We’re all curious about what he looked like aren’t we? Since there were no cameras or portrait artists then what did he look like and how will we know him when we see him?
Over the ages some have claimed to have seen Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, in a vision or dream sometimes describing him as having white skin, long, soft beige hair and blue or pink eyes and a gentle demeanor, kind of a compassionate surfer type. You’ve probably seen pictures of him just like that. I know I have.
The Shroud of Turin supposedly has the face of Jesus on it. In lots of churches one can see portraits, statutes and stained glass images of Him. The Veil of Veronica claimed to have his face on it. What is the Veil of Veronica?
Well, the story goes that a woman named Veronica saw the bloodied and beaten Jesus carrying his cross along the streets of Jerusalem on his way to Calvary. She felt compassion for him and when he paused from exhaustion she used her veil to wipe the blood and sweat off his face and his facial image was imprinted it. The legend continues with her going to Rome and presenting it to the Roman Emperor Tiberius claiming it had miraculous properties, able to quench thirst, cure blindness, and sometimes even raise the dead.
These examples and so many more are well-intentioned but not Scripture based as we shall soon see. They all have a grain of truth to them no doubt but none of them are the absolute picture of Him. But are pictures of Jesus even allowed in the word of God? Isn’t there a warning in Exodus 20, about making graven images in wood or stone (the common mediums used in the day) of God?
Catholics say no. Martin Luther agreed with them but John Calvin said they were wrong. The 2nd Commandment is to make no graven image for anything in heaven above, underground or in the water and worship it.1 One would think that would end the efforts to put a face to Him but obviously it hasn’t.
The earliest generations of Christians obeyed God’s directive scratching only bible verses or emblems of the faith such as the cross, the fish, and the Alpha and Omega on walls of the caves they hid in but never images of Him. Then along came the 3rd Century, eventually Roman Catholicism and Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, an image of God as an old man reaching out and almost touching the forefinger of humanity on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
Hollywood’s Jesus Images & The Sinfulness of Limiting His Stature
You’ve probably seen all the Hollywood variations of the Gospel account. It is said that the actors who’ve portrayed Jesus wished they hadn’t because they’re often approached by fans who think they’re actually him. Just imagine the expectations of people who think that you’re the savior of all mankind! Yet none of their portrayals of Christ, nor the portraits, nor the paintings and the statutes, all bearing a likeness of the common acceptance of what He looked like, none of them are reality based!
Some movie Biblical epics didn’t show the face of the actors portraying Yeshua. Examples are the 1953 “The Robe” and the ’59 version of “Ben Hur, a Tale of the Christ.” I like to think the big decision makers behind them were obeying the lessons of the commandment; understanding that He is spirit and any representation of Him only limits his stature.
The Best Guess Based Upon Scripture, Science & Observance
So man naturally, who does not fear God, ignores that it’s a sin anyway. Our sinful desires want clues or hints about what Jesus looked like.
So if we’re to push on with pondering about his appearance let’s assume He may have resembled his mother, Mary, though of course we don’t know what she looked like. He may have resembled his half-brothers and sisters.
Archeologists have firmly established that the average build of the average Semite male in Jesus’ time was 5 ft. 1 in. with an average weight of 110 pounds. It’s fair to assume that Jesus would have been a bit out of the ordinary because he certainly would have had a manliness about him from his years of carpentry work.
Look closely at any carpenter. If he’s been at it for a while he probably has very strong hands and arms. He is likely very tanned from working outdoors. Jesus of Nazareth probably had these qualities too plus he was well conditioned overall physically from walking in the countryside during his ministry. Also, carpenters in those days did all their work by hand, unlike now with motorized tools. They took what we consider boulders and chiseled and cut them to a finished product. So Jesus was very probably a man’s man.
What About His Hair?
Many think he had long hair claiming He was a Nazirite bound by a vow to never cut it and avoid wine2 when he wasn’t! He was a Nazarene meaning only that he grew up in Nazareth and he drank wine.3
1 Corinthians 11:14, tells us that outside of a Nazirite vow it was a dishonoring thing for an Israelite man to have long hair so Jesus like all men may have kept his short but not shaven. Shaving one’s head was something only pagans did. He definitely had a beard as Scripture tells us.4
As for his hair color was it black? Not necessarily, some Jews had black hair but others didn’t. For instance the late, great comedic actor and dancer Danny Kaye was Jewish. He had red hair. In fact the name Esau means “reddish-brown” and the descendants of Esau had natural hair color like that.
We have no indication that he had any scars, blemishes or afflictions before the crucifixion. He had no handicaps so in the human form he was probably absolutely perfect but Scripture gives no indication that he was a handsome man.
The Bible often describes who was handsome. For instance King David, King Saul, and Absalom were all described that way but not Jesus. Remember the account of how Judas would tell the Romans and the Temple soldiers who Jesus was by kissing him in the Garden of Gethsemane? Apparently, Jesus was an individual that on looks alone didn’t stand out. He blended in with his disciples in terms of facial appearance.
The Best Guess of His Countenance
If we were to hire a biblical minded artist to give us a portrait of Jesus of Nazareth, imagine what he would come up with. Artists as you know don’t just attempt to paint a picture of a human subject. They try to capture that person’s “countenance,” you know, the subject’s character onto the canvas.
In the case of Jesus’ we would see honesty, humility, a loving face, but one with wisdom, kindness, patience, and strength. His face would also have a spiritual courage, a certain holiness, purity, confidence and above all authority. Wouldn’t He also have a look of seriousness?
Scripture tells us he would have looked serious5 for he was a man acquainted with grief, a man of sorrows. Our eyes couldn’t help but to be trained on his. They surely told about his character. How does that saying go? “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” Jesus would have had honest but piercing eyes the kind that looked right into someone’s soul.
He didn’t have a halo or a bright light coming from his face like he’s so often depicted. He didn’t exude glory and light from himself except for one occasion: the transfiguration6, when he showed Peter, James and John just a glimpse of his full deity.
Conversely, on the cross he underwent a transmogrification. As he was hanging there an ugliness from the pain, the suffering and the infinite sins of humanity that he brought upon himself was on display. “And when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.” “And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him.7” Seeing Him on the cross in his humanity must have been like seeing someone who has been horribly disfigured from a fire or other terrible injury making you want to naturally look away.
We Will Eventually See Him Personally
When we do eventually see Him for final judgment his full deity will be displayed before us. The apostle who Christ loved, John saw Him that way in a vision and has described what he saw.
He will be wearing a royal robe, girthed with a golden band. He’ll have hair white as snow. His eyes will look like flames of fire. When he speaks his voice will sound so powerful, that it will be like standing right next to two or more Niagara Falls!8
Remember that in his effort to describe Jesus, John was using metaphors. He was grasping for words to describe what he saw. Does it read like Jesus is the meek and mild god that so many make him up to be in their minds or in pictures, the movies? Jesus’ humanity which was no doubt a manly one was there yet his deity was too and it dominated his appearance.
For now John’s description is the what we should consider the most reliable. Perhaps it’s for the best. After all, building and sustaining our faith shouldn’t be based upon an image of Him but rather the written word about Him. Oh, and one other thing- God never rescinded his command in Exodus 20:4. Let’s curb our curiosity about his appearance and dwell on His lessons for life shall we?
1. Exodus 20:4
2. Numbers 6:4
3. Matthew 11:19
4. Isaiah 50:6
5. Isaiah 53:3
6. Matthew 17:2
7. Isaiah 53:2-3
8. Revelation 1:12-17
Justin Taylor, “What Did Jesus Look Like?” thegospelcoalition.org, 7/9/10.
Jack Wellman, “What Did Jesus Really Look Like? A Look at the Bible Facts.” whatchristianswantoknow.com, 12/12/13.
Pastor Curt Daniel, Faith Bible Church, “What did Jesus Look Like?” A lesson by Dr. Curt Daniel of Faith Bible church, Springfield, Illinois