Peter Orr concludes our series on the Image of God (see part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6) with some deep thinking about how the resurrection and ascension of Jesus revise our understanding of what it means to be human.
One of the central themes developed in this series on the Image of God has been the idea that humans have the highest place in God’s plans because of their relationship to God. In this final post we’ll reflect briefly on how our understanding of this truth is filled out by the resurrection and ascension of Christ. As Christians, we usually go to the doctrine of creation to understand the place of humanity. That is right and helpful but we also need to remember the fact of Jesus’ eternal incarnation.
The New Testament is very clear that Jesus rose as a human being. After the resurrection, Jesus didn’t just appear to be a human being, he was one. In John 20:27 Jesus tells Thomas to touch his hands and his side. Luke describes the resurrected Jesus eating a piece of broiled fish in front of the disciples (24:42).
Jesus: human forever
Jesus also ascended into heaven as a human being with a physical body. So, for example Acts 1:9 describes Jesus ascending to heaven in front of his disciples. It is not as if he disappears or vanishes from their sight – they see him rise up.
The Bible also makes it clear that Jesus will return from heaven as a human being with a physical body – and this really gets to the heart of why his humanity is important for us. For when we are raised from the dead, we will be like him. We will be glorified human beings like he is a glorified human being. Jesus will transform our humanity: Our bodies will be like his body (Phil 3:20). Jesus’ exaltation brings humanity into glory. First in his own person and second by transforming those who belong to him.
Humanity on the throne
Jesus will also reign for ever as a human being with a physical body. Jesus’ on-going humanity is not simply for our sakes – it is for his glory. Romans 8:29 describes how believers will be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. The biblical picture of eternity is Jesus reigning supreme amid brothers and sisters conformed to his image. Surrounded by men and women who are like him, all the glory is reflected back to him.
We live in a fallen world and as we look around there often seems as if there is nothing very noble about humanity. In many ways we are often no better than the ‘brute beasts’. But Jesus shows us that humanity will not always be like this. Jesus shows us what humanity is meant to be and what humanity one day will be – when we are conformed to his image. Human beings are special in God’s eyes, and we know that because the Son of God became a human being and remains a human being forever.
Valuing what God values
The risen exalted Jesus also proves God’s eternal commitment to humanity. And that means that we must treat all human beings with respect and dignity – the unborn, the weak, the poor. Every human person is valuable in the eyes of God and of greater value than any other species.
It also means that we must value human bodies. Jesus retains his human body for eternity and so will we. We aren’t looking forward to a future when our bodies will be dissolved, but to a day when they will be renewed transformed and glorified in accordance with the glory of Christ.
Our eternal hope is that we will be conformed to the image of Jesus, the true image of God. A human being will be at the centre of the universe for eternity. It’s a better ending than any book or film could ever dream of!
Photo: Danny Plas, Flickr