rather of the need for divine intervention because of human proclivity to sin.

Outside of faith, even the church is a fallen institution, as we read in the first three chapters of Revelation. The warning in Revelation of special concern to the postmodern church is the letter to the church at Laodicea. John writes:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev 3:15-17)

This is not the usual idyllic image we have of the first century church. We could imagine the postmodern church sharing in tribulations similar to those articulated in Deuteronomy that applied earlier to the Nation of Israel. More generally, Revelation talks about a great tribulation (Rev 7:14) that will occur before the second coming of Christ. This tribulation has all the markings of a reversal of cultural progress and should serve as a reminder that our only hope is in Christ.

Evangelism not Condemnation

Restoration is not a private affair. There is no holy huddle. 

Like Abraham, we are blessed to be a blessing (Gen 12:1-3). God’s first characteristic is mercy (Exod 34:6). We called by scripture to pray for sinners, like Abraham standing before Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:32), not like Jonah standing before Nineveh (Jonah 4). We reflect the divine image when we evangelize sinners, not condemn them, especially as we approach the end times.

Transformation not just Consolation

Jesus clearly offers consolation, but he does not stop there. His goal is transformation, preparation for the coming kingdom. The Apostle Paul most clearly wrote: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), the father does not attempt to persuade the younger son from wasting his inheritance, nor is he rewarded once he does. The son must suffer in order to realize the error of his ways. The cycle of sin and death is only broken because he grows to love his father. Restoration is restoration of the relationship with his father, not restoration of his inheritance.

Image of Christ

The New Testament includes many images of Christ. In life, the dominant image of Christ is that of the suffering servant, who lives a humble life of obedience, even unto death. This emphasis on humility is underscored in that the first three beatitudes in Matthew 5—poor in spirit, mourning, and meekness—are attributes of humility that point to Isaiah 61, one of the suffering servant passages. When Jesus washes the disciples feet at the Last Supper, his humility is highlighted again (John 13).

In suffering and death, Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection dominate the image of Christ seen in the confessions and creeds. Every word written in the New Testament is post resurrection, which colors our understanding of what is written. Without the resurrection, we probably would not have a New Testament or even know who Jesus is. The Apostle Paul eloquently describes in the influence of the resurrection:

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15:55-57)

Would the disciples have been martyred had there been no resurrection? Probably not.

More generally, the image of Christ takes on the image of God, as reflected in the Old Testament understanding of God and discussed earlier. The two images are inseparable because the New Testament repeatedly confesses Jesus to be divine (e.g. John 1:1-3) and the capstone of God’s restoration project (e.g. John 3:16).


Also see:

The Who Question

Preface to a Life in Tension

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