What did Jesus Look Like?

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote the musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ in the 1970’s. One of the songs is attributed to Judas, who criticises Jesus for some of his decisions.

 ‘If you’d come today, you would have reached a whole nation
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.’[1]

The point being made is that if Jesus had been born in the 1970’s, he would have been able to use contemporary technologies (Photography, TV and radio) to reach a whole nation. If we follow that thought through, obviously, if he had been born today (2022) he would have had access to every kind of digital media which would have provided global coverage in an instant. Jesus, or at least some of His followers, would have been all over Tik Tok, Snapchat and worse. For better or worse, everything that Jesus said and did would have gone viral.

Personally, I think God got it right. There are lots of reasons why I’m particularly pleased that God chose to send His Son to Palestine when he did. I’m only going to mention one.

Let’s face it, Jesus went viral – remains viral – in spite of what we regard as the lack of technology available in 1st Century Palestine. That would mean that we would all know exactly what he looked like. And that would have caused all kinds of problems. So much of our cultural baggage would get in the way that we would struggle to get the message at all.

     1st Century Galilean Man – See Footnote below

I really celebrate the fact that we have absolutely no idea what Jesus looked like. Of course that hasn’t stopped generations of artists producing pictures and sculptures of him, but the one thing we can say with confidence is that they’re all flawed. Jesus did not look like any of them Forget the idolised Victorian images with which many of us grew up. And He certainly did not look like the enigmatic face which stares out from the Turin shroud.

Preachers sometimes invite us to wonder about our reaction if Jesus knocked on the door of our home or walked in to our Church. I imagine that part of our reaction might be that he didn’t look anything like we expected.

Of course the importance of Jesus is not what he looked like. It’s who He was. He was a divisive figure. It was his character, his confidence, his lifestyle, his teaching, his power, and his presence which caused ripples of love and fear in his own society, and which continue to do so throughout the world today.

Jesus was a fulfilment of prophecy. One of which was, ‘He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.’ (Isaiah 53:2)

There were no cameras around to record what this incredible, world changing man looked like. I think that was part of God’s plan.

Jesus was someone who could be trusted. He was a man of compassion. He was a man who offered direction and inspired hope. These are the qualities which encouraged people to follow him. These are the qualities which have inspired generations of people to follow Him. These are the qualities which lead 2.38 billion people worldwide follow Him today.

 (Footnote: In 2001 forensic anthropologist Richard Neave created a model of a Galilean man for a BBC documentary, Son of God, working on the basis of an actual skull found in the region. He did not claim it was Jesus’s face. It was simply meant to prompt people to consider Jesus as being a man of his time and place, (What did Jesus really look like? – BBC News))

[1] Jesus Christ Superstar Original Studio Cast – Superstar Lyrics | Genius Lyrics

Richard Jackson is the Director of LifePicture UK. He is exploring what it is like to live as a contemplative evangelical.

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