What does Jesus look like?


Close your eyes for a minute.

Wait, don’t do that. I want you to keep reading. Let’s try this again.

With your mind’s eye open and you imagination engaged, consider this question: what does Jesus look like? What picture comes to your mind when somebody says the name “Jesus’?

The pictures I was shown as a child depicted Christ as a thin, tall man with a pasty complexion, blue eyes, perfect nose and long straight brown hair flowing elegantly over his shoulders. As I got older and studied, I realized that Jesus does not look like this. Max Von Sydow looks like this, or at least he did in 1965 when he portrayed Jesus in the film The Greatest Story Ever Told. A 1st-century Jewish man almost certainly did not look like a Swedish movie star. Most likely, Jesus’ skin would have been much darker, his hair curlier, and the Word made flesh would have worn a much more interesting nose. Not unlike the image above, produced by the forensic detective Richard Neave from the University of Manchester. But is this who I see when I close my eyes and think of my Lord? I’m not really sure.

What if we could ask someone who had seen him, walked with him and lived with him? What if we could ask the beloved disciple, John? John could have certainly told us about the Nazarene’s hair color, height, weight, and general carriage. John could give us first-hand information about the Lord’s eyes.

“John,” we would ask breathlessly, “tell us what was it like when Jesus looked you in the eyes!”

Certainly John could tell told us much if we could but ask him. His intel would help anyone filming a Jesus movie avoid the Von Sydow solution. But is that enough?

Scripture tells us there is much more to the Lord than his earthly appearance. In fact, we can only infer from the Bible what he may have looked like. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the arresting soldiers needed help identifying Jesus, so the famous rabbi must have looked like an ordinary man. The remarkable Suffering Servant prophecy of Isaiah 53 says of the Lord that he had nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. I think John would tell us that Jesus looked nothing like Max Von Sydow or even Jim Caviezel. (By the way, what if John told us that Jesus was actually somewhat pudgy. Would that change our body image issues and if not, why not?) The truth is if we really had a picture of Jesus – you know, like one printed on linen and lock away in an old Italian church – it would only limit our understand of the Lord.

Just like it did with John. In 95AD the apostle John, now an old man, was worshiping one fine Sunday morning on the island of Patmos where he had been exiled for preaching the gospel. Then, out of the blue, Jesus made an appearance and it blew John’s mind. On that Sunday, Jesus revealed himself to John, and us, in a new way.

“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” (Revelation 1:12–16 NIV)

This was not the man John had spent 3 years walking the Judean hills with, and yet, it absolutely was. In the Revelation, John was allowed to see different facets of the Lord, like a jeweler holding a rare diamond to the light. These facets, or layers of character, add to our knowledge of who Jesus Christ is. That is more important than discovering what color his eyes are.

First, John sees someone like a “son of man.” This description – Jesus’ own personal favorite – comes from Daniel 7 where the prophet views a powerful figure in a vision. This figure is able to overcome the wicked empires that ravage the world. This climatic figure of history, more powerful than any conqueror and ruling over heaven, appears to be a man. So let’s take our first Polaroid of him because this son of man is Jesus.

Next, John relates that the Son of Man has a robe with a golden sash around his chest. These raiments invoke the image of a priest and a ruler. A priest would be the intermediary between men and God. He was clothed in a sacred robe, dedicated for his use. Likewise, the emperor in Rome would be dressed in a robe with a purple sash, depicting his authority. Under this sketch of Jesus, we should write “the perfect high priest” and “the king of kings.”

His hair, and indeed his head, is white as wool and unblemished like snow. Maybe he looked like Max Von Sydow after all! Seriously, snow and wool would be symbolic of purity and white hair of wisdom. Jesus defines both of these traits. In this pure, wise head are blazing eyes. He sees all, his gaze penetrating the deepest recess of our hearts. You are not going to win a stare down with the Lion of Judah.

Quick, go find something in your immediate area that is made of bronze so we can better understand his feet. Can’t find anything? Empty your pockets. There it is, that almost worthless penny. It is bronze, an alloy of copper, tin and zinc. However, in the 1st Century there existed a type of bronze utilized for military purposes. In the vision of Revelation, we see someone like a son of man who can not be moved, his feet more firmly planted than even those of Lady Liberty in New York harbor. We may ignore Messiah for a season, but we can not move him out of the way.

Have you ever stood beside a rushing waterfall and not been able to hear yourself think. It is an overwhelming sensation. The Lord’s speech hit John in the same way. Absolute authority is in his voice. The crowds were struck by the authority of Jesus’ words after the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. In Revelation, John is struck by the authority in the sound of the Lord’s voice. The further image of the sword coming from his mouth, which recurs numerous times in Revelation, forges a new understanding. With his words, Christ can create, destroy and re-create. With his words, he can proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor or dire judgment. We might need the protection of the 1st Amendment but he does not. No one will silence the Word of God.

Even in a dark world where John is exiled for his testimony, Jesus’ face shines like the sun. He is the light of the world. He is John’s light. The light from Jesus’ face reflects off of John’s parchment and, spanning the centuries at the speed of light, hits us full in the chest before spilling over onto the people around us. He is our light, the light of the world.

Earlier in the vision, Jesus tells John that the seven stars are the angels, or messengers, of the seven churches and the lampstands are the seven churches. What is important for our conversation here is that Jesus is moving among the churches and has the churches in his hand. The churches, and all who belong to them, are in the possession of the Lord. Jesus is no absentee landlord. He is moving around our churches today. Before Jesus revealed himself to John on Patmos, he had been at John’s side the entire time. He is at ours as well.

John must have thought he knew what Jesus looked like, having walked with him for three years. Then the Lord revealed himself at Patmos and John’s world was rocked. If we take all of these pictures and layer them into one, we have only begun to image Jesus. Even so, the view is much more impressive than the Shroud of Turin or the 21st Century equivalent above. Indeed, the book of Revelation is only about the future in that Jesus is lord of the future and will accomplish amazing acts in the future. The real revelation in Revelation is Jesus!

What picture comes to your mind when somebody says the name “Jesus’? Do you need to have your image of Jesus expanded?

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