One day in Sunday School, a child was sketching a picture. “Who’s picture are you drawing?” asked the teacher. “It’s a picture of Jesus,” replied the child. “But no one really knows what Jesus looked like,” the teacher said. “They will when I get done,” she replied.
Among people known to us, when a name is mentioned, a face immediately comes to mind. Although we cannot see the actual face of Jesus while we are here on earth, the mention of His personal name stirs feelings and emotions about Him. But it is not the historical Jesus that we seek, but a more intimate knowledge of our personal Savior. It is His dynamic attributes and qualities that form the picture of His face within us. The desire to connect our lives with His compels us to form His photo in our minds; yet the snapshot is hazy.
All four Gospel accounts were written within fifty years of the Crucifixion, yet none give a physical description of Christ. Though statuary and coinage abound with faces of Romans and Greeks from that era, no coin or statue in that day bore the face of the Savior of the world. We know details about the face of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius and Charlemagne. But concerning the One whose image millions would love to see, we have no details. Since Jesus was born, no painting or portrait has ever been authenticated as an exact likeness of Him. Jesus’ disciples were not artists. In fact, the Old Testament forbade the making of graven images of any symbol of divinity (Exodus 20:4). Out of respect for God’s holy law, Jews did not sculpt or paint.
Being Jewish, His skin tone would be somewhat brown not white. His face would most resemble Mary’s, not Joseph’s since God Himself was His Father. If the Gospel writers would have depicted a harsh visage, we might have imagined He was mean. If they had described Him as having soft facial features, we might have viewed Him as weak. But since nothing is said about the shape of His face, every gender, ethnicity and age group can use their imagination to put a face on our beloved Jesus.
We have some idea of His habits, but not a single allusion to His facial appearance. His weathered face doubtless had an energy of expression. His nature was gentle, yet He suffered great injustices. He was sympathetic, yet He abhorred sin. He loved His Father as only the Son of God could love Him. Jesus’ eyes were probably brown, like his Jewish mother. We must assume Jesus looked at people when He spoke to them. We know He “looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61) when Peter betrayed Him. The Greek term implies that He “looked through Peter.” His looks were often compassionate (Luke 10:33), but there were times when Jesus was grieved with heard-heartedness. “He looked on them with anger, grieved for their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5). What angers Jesus is apathy and indifference toward the needs of others.
“The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). But to the people of His day, He appeared as an ordinary citizen. Isaiah tells us that He had no special features which would make Him stand out in a crowd (53:1-2). We don’t know how tall Jesus was, if His hair was black or brown, His physique or His shoe size. We don’t know His favorite color or His favorite foods. He had no hobbies. He looked like a man and acted like a man. But He was the perfect man. Unbelievers often refer to God as the generic “man upstairs,” but Believers desire to see Him “face to face” (I Cor. 13:13). Isaiah prophesied that men would rip the beard from the Messiah’s face (50:6) and that He would be spit upon (Mark 14:65 and 15:19). Some wonder why the soldiers covered His face when they mocked and struck Him saying, “Prophecy who just hit you!” (Mark 14:65). Perhaps it was hard for them to look on a face of perfect serenity and innocence.
Jesus seemed to enjoy everyday life. The first stop in His ministry was a wedding. Although He rebuked gluttony and self-indulgence, He never scolded anyone for innocent enjoyment. He rebuked the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, but ate at the home of one. It was only with superficial religion that He took issue. He moved freely among people of all classes: rabbis and tax collectors, the poor and the rich, fishermen and Roman officials, children and the aged. Although He guarded His solitude, He loved to talk with people. He roamed the countryside, sleeping where people offered Him a mat.
Isaiah described the Messiah as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), but that does not imply that Jesus was grim-faced or moody. Had He not been somewhat cheerful much of the time, He would never have fit in so well with the common people. There is no record that anyone ever told Him a joke or that He ever told one. We have no reason to believe that Jesus ever lost His composure. He was never shocked by the actions of others, “for He knew what was in man” (John 2:25; Luke 6:8). At no time did the Master ever become fearful. In fact, He urged others to “Fear not” (Matt. 10:31; Luke 8:50). What Jesus said and did gives us a glimpse of God Himself; for He said, “He that has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). “He took children into His arms, put His hands upon them and blessed them” (Mark 10:16). John, the beloved disciple, “leaned on His chest at supper” (John 21:20). If Jesus had not been a loving person, that kind of familiarity would have been impossible. His gentle manner and natural charisma made Him both appealing and accessible to all peoples. Since no words can fully describe Him, the Gospel writers do not even try.
We would lose more than we would gain by trying to paint Him, for no artist could do Him justice. If we had His photo, how many eccentrics would get an “extreme makeover” and attempt to look exactly like Him? The Gospels were not written as journals or diaries, but they provide a picture of Jesus’ disposition, deportment and attitude. They tell us what He did and the rest of the New Testament tells us why. We need to know His personality, not His specific physical features. Isaiah 33:17 promises that “Your eyes shall see the King in His beauty.” Part of our reward in heaven will be to actually see our blessed Savior. For now, we must picture Him with the traits that prompted children to run to Him, that made a woman want to clutch His robe, that caused holy women to follow Him to His death and resurrection, that won the hearts of blind men, lepers and beggars—and our hearts as well. If we want our curiosity satisfied concerning the face of Jesus, we must stay true and pass through the gates of Heaven. On that day when He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” I’m sure He will be smiling (Matt.25:21). Only there can we claim the last promise in the Bible, “We shall see His face” (Rev. 22:4).