What Did Jesus Really Look Like?

Dr. Harold Sala
Guidelines For Living

But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  1 John 3:2

It’s an amazing fact, yet true: the writers of the four Gospels never gave to the world an actual description of what Jesus Christ really looked like.  Nevertheless, there is an actual description of the appearance of Christ.  One of the few that has survived the centuries is said to have been written by the governor of Judea, Publius Lentulus.

Writing to Tiberius Caesar, in the year 32 AD, the Judean governor wrote the following: “There lives at this time in Judea a man of singular virtue, whose name is Jesus Christ, whom the barbarians esteem as a prophet, but his followers love and adore him as the offspring of the immortal God.  He calls back the dead from the graves and heals all sorts of diseases with a word or touch.  He is a tall man, well‑shaped, and of amenable and reverent aspect; He has hair of a color that can hardly be matched, falling into graceful curls, waving about and very agreeably couching about his shoulders, parted on the crown of his head, running as a stream to the front after the fashion of the Nazarites.  His forehead is high, large and imposing; his cheeks without spot or wrinkle, beautiful with a lovely red; his nose and mouth formed with exquisite symmetry; His beard of a color suitable to his hair, reaching below his chin and parted in the middle like a fork; His eyes, bright blue, clear and serene, look innocent, dignified, manly and mature.

“In proportion of body most perfect and captivating; his arms and hands delectable to behold.  He rebukes with majesty, counsels with mildness; His whole address, whether in word or deed, being eloquent and grave.  No man has seen Him laugh, yet his manners are modest and wise, a man for his extraordinary beauty and divine perfection, surpassing the children of men in every sense.”

There you have it‑‑a description said to have been written by an eyewitness in the first century.  When you close your eyes and concentrate on what has just been described, a lovely image comes to your mind.  You can almost see Him, right?  But the question is, “Can we believe that the record which I just shared with you is authentic or, no matter how nostalgic and how lovely, must we write this description off as a clever forgery?”  As much as scholars would like to accept it as genuine, it is generally believed to have been brought to the Vatican about the 9th century at a period of time when religious relics were at their peak.  Human nature being what it is, we seem to always want to help God out.  Yet, the spirit of what an unknown author wrote is consistent with the record of the four Gospels.

Each of the writers of the Gospels reflected a different point of view.  The tax‑collector, Matthew, wrote from a very Jewish point of reference while Mark reflected more of a Roman viewpoint.  Luke, the Gentile physician, who was probably from Syria, presented Christ as the perfect man, reflecting a Grecian viewpoint.  John, whose Gospel describes events taking place in 21 days in the life of Jesus, spoke of Jesus as the Son of God‑‑the Savior for all men of all ages.

Taking what the four wrote in a composite, there is a great deal of information, yet no actual description of what Jesus really looked like.  Why?  Apparently God wanted us to realize that what Jesus did is far more important than what He looked like, and for this reason no artist ever gave to posterity an actual painting of the face of Jesus.  No sculptor ever left His features chiseled in stone or cast in bronze, but the world will never escape the fact that He lived, died, and rose again. Yes, indeed!

From the impressions made on the walls of the catacombs of Rome to the mansions of the wealthy, Jesus Christ has been the inspiration for the world’s great art, and the face of Jesus has been the inspiration of all the world’s great artists.  Rubens, Raphael, DaVinci, Titian, Michelangelo, and thousands of others, have all taken brush and pallet in hand and painted the face of Jesus as they pictured it in their mind.  The painting of the face of Christ done by Warner Sallman hangs in many homes, yet, when I finally cross heaven’s threshold, for some reason, I do not expect Christ to look just like the person portrayed by the artists.

Visit St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and there you will find the famous painting by Holman Hunt where Christ stands at the door and knocks.  But what does Christ really look like?

If you really want an answer, you must turn to the pages of the Gospels and read what His biographers wrote.  These were men who walked with Jesus for three years and experienced the impact of His life on theirs.  “But did they actually tell us what Jesus looked like?” you may be asking yourself.  No, but they did give to all mankind profiles of the face of Jesus, profiles which allow us to see beneath the actual physiognomy and discover the real man.

The images which your mind’s eye may develop may be different from mine, but the person will be the same.  As I read the Gospels and ask myself what Jesus looked like, the first profile that comes together in my mind’s eye is a profile of compassion.  Jesus reached out to men and women neglected and ignored by others, and felt what they felt.  He suffered as they suffered.  He touched the untouchables such as the leper, the widow, the blind beggar, the outcasts of society‑‑men and women with whom I can identify.

Another profile that becomes apparent is that of tenderness.  Unlike weakness, tenderness reveals sensitivity.  He related to children, yet was a man’s man who could take a whip and drive the money changers from the temple.  His face undoubtedly revealed strength of character and firmness.  No weak‑kneed, emasculated character who had lace on his handkerchief, Jesus had depth of personality that revealed real love for men and women.

Other profiles I see are purity, suffering, compelling love, justice, empathy and a score of other virtues and emotions.  When I see Jesus I do not expect to see a halo about His head or a crown of thorns on His brow.  Neither do I expect someone to take me by the hand and lead me over, saying, “Sala, I want to introduce you to Jesus.”  You see, at the age of 12 someone introduced me to Him; and though I have never seen Him in the flesh, I know Him, for He has walked with me and guided my life.  John, the same one who wrote the Gospel that bears his name, said, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2, KJV).

Jesus Christ has become all things to all races and all people, the reflection of our own faces, the image of ourselves, and rightly so.  But to all, He is the Son of God who became flesh and lived among us.  He’s the glory of the Father, the second Person of the Trinity, the One who ever lives to intercede for those who will believe in Him.

How do you picture Jesus?  Make sure that what comes to your mind, comes firsthand.

Tell me about how I can go to Heaven!!!

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