What did Jesus really look like?

I drove by another of statue of “Jesus” that had been plastered white and just sitting in someone’s lawn, arms stretched towards the owner’s parking lot. “Look at Jesus over there!” My wife said chuckling, “He’s apparently blessing the cars….” We looked around, knowing we’d see Mary too. “There she is in the bushes!” Always in the bushes for some reason…

Though it’s funny to think about I do want to address a real concern. To me there is a seriousness beneath the surface of statues and paintings I want to talk about. I believe that there is a reason why many early followers of Jesus seemed to have cared little about recalling Jesus’ visual representation; They were more captivated by the representation of His life! I mean, His nature was from God. Fully God, fully man.

I’ve wondered why a lot of the statues, art work and illustrations we see of Jesus seem to look painfully awkward, culturally conformed, and historically inaccurate in their portrayal of Him. A blonde-haired, blue eyed “hippie-healer” is what they communicate, who looks more like Fabio than a Jewish Rabbi? Really? And I’m supposed to buy that the Jewish man, birthed in a Middle Eastern society actually looked this way?

I’ve thought about this a lot. I’ve also considered why we have no real pictures of Jesus. One could propose we have the “Shroud or Turin” and I’d consider that, but for this article that question is beyond the scope of what I’d like to address. Besides, that shroud, even if accurate, is just a single piece of a physical representation we might have for Jesus, and in the end, stands alone next to no other paintings we have of Jesus.

The Reason

I want to propose the reason is that the disciples and first followers of Jesus didn’t think physical image was overly important, nor would they spend time making their own images of Jesus when they lived beside the living image of God in the flesh. I don’t believe they would be likely to do it afterwards either, and I think history confirms that. If Jesus’ physical appearance was so important to our salvation, I’m willing to bet, we’d have a lot of pictures of Jesus. However I don’t think God likes when people make images of Him on a side note. All believers will one day come face to face with the living Jesus, and then and only then will we see Him. And we will see there is truly no one like Him. Until then, our lives as believers should look like Him. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully know, 1 Corinthians 13:12 (English Standard Version)

In no way do I want to disregard that the disciples would’ve remembered how He looked, rather I think Scripture makes it clear that He looked like an “ordinary man.” Think about it. God’s great humility and divine plan was to wrap Himself in human flesh. I think the last thing He would want to do is make His appearance stand out, for that might get in the way of His standing out by way of His life. He lived to demonstrate He was divine, and that there through Him we could be reconciled back to the Author of Life. More than that, He made the claim that this Author would actually impart His life into any man who would believe Jesus is Lord.

I propose that the disciples got the clearest picture right before their eyes of what a life lived through God’s empowerment looked like; Jesus was that life.

American Jesus

Jesus loves America, but Jesus was not American. Jesus was Jewish. And coming out of a Middle Eastern society I think He looked “brown” skinned. I believe His actual appearance might make a lot of Americans uncomfortable.

That’s okay. His goal wasn’t to be conformed to our comfort zone but to draw us out of our own.

What’s it matter how a man looks outwardly when the goal for us is to be transformed inwardly so our lives can LOOK like Christ?

It just makes sense.

I believe Jesus was not concerned with outward appearance because He valued actual authenticity. I am saddened when I see the culturally conceived statues and pictorial attempts trying to represent Jesus for the reason that I believe God wants our lives to be those representations. It is true that a picture speaks a thousand words, so I am not against art work. Rather I think much of the accuracy of that artwork has been tainted let alone conformed to culture.

Is it possible that much of our “art” is birthed out of a desperate attempt to try to make a “Jesus out of our own image” rather than being conformed to His?

Alex Oram

The good news is that the Gospel is still Good News. Jesus, the Son of God, came to impart abundant life into us so that we too might represent the Father well. This is dependent on our willing to say “yes” to Him as Lord and Savior. And to say yes continually through a relationship with Him.

Alex Oram

April 15, 2019

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