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.
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:
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.))
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))
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.