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Apr8WedJesus has been depicted in every culture and corner of the earth. But who is he? April 8, 2020 by Ingrid Barratt
Jesus is the most depicted person who ever lived. We all know what He looked like—the long hair, beard, tall slender frame. So when Richard Neave, a medical artist and forensic anthropologist, created a realistic depiction of what Jesus may have looked like, the results were shocking: Jesus seemed to resemble a New York City taxi driver.
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Jesus’ facial features were gleaned from first-century Jewish skulls and other archaeological data. Neave reasoned that Jesus would have been about five and a half feet tall. His lifestyle would have made Him muscular but slight. According to cultural data, His black, curly hair would have been short, and His beard closely cropped.
All depictions of Jesus are imaginative, of course. The way we’ve depicted Jesus over the ages says a lot more about us than it says about Him. The fact that biblical accounts are stubbornly silent about what Jesus actually looked like is God’s first clue to us: He does not judge by human standards. In Jesus, He was about to turn all our expectations about power, success and even divinity inside out.
Knowing the Unknowable
Depictions of Jesus often show Him calm and emotionless, above the fray—the “Prozac Jesus,” as author Philip Yancey calls him. But this is not the Jesus we find in the Bible. In fact, it’s surprising to discover how much Jesus was a people person. Jesus seemed to build rapport almost instantly. He was easily moved by others. He was generous with His compliments: “Your faith has healed you!” He declared, deflecting credit away from Himself.
But He also got angry and impatient. “Are you still so dull?” an exasperated Jesus snapped at the disciples—which, quite frankly, doesn’t seem very “Christian.” He cried openly and relished public displays of affection. He was an incredibly vulnerable man: Would you ever ask your friend straight up, “Do you love me?” Well, Jesus did!
He was not play acting at being human. Jesus felt things fully, He lived life deeply.
In Jesus, the impenetrable distance between heaven and earth collapsed into nothing. Through Jesus, God is saying: “Here I am. I am with you.” Because of Jesus, we can know the unknowable. We see the invisible God.
It’s important we understand Jesus as a fully-fledged Jew, because there is no doubt that His followers believed He would be the Jewish King—the Messiah who had been prophesied. It was only a matter of time before an army would rise up to overturn the Roman Empire.
Then, just as Jesus was reaching the height of His fame and popularity, He presented His manifesto. This time He spoke plainly, not in parables.
The people were expecting a declaration of war. Instead, they got one of meekness: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3).
Quite frankly, it was confusing. Weird. Offensive, even.
“They were looking for a builder to construct the sort of home they thought they wanted, but Jesus was the architect, coming with a new plan that would give them everything they needed, but within quite a new framework,” says Tom Wright in Simply Jesus.
Many complex influences collided to culminate in Jesus’ death. The Romans were determined to stamp out any threat to their rule. But Jesus also failed to meet the Jewish expectations of the Messiah—so they concluded He must be an imposter. He was crucified as a traitor to Rome and blasphemer before God.
But the Bible claims the impossible—that Jesus very thoroughly, very bodily, came back to life again. Wright makes the point that this story was as strange then as it is today—it had never happened before; it has never happened since. “The stories don’t fit. They seem to be about a person who is equally at home ‘on earth’ and ‘in heaven.’ And that is, in fact, exactly what they are.”
Jesus was revealed as the longed-for king; the Messiah. But not in any way we would recognize. He would not rule in time and space, but through an unseen kingdom. He did not overcome with power, He infiltrated us with love. He did not stake out His greatness, He subverted us with grace. These truths continue to upend us today.
How different are we to those first-century followers who wanted a king of power? We try to fit Jesus into our self-built values of consumerism, wealth, power and success. And Jesus is still refusing to enter that building. He is still insisting on being the architect of a whole new way.
For All People
There is a joke that the greatest miracle Jesus ever performed was being a white man in first-century Israel. As the dominant culture became European, images of Jesus became blue-eyed and pale-skinned. Yet every culture in the world has appropriated Jesus for themselves. Artists have portrayed Jesus as black, as Asian, with dreadlocks, and with Celtic red hair. There is even an image of Jesus as a woman—and why not? Why shouldn’t I, as a woman, be able to relate to Jesus through my feminine identity?
The ability of Jesus to transcend culture, and yet fit within every culture, shows us that God really is with us.
The idea that Jesus can be “my best friend” is often mocked. But, actually, isn’t that the miracle of Easter? The divide between us and God was shattered. We can know God, and even call Him friend. God and humanity were never meant to be separate. In Jesus, we were brought back into intimate relationship with each other.
Jesus Is Everything
But that was just the beginning. The reverberations of Jesus’ life and death and life again, can be felt through the cosmos. Wright argues that the Bible sees heaven and earth not as separate, but as interlocking and connecting.
During His lifetime, Jesus’ constant refrain was, “The kingdom of heaven is near!” In truth, it’s so close, we can almost touch it! When Jesus taught us to pray, He said: “Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” He showed us heaven— through His miracles, His healing, His compassion and grace.
The defining moment in history, when Jesus rose from the dead, was the beginning of a whole new creation that is still revealing itself today. Within three decades of Jesus’ death and Resurrection, Paul—who had been an orthodox Jew until he discovered Jesus—described how “God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything ... who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:22-23).
This vision of Jesus is not just as a personal Saviour, although that is important. It goes further. He brings salvation to the universe—He is restoring the whole world to its original and perfect creation. Whenever we act according to the kingdom of Jesus—when we bring healing, love, grace and peace—we become active participants in this new creation.
Who is Jesus? He is everything.
Ingrid Barratt was the editor of the War Cry (New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa Territory).
Reprinted from others (Australia), April 2019.