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When I picture Jesus

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Many American living rooms have a framed picture of Jesus. Why do folks do that? Some may like the notion of Jesus watching over us, like some heavenly ADT system. Some may see Jesus as the ultimate family-friendly hero. Some may use the Jesus picture just to call Him to mind. For others, it’s strictly a family or ethnic tradition.

Such pictures may depict Jesus as blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Others picture a Jewish-looking Jesus. Still others prefer to imagine Jesus as a dark-skinned man of African descent. He might be pictured as a sturdy tradesman, or as a slouch-shouldered Torah student. Because we have no conclusive statement on what Jesus looked like, nobody gets to say what’s entirely accurate, although all accounts suggest He was a fairly ordinary-looking Jewish man.

We can picture Jesus as baby Jesus in a stable. We can picture Him as the boy Jesus learning in the temple, the grown man at a wedding with Mary, the healer Jesus lifting a lame man to his feet, the meek Jesus surrounded by children, the miraculous Jesus walking on water, the magnificent Jesus on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, the self-sacrificing Jesus bleeding on the cross, and many more.

A Google search on the title of this post turns up several more ways that people picture Jesus:

  • “When I picture Jesus, I see Him with strong hands. We often forget that Jesus was a construction worker.”

  • “When I picture Jesus, I picture a young Obi Wan Kenobi […] training young Skywalker.”

  • “When I picture Jesus, I picture Family Guy Jesus”

  • “I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-Shirt because it says I want to be formal, but I’m here to party. ‘Cause I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party too.”

There’s some value in each of these (okay, not much in the last two!), but Biblically speaking, what is the best one? What’s the right way to picture Jesus? Should we even try? Should we try our hardest to avoid mental pictures entirely?

These questions run deeper than one blog post can go. Certainly there’s danger in picturing Jesus at all, in that He is God almighty, and per commandment #2, we must not fashion ourselves any images to substitute for the God who is invisible and unfathomable. Still, God took on flesh on purpose, in part so that Jesus could say, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” And throughout the Bible we are called to “seek His face” – not in the appearance of an idol, an icon, or a painting, but in reality. Every true believer longs to see Jesus’s face.

We return to the question – “When we see Jesus, what will we see?” The last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, seems like a good place to go, since its author (John) wrote the last Scriptural account of the appearance of Jesus.

Near the end of Revelation, we are given this promise regarding the coming city of God:

“The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Revelation 22:3b-4).

What an excellent promise for the worshipper of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God! This is joy forevermore, to know the King of Kings and to worship Him without guilt, by way of the free gift of salvation from sin that comes through the sacrifice of the Lamb for your sins and mine!

Note further that as we look upon Him and worship Him, “his name will be on [our] foreheads” – which speaks to the foundational joy of being owned by Almighty God. We who will see Jesus and worship Him forever will do so as mere creatures, made in His image, but made for Him, not equal to Him. Our purpose is to bring joy to the God who owns us by finding all our joy in seeing and being with Him. Pixar fans, think back to the “Andy” written on Woody’s boot. How much greater than Woody’s joy at belonging to his boy is our joy in belonging to Almighty God? He has put His name upon us, and we are His – amen!

Until we see His him seated on Heaven’s throne, we are somewhat separated from God, even though He has come to take up residence in the hearts of all His people. The Holy Spirit who lives in the born-again child of God is not just a foretaste of God – He is fully God, come to dwell in all His fullness in tiny us, a true miracle indeed. Still, there’s a fuller presence of God that we cannot know until we are with Jesus where He is.

In that place, He must be glorious to behold. Don’t you wish you could see Him?

The best we can do, I think, is to ponder the following “picture of Jesus,” taken from the first chapter of the Revelation to John:

I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades (Revelation 1:12b-18).

Here at last, we have faithful advice on how we ought to picture Jesus – the Jesus who died, who was buried, who was raised, and who ascended into Heaven. Not as the roly-poly baby Jesus, nor even as the Suffering Servant on the cross, but as Almighty Victor. In the passage above, we see His sovereign majesty, fearful power, flaming zeal, purity and beauty, all combined with a tenderness toward His children that lifts us when we faint in His presence. In terrifying might, He bids us fear not, because all that He has done and all that He is should bring us perfect peace, in the knowledge that we are His, and that His victory means our eternal safety and security.

Of course, this is a symbolic representation of how He now appears in Heaven. The language of Revelation is apocalyptic, which is to say that the imagery is not really intended to provide newsreel-type information. (Quite the relief for those of us who don’t really want to see a sword coming out of someone’s mouth!) Rather, the striking imagery is meant to communicate meaning and principles, and even comfort in suffering.

Again, the Jesus who revealed himself to John is no “sweet baby Jesus.” How awesome is our Savior, raised and glorified forever in the presence of the Heavenly Father, where He reigns forever.

See Him, brothers and sisters, and rejoice – His Kingdom is forever! See Him and be comforted – He has the keys of Death and Hades! See Him and savor the beauty of the Victor, our Champion! Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty!

When we picture Jesus, let us fall at His feet, and let Him lift us up to worship, our great eternal privilege.

Author: Tom Reilly

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