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What Does Jesus Look Like?

By Rob Visher, a Parishioner at St. Joseph’s Parish, Downers Grove, and an Aspirant for the Diaconate | August 2021

What Does Jesus Look Like?

My precious six-year-old daughter, Ellie, recently asked me what Jesus looked like. It was at an adorable, yet challenging, conversation that went something like this:

Ellie: Daddy, what does Jesus look like?

Me: That’s Him on the crucifix. That’s what He looked like. 

Ellie: Did He always look that sad? 

Me: No, but the crucifix is an image of Him right after He died. It hurt a lot; that’s probably why He looks like that. 

Ellie: But nobody took any pictures of Him, right? So, how do we know that’s what He looks like?

[At this point, I tried to explain to her the Shroud of Turin, plus visions of the saints help us understand what He looked like.]

Ellie: No. I want to know what He looks like now.  After He came back to life.  

These questions really got me to think, pray and contemplate their answers.

Spoiler alert: I have not figured out exactly what Jesus looked like while living as a human. I can offer no better response than to look at all of the various images of Him that exist throughout time. So, if you are interested in definitive answers to those questions, you are not going to find them here.

However, I have spent a lot of time pondering these topics. I spent time also contemplating exactly what God might be trying to say to me through Ellie. Where exactly in the Bible is the description of Jesus’ physical appearance? He’s the main character. The hero of an epic tale. Surely, He must be described somewhere in great detail.

Every great author has a way of painting a vivid image of the characters in a story. The best do so with such precision that you can close your eyes and see the hero standing right in front of you. Yet, Jesus’ physical appearance is not described in the Bible.

All I can really gather from Scripture is that He did not have any significant physical features that distinguished Him from anyone else. When Judas betrayed Him, he indicated who Jesus was to the guards by embracing Him. Judas did not reference a physical feature that would distinguish Jesus from the other disciples. He didn’t say: “He’s the one with the large ears.” Or: “He has thin lips.” No. Judas had to show the guards whom to arrest because Jesus looked just like everyone else.

Perhaps this was meant to draw our attention away from the physical, to make sure we do not focus on the things of the flesh. To not dwell on what Jesus looked like, but rather on what Jesus did and how He treated those around Him — to make sure we do not elevate one person over the next based solely on some physically distinguishing feature.

In praying and reading Scripture, I came upon something that does offer a description of what Jesus looks like. “God created man in His image…” (Genesis 1:27).  Jesus was fully God and fully man; His human body was created in the image of God, just like mine and yours. Every single person — now, before, and yet to come — is created in the image of God. Every. One. No. Exceptions.

Looking upon the face of another is gazing upon the image of God. So, Ellie, do you want to know what Jesus looks like now? He looks like you and me. He looks like our neighbors and friends. He looks like the lonely child in the corner whom no one wants to play with. He looks like the stranger struggling to reach for a can on a high shelf at the grocery store. He looks like the homeless man shivering in the cold.

Each human is created in the image of God. That is why, Ellie, we are to be kind to everyone. That is why we treat all others with dignity, respect and love. It is why we share our time, talent and treasure with those in need. Because, in reality, there is absolutely no difference among us. How would you want someone to treat you if you were cold, hungry and homeless?

My sweet daughter, when you look at another person, I pray you always recognize the face of Jesus and treat him or her with the same awe, dignity, respect and love you show to the image of Jesus hanging on the cross. I pray that God opens my heart and eyes so that my life is an example for you.

And I pray that God opens your eyes and heart to be an example for me.