What Did Jesus Really Look Like?

What did Jesus actually look like? Do we know for sure?

Abraham’s Call

There has been no small controversy over what Jesus looked like. It all began in Genesis chapter 12 with Abram’s call (later changed to Abraham) and the origin of the children of Israel. It all started when “the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen 12:1-2). There is no evidence that Abram ever hesitated or talked it over with his parents or friends. Amazingly, all it says is “Abram went, as the Lord had told him” (Gen 12:4). So Abram left all he knew; his home, his family, his work, his friends, his old pagan worship, and everything familiar to him and went to a place he had never seen before and didn’t know what to expect.

Jacob and Judah

During a severe famine, Jacob, later renamed Israel, had to move his family to Egypt in order to survive, but this was part of the sovereign plan of God where “God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation” (Gen 46:2-3). The growth of this “great nation” would take over 400 years, so Jacob “sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen. Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while” (Gen 46:28-29). Then, “Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from the presence of Pharaoh. Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents” (Gen 47:10-12). This is where the nation of Israel would grow but eventually fall into slavery, only to be rescued by God through Moses during the exodus.

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What Did Jesus Look Like?

The earliest surviving paintings of Jesus come from the first half of the 3rd century where some paintings were discovered in the ruins of ancient Dura-Europos which was located on the Euphrates River. It depicts Jesus as having no beard and short hair. Of course, this is contrary to the images we see of Jesus today as He’s depicted as having a long beard with long, flowing hair, but is that accurate? It may not be. Most men in the first century Greco-Roman world were clean shaven and had short hair. Paul, who was taught by Jesus (Gal 1:12), wrote that it was a shame for a man to have long hair (1st Cor 11:14), so it seems unlikely that Jesus would have had long hair after having taught Paul to that it’s to a man’s shame to have long hair, so the images of Jesus with long, flowing hair and a long beard may not be true and it seems unlikely because of the way the first century Jews dressed. A beard was not distinctive of being a Jew in Jesus’ day. The Bible actually describes Jesus’ appearance, saying “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2), so there was obviously nothing special in Jesus’ physical appearance, since He was “as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3). There are some images of bearded Jewish men on Roman coins found after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, but these were always short beards, and the Jewish men almost always had short hair, so most Jewish males in Jesus’ day had no beards and short hair.

Does it Matter?

No, I don’t believe it matters what Jesus looked like in His humanity. It does matter what He looks like at His second coming, as He will split the sky with His appearance someday, coming in great power and glory on the clouds, representing His Shekinah glory. That image is really what should drive people who have not yet repented to do so today (2nd Cor 6:2), and then put their trust in Christ. The believer will rejoice in that day, but the unbelievers will mourn because they know their judgement has come (Rev 20:12-15). The Apostle John wrote: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen” (Rev 1:7). We know that Jesus is in His full glory today as He sits at the right hand of the Father, but there is a day when He returns to judge all who refuse to believe, but for the children of God, He will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:21).

Conclusion

The conclusion is we just don’t know what Jesus looked like, but the Apostle John writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1st John 3:2), so we will know someday and “see him as he is.” Most likely He looked like any other Jew of His day, and like all Jews, He had olive skin and dark hair. Other than Isaiah’s writings, we just don’t know. We know He was from the Tribe of Judah and was of the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David, and probably looked very similar in skin color and appearance. We also know that Jesus was a carpenter for at least a decade before He began His earthly ministry at age 30, and since carpentry in that day involved huge timbers and boulders, we can assume Jesus was a very muscular man. No other human could have survived the scourging by the Roman’s and then the crucifixion after that.

May God richly bless you,

Pastor Jack Wellman

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