An Early Explanation for Man
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Thankfully, very early on in the inspired text of Scripture we are told why God created man. That reality in itself, the fact that the uncreated God is the creator of all creation, and particularly the creator of man, is not to be taken for granted. Man’s origin is inextricably connected to his purpose; and here we see that man did not grow out of rocks like the ancient Greeks believed, nor was man the result of primordial ooze being supercharged by electricity, mingled together with the variables of time, motion, and chance, as naturalistic evolution teaches. Man was created by God as the crown of His creation.
And, since we are about to make our way into verse twenty-six, let us briefly note a couple of things. First, see the grace of God in the verses that precede that verse. The LORD, in His grace, created a suitable and beautiful dwelling place for man. So that, as we come to day six we are reminded that God undertook a series of creative preparations prior to bringing man into existence so that man would begin his existence in a place that was fit for both use and comfort. Second, the previous five days of creation, and the creation of the beasts of the field and creeping things earlier on day six, all demonstrated God’s glory in some way. They all attest to divine power (Rom. 1:20) and wisdom (Ps. 104:24); they all attest to His righteousness (Ps. 97:6) and other invisible attributes (Rom. 1:20). But while they all bring Him glory, none of them were made in His image. That brings us to the first half of verse twenty-six…
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (Gen. 1:26a)
This is language we haven’t seen up until this point in the opening chapter of Genesis. Our curiosity is particularly peaked by the personal pronouns that are used: “us” and “our” (and “our” again). So immediately the first question is – to whom was God speaking? Some think that God was referring to angels (i.e. the angelic host) but, for starters, I don’t think that option fits well contextually. Up until this point in the Genesis account there hasn’t been any reference to angels, literarily-speaking. But there has been a linguistic witness to the reality of plurality within the one true God. The first Hebrew readers of Genesis would have recognized the plural Hebrew ending of the identification of God in Genesis 1:1: Elohim. Furthermore, verse twenty-seven states that “God created man in His own image” (vs.27a) and repeats that idea in the next phrase, “in the image of God He created them” (vs.27b). Therefore, the most appropriate interpretation, and the most natural reading of the text, is that the “Let us make” expression is (a) best be understood as a conversation within the Trinity, and (b) an early hint of the doctrine that the Scripture unmistakably sets forth – that God is one in essence, eternally existing in three persons.
That brings us to what God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” And with this statement we will begin to unpack why God placed man here on the earth.
(1) Mankind was to Reflect God
Before we dive into any ways in which we can nuance and qualify what is meant by man being made in God’s image, let’s simply take the text at face value and appreciate it for our current purposes – man was created to be a reflection of God. Man was not to be God. Man was not to take the place of God. Man was not to usurp God. Man, being made in the image of God, was meant to be a reflection of God. This idea is not only connoted by the word “image” but it is reinforced by the word “likeness.”
Now there’s much to be said about what it looks like to be a reflection of God when you consider the full canon of Scripture. It means to reflect “true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24); it means to have a way of thinking that is renewed according to the image of the One who created mankind (Col. 3:10). It means to be a rational, moral, spiritual creature that bears communicable attributes of God and has a capacity to communicate with God, as indicated by God’s speaking and communing with man. In all of these ways, and many more, man’s creation and continued existence was to a be a public declaration of God’s glory! If man did what he ought to have done – something the first man, Adam, failed to do, but the “last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45), Jesus Christ, the express image of the Father’s person (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:15), did perfectly – the reverberations of God’s greatness would have filled the earth. What God is like, at least in some small and finite, yet precious, measure would have been seen as image-bearers reflected His likeness to each other and creation. And while there are more points to come, here in the opening chapter of Genesis we see a fundamental reason for which men and women exist – to image God. And since that image has been marred by the fall and by sin, it is imperative that before a man or woman can image God rightly, they must be reconciled to Him truly, through faith in the person and work of the One who told Philip, “He who has seen Me, has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9b). To know the Father is to receive His Son, Jesus Christ (Jn. 8:19; 1 Jn. 2:23). And upon receiving the Son a person receives the Holy Spirit, who, using the means of grace afforded to believers, begins the process of reformation, conforming believers into the likeness of Christ, teaching them what God is like and compelling them to imitate Him as dearly loved children (cf. Eph. 5:1) so that image that was marred might be restored, and so that God might be glorified (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).