Not too long ago, the above picture was circulated widely on the internet and news media as “the real face of Jesus” or what Jesus might actually have looked like.
It is an image created by forensic anthropologist Richard Neave, using computer modelling based on actual skull specimens found in the region of Galilee dated to Jesus’s time, the same method developed to help police solve crimes.
To Neave’s credit, he never claimed the model to be Jesus’s face, but simply meant for it to prompt people to consider Jesus as a being man of the time and place that He lived in – a Jew in Middle-Eastern Israel – rather than the fair-skinned and blue-eyed Jesus depicted traditionally. Nevertheless, that has not stopped many – even Christian sites and grace preachers – from touting the image as potentially the “most accurate face of Jesus”.
But here’s why I believe Jesus would never have looked like that:
#1. Jesus wasn’t like any other man
Neave’s image would be fairly representative of an average Galilean man of the time period when Jesus walked on earth. It could have been Peter, his brother Andrew, or the other disciples from the area.
Except Jesus wasn’t an average Galilean man. He came from the royal line of King David, being born in Bethlehem of Judea, before the family moved to Nazareth in the Galilee region, in both instances fulfilling Bible prophecy (Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:6, 19-23).
There’s no way Jesus could have been an average-looking man who looked and talked like any other Galilean and drew people to Himself or awe them like He did. He said 2 simple words – “Follow Me” – to tough fishermen and tax collectors who had betrayed their own people, and they left everything and followed Him. He amazed crowds, officers and leaders with His demeanour, so that they were left marvelling at Him.
Certainly, Jesus would have stood out – not in a blond and fair-skinned way, but stood out as being distinctive nonetheless.
#2. Jesus only became ordinary and disfigured at the cross
The Biblical basis for the accuracy of Neave’s image above as quoted in most sites is the verse Isaiah 53:2, which says “there was nothing beautiful or majestic about His appearance, nothing to attract us to Him”. What they fail to regard is the context of the passage that this verse is taken from.
Simply open any Bible to the portion of Isaiah 53, and you will notice just a few verses before, beginning from Isaiah 52:13 and continuing all the way to the end of Isaiah 53, is the description and account of the sin-bearing servant, Jesus the Messiah. The entire passage speaks of Jesus’s sufferings – for us – at the cross.
Isaiah 52:14 (AMP) tells us that
“[For many the Servant of God became an object of horror; many were astonished at Him.] His face and His whole appearance were marred more than any man’s, and His form beyond that of the sons of men”.
And in another translation, “Many were horrified at what happened to him. But everyone who saw him was even more horrified because he suffered until he no longer looked human.” When read in this context, the description of Isaiah 53:2 coming 3 verses after takes on a whole new meaning and now makes sense.
Jesus only became disfigured and devoid of all majesty and glory when He took our place in suffering all the beatings and scourging on our behalf, and taking on all our ugliness, sins, disfigurements, pains, and every form of sickness and disease upon Himself at the cross. He became us in our place so we could become as He is in His place, in divine exchange.
#3. The Creator will always be more glorious than His creation
If we recognise Jesus as the Son of God, the One who created the heavens and the earth and everything in it (John 1:3, Colossians 1:16), then we must recognise that He, being the Creator, will surely be greater than all His creation.
God has given us to recognise what is beautiful and what is not – all of us generally have the same standard of judgement, and we can appreciate what is a beautiful landscape or scenery, or an attractive man or woman.
In any race or nationality, there are exceptionally handsome or beautiful men and women who win our admiration and adoration, such as the Western celebrities of Hollywood, the Indian actors of Bollywood, and the Korean pop stars who have the world going gaga over them.
It is true, Jesus came as a Jew and an Israelite, so He would have looked Middle-Eastern, with olive skin and dark hair. We also know that He was a carpenter (Mark 6:3) and He walked a lot (there weren’t cars and buses in those days), so He would have been pretty rugged and fit. And there are certainly very good-looking Middle-Eastern men who have chiselled features and piercing green eyes.
The people of God in the Bible were always handsome and beautiful. There’re men like Joseph, Moses, David, Absalom, and women like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Abigail and so on. It makes no sense to think that God, in sending His Son as a Man, would have left Him with very average looks to be only discerned and admired by “spiritual” eyes. No, He would certainly have left the best for His Son, Jesus the Darling of heaven.
The Bible tells us in various places that the Messiah, who is Jesus, is beautiful and handsome, more than any man (e.g. Psalm 45:2, 27:4, 90:17, Isaiah 33:17), sometimes describing it in types and pictures (Song of Solomon 5:10-16), so excellent is His form that it defies words.
Jesus Himself, who always sought to veil His glory and majesty instead of brandishing it with pomp, only once referred to Himself as the “good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14), which in the Greek (kalos) literally means most beautiful, handsome, and eminent.
So, what might Jesus have really looked like? The other popular portrait of Jesus is that painted by Akiane Kramarik, a child prodigy artist who received visions of Jesus as a small child of age 4, a likeness that has been confirmed by others who have had visions or experiences of heaven:
Do I believe that’s how Jesus really looks like? Well, possibly, although I personally think that no artist on earth can truly render perfectly the beauty and majesty of the Lord Jesus. But it definitely looks a lot better than the computer-generated model.
Is it really important how Jesus looked like, and whether He was most handsome or just average?
Some may say no, that it is a shallow debate that shouldn’t be of relevance because we should just worship Him for who He is anyway. But it is, because anything less than perfect would detract from His glory and excellency.
And it is, when you consider verses and promises like 2 Corinthians 3:18:
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
We don’t seek for an express image or statue of Jesus to worship and adore. But we must know without a doubt in our heart that He is surely most beautiful and most glorious, because that is Who we are looking unto and being transformed into as we behold Him.
The reason Neave’s image is popular even in some Christian circles is the reasoning that God gave up His beauty and majesty to come down as a regular person just like any one of us, to live life and face problems (even ordinary looks) just like any one of us – which sounds like a grand gesture of grace.
But this is none other than man wanting to lower God to our level, which is base and ordinary, as man is always wont to do. But God always wants to bring us up to His level – high up, set apart, and glorious.
And He’s made it simple for us by setting before us His most beautiful Son, knowing how easily we are drawn by and our eyes will naturally dwell on objects of beauty.
Nobody is transformed into something extraordinary by looking at something ordinary. Rather, it gives all of us great hope and encouragement to know that when we behold Jesus, the most exquisite, beautiful, and glorious Man of ages, we are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory.
Because when we encounter Jesus, we encounter grace.