Eikon is the root of our English word, 'icon' and it literally means to "be like." The idea is the concept of a mirror reflection--the face I see in the mirror is not me, but is the eikon of me. The same can be said of a photograph--it in itself is not me and lacks some aspect of who I am; and yet, it is a very similar representation of me. In literary terms, this is used to describe allegories--an allegory is an eikon of the original story. Likewise, in the ancient Greek world if someone were to tell a ghost story, the phantom of the dead person would be called his eikon.
As we saw last week, the eikon of Caesar which was imprinted on his coin implied that the coin both belonged to, and represented, Caesar. Likewise, if you were to record a video of me giving a speech, that speech replayed would be a powerful eikon of me--both representing me as a reflection and in some way manifesting me.
The idea of an eikon is powerfully used in the Bible; indeed, you could very easily preach the entire Gospel simply from the idea of eikon. Let's see how.
Mankind was designed to be the eikon of God
In Genesis 1:26-28 we see the God created us to be His eikon:
"Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image [eikon], according to Our Likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.'
So God created man in His image, He created him in the image of God, He created them male and female.
God blessed them, and said to them, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth."
Whenever someone wonders, "What is the meaning of life?", the answer is--to be God's eikon. God created the heavens and the earth and then, having created us, named us as His eikon.
In other words, we are to be His mirror-reflection on Earth, the imprint of His currency, the photograph of the Creator.
Specifically, we are told a few things that, as His eikon, we are to be:
- We are to care for His creation, as He cares for His creation. God made everything here and declared it "very good"--we were designed to be His image-bearer among creation. We are to care for it, tend it, and rule it...ensuring its continued goodness and fruitfulness.
- We are to be relational, as He is relational. God said "Let US" make man, "in OUR image", according to "OUT likeness." The Triune God is inherently relational--Father-Son-Spirit were in loving relationship before the creation of the world. God did not create one human, but two: and He created them male and female, complementary parts of a whole, so that relationship between the two is critically necessary in order to fulfill our role as His eikon. Indeed, I would argue that this tells us we cannot succeed as God's image alone. It is clear that God is not merely 'male' but includes both masculine and feminine qualities--He is both Father and Mother, and thus creates both "male and female" in order to make His image.
- We are to be fruitful and creative, as He was fruitful and creative. One cannot miss that God was in the sixth day of a very fruitful week! He creates and creates, everything we see around us--from supernovas a billion light-years away to the small crickets in the field--and He asked us to be similarly fruitful. When we are fruitful, we fulfill our image of God. There is a real, fundamental reason that our souls receive satisfaction from a job well done, or from creating a beautiful painting or composing a piece of music, or even creating a silly football team on a video game: we are hard-wired to be God's eikon, and creativity and accomplishment are fundamental aspects of His Personality.
So in this text, we see that the 'meaning of life' is for us to be God's mirror-image, which means: caring for what He created, being relational, and being creative (both in terms of creating life and in breathing meaning into the world around us).
Man refused to remain the eikon, but tried to usurp God's throne
In Genesis 3, we see the well-known story of the Fall of Man. Satan, possessing a serpent in the Garden of Eden, leads Adam and Eve to disobey God's one and only command: do not eat of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. As a result, God banishes mankind from the Garden where they were supposed to grow old. They are exiled to the wilderness of Earth, a world of death and pain and suffering. They are cursed and that curse passes down to us today.
The Fall of Man sometimes is confusing to people. Yes, Eve disobeyed. Yes, Adam disobeyed. Our forebears disobeyed a direct command. But, let's be honest...doesn't the curse seem too harsh a punishment? Does the punishment really fit the crime here? And if God is so merciful, why couldn't He just forgive Adam and Eve?
If you do not grasp the concept of man as God's eikon, then I think these are fair and difficult questions with which to grapple. However, understanding the theology of an eikon puts things in better perspective.
You see, the Fall of Man is not so much, "Adam and Eve sinned" as it is, "Adam and Eve desired more than their role." They were not satisfied with the role as God's image-bearer. Look more closely at how Satan tempted them:
" 'You will not die,' the serpent said to the woman. 'In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God' " (Gen 3:4-5, emphasis mine)
This phrase "you will be like God" is more direct in Hebrew--it is only one word: elohiym, which is the plural word for God.
I think the translation which adds "LIKE" to this phrase is unfortunate. It isn't in the text, but is a theological addition.
The text is: elohiym yada yowm akal ayin paqach elohiym. It doesn't use the word for 'image' (tselem) at all--it says of eating from the tree: "God knows at that time you eat, your eyes will open and you are gods."
You see--God made us as His image. His reflection. Adam and Eve decided this wasn't good enough: they didn't want to be God's image-bearer, they wanted to be God.
This is misunderstood because of the bad translation of Genesis 3:5--Adam and Eve weren't tempted by being "like" God...they already WERE like God! They were God's eikon...they wanted to be God Himself.
It was an attempt to usurp the throne--the same sin, by the way, that got Satan cast out of heaven. Unable to usurp the throne himself, he tempts Adam and Eve to try as well. And, like Satan, they fail.
The sentence for attempting to usurp the throne is the same for both would-be gods. Satan is first exiled (from heaven to earth) and later sentenced to death (in Revelation, with the lake of fire.) Likewise mankind is exiled (from the Garden to earth) and later sentenced to death (on earth, through suffering, pain, and natural causes).
This is why the punishment is not too great for the crime: the first men were not content to remain as image-bearers of God--they wanted to be gods.
And indeed, this remains fundamentally with us each individually. Just like our ancestors, we have a fierce streak of individuality. We wish to bow the knee to no one--even God. We want to be our own, perfectly free, individual. Every man has within him a heart of anarchy and an ambition to godhood (Rom 1:23). We want the universe to revolve around us.
(This, by the way, is why God is so frequent and clear about not creating idols/icons of any kind, even of His own image--because WE are to be His image! We shouldn't be creating stone/wood images of God, because WE should be His living images in the world. There is not a century from 1st-8th where you don't find early Christians specifically demanding that no icons or images be made or worshipped.)
God therefore sent a new eikon
But God wants us to be His image-bearers. It is why He created us. And so, the Bible tells us, He sent His own Son to be the perfect eikon.
2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us that Satan has "blinded the minds of the unbelievers so they cannot the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image [eikon] of God."
Colossians 1:15 that Jesus "is the image [eikon] of the invisible God, the firstborn over all Creation."
The Colossians verse is particularly clear: because God is invisible to us, and because we are not fulfilling our roles ruling over creation as His image-bearer, therefore Jesus came to be the eikon that we failed to be, serving as firstborn/ruler over Creation.
The world SHOULD have seen God reflected in us...instead, they had to see it through Jesus.
If you believe in Jesus, He makes you back into the eikon you were supposed to be
Consider what Paul wrote in Romans 8:29: "For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image [eikon] of His Son."
We see the same statements in 1 Corinthians 15:49, Colossians 3:10, and many other places.
Perhaps Paul says it most clearly in 2 Corinthians 3:18: "We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory".
Have you ever wondered why our faith in God is sufficient to get us into heaven? Doesn't that seem strange?
Well, the reason is because, if we believe in Jesus then we believe that a perfect eikon of God existed, and that by defeating death He proved that He can make us like Him. Faith saves us because faith in Jesus is, essentially, handing over our reins to Him: it is saying, "I subvert my will to Yours, so that You can remake me into Your image."
At its fundamental level, being a disciple of Christ is not about doing a series of works to live perfectly: it is about giving control to Jesus, refusing to reach for the throne and instead being satisfied to be His eikon. It is recognizing that we are shattered mirrors, and asking Jesus to put the pieces back together until we are eikons again.
I absolutely love this quote from CS Lewis' Mere Christianity, illustrating the same point:
"That is why He warned people to 'count the cost' before becoming Christians. 'Make no mistake,' He says, 'if you let Me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect--until My Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.' "This is why John tells us that we will be made perfect and not continue in our sins (1 Jo 2:1, 2:5-6, 3:2-3, 5:18) even though currently we are still sinners (1 Jo 1:8-10, 2:2). Because God promises that we who believe that Jesus is God's perfect eikon in the flesh, the Christ Himself, will be conformed into that same image. It is a process, but it is a promised process.
Further, the Scripture tells us that unbelievers continue to bear the image of Adam--the would-be-usurper--instead of God (1 Cor 15:49). And in the book of Revelation, we see that an eikon of the beast will be made, and unbelievers and rebels will worship it (Rev 13-20, numerous instances).
So you see that the difference between a believer and an unbeliever is intimately tied up with this idea of the eikon--you either reject your role as eikon and seek the throne for yourself, or you worship some false god's eikon, or agree to allow God's perfect eikon (Jesus) to transform you into an eikon which again bears His likeness.
There is no fourth choice.
So the practical question today is: what eikon do you worship? To what are you aspiring? Are you your own god? Are you worshipping an icon/idol instead of God?
Or are you willing to accept that Jesus was the perfect eikon, and that if you allow Him--and only then! He will not force you!--that He will conform you into a perfect eikon.