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The Likeness of God

When fully in God's likeness, we will be able to fulfill our awesome responsibility of exercising dominion over, of assisting Him in managing, the vastness of His creation.

In Genesis 1:26, God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness"—the plural "Us" and "Our" denoting both God the Father and the Word who would later be born in the flesh as Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3, 14). What is meant by God's image and likeness here?

Most importantly, God made us like Him in qualities of mind, such as abstract thought, emotion, creativity and planning. But the underlying Hebrew words used here concern actual form and appearance. The word tselem ("image") has the sense of a statue, while demuwth ("likeness") refers to physical resemblance.

Yet, as John 4:24 tells us, "God is spirit." The Greek word translated "spirit" here and elsewhere in the New Testament is pneuma. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word translated "spirit" is ruach.

Both these terms can also mean "wind." Because wind is formless, some argue that immaterial spirit cannot have form and shape. Yet in many places in Scripture God and angelic spirits are described as having bodily form. Thus it is apparent that spirit must be able to have form and shape—and God the Father and Christ have the same form and shape as the human beings who are patterned after Them on a lesser, material level.

The "wind" comparison comes from the fact that spirit is invisible to human eyes unless physically manifested. Also, spirit can exist in a formless state, such as God's Holy Spirit being everywhere, filling the entire universe (Jeremiah 23:24).

God appeared in human form to a few people in the Old Testament (Genesis 18; 32:24, 30; Exodus 24:9-10; Joshua 5:13-15). In these manifestations, though, God did not reveal His full, shining glory because the intensity would have been unbearable. As God told Moses, "You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me and live" (Exodus 33:20). Yet Moses, shielded by God's power, was allowed to see God's radiant form from the back (verse 23).

A few supernatural visions in Scripture do give us glimpses into the awesome appearance of God in His supreme splendor. The prophet Ezekiel recorded what he saw:

"There was a form with the appearance of a human on the throne high above. From what seemed to be His waist up, I saw a gleam like amber, with what looked like fire enclosing it all around. From what seemed to be His waist down, I also saw what looked like fire. There was a brilliant light all around Him. The appearance of the brilliant light all around was like that of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day. This was the appearance of the form of the Lord's glory" (Ezekiel 1:26-28, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The Old Testament appearances of God were not of God the Father, since John 1:18 says of Him, "No one has seen God at any time" and Jesus said, "You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form" (John 5:37). Rather, these were appearances of Jesus Christ before His human life. Again, though, the Father and Christ share the same image and likeness.

In the New Testament book of Revelation, the apostle John saw the glorified Jesus Christ as "someone ‘like a son of man,' dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters . . . His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance" (1:13-16, New International Version).

This is a limited description of the likeness of God that human beings will also have in full when they are glorified at the resurrection to eternal life—when "those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever" (Daniel 12:2-3, New Revised Standard Version). Then, fully in God's likeness, we will be able to fulfill our awesome responsibility of exercising dominion over—of assisting Him in managing—the vastness of His creation. This is the future God has planned for you, your destiny, if you embrace it fully with an obedient heart and remain a dedicated and faithful follower of God and His teachings as revealed in the Holy Scriptures!


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