There’s an interesting new book out by Joan Taylor, a professor of Christian origins and Second Temple Judaism at King’s College in London.
It’s called “What Did Jesus Look Like?”
“Everyone knows how to recognize Jesus,” she writes. “He is portrayed in art, film and literature in much the same way. His image is found repeatedly in countless churches and Christian buildings. He is usually somewhat European: a man with nut-brown hair (sometimes blond) and light brown or blue eyes. He has a long face and nose, and long hair and a beard. His clothes are also long: a tunic down to the ground, with wide baggy sleeves, and a large mantle. He is fairly well-tended (combed hair, good teeth, clean), and his clothes look newly washed.”
Taylor goes on to deconstruct all that, because, as we all know, there are no photographs or contemporary drawings of Jesus or even much in the way of physical descriptions in the Bible – and, of course, He was a Middle Eastern Jewish man, not a European.
The most vivid physical description of Jesus comes from the prophet Isaiah, who lived 700 years before the Messiah was born: “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him,” we’re told in Isaiah 53:2-3. “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Emphasis added.)
Would I like to know what Jesus looks life?
Sure, I would. Who wouldn’t?
But I think a better question is whether most Christians will recognize Him when He comes, not by the clothes He wears, the color of His hair and eyes, His skin tone, nor His height and weight. As I wrote in my most recent book, “The Restitution of All Things: Israel, Christians and the End of the Age,” my question is whether the Jesus we envision through our pre-conceived notions of who He is, what He taught and what His future Kingdom will be like match scriptural reality.
There is a precedent that concerns me. When Jesus came the first time, those you might expect to recognize their Messiah, most of the reining Jewish religious authorities, did not. They rejected Him. He was not what they were expecting – the anticipated conquering king who would restore the glory of Israel, which suffered under the yoke of pagan Roman tyranny.
My guess is that most Christians anticipating His return may be expecting the Jesus who came in the first century – the “suffering servant,” or, perhaps, the one who resembles the “European Jesus” of so many works of art and movies.
It should not be difficult to recognize Him when He returns if we read the Bible. It tells us how He will return and what the world will be like when He does. Yet, Jesus Himself warned about the great deceptions that would occur before His return.
“Take heed that no man deceive you,” He said in Matthew 24:4-5. “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.”
In other words, before He returns, there will be pretenders, deceivers, false messiahs.
In addition, the same people who missed Jesus’ first coming had deceived themselves by setting up a religious system that directly contradicted Scripture by adding laws based on their own precepts and traditions.
In my book, I suggest that many who profess to be followers of Jesus today are doing something eerily similar – deceiving themselves by reinventing Jesus through their own precepts and traditions, not by adding to the law but by subtracting from it.
Leviticus 12:32 warns: “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.”
Maybe that caution from the Almighty God is there for a reason.