Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also….
And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not (Matthew 2:1-8, 13-18).
St. Matthew’s gospel depicts here the infamous Herodian persecution of his own people. On the surface, Herod’s murderous rampage would seem just another ruthless political ploy, the likes of which have been habitually played out upon the stage of world history. However, what is at stake, in these familiar verses, moves far beyond mere political intrigue.
The spirit of Herod is the spirit of resistance, recalcitrance, and rebellion to the rule of God. This insolence is always manifest in one form or another in attempts to destroy “the image of God” upon man. The Incarnation, God becoming flesh, represents the ultimate expression of “the image of God” resting on the perfect man, even the God-man, Jesus Christ. In Christ, the power, grandeur, and absolute authority of the other world is revealed over and against every temporal earthly realm. Herod is caught up in the great conflict of the ages and moves to exterminate the One who is both fully God and fully man, at the same time, yet diminished in neither aspect. Herod, whose god is his belly, would not have the celestial image of the Christ eclipse his own pathetic existence and hence defiles his nation in a bloody holocaust of the innocents.
This was not the first time or the last time the battle over “the image of God” was fought. In fact, it is a battle that still rages across all spheres of government whether these be self, familial, ecclesiastical, or civil forms.
In the Beginning
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (Gen. 1:26).
In the creation, God makes man in His image. Immediately connected to this act rests the idea of man’s dominion over every aspect of life. Authority and earthly governance is exhibited by the image of God upon man. In Genesis 3:1-6, Satan tempts man with the offer of even greater power. No longer contented with the status of “image bearer”—a delegated administration—Adam succumbs to the offer of becoming as a god himself. Adam attempts to breech the creator-creation distinction resulting in the annulment of the perfect communion between God and His created “image bearer.”
Nonetheless, in Genesis 3:15, God initiates a war that will reestablish “the image of God” through successive generations of covenantally faithful people (or “the seed of the woman”) culminating in the new Adam; Jesus Christ, the definitive “image bearer.” Theologically termed the “proto-evangelium,” its promise ordains the crushing of the serpent’s power and the complete suppression of his seed. Herein the conflict is fixed; God’s image resting upon His people, exercising authority in terms of His inscriptur-ated will against the usurpers of Satan and their maniacal quest to extirpate the witness of godly rule in the earth.
The Order of Battle
The narrative of Genesis 4:1-12 renders a tragic accounting of this battle on a familial level. Cain and Abel offer their sacrifices before God. Abel’s devotedness and love for God marks his sacrifice as superior to that of Cain. Under-girded with the vitality of faith toward God, Abel presents the greater testimony, exhibits the greater favor of God and with it, a greater authority that, according to Hebrews 11:4, speaks even to this day. Cain is eclipsed and provoked to jealousy. He singles out his brother for murder in order to remove his righteously provocative deportment. The way of Cain is alive and well in the hearts of men. Such lives are marked by bitterness, envy, slanderous mischief, and scape-goating, and when the lust for illegitimate power is at full song, are more than capable of murder. Suppression of the “image of God” can and often does become very personal and familial, resulting in whole households being thrown into chaos.
This familial fury is again illustrated in Genesis chapter 37 as Joseph’s brothers seek to silence “the dreamer,” first by leaving him for dead in a pit, and then by selling him to the “Ishmeelites.” The image of God upon a man signified in earthly dominion is again the pivotal issue around which these heinous acts of envious suppression revolve. “And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words” (Gen. 37:8). Unlike Abel, Joseph’s testimony is not destined for martyrdom, but instead he rises to administer Pharaoh’s Egypt, and subsequently, exercises rule and authority over his less than admirable brothers.
Less dramatic, but perhaps more typical, is the narrative of Hannah found in 1 Samuel 1:1-14. Hannah, desirous of a son wholly dedicated to God, entreats the Lord with an indomitable spirit and strong crying and tears. She will not be comforted. She is zealous for the testimony of God. Yet, she is faced with continual harassment and cruel mockings both from within her family and the current ecclesiastical regime. Hannah’s husband Elkanah, was married also to Peninnah, who had borne his only children. Of Peninnah, the Scriptures tell us that she set herself against Hannah and “… provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb.” Elkanah, though he loved Hannah added absurdity to Penniniah’s cruelty when he exclaimed “… Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?” (In a contemporary sense it is shocking to see just how many “churchmen” have the same arrogant, immature attitude about their wives and children.) Then, it follows that Eli the priest of the Lord, apparently unaccustomed to such inspired, passionate, and purposeful praying as demonstrated by Hannah, adds insult to injury as he observes Hannah’s intercession. “And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli marked her mouth. Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken. And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee”.
While no violence is done to Hannah, her testimony and her desire for a greater testimony through her son is scorned, undermined, and lampooned, both by her husband and the priest. From a ministry perspective, while I have witnessed women who have left their husbands due to the husband’s unbending devotion to God, I have observed more commonly, the insanely jealous behavior of husbands who have threatened their wives for “praying too much” or because they have gained satisfaction from being used of the Lord. The lesson of Hannah teaches, that at the end of the day, all those who would compete with the Lord for attention have lost the race before it starts. All who mock or seek to efface the image of God upon redeemed humanity are destined to declension and final destruction.
Government and the Usurpation of the Image of God
While it has been explained that unregenerate men, and even regenerate but obstinate men, strive against the “image of God,” such conflicts are not confined to personal relationships. The spirit of tyranny exemplified by Herod against Christ, has always found fertile ground in civil government.
Governmental wars against the authority of Christ and His image bearers generally fall into two hellish stratagems. The first hinges upon blatant tyranny and persecution. Biblically, this is best portrayed by Pharaoh’s oppression of the Hebrews as found in Exodus 1:7-22. Persecution, enslavement, and the murder of innocents are all driven by Pharaoh’s fear of the might, power, and multiplication of God’s chosen and blessed image bearers.
Again, at the civil level, this same madness is demonstrated in 1 Samuel with King Saul’s ever increasing jealousies and hatred for David. Political machinations against the anointed man of God abound including attempted murder, as Saul seeks to hold on to power. Machiavellian political thought undoubtedly benefited greatly from Saul’s example.
As our theme anthem from St Matthew’s Gospel declares, Herod was driven by the same devilish designs as Pharaoh even adopting the tactic of generational genocide, though, in his case, such designs were forged against his own people. The spirit of Herod is the spirit of tyrannical totalitarianism and has been manifest in the civil realm throughout world history. Whether this took on the form of Roman Imperial persecutions, various dictatorships and pagan empires warring against Christianity, or the modern exemplifications of such evil, Fascism and Communism, all sought the eradication of the image of God in order to establish their rebel claims to ultimate authority.
However, it is the second stratagem which poses the greater threat to God’s people. That being the power of governmental coercion based upon false doctrines pertaining to man and his perceived sense of autonomy from God. No better example of this can be found than in the building of the tower of Babel as found in Genesis 11:1-6. Mankind is of one voice, collectively banded together, blinded by the lust to make themselves a name in the highest places of heaven, so as to dethrone God and place man in His stead. The desire to be as God brings contempt for the mantle of “image bearer” and hence, man corporately repeats the singular original transgression of Adam.
In a contemporary sense, this is the anthem of Humanism. Humanism, replete with its own manifesto, is a full-orbed religion that aspires to the deification of man through statist, pagan, and occultic influences. In repudiating Christian orthodoxy, chiefly the notion of God’s transcendence, Humanism becomes an amply articulated anti-Christian worldview. The humanistic notion elevates the state to the place of God and positions it as the author and protector of life. Ergo, from beginning to end, man is to be dependent on the state.
The world-life-view of Humanism can be depicted as a scientific-intellectual elite who has through time reinvented God and ethics in man’s image; the antithesis of the biblical record. Thus, man as a god engineers a “superior secular culture,” ever evolving into a forced egalitarian cooperative society: theoretically resulting in an utopian ideal. The progress of the state is akin to divinity itself, and therefore any religion that would impede such progress, or would attempt to decentralize its power is regarded as retrograde, fit for marginalization and eventual eradication. This was the anthem of the French Revolution and all other utopian social-political movements.
Humanistic thought wars against the image of God in the political realm through coercion. Such states erode or confiscate private wealth so as to take away the power of dominion and governance from individuals and transfer the same to the state. Less personal liberty means more political license for the state. The state places itself as the final defining authority over life and death, and thus seeks to take on god-like transcendent qualities. Such a state redefines ethics, wars against the immutable truth of God’s inscripturated will, and will move to expunge all reference to the God of the Scriptures and the “image bearers” who follow in His name.
This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineve shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light (Luke 11:29-33).
The Incarnation of Christ speaks as to how we are to then live. To be an “image bearer” practically means we cannot hide our testimony “under a bushel.” We must know Christ as greater than Jonah. Meaning, we are to know the power of the forgiveness of sins, of victory over death, and the fear of the same. (Jonah is a prophetic symbol of life from death especially as displayed in the finished work of Christ.)
We must know Christ as greater than Solomon. Meaning, we are to know and have confidence in His imperial reign demonstrated on earth as it is in heaven. (Solomon’s kingdom was used here as an example of the pinnacle of earthly power and to show the superiority of Christ’s authority and reign.)
We must resist those who would seek to destroy the image of God upon man in whatever sphere they may be found. We must not heed the siren song of Humanism. But we dare not retreat into the cultural ghettos of anti-intellectual, anti-cultural, semi-agrarian, naively nativistic forms of Protestant monasteries. We must embrace the “proto-evangelium” delineated in Genesis 3:15, subsequently ratified and ennobled in Christ’s finished work (Rom. 5:17), and applied to His glorious church (Eph. 1:22-23). Anything less denies the Incarnation in time and history, and allows the way of Cain and the spirit of Herod to ply its wicked trade in the earth.
Rev. Jeffrey A. Ziegler, the president of the National Reform Association, is also founder and president of Christian Endeavors and Reformation Bible Institute, and co-founder and moderator of The Association of Free Reformed Churches. He has lectured in over 600 churches and ministerial conferences in North America, Great Britain, and Germany. Jeff is also president of The Continental Group, a think tank for political activism. His articles have appeared in the Chalcedon Report, and The Christian Statesman. He can be reached at 35155 Beachpark Drive, Eastlake, Ohio 44095. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.