There is a man whose image has been printed, painted, sculpted, modeled, tattooed and illuminated around the world billions of times. This face has appeared in publications, artwork and other media, on pendants, billboards, the sides of buildings and everything in between. There are variations on the theme, but the image is almost always much the same. You would probably instantly recognize this face—but we’ll decline to post a picture of it here, for reasons we’ll see shortly.
The world is fascinated with its attempts to depict the life, conduct and physical appearance of Jesus Christ, but the images it displays have a real effect on how people think of our Savior. Would it surprise you to learn that the Jesus Christ in your Bible was actually an ordinary-looking Jew who worked outdoors, nothing like the “Christ” portrayed in popular culture? Would it shock you to discover that His physical appearance—and even life and habits—was vastly different from that which is taught in most churches today?
After Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was released in 2004, John Leo wrote in U.S. News & World Report: “Many viewers will not be able to think of the passion and death of Jesus except in Gibson’s images” (March 8, 2004). The portrayal of Jesus Christ as an effeminate, long-haired man is so prevalent that most immediately picture that image in their mind whenever they hear the name “Jesus.” That concept is in direct opposition to what the Bible reveals about Christ. Also, while it’s a simple matter to prove that His physical image is often presented incorrectly, as we will see, most misunderstand the details of Jesus Christ’s life as well. Let’s see what the Bible actually tells us about Jesus Christ’s life.
To get the most out of this study, go get your Bible, a pen and a notebook. That way, you can write out the verses you are studying and any extra notes you might want to refer to later. This will help you remember more about the greatest man who ever lived—Jesus Christ of Nazareth!
Jesus Christ—a Family Man
1. Who raised Jesus as a child? Matthew 1:19-20.
The father of Jesus Christ’s siblings, and the man who raised Him with Mary, was Joseph. Joseph is described as “just,” or righteous, and a descendant of King David. It is important to understand who Joseph was because, as the leader, provider and protector of his home, he had a profound impact on Jesus Christ’s upbringing and later life.
2. Was Jesus Christ an only child? Matthew 13:55-56.
We often hear about the “mother and child” relationship between Mary and Jesus. Many, however, overlook the fact that Mary, Jesus’s mother, went on to conceive and bear at least six more children after her firstborn son. Rather than simply “mother and child,” the real Christ of your Bible grew up having a father, a mother and a houseful of younger siblings!
3. What was Jesus like as a child? Luke 2:43, 46-47, 51.
As a small child, Jesus was obedient to Joseph and Mary. Jesus Christ was an intelligent child who astonished others with His depth of wisdom and understanding.
4. What was Jesus’s job when he grew up as an adult? Mark 6:3. From whom did He learn His trade? Matthew 13:55.
While many religionists and scholars have noted that Jesus Christ was a carpenter as an adult, few point out that Jesus was “the carpenter’s son”—that He learned the trade from His dad!
At that time in history, carpentry involved building structures from the ground up. Since there were no electric or hydraulic power tools in existence back then, all the strenuous jobs involved in building a house or building would have been done entirely by hand, or with the assistance of animals or water power. Working largely outdoors in this family business—probably from the time He was 12, which was the standard age for Jewish boys to begin their vocational and religious training for adulthood—would have had a profound effect on Jesus’s physical appearance.
Strong muscles, suntanned skin, calloused hands, a rugged appearance—in addition to a sound mind and a balanced, outgoing personality—these were the essential qualities of Jesus Christ, son of Joseph and Mary.
Keep in mind though, that we don’t use pictures or video meant to look like Jesus Christ. The Second Commandment expressly forbids the use of any sort of image to worship the true God: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). A picture would definitely qualify as a “likeness.” What’s more, no one knows exactly what Jesus Christ looked like. That said, here are some things we do know.
1. Was Jesus Christ handsome? Isaiah 53:2.
This Old Testament prophecy, foretelling the way the Messiah would look, clearly states that Jesus was not especially handsome. In fact, He was completely plain-looking and average. Certainly, this doesn’t mean Jesus was ugly, but there was nothing about His physical features that would cause Him to stand out in a crowd or cause young ladies to swoon at the sight of Him!
Also, there is no evidence anywhere in the Bible that Jesus walked around wearing a flowing, glowing robe and sporting a “halo” over His head. Certainly this would have contradicted Isaiah 53:2 and made Him stick out like a sore thumb among the other citizens of Judea.
2. Did Jesus Christ have long hair? 1 Corinthians 11:14.
While Jesus may have worn a beard as an adult (Isaiah 50:6), the Scriptures do not indicate that He wore long hair like a woman. If He had, this would have been another distinguishing feature that would have easily identified Him at a glance. History plainly shows that the first-century Jews of Judea—and even the Romans—wore their hair short. The Apostle Paul tells us that it is a shame for a man to have long hair; there was nothing shameful about the Son of God.
3. Was Jesus easy to pick out of a crowd? Luke 4:30; John 8:59; John 10:39; Matthew 26:48-49.
The Gospels show that Christ was able to slip through crowds completely unnoticed at times. Also, Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus, had to publicly kiss Jesus to identify Him for those who sought to kill Him. This would have been unnecessary if Jesus were a long-haired vagabond in flowing white robes!
In reality, Jesus was an ordinary-looking Jew, nothing like the image that most associate with the Son of God.
Christ’s Personal Example
1. Where did Jesus Christ live? Matthew 13:36, 57.
Most probably don’t picture Jesus as a man who owned His own house in Capernaum. As a carpenter, He probably built it Himself.
2. Was Jesus strong? Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:13-16.
He was a powerful man who drove the money changers out of the temple with a whip.
3. How did Jesus Christ treat others? Matthew 11:29; Mark 6:34; Mark 10:15-16; Luke 4:40.
Jesus Christ was meek and humble. He lived His life healing, teaching and serving others. He was moved with compassion for people, and He loved children. He came into contact with publicans, Pharisees, sinners, lepers and every type of person you could imagine.
4. How did Christ pray? Matthew 6:1-15.
Christ was a man of prayer. He gave specific instructions to His disciples on how to pray and delivered powerful prayers Himself. John 17 records a prayer that He gave the night before His crucifixion—a prayer not for Himself, but for His disciples. Read this entire chapter to see His example of outflowing love and concern for others in His final hours.
5. What was Jesus Christ’s attitude when He died? Luke 23:34.
Ultimately, He gave His own life for those who killed Him, asking that God forgive them.
Jesus Christ, the Messenger
It is a wonderful, profound truth of the Bible that Jesus Christ came to Earth in order to die for our sins. His death paid the penalty for the sins of all those who repent and call on that sacrifice (e.g. Matthew 26:28; Romans 5:8-10). But did you know that is not the only reason He came to Earth?
1. Did Jesus Christ have a work to do—a specific commission to fulfill? Luke 2:49; John 4:34.
The driving force behind Jesus Christ’s 33½ years on Earth and His 3½-year ministry was the message He brought, a message sent by God the Father. In His first recorded words, Christ stated that He had to be about His Father’s business. He also said He could do nothing but what He had seen the Father do. Although Jesus Christ was the only perfect man who ever lived, He wanted the glory to go to God the Father. Jesus Christ warned of people who would come in His name, saying He was Christ, but who would deceive many (Matthew 24:5). This is because they do not preach the message He delivered. Rather, they simply preach a message about the person of Christ.
2. What was Christ’s message? Mark 1:14; Matthew 25:34.
Jesus was sent to preach, or proclaim, a message—a tremendous news announcement of the coming Kingdom of God. He did not come to force men to accept that message and act on it. He just came to announce it. That Kingdom, prepared from the foundation of the world, will bring peace and prosperity to the entire Earth. That announcement was the greatest news ever, delivered by the greatest man who ever lived: Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
3. What does Jesus Christ look like today? Revelation 1:14-16.
Today, He sits at the right hand of God, glorified. When the Apostle John saw Him in a vision, he fell at His feet as though he were dead! (verse 17). When you think of Jesus Christ, remember that He is the all-powerful God of Revelation 1—no movie could ever portray that!