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What’s wrong with “Jesus pictures”?

Question: As much as Tomorrow’s World claims to be a Christian organization, I have never once seen it use any pictures, artwork, or graphics depicting Jesus Christ, even though many other religious publications do. Why is that?

Answer: Although artists have long depicted Jesus Christ, and fanciful images of Him abound today—in and around cathedrals, churches, art museums, literature, religious documents, and in peoples’ homes—they are most certainly false representations.

No contemporary pictures of Jesus Christ are extant, nor are physical descriptions of what He looked like. Only one Old Testament scripture prophesied about His earthly appearance, when Isaiah wrote of Him long before His life as a man: “He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2).

Artists throughout history have produced images of a “religious-looking” figure with long hair, white robes, and a sorrowful expression—usually of the race and physical attributes admired in their time and culture. Many also include pagan symbols introduced to the Christian-professing world long after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

These so-called pictures or statues of Christ, in addition to popularizing the previously mentioned inaccuracies, portray a man with soft and effeminate features. However, as a young carpenter working outdoors, Jesus was undoubtedly very masculine in appearance, and would have cut His hair according to the custom of most Jewish men of the day. One of Christ’s later apostles even taught against men having long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14). This evidence, combined with the scripture quoted from Isaiah 53:2, leads us to understand that Jesus was a normal-looking Jew of His day, one you might not even pick out of a crowd under normal circumstances. Indeed, on one occasion, He even escaped from a mob by blending into the crowd (Luke 4:28–30). That the gospel writers never described His earthly appearance in detail further confirms that this was not a matter of religious importance.

Furthermore, there is every reason not to portray Him.

Jesus’ true first-century followers, certainly those from among the Jews throughout the Roman Empire, would have condemned portrayals of Him as idolatry. This would have been due to their understanding of the second commandment, which Jesus Himself instructed should be kept alongside the other nine (Exodus 20:4–6; Matthew 19:17; see also Revelation 12:17; 14:12). The eventual development of the use of images of Jesus Christ or God the Father was very controversial, but resistance collapsed under the pressure of pagan ideas and human creativity. Nevertheless, the commandment against idol-worship and “graven images” still stands.

Part of what violates God’s clear commandment against idolatry is the vain act of using our limited human faculties to depict what we “think” our God and Savior should look like, which can in turn lead us to focus on wrong and untruthful ideas. Perhaps this is the reason why so many false representations of Jesus depict Him as belonging to the race of the artists themselves—an absurdity, however innocently committed, that in turn serves to confuse countless people across the generations.

Regardless of the reasoning, even a humble picture of a Jewish carpenter would only draw attention to His earthly body, destined for horrific disfigurement and death. The Bible’s description of the glorified and risen Jesus Christ speaks of a powerful figure Who defies imagination: “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire… His voice as the sound of many waters… and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength” (Revelation 1:14–16).

Because of the clear instruction of the second commandment, and our focus on delivering the message of Jesus Christ our Savior, soon to return as the glorified “King of kings,” Tomorrow’s World avoids the trap of presenting the “artistic”—but ultimately false—Jesus with which so many are familiar. Why settle for anything less than one day to see our God and Savior in person?

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