What Did Jesus Really Look Like?
No one has a photograph of Jesus. He never posed for a portrait or a sculpture. Still, he has appeared in the works of countless artists throughout the centuries.
Of course, those artists did not know what Jesus really looked like. Prevailing culture, religious beliefs, and the wishes of their patrons often dictated how the artists portrayed Jesus. Even so, their imagery could influence, even blur, people’s view of Jesus and his teachings.
Some artists depicted Jesus as a frail weakling with long hair and a thin beard or emphasized a look of melancholy. In other presentations, Jesus appears supernatural, adorned with a halo, or distant from those around him. Do such portrayals correctly characterize Jesus? How can we find out? One way is to examine statements in the Bible that can shed some light on what he might have looked like. They can also help us to have the correct view of him.
“YOU PREPARED A BODY FOR ME”
Those are words that Jesus uttered in prayer apparently at the time of his baptism. (Hebrews 10:5; Matthew 3:13-17) What did that body look like? Some 30 years earlier, the angel Gabriel had revealed to Mary: “You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, . . . God’s Son.” (Luke 1:31, 35) Thus, Jesus was a perfect man, as was Adam at his creation. (Luke 3:38; 1 Corinthians 15:45) Jesus must have been a well-formed man, and he probably had features similar to those of his Jewish mother, Mary.
Jesus wore a beard, as was customary among Jews in contrast to Romans. Such beards were a symbol of dignity and respectability; they were not long and unkempt. Jesus undoubtedly attended to or trimmed his beard and had his hair neatly clipped. Only those set aside as Nazirites, such as Samson, did not cut their hair.—Numbers 6:5; Judges 13:5.
For the better part of 30 years, Jesus was a carpenter, working without the benefit of modern power tools. (Mark 6:3) He, therefore, must have had a sturdy build. Early in his ministry, he single-handedly “drove all those with the sheep and cattle out of the temple, and he poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” (John 2:14-17) It takes a strong and powerful man to perform that feat. Jesus used the body that God had prepared for him to fulfill his God-given commission: “I must also declare the good news of the Kingdom of God to other cities, because for this I was sent.” (Luke 4:43) It took extraordinary stamina to travel throughout Palestine on foot and declare this message.
“COME TO ME, . . . AND I WILL REFRESH YOU”
Jesus’ warm countenance and appealing demeanor must have made this invitation particularly attractive to those “toiling and loaded down.” (Matthew 11:28-30) His warmth and kindness underscored his promise of refreshment for those willing to learn from him. Even young ones wanted to be close to Jesus, for the Bible says: “He took the children into his arms.”—Mark 10:13-16.
Though Jesus did experience agony before his death, he was not a melancholic individual. For example, he contributed to festivities at a marriage feast in Cana by changing water into fine wine. (John 2:1-11) At other gatherings he taught never-to-be-forgotten lessons.—Matthew 9:9-13; John 12:1-8.
Above all, Jesus’ preaching put the joyful prospect of everlasting life within the reach of his listeners. (John 11:25, 26; 17:3) When 70 of his disciples reported their preaching experiences, he became “overjoyed” and exclaimed: “Rejoice because your names have been written in the heavens.”—Luke 10:20, 21.
“YOU, THOUGH, ARE NOT TO BE THAT WAY”
Religious leaders of Jesus’ day contrived ways to draw attention to themselves and underscore their authority. (Numbers 15:38-40; Matthew 23:5-7) Unlike them, Jesus instructed his apostles not to “lord it over” others. (Luke 22:25, 26) In fact, Jesus warned: “Beware of the scribes who want to walk around in robes and want greetings in the marketplaces.”—Mark 12:38.
By contrast, Jesus blended in with the crowd, unrecognized on occasion. (John 7:10, 11) Even among his 11 faithful apostles, he did not stand out physically. The betrayer Judas resorted to a kiss, “an agreed sign,” to identify Jesus to the mob.—Mark 14:44, 45.
So while many details are unknown, it is evident that Jesus did not look the way he has often been portrayed. More important than what he really looked like, however, is how we view him now.
“IN A LITTLE WHILE THE WORLD WILL SEE ME NO MORE”
Within the day that he uttered those words, Jesus was dead and buried. (John 14:19) He gave his life as “a ransom in exchange for many.” (Matthew 20:28) On the third day, God resurrected him “in the spirit” and “allowed him to become manifest” to some of his disciples. (1 Peter 3:18; Acts 10:40) How did Jesus look when he appeared to his disciples then? Apparently quite different from his original appearance, for even his closest associates did not immediately recognize him. Mary Magdalene took him for a gardener; and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, for a stranger.—Luke 24:13-18; John 20:1, 14, 15.
How should we picture Jesus today? Over 60 years after Jesus’ death, the beloved apostle John saw visions of Jesus. John did not see a dying figure on a cross. Rather, he saw the “King of kings and Lord of lords,” the King of God’s Kingdom, who will soon conquer God’s enemies, both demonic and human, and bring everlasting blessings to mankind.—Revelation 19:16; 21:3, 4.