CHRIST BEING THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD
IN THE ESSENCE OF HIS ATTRIBUTES
Over the past years, it has been difficult for me to understand what the image of God is. Colossians 1:15 says that Christ is the image of the invisible God. When I studied this verse years ago, I asked, "How could the invisible God have an image?" To me an image must be visible; but I wondered how the invisible God could have a visible image. I had no one to help me find the answer to this question. But through more than fifty years of study I have gained a better understanding. The image of God is just the form of God’s attributes. God has many attributes, and God’s inward being is the totality of His attributes. An attribute is an element that belongs to God. God is love, light, holiness, righteousness, power, might, and strength. These and hundreds of other items are the elements that belong to God; hence, they are His attributes. When these attributes are expressed, they become virtues. First Peter 2:9 says that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people acquired for a possession, so that we may tell out the virtues of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Here Peter used the word virtues instead of attributes. Virtues are the expressed attributes, and attributes are the hidden or concealed virtues. When Christ lived on this earth, He expressed God’s attributes in His virtues. He expressed the divine attributes in His humanity as virtues. All the divine attributes have an image. This image is Christ the Son as the expression of the invisible God in the essence of His attributes (2 Cor. 4:4b; Col. 1:15a).
CHRIST HAVING THE FORM OF GOD’S BEING
Man was created after the likeness of the Triune God. God’s likeness is the form of God’s being (Phil. 2:6), the expression of the essence and nature of God’s person (Heb. 1:3). In the past I thought that the likeness referred to God’s outward expression, and I told people that in the Old Testament, before He was incarnated, God had man’s likeness already. But this understanding is not accurate. The likeness is the form of God’s being, which is the expression of the essence and nature of God. Thus, the likeness is very close to the image.
In Philippians 2:5-8 the words form, likeness, and fashion are used. These verses say, "...Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider being equal with God a treasure to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man..." Before His incarnation, Christ existed in the form of God, but when He became incarnated, He put the divine form aside outwardly and took on the form of a slave. The form of God mentioned in these verses is the expression, not the fashion, of God’s being (Heb. 1:3). It is identified with the essence and nature of God’s person and, hence, expresses them. This refers to Christ’s deity.
The form of God (Phil. 2:6) implies the inward reality of Christ’s deity; the likeness of men (v. 7) denotes the outward appearance of His humanity. He appeared to men as a man outwardly, but as God He had the reality of deity inwardly. The word fashion in verse 8 refers to the outward guise, the semblance. It is a repetition in a more particular sense of the thought of likeness in verse 7. What Christ looked like in His humanity was found by men to be in fashion as a man.
Hebrews 1:3 says that Christ is the effulgence of God’s glory and the impress of God’s substance. The effulgence of God’s glory is like the shining or the brightness of the light of the sun. The Son is the shining, the brightness, of the Father’s glory. This refers to God’s glory. The impress of God’s substance is like the impress of a seal. The Son is the expression of what God the Father is. This refers to God’s substance. If I have a seal containing my name and some sealing ink, when I put the seal on a piece of paper, an impress will be left on the paper. God Himself is the seal, and Christ is the impress, the expression, of the seal.
Man was made in God’s image and after His likeness. God created man in such a way as a preparation for His dispensing of Himself into man for the fulfillment of His divine economy, His divine plan. Man was created in the image and likeness of God so that he can express God. Man is a photograph of God. A photograph taken of a certain person is for expression. In the same way, man was created for God’s expression.
(The Central Line of the Divine Revelation, Chapter 6, by Witness Lee)