‘Who do people say that I am?’ Jesus asked Peter as they passed through Caesarea Philippi (Mk. 8:27). It’s a question that has echoed down the ages. There have been all sorts of answers, some of them saying more about us than about Jesus. Then there are those handed down through our councils and creeds on the basis of Scripture.
Besides these, there are the answers expressed in our hymns of liturgical worship, including the one St. Paul recited to the Philippians.
Much ink has been spilled over the interpretation of the word ‘form of God.’ Perhaps the least inadequate answer is to say that this form was the unapproachable light of God’s full and radiant glory —the glory that I had in Your presence before the world existed (Jn. 17:5) —thefulness of the Godhead that was pleased to dwell in Jesus Christ (Col. 1:19).
That’s the ‘who.’ But what about the ‘so what?’ Why is this important? How, in other words, does the ‘who’ of Jesus Christ make a difference in the ‘how’ of salvation?
It was the first man, Adam, who was the one originally created ‘in the image and likeness of God.’ (Gen. 1:26). The image does not refer to a physical likeness, but to our rational powers and our responsibility for the care of God’s creation. Made in His image, it was to be our purpose and our destiny to grow increasingly in God’s likeness.
But Adam wanted to exploit his advantage. The wily serpent used Adam’s envy and pride to bring about humanity’s destruction. And so it went, until there came into being a New and Final Adam, one who would be the head of a new and redeemed human race.
For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous (Rom. 5:17)
Adam grasped for equality of God. But although He bore the stamp of divinity, He was yet but a creature, with the limits of creaturely passions and mortality, a man of dust. Christ, the New Adam, is the man from heaven, with a life-giving Spirit.
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the Man of heaven. (I Cor. 15: 49)
In the words of St. Athanasius the Great
God became man that man could become like God.