I remember the first time I saw white Jesus, that is, a European depiction of the image of Christ. My great-grandmother had a framed 5×7 print of the famous 1941 painting, Head of Christ, by Warner Sallman. His gleaming blue eyes seemed to follow me every time I entered her room. A few years later, I saw Jamaican Jesus at a friend’s house. The full poster size print was hung on the feature wall in the living room where Jesus’ dreadlocks could be clearly viewed from every vantage point. Then a short time after that, I saw black Jesus displayed in a store on a wall tapestry. He had a short afro and a very well groomed, jet black beard. I was not a Christian during the times I viewed these artist renderings and didn’t think much of them except that it was strange to have such extreme versions of the same person. But I did think a lot about the incredible fervor many people had for insisting that one image was more accurate than another. I witnessed several arguments over the subject, some that even got a bit hostile. It was obvious this was a very heated debate, but I wasn’t sure who was right nor why I should care.
In recent years, scientists have now added their version of Jesus to the thousands of others for consideration. Check out this short video about their process.
After becoming a Christian, I was surprised to learn that the Bible doesn’t share much detail about the physical attributes about Jesus. In Isaiah 53:2 we learn:
“he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”
So…he wasn’t like the supermodel Jesus with the winning smile and flawless skin, as depicted in the 2014 film, Son of God. And He wasn’t like sexy Jesus with the wind blown hair and charming flair, as depicted in the 1999 mini series, Jesus. In other words, Jesus, apparently, wasn’t much to look at.
Other than the Isaiah scripture, there are no other physical descriptions of Jesus in His earthly form. There are a couple of prophetic descriptions of His glorified form in Daniel 10:5-7 and Revelation 1:12-17
Nevertheless, the debate still ensues over Jesus’ skin color, and particularly, was He black (brown-skinned) or was He white (pale-skinned). Much of the debate stems from the history of Christianity being used in perverted ways by sinful people. One example is with the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the Americas. Christianity was used to justify the wicked kidnapping and enslavement of Africans and later the oppression of their descendants. The depictions of white Jesus were touted as proof of the superiority of the white race and the framing of slavery and Jim Crow as acts of benevolence to help the inferior black race.
Depictions of a brown-skinned Jesus began growing in popularity in the US during the transition from the Civil Right movement to the Black Power movement. Some believe it was a means of striking back against the ideology of white supremacy. If this is true, it makes me wonder if it was more about proving Jesus wasn’t white more than it was about actually proving He was black.
As I mentioned, the Bible doesn’t say much about Jesus’ physical appearance. But you know what the Bible is full of? Descriptions of Jesus’ character and nature; His loving kindness to descend into the darkness of humanity, His gracious mercy to offer us forgiveness and protection from God’s wrath, and His limitless love to be willing to die in the place of the very people that rejected Him.
I may never know what Jesus looked like when He was on earth but His presence in my life has granted me the ability to see all the features of pure love and God’s holiness.
Sync a little deeper…
What were the first images of Jesus that you saw and how did it affect you?
What are your thoughts on the scientific depiction of Jesus?
If the Bible doesn’t make much of Jesus’ physical appearance does that mean we shouldn’t?
Now that you have finished reading it’s time to SyncUP with God. SUBSCRIBE and receive access to the “Weekly SyncUP Guide” via email. It provides 5 daily guides on scripture reading, reflection questions, life application steps, and prayers to help you have your own daily SyncUps with God for the rest of the week.
DON’T FREAK OUT…if doing all 5 this week is overwhelming, set a goal of 2 or 3 and work your way up from there. Enjoy Life and God Bless!