December 28, 2015

It Doesn’t Matter What Jesus Looked Like

by Jordan Standridge

Every December it seems, there is some kind of story that comes out about Jesus. In a story that has now gone viral, British scientists, assisted by Israeli archaeologists, have used “Forensic Anthropology” to show us exactly what Jesus looked like. To America’s shock he’s neither white nor black, he looks like, wait for it, someone born in Israel. While this has caused many people to strong reactionsjesus, “discoveries” like these cause true believers to chuckle in amusement.

With recent movies about Noah, Moses, the Bible series and so on, Hollywood is banking on the world’s fascination with depicting Biblical content on the screen. People everywhere seem to be dying to get their eyes on what Bible stories look like. And while I understand the desire to know exactly what Jesus looked like, and to be able to experience Old Testament times, I think that the Bible would not only say that it is not necessary, but it would go as far to say that we are better off for not seeing. Here are three quick reasons why we are better off without any likeness of heavenly things.

Jesus Blesses those who believe without seeing

Jesus in John 20:26-29 after appearing to Thomas says some amazing words,

26 After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus *came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said,“Peace be with you.” 27 Then He *said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

Thomas had a problem, he didn’t believe Jesus could rise from the dead. He probably saw him dead, and was devesated by it. He had seen Jesus, walk on water, heal blind men, multiply fish, and even raise Lazarus from the dead, but the difference was that Jesus was alive for all of that. When Jesus died Thomas knew of only one person who could raise people from the dead, and it was Jesus himself. WhenDoubting-Thomas Jesus appeared to him, he declares that those who believe without seeing are the ones who are even more blessed. Anyone who gives their life to Christ in this day and age, do so completely based on faith. Today, Jesus does not appear to anyone, anywhere. The Bible is clear that we are to wait for his return. In fact, if it weren’t for the two angels the day of Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, the disciples would still be looking up into the sky. The message that day was clear, that the disciples were to work hard, and preach the Gospel relentlessly because Jesus could return at any moment. Each Lord’s supper we partake in is a reminder that Jesus isn’t there, that we will not eat with Him until the day he returns.

Faith comes from hearing Scripture

Paul in Romans 10:17 is very clear about the way that people obtain faith. He says,

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

It is critical that we understand the importance of this. No picture of Jesus, no archaeological discovery and ultimately no fine tuned apologetic can bring someone to faith. It must be scripture alone. That’s why Jesus tells the parable to the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). As the rich man is in Hell, he begs Abraham to send Lazarus to preach to his family so that no one would join him there. But Abraham said “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” Since Moses and the Prophets were dead already, Jesus must have been referring to the Bible. He says that you could perform the greatest miracle ever seen, and it wouldn’t matter, people must believe the Scripture, and unless they do, no miracle could persuade them.

Experience can never replace God’s word

Many people desperately want to feel something. They are searching for a feeling that will never come. transfigurationTo a certain degree we all enjoy having great experiences, but none could ever come close to what Peter, John and James experience on the mount of transfiguration. And yet, in 2 Peter 1:18-21,

18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attentionas to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Peter says, that the greatest experience of his life, pales in comparison to, what most of us carry around 20 versions of in our phones everywhere we go, God’s word.

Ultimately whether Jesus had long hair, short hair, was tall or really short, was muscular or very skinny, doesn’t matter. One day we will see Him face to face. We may not know what He looks like, but we are promised in this life to not only have His mind (1 Cor. 2:16) but also to be one with Him (1 Cor. 6:17), and know Him better than any person who walked with Him two thousand years ago. What matters most in this life is whether or not we have faith in who he said He was, and whether we have trusted in Him to save us from our sin. And how blessed we are for believing in the One whom we’ve not seen!

Jordan Standridge

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Jordan is a pastoral associate at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA, where he leads the college ministry. He is also the founder of The Foundry Bible Immersion. You can find his personal blog at surrender.us.
  • Jane Hildebrand

    But he will have a British accent, right? 😉

    • Linda Rice

      Chuckle.

  • guest

    I understand what you’re saying, but it does matter (just a little) what he looked like. The various churches (including many protestant divisions) have for centuries used white Jesus to reinforce white supremacy and to marginalize non-white people and justify racism, slavery, and many other issues. By accurately stating and depicting his non-whiteness it demystifies the lies that have been reinforced in his name. You tend to write very simple and straightforward posts, but sometimes you don’t think about other important angles relevant to the discussion.

    • Jordan Standridge

      I agree that people used Jesus and sitll use him to justify their evil. But I think that people will come up with anything to justify their sin when they are unsaved. Trust me I have thought through a lot of the angles, I discussed this article at length with people before posting it. I’m sure there are some angles that I missed and that’s why I appreciate the comment board, where we can help refine each other’s thoughts.

      • guest

        Your response is exactly the kind of thing I am trying to ask you to pay attention to. By sweeping aside the issue by referring to perpetrators of this behavior as “unsaved” is inherently glib and allows people to go on without taking responsibility. Just a gander at world history will indicate that if only the unsaved behaved this way then for centuries there were hardly any saved people at all around because the behavior was systemic in nature. Also, you are not keeping people accountable for what they do. You state quite often that everyone sins, including yourself, so why can’t this be a sin committed by real Christians and not only the unsaved? And why do we refuse to pay attention to it while focusing on the easy attacks like homosexuality, catholicism, and islam, which are this site’s bread and butter?
        I don’t know who you spoke to and if you listened when addressing these types of topics. From your race, gender, posts, and testimony (which I found on YouTube) you don’t seem to have lived a life in which you were much of a minority (other than a religious one) or in any real danger or fear. Please think about what you write from other points of view that have not been so privileged and don’t get as loud of a voice in the future. And responding to what I wrote by saying that this is why we have message boards was somewhat callous and dismissive. You have an obligation to do better.

        • Jordan Standridge

          Thank you guest.

          I will admit it was hard for me to take you seriously since you didn’t put a name. I appreciate your comment and definitely don’t want to brush you aside.

          You wrote: The various churches (including many protestant divisions) have for centuries used white Jesus to reinforce white supremacy and to marginalize non-white people and justify racism, slavery, and many other issues.

          I do not think that a church could be a true church if they used white Jesus to promote racism and slavery. If you are an individual who purposely made Jesus white because you wanted to do these things, then I have a hard time believing that you are saved. In writing this post I do not want to minimize any persecution people have faced over a wrong depiction of Jesus, and stating the fact that there shouldn’t be any depiction at all doesn’t nullify any persecution minorities have faced. I believe it only exposes the evil and the folly of this behavior. Recently Jesse Johnson wrote an article on The Myth of Race. By stating that there is no such thing as “multiple races”, it doesn’t nullify racism, but it does expose the evil of Darwin and others that created multiple races and the effects of it.

          • Christina

            I still think you are missing a very large point. If a lie, in this case white Jesus, is the only thing an unsaved person knows about Christianity, it matters. Let’s look at it another way. Take a televangelist that proclaims sending them money is the way to heaven. Many Christians and unbelievers know this to be a lie. Like the depictions of white Jesus (equated to white man’s religion), unbelievers are put off by the televangelist’s lies because it equates Christianity with money grubbing. The big difference seems to be how Christians respond to the two topics. Most Christians are quick to denounce the pay your way to heaven schemes, but will go on to say it doesn’t matter what Jesus looks like. If the worldly historians show that Jesus was of middle eastern descent (as they have shown much of the Bible to be true), but Christians say that his depiction as a blond haired, blue eyed white man is irrelevant, it seems that Christians are willing to embrace (or at least ignore) some lies, while denouncing others. It makes no sense and definitely confuses nonbelievers. When asked about what Jesus looked like, I personally like to explain that there is no way to be sure, but I figure he looked liked most middle eastern Jewish men of the time, not the depictions that have become popular in many churches…..to me that is much better than saying it doesn’t matter since it might to the person I am addressing.

          • Charity

            Christina: I agree with you that integrity is the issue and that it matters but it is also true that to one who is an enemy of God anything can be an excuse to not bow to Him. Someone in this discussion suggested that we see/paint/portray Jesus like us (whatever we may look like) and there likely is truth in that as well. I for one do not know the history of the most famous paintings of Jesus but although there has always been racism it became much more prominent after Darwin and the belief that dark skinned people were lesser evolved. It actually is interesting to me that as a culture we seem to be putting that idea aside while otherwise still clinging to Darwinism but that is another discussion. Jordan seems to be short on the history of the American church in the south during slavery but the best answer is that we should not be making depictions of Jesus and this whole discussion only proves that point. I might also suggest that teaching people of all skin colors the truth about race would be helpful and AnswersInGenesis.org has some good resources.

    • tovlogos

      Good points in this article; and guest had an appropriate addendum.

    • Christina

      Thank you guest for sharing exactly what I was thinking. Unfortunately there are many people of color who view “white Jesus” as an extension of the slave master that cannot be trusted. We all know that there is no way that Jesus was blond haired and blue eyed. That lie combined with other lies told by “Christians” push people away from the real Christ. I agree, Christians don’t care what Jesus looked like….but it may well be very important in our pursuit to win souls to Christ.

      • Jane Hildebrand

        It is the Spirit of Christ that draws people into a relationship with Him and wins their souls. It is the message of their brokenness being healed and forgiven by the love of God through Jesus Christ, and that message has no color.

        If we are afraid that man’s feeble depiction of what Jesus looks like will inhibit the power of God to draw people unto repentance and fill them with the joy of salvation, then we rightly estimate the pettiness of man while underestimating the power of God.

        • Barbara

          Perhaps the discussion is a good illustration of the wisdom of the interpretation of the second commandment which forbids any image of the second person of the Trinity.

          • Jane Hildebrand

            Yes, very good point.

        • Christina

          In a perfect world this would be the case, but we don’t live in a perfect world and to act like a blond haired, blue eyed Jesus isn’t a problem is ridiculous. While it is ultimately God who wins people over, Christians are responsible for the mis-truths presented to others….and the white Jesus is one of the biggest mis-truths. I am so tired of white America telling me that color doesn’t matter……if color doesn’t matter, why is the most common depiction of Jesus white? If color doesn’t matter, why are we even having this discussion? To discount the part that color plays in topics like this closes the door on the opportunity to witness to groups of people who feel separated from the church because of history…..a history that includes slavery and its ties to the Bible.

          • Lynn B.

            Christina: Just a few weeks ago, I read in a discussion forum on a political article a “biblical” account of why Jesus was white and dark skinned people are a lessor creation… yes, just a few weeks ago. While I will refrain from stating which GOP presidential candidate has that type of support in abundance in my heart I hope that you know and are not part of that crowd where the candidate routinely slanders and insults minorities and women. At the same time, please know that I have family who are part of that crowd and are white supremacists and do claim the name of Christ.

            Jane: While I usually have great appreciation for your posts and the authors on this site, I find both of you to be lacking in discernment on this topic given that there is clear racial bias in the “white Jesus” pictures. Why exactly is it that Jesus is not pictured as obviously Jewish/Middle Eastern and as a “carpenter” (and likely a muscular builder with stone given that there was little wood in the area but considerable building with stone)? I cannot help but believe that the latter is an attack by the evil one on the masculinity of our Savior and His male followers.

            Barbara: I absolutely agree with you that we would do better to apply the second commandment to this matter and refrain from pictures of Jesus altogether beginning with flannel graph for children. While watching a dramatization last week of the song, “Who Is He in Yonder Stall,” it struck me how easily even that can be done without showing a full frontal view of our Savior including shots from behind or on side angles, from above, etc.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            “…Jesus is not pictured as obviously Jewish/Middle Eastern and as a ‘carpenter’…”

            Two things:

            1) What does a person who is “obviously Jewish/Middle Eastern” look like? Would Benjamin Netanyahu qualify? How about Abba Eban? Golda Meir? Shimon Peres? I could be delusional, but they all look ____ to me. American Jews look the same. Does Woody Allen or Jackie Mason look dark and ruddy to you?

            2) Being a carpenter doesn’t make anyone a beefy bodybuilder any more than being an axe man or fisherman would. Most of carpentry is detail woodwork, not hauling large timbers across the mountains on your back. There’s no reason to think He could bench press 300 pounds…at least, not due to His work.

            We don’t know what Christ looked like; but we have Jews and carpenters still running around today. Doesn’t that serve as a pretty good guide? Nothing has changed in either camp in 2,000 years, to the best of my knowledge.

          • Lynn B.

            Benjamin Netanyahu was born in Israel but his father was born in Warsaw and was not a native of the Middle East. Golda Meir was born in Ukraine/Russia. What of the others you list? I did not ask why Jesus is not pictured as “Jewish,” but “Jewish/Middle Eastern.”

            I find your carpenter question really little more than argumentative. The “white Jesus” is not only not a “body builder” but effeminate and that is how many “see Him in their minds,” meek and mild so to speak because they do not equate masculinity as gentle and loving, etc.

            Further, the Greek word translated “carpenter” would actually be more precisely translated “builder,” and there is no historical reason to believe Joseph and Jesus were builders with wood. I saw a documentary on it once that was fascinating; there was a massive city built of stone just “a stone’s throw” away from them the name of which I do not recall. I really doubt that they were doing “detailed carpentry” in Herod’s palace. By the way, my father’s family were all in the building trades and of a couple of dozen men only one was a detailed trim carpenter of which you speak.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            You’re not making it very clear, then, what you expect someone who is “Jewish/Middle Eastern” to look like–or what qualifies them to be called that–as opposed to someone who is just “Jewish.”

            As for an “effeminate ” Jesus, I’d need more than a still painting to peg that, unless he was striking a certain pose. And I haven’t seen that so far. Pictures of Steve McQueen don’t show a particularly beefy guy, either, but no one would call him effeminate.

            Forget Netanyahu if you like, since you seem to think the birthplace of one’s father makes his child not “Middle Eastern”, even if the child was born in the Middle East. I don’t know where you’re going with this.

            Jesus is usually depicted as He is because the likelihood is He looked pretty much like most Jews who were born in Judea or Israel, no matter where their fathers came from. I don’t know where Joseph or Mary were born, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect their family to look as Jews do today. Most “Middle Eastern” Jews that I see in the news I couldn’t pick out of a lineup next to New York Jews.

          • Still Waters

            The reason why the most common depictions of Jesus in the Western churches portray him as white is because the artists who painted him were of European descent. If one looks at the art of the Byzantine, Assyrian or Coptic churches, one would see that the depictions of Jesus resemble the Middle Eastern hues of the artists, while the artists of the Ethiopian church artists have developed a style based on their own appearance: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fre_Seyon_-_Diptych_with_Mary_and_Her_Son_Flanked_by_Archangels,_Apostles_and_a_Saint_-_Walters_3612_-_Open.jpg?uselang=en-ca

          • Lisa

            I’m not a white American and I too say color does not matter to true Christians. When your identity is in Christ, your race is secondary. We are all created in the image of God. There is only one race created by God, the human race. Slavery is not tied to the Bible. It is tied to sin. People are responsible for sin, not Jesus or the Word. Anyone who feels separated from the church feels that way because as John writes, ” men loved darkness”. All of humanity feels separated from God UNTIL they become reconciled with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. We must stop focusing on man’s construct of “race” and fix our eyes on Him.

            Signed,
            God’s daughter
            Wife
            Mother
            Daughter
            Church member
            Employee
            ..and lastly, a black woman, Lisa

          • Jane Hildebrand

            What a beautiful faith you have, Lisa! Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Love, a fellow sister in Christ, Jane.

          • Christina

            It appears you missed my point. As a Christian it doesn’t matter, but my goal on this earth is to win souls to Christ. Unfortunately, many people of color take issue with Christianity as the religion of the slave master…..a religious history that we all know was filled with lies about the Bible and the truth of Christianity. When I pray to Jesus, I don’t picture a person at all, but I am a Christian. When I encounter non-Christian people of color, their top concerns are often the fact that Christianity was used (in some instances) to enforce enslavement of our ancestors and the depiction of the Savior as a white man. I don’t see that depiction of Jesus in my church and my church has also addressed the issue of American slavery and the misuse of Biblical text as justification of this abomination. I am blessed to be able to share that knowledge with anyone that asks, unfortunately I am beginning to think I am the only Christian that actually cares that this depiction could deter people seeing answers. If our goal is to win souls to Christ, we should acknowledge how hurtful “white Jesus” is to others instead of putting ourselves on some pedestal . It is important to remember that it is not just about us as Christians, but about those seeking answers while watching us. The Holy Spirit ultimately wins the souls but I would hate to think that a mis-truth I shared deterred someone, even for a moment.

          • Lisa

            Your goal on this earth is to have a relationship with God and to glorify Him. The Holy Spirit DOES win souls to Christ. God ultimately does not need you to justify Him. The more you steer people toward Jesus and away from the excuses they use to stay in rebellion toward God, the more God can use you. We can’t convince anyone into the kingdom. If they are TRULY seeking the Lord, He will be available to them. Their eyes will then be opened. When I speak to people who constantly interject race as an excuse to live outside the will of God, I recognize where they are spiritually and pray that the Holy Spirit softens their heart and they truly surrender themselves to His will, not their own.
            When I hear these excuses, I say , ” you know what, let’s focus on you, not history or the sins of others”. To truly surrender your life to Christ, you must recognize that YOU are sinner in need of a savior. Our time on this earth is too short to be distracted by the past sins of others while we should be going about our Father’s business.

          • Christina

            Jesus told the disciples that he would train them to be fishers of men……not only to work on their own relationship with God. Also, I would be interested to see how well it actually goes over when you tell people to ignore history and focus on themselves…..especially since we should be telling them to focus on the truth of God, which is again, not the depiction of Jesus that I have been discussing.

            I will not continue to argue this point with you. I will say this, telling people to ignore history instead of showing them the correct history contained in the Bible doesn’t seem right to me. Also you might do well to remember that the sins of others may have had a direct effect on the life of the person you are witnessing to, discounting their reality instead of leading them to the scripture also seems wrong.

            As a Christian, Jesus’ color means nothing to me, but as a fisher of men it could mean the world to the person I am witnessing to. Have a Happy New Year.

          • Lisa

            This is why Biblical literacy is so important among professing Christians. Not to mention, reading for comprehension.
            I said, HAVE a relationship with God, not work on. And I said focus on you ( meaning your sin), not ignore history.
            There are all kinds of excuses not to accept the Lord. We can only present the gospel , be available for questions and be a light to the world. The Holy Spirit saves. Once a person has a saving faith in Jesus Christ, we are called to disciple them. Just as former addicts know the tactics of addicts , as a former unbeliever and “person of color”, I know the tactics of those addicted to darkness. Nothing can keep us from the love of Christ if He is what we really want.

          • Charity

            Lisa: I believe the concern is that the color of Jesus can be a stumbling block to the lost. It is not about “true Christians.” While it is true that an enemy of God will use any excuse to not submit to Him and while it is true that the gospel is offensive, we who carry the gospel should not be an offense.

    • 4Commencefiring4

      You sound exactly like Shaun King, the race-fuzzy leader of Black Lives Matter who wrote a piece recently stating the very same point: that a “white Jesus” is an excuse for “white supremacy.” (I frankly think he needs an honest job, but that’s just me.)

      He then went on to note that Jesus must have been somewhat dark looking because He and His family fled to Egypt and “blended in well”, so he posits Christ must have looked like most Egyptians. I wrote to him and pointed out that if you Google “pictures of Egyptians”, you’ll get a range of people who look like everything from Miles Davis to Matt Damon. So that proves nothing. And besides, He was Jewish–so He could have looked like Carl Reiner or Albert Einstein for all we know.

      As to “white supremacy”, the BLM movement didn’t need a Jesus of any particular hue that to insist that black lives were MORE important than any others. Superiority complexes are born of different stuff.

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  • HFK

    It matters greatly to me when Jesus is pictured with long hair
    for actually that implicates that he was a Nazirite
    but we know for sure that He was not and again people attribute
    something to him that He did not intend. (1.Corinthians 11,14 and Nubers 6). Besides that He must have looked just like
    his disciples- not exceedingly beautiful, holy or fancy- because he had to be kissed by Jude in order to be recognized
    (Matt 26,48) and in a way that is very beautiful for
    man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

  • Timothy J. Hammons

    If you look at the event on the road to Emmaus, the two disciples did not recognize Jesus. I think Jesus kept them blind to who He was, so that they would hear His words and listen to what He was saying. Far more important to hear Him, than to see Him.

    • HFK

      Never said you must see him, just pointed out that it matters indeed to picture him a certain way.

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  • Chris Nelson

    There is the whole 2nd commandment things as well. Images of God are idolatry. No where in the 2nd commandment does it say, “Make no image…except for the 2nd person of the Trinity”

  • Chris Nelson

    Discussions about what Jesus looked like, even discussions that say it does not matter, don’t matter because, well, 2nd commandment. Just do that!