What Did Jesus Look Like?

One of the most remarkable features of the gospel records is that they give no information whatever about the physical appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ. Whether He was tall or short, lean or heavy, dark or light in complexion, bearded or clean-shaven—no one knows. The only real information we have about Christ and His life is in the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—and these writers simply do not say one word about His appearance! This in itself is evidence of divine inspiration. They wrote in considerable detail about His words and deeds, and it would seem almost certain that any writer dealing specifically with such biographical material would include some kind of physical description of the one of whom he was writing. But these writers were all constrained somehow not to do so.
We do not even know that His features were “Jewish” in character. Although He was born in the family of David, it must be remembered that neither of His earthly parents was connected with Him genetically. He was “conceived by the Holy Ghost” and simply placed in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
Now, since the Holy Spirit, in His work of inspiring the Holy Scriptures, has carefully refrained from satisfying our curiosity about Jesus’ human appearance, it is utterly futile for men to speculate about this matter. The commonly accepted representation of His features, as expressed in countless paintings and images over the centuries, has no basis in fact and is quite misleading. Certain supposed verbal descriptions of Him that have come from extra-Biblical sources are likewise generally known to date from long after the apostolic period.

There is a very good reason for this divine reticence about the physical aspects of Jesus. He is the Son of man—the representative Man, the divine Substitute for all men of all times and places. If we knew that He had been a tall man, for example, then we would subconsciously sense that God preferred tall men and that it was somehow a mark of God’s disfavor for a man to be small in stature. The same sense of pride or resentment would tend to attach itself to the possession or lack of any other specific physical characteristic known to be part of Christ’s human aspect.

A second reason for the Lord’s refusal to allow a description of Himself in the Scriptures is man’s perverse tendency to idolatry. Man is continually “changing the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” (Romans 1:23). Because of the root sin of pride and unbelief in his soul, he rebels at the thought of submitting himself in faith to his Creator, and instead desires to submit himself to a god of his own making, one he has either constructed in his mind (the mental “model” of ultimate meaning postulated by the philosopher) or else constructed with his own skills (the brazen “model” of God in the pagan temple or even the canvas “model” of the Son of God that human artists have contrived). The Apostle Paul has warned: “We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device” (Acts 17:29). The last words of the Apostle John in his epistle were” “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

John the Baptist, as he introduced Christ in his message, said: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (John 1:18). The invisible God is seen, therefore, not in the bodily incarnation of Himself in Christ, but rather through Christ’s “declaration” of His character in His words and deeds. The human body of Christ finally was offered up as a sacrifice, to suffer and die in the bitterest agony, “… His visage so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men: …” (Isaiah 52:14), in order that sinful and hell-deserving men might be redeemed as He died in their place.
We are not, therefore, to continually think of Jesus as He once was, but rather to worship Him as He now is, the risen Lord of life, who rose from the dead and ascended back to heaven. We must forever praise and thank Him for His unspeakable gift of salvation, in living as our perfect Example and dying as our all-sufficient Savior, but we must also believe His Word and obey Him as our eternal Lord. Some day, probably very soon, we shall ourselves be made like Him, “… for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

In the meantime, we do have one description of His visible appearance in the Bible, not as He was when He walked in Galilee, but rather as He is now in heaven. John saw, in his great vision of the return of the Lord, “… one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the breast with a golden girdle. His head and His hairs were white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire; and His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and His voice as the sound of many waters. And He had in His right hand seven stars: and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and His countenance was as the sun shining in His strength” (Revelation 1:13–16).

This is the Lord Jesus Christ as we shall see Him some day, either to “rejoice at his coming” (1 Thessalonians 2:19), if we now trust Him as our Lord, or else to cry out to “hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne” (Revelation 6:16), if we have rejected Him and His Word.

Henry M. Morris and Martin E. Clark

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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