What Did Jesus Look Like?

Spawned by a con­ver­sa­tion from work today, I just want to briefly throw in my $0.02 in answer­ing the ques­tion of what Jesus might have looked like.

a painted portrait of Jesus Christ by Warner Sallman

Most of you like­ly rec­og­nize the above paint­ing; it is Head of Christ by Warn­er Sall­man, and it’s about as ubiq­ui­tous as could be — I see it pop up everywhere.

Jesus is shown to be a Cau­casian man of fair fea­tures. Blue eyes. Dirty blonde hair. ((It looked brunette to me until Ali­cia informed me oth­er­wise; who am I to argue with the art school grad­u­ate?)) Full, well-groomed beard. And, dare I say it, handsome.

And that’s cer­tain­ly the com­mon per­cep­tion of Jesus, at least in Amer­i­ca (and per­haps most of West­ern cul­ture). With only slight mod­i­fi­ca­tions, Jesus was brought to the big screen as inter­pret­ed by Jim Caviezel in The Pas­sion of the Christ:

a hooded Jim Caviezel portraying Jesus Christ

And again we see Christ por­trayed as a fair fea­tured Cau­casian with a full-beard and flow­ing hair (albeit brunette this time). Caviezel’s Jesus was brown-eyed rather than blue but was still well with­in the “accept­ed image” of Jesus.

This por­tray­al of Jesus is by no means new either; here’s an exam­ple from almost 1,000 years ago: ((Christ Pan­to­cra­tor (or, “Christ the All-Mighty”), a mosa­ic from the Church of Daphne in Athens, Greece.))

a mosaic of Jesus Christ from the dome in the Church of Daphne, Athens, Greece

Back then, Jesus was still por­trayed as a light-skinned indi­vid­ual with flow­ing brown hair, full beard, and brown eyes — not much dif­fer­ent from Caviezel’s Jesus, except back then the por­tray­al was­n’t as appar­ent­ly handsome.

Per­haps as cul­ture has become increas­ing­ly focused upon out­ward beau­ty, our per­cep­tion of Christ has been mod­i­fied accord­ing­ly. As many skep­tics to Chris­tian­i­ty are apt to point out, peo­ple cre­ate God in their own image; I’m inclined to agree. Far too many pro­fessed Chris­tians wor­ship a God & Christ mod­eled more after them­selves than the Scrip­tures describe. This is unsur­pris­ing; the more alike to us God is, the few­er things for which He’ll judge us!

Yet Chris­tian­i­ty does not leave us the option of cre­at­ing God or His Christ in our own image. Idol­a­try and the mak­ing of images is strong­ly for­bid­den by the Scriptures:

“You shall not make for your­self a carved image, or any like­ness of any­thing that is in heav­en above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jeal­ous God, vis­it­ing the iniq­ui­ty of the fathers on the chil­dren to the third and the fourth gen­er­a­tion of those who hate me, 6but show­ing stead­fast love to thou­sands of those who love me and keep my com­mand­ments.” Exo­dus 20:4–6, ESV

Claim­ing to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glo­ry of the immor­tal God for images resem­bling mor­tal man and birds and ani­mals and creep­ing things. Romans 1:22, 23, ESV

There are prob­a­bly a thou­sand ways to jus­ti­fy the use of images of Christ in wor­ship, but it’s some­thing with which I am absolute­ly uncom­fort­able. By doing so, am I exchang­ing “the glo­ry of the immor­tal God” with an image of a mor­tal man which may or may not be what Jesus actu­al­ly looked like? Know­ing how much God absolute­ly hates idol­a­try, it is frankly some­thing I’d rather not even risk.

Still, images of Jesus are per­va­sive through­out cul­ture — both “sacred” and “sec­u­lar,” if such a dis­tinc­tion exists.

Peo­ple have done so through­out the his­to­ry of Chris­tian­i­ty, and we’ll con­tin­ue to do so till He returns. Some have even applied sci­ence to the ques­tion, arriv­ing at this con­clu­sion: ((http://archives.cnn.com/2002/TECH/science/12/25/face.jesus/index.html))

an image of what Jesus Christ may have actually looked like

The beard is still present, but now Jesus is pre­sent­ed with much more Mid­dle East­ern fea­tures — most notably dark­er skin. His fea­tures are notice­ably less fair than in the more pop­u­lar rep­re­sen­ta­tions. Also of note is the length of this Jesus’ hair; it is con­sid­er­ably short­er and much more like­ly to be a real­is­tic inter­pre­ta­tion; most males in Roman soci­ety at that time (of which Judea was a part) would have sport­ed a Cae­sar cut due to the influ­ence of the emper­or. Jesus was­n’t a long-haired counter-cul­tur­al rebel as often assumed — He was far more counter to the Jew­ish reli­gious lead­ers than He ever was to the Roman author­i­ties who admit­ted to find­ing no fault in Him.

Still, the above image is just spec­u­la­tion, still an attempt to depict the Almighty as a mor­tal man. And as accu­rate as it may be in depict­ing what Jesus looked like while walk­ing the earth, it is inevitably flawed in prob­a­bly sub­stan­tial ways.

So what do we know about what Jesus looked like?

  • Jesus had a beard, for hair was ripped from it dur­ing His tor­ture pri­or to His death accord­ing to the Prophet. ((Isa­iah 50:6.))
  • Jesus was not an attrac­tive man. The Prophet fore­saw Jesus as a man of “no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beau­ty that we should desire him.” ((Isa­iah 53:2.)) This is hard­ly sur­pris­ing, for beau­ty is fleet­ing & emp­ty; ((Proverbs 31:30.)) this is hard for us to imag­ine in a day when a per­son­’s pop­u­lar­i­ty is so depen­dent on how well they appeal to the desires of the eyes. ((1 John 2:16.))

That’s about all of which I’m aware regard­ing His appear­ance dur­ing the Incar­na­tion, pri­or to His death. The Prophet also tells us that dur­ing the beat­ings and tor­ture pri­or to His death, Jesus’ face was marred and dis­fig­ured than any­one’s face ever was, ((Isa­iah 52:14.)) but that describes what Jesus looked like only for so brief a time.

(Isn’t it inter­est­ing that Isa­iah described what Christ looked like more so than any of the Gospel or Epis­tle writ­ers did? I find that inter­est­ing any­way. Any ideas why that may have been?)

If you’ve read this far, you’re prob­a­bly dis­ap­point­ed that I haven’t real­ly shared much of what Jesus looked like, and you’re right — I haven’t. I don’t have an answer to the ques­tion of what Jesus looked like, but would you be hap­py with an answer of what Jesus looks like today?

Apos­tle John gives a glo­ri­ous glimpse of the Christ in pow­er & glo­ry, as He is in Heav­en today and as He will be when He returns to Earth tri­umphant over His enemies.

  • Rev­e­la­tion 1:13 — Jesus is described as the “son of man,” a mes­sian­ic title, and we are told He wears a long robe with a gold­en sash around His chest. That is what He wears.
  • Rev­e­la­tion 1:14 — We are told that His hair is white, “like white wool, like snow.” The glis­ten and inten­si­ty of His eyes is described as being “like a flame of fire.”
  • Rev­e­la­tion 1:15 — His feet were like “bur­nished bronze, refined in a fur­nace.” The choice of met­al may imply that His skin is bronze in col­or; that met­al is used at all may reflect the strength of His feet and legs. This verse also tells us His voice is “like the roar of many waters.” When he speaks, Cre­ation listens.
  • Rev­e­la­tion 1:16 — What He speaks is as a sharp two-edged sword, which is sym­bol­ic of the Word of God, which cuts asun­der the soul and the spir­it. What­so­ev­er Christ speaks, it is God’s Word. We are also told His face shines like the sun in full strength.

It’s pos­si­ble that the descrip­tion of Jesus here is only meant in an alle­gor­i­cal nature, but it’s unlike­ly. Com­pare some of the descrip­tions to how He appeared dur­ing the Trans­fig­u­ra­tion; ((Matthew 17:2.)) there His face lit­er­al­ly shown and His appar­el was lit­er­al­ly white. I see no rea­son that the descrip­tions of Rev­e­la­tion 1 should­n’t describe the res­ur­rect­ed Christ in all His glory.

But wait, there’s more! Rev­e­la­tion 19:11–16 gives us a few more details of He who is called Faith­ful and True. Here He is rid­ing a white horse fol­lowed by His armies; He is crowned with many crowns, and His eyes are still as a fire. His cloth­ing is still white robes, only now they are dipped in blood — either of His saints whom He will avenge or His own by which He has saved His fol­low­ers. Across His robes and down His thigh is writ­ten His title, “King of kings and Lord of lords.”

Out of His mouth still comes the Word of God, only then it will effect the throw­ing down of the nations, which He shall rule with a rod of iron, slay­ing all those who will not rule over Him. ((Luke 19:27.))

Cer­tain­ly Jesus is the Good Shep­herd. He over­flows with com­pas­sion and love, for He is the embod­i­ment there­of. Yet what does He look like? The most descrip­tive account we have is of a blood-stained War­rior King which ought to strike fear into the hearts of all those unpre­pared for His immi­nent return.

Get the effem­i­nate and hand­some Jesus por­traits out of your mind, and make sure you are wor­ship­ing He who is the Image and the Glo­ry of God Almighty.

8 thoughts on “What Did Jesus Look Like?”

  1. Jesus will be eter­nal­ly marked by the wounds in his hands, feet, and side. I just thought of this… but what are the chances that he will be eter­nal­ly a man of dis­fig­ured facial fea­tures as Isa­iah 52 sees him?

    Lat­est from Bran­don: Over­com­ing: The Craving

  2. Bran­don: Oh my good­ness, I can’t believe I for­got that bit of post-Res­ur­rec­tion info!

    And no, I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly think that He exists today and for eter­ni­ty as a man with “no beau­ty” in Him; rather, I think the fact that the First Com­ing was not marked by a “Super­mod­el Sav­ior” is rather sig­nif­i­cant. He came in a com­plete­ly unex­pect­ed way — low­ly and fair­ly unassuming.

    But when He spoke… Well, even the winds obeyed Him!

  3. good post. although, i think soci­eties have always been enam­ored with “good looks” or why would Isa­iah have both­ered to men­tion that Jesus was­n’t hand­some. by the way, I think I saw the gut from that last pic­ture in the Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, or was that a GEICO commercial?

  4. Rob: Cer­tain­ly human cul­ture has always been enam­ored by beau­ty. The expres­sion of that affec­tion, though, is con­tin­u­al­ly on the rise. My mind con­tin­u­al­ly races back to one of the clos­ing expres­sions of the Book of Proverbs: Beau­ty is vain.

    Also, con­sid­er­ing that the last pic­ture was of what experts think a First Cen­tu­ry Jew would have looked like, I’d be care­ful mak­ing com­ments about it look­ing like the image of a cave­man or oth­er prim­i­tive; would­n’t want to come off as anti-Semitic!

    But we have no rea­son to believe that Jesus did­n’t look like your typ­i­cal Jew­ish man; it’s the spe­cif­ic, though, which we can­not be sure of, nor are we intend­ed to be.

  5. “no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beau­ty that we should desire him.” I would­n’t use that to con­clude that Jesus was an unat­trac­tive man. I thought that phrase referred to Him as he was dur­ing His tor­ture and cru­ci­fix­ion. No one would look attrac­tive in those cir­cum­stances. I think He was attrac­tive; peo­ple were attract­ed because He was attrac­tive some­how. Then they stayed with Him because the inte­ri­or was even more attrac­tive espe­cial­ly when they real­ized that this per­fect mar­velous crea­ture loved them.

  6. That’s pos­si­ble — Isa­iah 53 speaks of His rejec­tion and exe­cu­tion — but that phrase is con­nect­ed to His grow­ing up like a young plant, as if to say there was no beau­ty in Him even from a young age.

    At the very least, the Gospels — espe­cial­ly Mark — reveal that peo­ple weren’t attract­ed to Him because of His beau­ty; more often than not, the only rea­son peo­ple flocked to Christ were for mir­a­cles, for their own gain — the same rea­son peo­ple flock to pros­per­i­ty teach­ers and oth­er whack-a-doos on tele­vi­sion — and when He taught them truth, a great many of them left because it was too hard for them.

    Ulti­mate­ly, at the end of His life, only eleven dis­ci­ples were still with Him, and even they fled in cow­ardice a short while later.

  7. Gen­tle­men,

    His­to­ry teach­es us Chris­tian­i­ty has its ecu­meni­cal roots in Europe, not the middle-east. 

    These depic­tions of Jesus are those con­struct­ed in the minds of Euro­peans, to extract monies from a Euro­pean audience.

    Rome knew when they start­ed sell­ing Chris­tian­i­ty, they need­ed to present Jesus as look­ing like ‘one of them’. 

    There was no way they could mar­ket their cho­sen God, as a dark-skinned, dark-eyed Arab – even though that was most like sce­nario, giv­en where he was born, and his moth­ers origins. 

    To paint Jesus as a Jew or an Arab in appear­ance, would have been an exact rep­re­sen­ta­tion of their avowed the­ist enemies. 

    Even cen­turies lat­er, those that run the vary­ing Chris­t­ian sects, know the con­cept of a dark-skinned Chris­t­ian mes­si­ah – is unpalat­able to their audience.

    So they con­tin­ue their adver­tis­ing cam­paign with the lily-white, tall hand­some ‘he-man’ we see today. 

    You, have a good day there. 

    Paul.

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Rick Beckman