Created in the Image of God — What Does it Mean?
The Bible says that human beings are “created in the likeness of God” or “created in God’s image.” What exactly does it mean to be created in the LORD’s likeness or image? While people are the only physical beings created in God’s image, is it possible that angels — decidedly spiritual beings — were also created in the Creator’s likeness? What does the Bible say on this intriguing topic?
Let’s start by looking at the very first reference to people being created in God’s image and likeness:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
As you can see, the LORD — Father, Son & Holy Spirit — decided to make humankind in their image and likeness and then did so. The Hebrew word for ‘likeness’ is demuth (dem-OOTH), which means likeness or similitude—that is, something that resembles another; it’s something that is a, match or counterpart to another. As such, human beings resemble the Almighty; you could say that we’re God’s counterpart in the physical realm.
The Hebrew for ‘image’ is tselem (SEH-lem), which simply means image, representation, copy or duplicate. A scriptural example can be observed when the LORD instructed Moses to drive out the rejected inhabitants of the Promised Land and “destroy all their carved images (tselem) and their cast idols” (Numbers 33:52). The false Canaanite god Baal, for instance, was perceived as a man with the head and horns of a bull; and so the Canaanites’ carved images depicted this — the carving (idol) was a physical image of the mental concept.
So humankind — male and female — is the physical image of God. This shows that, while “God is spirit,” as Christ said (John 4:24), He’s not some amorphous cloud entity in the spiritual realm. The LORD has a shape, similar to people, with a head, torso, arms and legs. It has been argued that God has no physical body, which is obvious, but the Creator certainly has a spiritual form or “body.” For instance, the Bible says repeatedly that the LORD sits enthroned in Heaven (Psalm 47:8, 103:19 & Isaiah 40:22). Does this refer to a shapeless cloud being sitting on a throne in Heaven? No, the Creator has a central presence and spiritual form, similar to the body of human beings, who were created in God’s image and likeness.
Consider Ezekiel’s awesome description of the LORD in a vision of an incredible craft wherein God sits on a throne that rests on a sparkling ice-like platform propelled by four cherubim with the aid of four giant wheels within intersecting wheels:
Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. 27 I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. 28 Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
I realize this is a vision, but it’s describing God’s form — “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD” — which is chronicled as “a figure like that of a man.” This is how the God-breathed Scriptures describe the Creator’s appearance and it is the Scriptures that we are to use to formulate accurate doctrine, that is, teachings; they’re the basis for correcting error and erroneous ideas (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Sure, the references to “glowing metal” from the waist up and “fire” from there down are figurative, but Ezekiel is simply using items he’s familiar with to describe the indescribable — God.
Genesis 1:26 (cited above) provides further insight on what it means to be created in God’s image and likeness: It means to possess authority of some sort, like humankind holds over the Earth and its creatures. This explains why people have zoos for animals and not vice versa.
Being created in God’s likeness further means to possess volition, which is the power to consciously choose. It also means to understand and distinguish good and evil. Thus we have a conscience — an inward moral compass — and only those who foolishly harden their hearts are bereft of this sense. Animals, by contrast, are instinctual and do not comprehend such concepts.
Being created in the LORD’s image also means having the ability to create in a sophisticated sense, like the Creator. Hence, human beings create cities, highways, languages, literature, art, music, movies, computer systems and so on. Animals, of course, lack such aptitude.
Were Angels also Created in God’s Image?
People are the only physical beings created in God’s image, but what about angels? Are they spiritual beings also created in God’s likeness? The Bible doesn’t expressly say it in these terms, but it could be argued that the Scriptures point to this conclusion. Consider the evidence:
- Angels are referred to as “the sons of God,” which is ben Elohim in the Hebrew. This can be observed in Job 38:7. The phrase is also used in Job 1:6 & 2:1 and Genesis 6:1-4, the latter of which refers to fallen angels. Needless to say, sons are created in the likeness of their father; they’re “chips off the old block.”
- When angels manifested physically they always appeared as people and not some other life form. While fallen angels have been known to possess animals on occasion (Genesis 3:1 & Matthew 8:31-32), not to mention people, when angels actually manifested physically without possessing someone or something they always appeared as human beings (Genesis 18:1-3,10,16-17,22-23).
- When the “sons of God”—fallen angels—manifested in the physical realm to copulate with women and produce offspring they obviously had to be men in form. To produce offspring you have to be the same basic species. For instance, a dog and a wolf can produce viable, fertile offspring, but two different species can’t, like a giraffe and a lion or a human being and any animal. Since the coupling of these “sons of God” with women produced the legendary Nephilim they had to be a compatible species (Genesis 6:1-4), otherwise there would’ve been no offspring.
- The devil & his angels understood morality and possessed volition to make a choice for evil. In other words, they weren’t instinctual like animals; they comprehended good and evil and made a conscious decision for the latter.
- Christ said redeemed people would become “like the angels” at the First Resurrection (Luke 20:34-36). He didn’t say we would become angels, just that we’d become “like the angels” in two senses: A. We will never marry and B. we will no longer be able to die; in short, we’ll attain intrinsic immortality at the bodily resurrection (2 Timothy 1:10). Nevertheless, the fact that Jesus linked humans to angels reveals a degree of commonality, the main difference being that angels are decidedly spiritual in nature whereas people are created specifically to function in the physical realm. Yet neither of these is absolute since angels have been known to physically manifest and redeemed humans are shown functioning in the spiritual realm separate from their physical bodies (Revelation 6:9-11 & 7:9-15).
- Descriptions of angels in Scripture show them having the basic appearance and anatomy of people—head, human-like faces, torso, arms & legs—with the exception of their having wings. True, Ezekiel described cherubs in two visions in terms of being covered with eyes and having four faces, including that of a man, but this is likely symbolic language, as detailed in here; the same goes for John’s descriptions of the living creatures in Revelation.
- Jesus is The Son of God and The Angel of the LORD whereas angels are referred to as sons of God and angels. Christ is Deity, of course—the Creator of all things, as detailed here — while angels are created beings created by the Creator, yet this terminology reveals some kind of affinity in likeness.
All this points to angels being created in the image of God, like human beings. However, I’m not going to give a definite “yes” because the Bible never technically describes angels as being created in God’s image and likeness, which it repeatedly does with humans (aside from Genesis 1:26-27, there’s also Genesis 5:1, 9:6, 1 Corinthians 11:7 and, arguably, Ephesians 4:24 & Colossians 3:10).
Besides, even if angels were created in the image of God they lack the privilege and position granted to people; that is, to be co-heirs with Christ, seated with Him at the right hand of the Father, as shown in these potent verses:
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
Reflect on these things; it’s good stuff!
So were angels created in God’s image like human beings? I think the evidence speaks for itself and this link helps us to understand…
The Reason for the Great War of the Three Realms
As detailed in this article, before Satan’s fall & casting from Heaven along with a third of the angels, he was originally Lucifer — aka “Morning Star” or “Shining One” — the most attractive, talented and honored angel the LORD had created (Isaiah 14:12). Lucifer was a guardian cherub handpicked by God for the privilege of guarding — i.e. covering — God’s throne in Heaven, similar to the cherubim who were assigned to guard the Garden of Eden after Adam & Eve were banished (Genesis 3:24).
Ezekiel 28:12-19 shows that Lucifer had an intrinsic musical anointing and dwelt in the presence of the Almighty. When God created the Earth & Universe the angels “sang together” and “shouted for joy”. Satan’s rebellion occurred sometime after this because there had to be an Earth and the corresponding Underworld for him to fall to and inhabit (Luke 10:18). As explained in this article, the “underworld” is simply the spiritual dimension that undergirds the Earth & Universe. Not being physical beings, the devil and his fallen angels operate from this spiritual realm to negatively influence the physical world.
Job 38:4-7 shows that “all the angels shouted for joy” when the Earth was created. The word ‘all’ is kol (kohl) in the Hebrew, meaning “the whole.” As noted earlier in this article, the Hebrew for ‘angels’ in this verse literally means “the sons of God,” the same phrase used to describe angels elsewhere in Scripture, including the devil & his filthy angels (e.g. Genesis 6:2,4 & Job 1:6, 2:1). My point is that all the angels rejoiced when God created the Heavens and the Earth (Genesis 1:1), which would include Lucifer and his subordinates before their rebellion and ouster from Heaven.
Yet in Genesis 3:1-15 we observe Satan, after his fall, possessing a serpent-with-legs in order to tempt the first woman. This shows that Lucifer and his cohorts rebelled and were cast from Heaven sometime after the creation of the Earth & Universe, but before the devil’s duping of Eve, which means sometime between Genesis 1:31 and Genesis 3:1.* We don’t know the exact expanse of time between the two, but it could’ve been years. In any case, this shows that Satan’s rebellion occurred shortly after the creation of human beings.
* This is the young Earth perspective, which I believe is the most biblically faithful position on the age of the Earth/Universe. Gap theorists, who embrace the old Earth model, place the fall of Lucifer & his fallen spirits sometime between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. For details, see this article.
We know that Lucifer’s insurgency was due to pride:
13 You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.
14I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”
These five “I will” statements reveal Satan’s arrogance — he wanted to be God rather than be God’s servant. This was the first sin ever committed, the first sin to enter God’s creation. And notice that sin is traced to what’s going on in one’s heart, which is corroborated by Christ in the New Testament (Mark 7:20-23). No wonder Jesus emphasized this in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28).
Lucifer was not satisfied with his extraordinary blessings and privileges. Instead, he wanted to be God and so, after his defeat, he naturally tempted Adam & Eve with the same basic sin that led to his downfall (Genesis 3:1-5). But there’s more to this story, way more…
Lucifer was possibly having problems with the concept of serving before God created Adam & Eve, but once humans were created and he caught wind of the fact that angels were commissioned to serve people (Hebrews 1:14) his pride couldn’t handle it, particularly when he found out human beings were created in the likeness of God, like the angels. And, worse, that they were expressly created to be co-heirs with Christ, seated with Him at the right hand of the Father, a privilege and position not granted to angels, as detailed earlier (Romans 8:17, Hebrews 1:13 & Ephesians 2:6). Lucifer’s envy went into overdrive and thus he orchestrated his doomed revolt.
Lucifer thus became Satan, the “Adversary” or “Enemy.” Knowing God’s character, the LORD gave Satan & his foul cronies time to repent, but they were incorrigible. Since angelic spirits possess intrinsic immortality (Luke 20:34-36), God couldn’t annihilate Satan & his fallen angels and so sentenced them to eternal separation from God’s kingdom and so created the lake of fire as their eternal habitation (Matthew 25:41 & 46).
This is when the devil – which means “slanderer” – accused the LORD of being unloving and unjust. Consequently, God allowed a universal demonstration to all the angels – faithful and fallen – to prove both his great love and perfect justice by allowing the Enemy to tempt human beings, which would result in humanity’s fall. This would pave the way for God to implement his wonderful plan of redemption through the suffering & sacrifice of Christ, which offered forgiveness, reconciliation & eternal life for any human being who humbly repented and received God’s graciousness (Acts 20:21), which was something the devil & his cronies were unwilling to do.
Hence God’s sentence on the fallen angels was temporarily suspended until this universal demonstration was completed. In the meantime the devil & his underlings are doing everything they can to thwart God’s demonstration. For anyone who might object to the idea of a dispute between God and the devil and the corresponding exhibition on Earth, the Bible details just such a scenario on a smaller scale in the book of Job (Job 1:8-12 & 2:3-7).
Satan’s top priority, of course, is to keep as many people from eternal salvation as possible (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Apparently he thinks that if he can keep enough people from redemption the Creator will be forced to bend his justice, which would set a precedent and thus grant Satan & his demons an acquittal.
I know this is heavy, but it gives the big picture of what’s happening behind the scenes and explains our fallen Universe and the ongoing war between good and evil. All the pieces the puzzle fit. Mull over the data and decide for yourself. Thankfully, this is a temporary war and God’s kingdom wins in the end. Thus all the humbly repentant are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).
Amen and Amen.
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