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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Existence of Jesus Christ

Don Stewart :: What Did Jesus Look Like?

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What Did Jesus Look Like?

The Existence of Jesus Christ – Question 12

A question that is asked frequently concerns the physical appearance of Jesus Christ. People wonder if Scripture gives any direct testimony as to what Jesus looked liked physically. The answer is, “No.” There is nothing in the Bible that describes the physical characteristics of Jesus. There are, however, a few indirect references that give us some idea of what He looked like. We can make the following observations.

1. His Appearance Was Not Outstanding

We can surmise from the Scripture that Jesus was not outstanding in His appearance. He was probably of average size for a man living in His day. We can deduce this from the record of His betrayal. Judas Iscariot made a pact to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. The chief priests and religious rulers wanted to be sure they had the right man:

Judas had told them ahead of time, “Arrest the man I greet with a kiss.” (Matthew 26:48 CEV)

If Jesus had been above average in height or had some outstanding physical characteristic, then it is hard to imagine why Judas needed to point Him out. Jesus obviously did not stand out that strikingly in a group of eleven other men.

2. He Was Mistaken for a Gardener

At His resurrection, Mary Magdalene first thought Jesus was the gardener. We read in John’s gospel,

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:14, 15 NRSV)

Again, if He had some unmistakable physical characteristic, whether Jesus being very tall or very short, then it would be difficult to imagine Him being mistaken for a gardener. Even though Mary was not expecting a resurrected Christ, any outstanding physical characteristic would probably have been noticed right away. The fact that she did not immediately know Him seems to further indicate that there was nothing extraordinary about His appearance.

3. He Was Not Ugly or Deformed

Some take the prophecy that Isaiah makes of the coming Messiah to indicate He was ugly or deformed. It reads as follows:

Like a young plant or a root that sprouts in dry ground, the servant grew up obeying the LORD. He wasn’t some handsome king. Nothing about the way he looked made him attractive to us. (Isaiah 53:2 CEV)

But this prophecy more likely refers either to the battered condition of His body while on the cross. It may be a reference that He was merely average in His looks. It does not necessarily mean that He was somehow deformed in appearance.

Moreover, it does not explain why Jesus had to be singled out of a crowd of people. If He were somehow deformed, there would have been no need for a sign from Judas.

Also the Scripture tells us that little children came to Jesus of their own accord. Usually children are afraid of someone who has a physical deformity because of a natural fear of the unknown. This would further indicate that there was nothing unusual about Jesus’ appearance.

In the Old Testament, the sacrificial lamb was to be without spot or blemish. This was a picture of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who was the perfect sacrifice for our sin. Although the perfection of Jesus was spiritual, that is, He did not have any sin, it might also have reference to His physical characteristics. But of this point we cannot be sure. Therefore, we cannot make any definite conclusions.

Some Ancient Testimony to the Likeness of Jesus

We have some ancient testimony to the making of a physical likeness of Jesus. They include the following.

1. Was a Statue of Jesus Made?

There is the testimony of the early church father Eusebius that a statue of Jesus had been made by the woman whom Jesus healed from hemorrhaging. He said that he had seen this statue of Jesus in the city of Caesarea Philippi. The statue was ordered destroyed by order of the anti-Christian Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate.

2. Was a Portrait of Jesus Made?

There is also ancient testimony that Luke, the author of the third gospel, painted a portrait of Jesus. The early church father Eusebius mentions this as having occurred. Nothing is known as to what happened to this portrait.

3. What about the Shroud of Turin?

We also have the mysterious Shroud of Turin, the purported burial cloth of Christ. If this is the actually burial cloth of Jesus, then we have an actual representation of what He looked like. However, the Shroud has not been proven to be the actual burial cloth of Christ. The subject of the Shroud continues to be an intriguing mystery with experts either arguing for its authenticity or its fraudulent nature.

Scripture Emphasizes the Inward Character, Not the Outward Appearance

The fact that the New Testament gives us no description of Jesus illustrates a biblical truth. God is more interested in the behavior of a person than how they look. In the Old Testament, the Lord said the following to the prophet Samuel:

But the LORD told him, “Samuel, don’t think Eliab is the one just because he’s tall and handsome. He isn’t the one I’ve chosen. People judge others by what they look like, but I judge people by what is in their hearts.” (1 Samuel 16:7 CEV)

No matter what Jesus looked like on the outside, He was certainly the most beautiful Person who has ever existed.

Summary – Question 12
What Did Jesus Look Like?

Though Jesus Christ was God Himself who became an actual human being we do not know what His physical appearance was like. Indeed, there are no direct descriptions of Jesus in the Scripture. The Bible is more concerned about who He was as a Person than His outer appearance. Hence we have no physical description. However we can infer that He was not extraordinary in His looks.

At the time of His betrayal, He had to be picked out of a crowd of ten other men. It is hard to imagine the necessity of Judas pointing Him out if He were a head taller or shorter than the rest of the disciples.

On the day of His resurrection, Mary Magdalene mistook Him for the gardener. Again, if Jesus were in any manner deformed, or exceedingly short or tall, it would not be likely that she did not immediately recognize Him. This is further indication that there was nothing outstanding in His physical appearance.

Interestingly, there are accounts from church historians that likenesses of Jesus were made. We are told that the woman whom Jesus healed from hemorrhaging made a statue of Him. In addition, Luke, the author of the third gospel, is said to have painted a portrait of Jesus. However, nothing remains of these likenesses. Some believe that the mysterious shroud of Turin is the actual burial cloth of Christ. If so, then we do have a likeness of Him. However, as intriguing as it is, the shroud has never been proven to be authentic.

Thus, anything we can know about Jesus’ physical appearance is only from inference. This indicates that the outward appearance was not that crucial. What was important was what was on the inside—in His heart. The Bible describes that part of Him as absolute perfection.

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