Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 1 Page 6 January 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

How Did Jesus Look?

By Grady Miller

A gifted writer and sensitive soul has offered this description of Jesus as He came to John to be baptized in the River Jordan.
"His appearance, wholly different from that of all who had thronged to His ministry, at once arrested the prophet's eye. The holy devotion and heavenly repose which marked Him as He stood in prayer, spoke of a purity and greatness before which the soul of John did instant reverence. He might have stern words for the proud and self-righteous, but, in the presence of such a vision as that before him, he has only those of lowliest homage. The light, as of other worlds, shining from the depths of those calm eyes; the radiance of a soul free from all stain of sin, transfiguring the pale face -- full, at once, of highest beauty, tenderest love, and deepest sadness, was hereafter, even when dimly seen by the light of midnight torches and lanterns, to make accusers shrink backwards and fall, overcome, to the ground [John 18:6], and Simon Peter pray -- "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" [Cunningham Geikie, The Life And Words Of Christ, rev. ed. (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1894), I:389. Geikie dedicated his work to his friend Frederic W. Farrar, who also addressed this matter: "There is not one syllable in the Gospels or in the Epistles respecting the appearance of His form or face. Nor is there the vestige of any reference to it in the literature of the first two centuries" (Frederic W. Farrar, The Life Of Christ As Represented In Art (New York: MacMillan and Company, 1895), p. 67.]
It is commonplace to see pictures and paintings in many homes, and even in a few business establishments, which are said to be portraits of Jesus Christ. Many of these, notably The Last Supper by Michelangelo, are universally hailed -- and rightly so -- as great works of art. Indeed, Jesus Christ has been the focal point of great art and literature down through the ages. [Reference https://landru.i-link-2.net/shnyves/The_Face_Of_Christ.html for a portrait gallery of great artists and their representations of Jesus.]

We are confident, however, that most people realize that there are no genuine pictures of Jesus. Although the early Christians had their paintings and representations of the Lord, it is certain that there are no authentic paintings of our Savior in existence today. The popular paintings of today are but copies of portraits which were created hundreds of years after Jesus lived and died. It should be understood, therefore, that the pictures of Christ today are only a representation of the way that He looked in the mind of the artist. [Charles H. Clever does not agree with this assessment and has published a "picture of Jesus Christ" on the Internet. Read his material and determine for yourself how strong a case he is able to make. https://mainfram.ctaz.com/public/daniel12/likeness.htm.]

How did Jesus really look? To be honest, no man can give a satisfactory answer to this question. After all, the Bible, our only trustworthy record of Jesus, does not concern itself in detail with the Lord's personal appearance. Our conclusion must be that God did not consider this information to be essential to our salvation.

Nevertheless, from what the Bible does say about the personal ministry of Jesus, we are convinced that the world, and particularly our young people, have received the wrong impression concerning the appearance of our Lord. How is He usually portrayed? A sad, doleful expression; fragile, almost feminine features; long, flowing hair and a beard. Moreover, others represent Him as a true-blue, radical revolutionary, in open revolt against "the establishment" of His day. Is this the real Jesus? We think not.

To begin with, Jesus certainly would not have had the appearance of a down and out "hippie." Poor, yes; shabby, no. Alfred Edersheim, himself a Jew but a believer in Christ and a recognized authority on ancient Jewish customs, explains that Jewish teachers were careful in four particular areas of their public life -- their manner of eating, financial matters, the way they handled anger, and by their dress. [Alfred Edersheim, The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah, Vol. 1 (New York: Longmans, Green and Company, 1898), pp. 620­626. Edersheim contends that Jesus wore the ordinary dress of the teachers of Galilee, including a headgear resembling a turban that covered the neck and shoulders, an inner garment that descended to His feet fastened with a girdle about His waist, a square outer garment with fringes, and sandals. These articles of clothing, of course, were divided among the four Roman guards at the foot of the Cross (John 19:23).] Recognizing that these areas had a profound impact upon the public's impression of them, they were careful to appear faultless in them all. Therefore Jesus, in His dealings with the multitudes, would have appeared as a man that could be trusted in spiritual matters. His enemies, who would not hesitate to either fabricate or twist any statement, could never accuse Him of being slovenly or unkempt. [Zondervan Pictorial Bible Encyclopedia, 3:16.]

Then again, consider the length of Jesus' hair. You may remember one old poster and bumper sticker that summed up the attitude of many: "If you worship long hair on Sunday, why do you hate it on Monday?" But, did Jesus really have the long hair falling across His shoulders and down His back? Apparently not, for these reasons. [1] According to the Scriptures, among the Jews none but the Nazarites wore long hair (Numbers 6). Their long hair was a mark of their separation before the Lord. Jesus was from the city of Nazareth, but He was not a Nazarite; therefore, He no doubt wore His hair as did the rest of the male Jews. [2] Although the ancients usually wore their hair long, by New Testament times long hair was degrading on a man. [E. L. Bynum, a Baptist preacher, has posted an article on "Did Jesus Wear Long Hair" at https://www.llano.net/baptist/jesuslonghair.htm.] [3] The earliest pictures of Jesus, many of them found in the catacombs underneath Rome, represent Him with short hair and beardless! In fact, He is portrayed this way until about the 6th century A.D. -- 500 years following His death! It was much later, during the Middle Ages, that the medieval Christ appeared, complete with long hair and beard. [4] The Apostle Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 11:4 that it dishonors the man to wear long hair. It is inconceivable that Paul would have said this knowing full well that the Lord Himself wore His hair long.

The true Jesus is found in the Bible: a gentle, compassionate man, but at the same time courageous and strong; the Saviour of the world; the Prince of peace. This is the true Jesus, not someone's manufactured version.

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