Pannenberg combines the Old Testament witness in Genesis with Paul’s statements about Jesus Christ as the image of God in order to develop a Christian understanding of divine likeness. Paul understands that the image of God in Christ, the new Adam, to be that which all others must be transformed into and that which fulfills the destiny of humanity as a whole. To assume that in the beginning Adam was immortal is incorrect and while Paul understood death to be a consequence of sin, it is only the second eschatological man that is given the gift of immortality on the basis of the resurrection of Jesus.
Following Paul, Pannenberg concludes that it is only Jesus Christ who is properly the image of God and as such all others need to be renewed after this image in their relation to God. The distinction between the original and a copy is important, for this enables Pannenberg to preserve the unity and distinction between Christ and the rest of humanity, while also allowing for the distinctions within humanity. There was then a process to the coming of the full image of God and with it divine likeness, but this process is simultaneously the destiny of humanity that was present to God at the act of creation. Here the importance and necessity for the incarnation and resurrection of the Son are anticipated.
Divine likeness remains a historical process for each person related, not to the first Adam’s estate, but to Jesus Christ as our final destiny. Human destiny is not isolated to the individual or even the race, but as God’s caretakers, expanded to all creation. Our relation to God’s eschatological future is then the ground of our moral self-determination and ethical autonomy. Jesus Christ revealed the destiny of humanity as fellowship with God, but with this destiny a temptation comes to achieve it by human means. The Creator, who created humanity with finitude and distinctiveness, necessitates humanity’s knowledge of its finitude and acceptance of its distinction. The destiny of humanity is only achievable through its participation in the work of the Son, through his self-differentiation from the Father. In acceptance, humanity pays God honor paralleling the self-distinction of the Son from the Father. Pannenberg’s description of human destiny makes it possible to understand the naturalness of the incarnation in that it brings with it both the distinction and destiny of humanity.