God does not honor one skin color, one facial "look," one style of clothing. God created all human beings to have an equally enormous ultimate potential regardless of external appearances. So the only thing about Jesus' appearance that is somewhat important is that you understand that the cherished concepts of him based on the movies are false.
As we grow older, we come to realize there are "types" of facial and bodily builds, and we tend to categorize people we have met and known into those "types"!
Some individuals are noticeably outstanding because of either physical attractiveness or ugliness - and we tend to remember them because of their most distinguishing characteristics: beautiful eyes, large ears, protruding chin, high cheekbones, perfect teeth, a unique smile, an unusual nose. Some people project the picture of absolute beauty in perfect proportions, others must live with the knowledge that they are physically ugly.
Jesus was somewhere in between. He was that type of person who, though reasonably attractive in the sense of having a pleasant enough face, did not call attention to Himself because of any outstanding characteristics. He was neither "beautiful" nor ugly. He was commonplace, quite ordinary. He had the kind of face which could easily become lost in a crowd. He looked average, normal, regular - an everyday kind of person.
Doubtlessly, Jesus' eyes could become as fiercely intense as any other human being in a moment of anger. (Yes, he became angry on occasion, though never from the normal human stimuli, never for the normal reasons and never with the normal consequences.). His eyes could radiate and express the full range of human emotions from amusement and good humor, to pain and sorrow, to deep thoughtfulness and profound compassion.
Jesus' face and countenance would change with His changing moods as much as ours do, but there is no reason to assume that His face was any more "expressive" than that of any other average person. The face and particularly the eyes have been called "the mirror of the soul." It is, after all, fairly simple to deduce what a person is feeling if you simply look at the expressions on his face. It of course helps to know all the inputs and to be aware of the flow of the conversation. But. all by itself, the human face paints a masterful picture.
There are certain facial expressions which convey to other human beings ranges of emotions which I thoroughly believe never crossed Jesus' face. Did e ever reveal on His face a sly, devious or mischievous look? I doubt it. He could never "fake" a look, masquerading behind a false deceptive expression. The look coming out of his eyes and across His countenance was always precisely the look which portrayed honestly and forthrightly what was going on inside His mind.
He had God's Holy Spirit without measure and without admixture. You have met any number of people you would say have an "open, honest look" and others who tend, perhaps because of deep-set eyes, a shifty glance, dark brows or low hairlines, to have a sly or devious look.
I would rather assume Jesus' look was the former, and that there was a frankness, earnestness and openness about His countenance which men would find attractive, yet not especially outstanding. Jesus was serious, but never threatening.
That same directness of appearance would no doubt change, like a beautiful landscape during a thunderstorm, to blazing anger, when circumstances warranted it.
The look of profound agony on Jesus' face when He "groaned within himself" over the people's lack of faith as He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead could be contrasted with the look of piercing outrage which He would have displayed as He spoke the words recorded in Matthew's twenty-third chapter, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!"
Then there would have been the look of mature yet kind indulgence when He gently chided his own mother at the marriage feast at Cana in Galilee when He said, "Woman, what in the world am I going to do with you?" The faint quirk of indulgent humor, showing mild but understanding displeasure, expressed at the corner of His mouth and with a slight furrowing of the brows could be contrasted with the look of real emotional and physical pain over the hopelessness and the utter faithlessness of some of His closest personal friends at Lazarus's tomb.
Jesus was in fact the kind of a guy you would have loved, but only if you too were filled with God's Holy Spirit, or could be utterly and totally honest with yourself about who and what you were. To the higher social classes, especially the religionists of his day, He was the kind of guy you could easily hate. But to the little folk, the maimed, the sick, the blind and the tormented, He was in fact the kind of a guy you could love.
Jesus had average facial texturing and coloring, with average length hair. We might call His hair length "mod" today, since that was the cultural norm at the time - somewhat longer than the hair styles of the 1940s and 1950s and somewhat shorter than the longhaired hippie look of the 1960s.
There is no doubt that Jesus wore a full, yet neatly trimmed and well-groomed beard. (It would be almost impossible to argue around the fact that Isaiah's prophecy said He "gave his cheek to those who pluck the hair" by alleging it was only a day and a half's growth to which they applied pinchers or tweezers.) Beards were the custom of the time, and there is no reason to assume that he appeared smooth shaven. He followed conscientious practices of personal hygiene.
Even at the account of the last supper, when Peter began to argue that Jesus would "never wash his feet," he said, "He that is bathed doesn't need to wash anything except his feet" thus proving that all the disciples and Jesus had had opportunity for a bath prior to coming to the dinner.
Most believe false conceptions about the "dusty roads of Galilee" where they envision a perpetual drought, one muddy creek winding down the middle of the desert-like, rocky wasteland called the "Jordan River," and the "Holy Land" as a bleak, hostile and barren landscape where dust, dirt, fleas, flies, bedraggled camels, braying jackasses and dusty people in dusty robes made up the whole scene.
Not so. As has been shown earlier, the land was a verdant beautiful area of greenery, conifers, orchards, fields of vegetables and grain with rippling brooks and streams, wells, and indoor bathing facilities in some of the homes.
There were both hot and cold springs in the areas where Jesus lived and worked, and you can be absolutely sure that the great God who so insisted upon cleanliness in the camp of Israel, who gave and made a matter of law the most rigorous attention to personal and communal hygiene. would have followed the practice of daily bathing, meticulous, grooming of His person, trimming of the hair and beard, and deliberate choice of His clothing. All with care and concern, but totally devoid of fetish and obsession.
It is important to note that even Jesus' outer garments were of such quality that the Roman soldiers were industriously gambling for even His undergarments at the foot of His crucifixion, stake. His outer garments consisted of a coat or cloak which was seamless and, one is tempted to assume, was not unlike Joseph's coat of "many colors." Perhaps it was plain, perhaps it had tribal colors or decorations, but at any event, it was in commonplace good taste and of fine quality, just like any number of dark suits worn by businessmen at dinners today.
A lack of showiness in this dress would have been one of the reasons that Jesus managed on several occasions - prior to God's own appointed and intended time - to elude His pursuers in the riotous melee of a swirling mob of people. How could he have so escaped His attackers if He looked distinctly different from the other people of His day? Surely a pasty-white face, exceedingly long hair and a glowing, golden halo could have been easily spotted!
No, Jesus was plain. And it was only His similarity in physical appearance (a beard helps when there are hundreds of them about) as well as the similarity of the garments He wore that enabled Him to lose Himself in a crowd "passing by in their midst" and thereby succeed in escaping.
The quality of the clothing was extremely fine in first-century Palestine. Housewives still speak of "sheets and linens" today, though mostly they are really speaking about cheaper cottons and synthetics. But the purchase of fine handmade linens can be a costly acquisition indeed. Linen was handmade and was durable enough to last for many years during Jesus' day. Many other kinds of fabrics were woven by the people of that country, and the Bible speaks of velvets, Purples. fine linens, and many kinds of personal clothing, as well as draperies and tapestries.
Jesus' inner garments would have been of lightweight cotton, linen and/or wool. The outer coat was almost surely wool.
The real Jesus epitomized what God would look like as a man - well groomed but not affected, well dressed but not clothes-conscious, clean but not antiseptic, dignified but not "distinguished."
Jesus and John the Baptist
John the Baptist's condition was desperate. He had just been thrown into prison, following his insistence that Herod would be breaking God's law to live in adultery. Then he heard, through several of his disciples, the rumors about Jesus' growing ministry.
From the beginning, John had shunned material substance and consequently had become known as a frugal, austere person who "neither ate nor drank" (never banqueted or drank any alcoholic beverages). Furthermore, John "had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat [food] was locust and wild honey" (Matthew 3:4). This was seen as in complete contrast to Jesus, who attended any number of sumptuous dinners, and who did, notwithstanding opinions to the contrary, take a glass of wine with a meal now and then.
Because of the camel's hair, leather, and seemingly strange diet (grasshoppers, ugh!), John is usually typecast by Hollywood as a wild-haired, crazed-eyed, ferociously gesticulating freak with streaks of dirt down his face, a rat-eaten, torn, ancient old camel skin, complete with traces of hoof and udder, on his back and a shepherd's crook in his hand. He is imagined to be constantly spewing out inane condemnations, punctuated by spittle flecked stentorian thunder. John is seen to be leaping wildly about in various films like an inmate from a mental asylum playing the part of an African witch doctor.
Ever purchase a camel's hair coat? They happen to be among the most expensive. The Bible says nothing about a whole camel skin, loosely draped over a scrawny, filthy freak. But it does say John wore a coat of fine, durable, camel's hair.
Even today the finest leathers are hand finished, hand sewn, handmade. John had a "leathern" girdle; a wide, all-purpose belt which contained pockets for personal items - not strange at all, since it was a common item of apparel of the day. (And, after all, millions of men still avoid having their trousers cascading over their ankles by a band of cow's hide around their middle, today it's called a belt.)
John's diet has been argued for decades. The Bible says that his main staple was food found in the wilds; locusts and "wild" honey. Today, "wild"' honey is coveted by those who insist the healthful benefits of using natural sweeteners are infinitely more salubrious than either sugar or saccharine. Perhaps "locusts" seems to most; but, then, many a gourmet restaurant features shrimp, lobsters, oysters, escargots squid, eel. and, you guessed it, grasshoppers.. (Strangely enough, only the last was designed by God as fit for human consumption! See Leviticus 11:22 for a surprise.)
Like many other parts of the Bible, Matthews encapsulated view of John's life-style is only a quick, partial sketch, intended to convey the general concept of a person who had eschewed a sumptuous pattern of living.
John was conducting a very great ministry: thousands had been baptized by him in the waters of the Jordan River and elsewhere. But now it seemed he was doomed to die because he had refused to sanction Herod's lustful marriage plans. Though most miss the subtleties in the account, could it have been that John was genuinely hurt that Jesus had not dropped everything, rushed to his side, and, if not at the very least comforted him, perhaps even have performed a miracle to free him? Consequently, perhaps it was John himself who had sent his disciples with a petulant message to Jesus.
Jesus was at a town called Nain, where a great miracle occurred: that of raising the son of a widow from death right while he was being transported on a bier to his grave. The disciples of John heard the rumors of the great event, now rapidly spreading, and told John, in prison, all about it. When John in turn sent the disciples back to the town to talk with him they said rather chidingly, "Are you he who is to come [meaning the Messiah] or shall we look for another?" Luke's account could imply that John had rehearsed his disciples on exactly how to phrase the question; and sure enough, when they met him they did exactly as John had requested (Luke 7:18-20). During their visit with him a crowd surrounded Christ.
Many were waiting in line to bring children, husbands and wives, friends and relatives to be cured of many diseases, including leprosy, and to have demons cast out of those possessed. Blind individuals in the area were being healed by Jesus; all this as a direct result of the rumors following the raising of the widow's son. In the midst of this setting, he told John's disciple,
"Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind have their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead we raised up, the poor. have good news [the gospel] preached to them" (verse 22, RSV).
This statement seems to fulfill several portions of the book of Isaiah, and is in fact, a partial summary of the human ministry of Jesus Christ. All of the great miracles He performed were done either spontaneously, out of deep compassion for human grief (as in the case of the son of the widow at Nain) or as a direct result of distraught people pressing themselves upon Him.
However, following this powerful statement, in which Jesus, true to His own continuous teachings, essentially urged John and his disciples to "judge by the fruits," he told John's disciples to take to John the eyewitness account of exactly what they had seen accomplished , rather than a clever story from the lips of an individual who had a good argument. As His last statement, he turned to the disciples of John and said, "... and blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me!" A fascinating though easily overlooked comment! What does it mean? Obviously he was gently rebuking John's disciples and through them perhaps even John himself. He was reminding John that each of them was fulfilling a specific calling and purpose in life. John had been ordained of God to conduct a great ministry to "prepare the way" for Christ's first coming as a human being; John was the "voice in the wilderness" typifying a voice of truth in spiritual darkness. He, on the other hand, was fulfilling the calling of His Messiahship in a much larger dimension, being continually sought out by hundreds who had heard of His miraculous healing powers and who pressed upon Him so insistently that on some occasions He had to escape the crowds and get away into a private place to rest.
After John's disciples left, Jesus felt it necessary to explain the seemingly harsh remarks He had made to them, and so turned to the multitude and said words to this effect, "Well, what in the world did you go out into the wilderness to see? Did you expect to find a man quavering like a reed shaken in wind or a man strong enough to stand up for his principles and demand an explanation? What did you go out to see? Someone clothed in fine and soft raiment? Behold they that wear soft raiment are in kings houses.
"But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I'll tell you that and much more than a prophet because this is he of whom it is written: Behold, I sent my messenger before thy face who shall prepare thy way before you" (Malachi 3:1).
And Jesus went on to say, "I am telling you the truth: among those who are born of woman there has never arisen a greater man than John the Baptist - still, he that is but little in the Kingdom of God is greater than John!" John the Baptist was Jesus' second cousin, since their mothers (Elizabeth and Mary) were first cousins. John's ministry was fulfilling the prophecy that an "Elias" would come to "prepare the way" in the wilderness (spiritual wilderness) for the Messiah that would come.
John had a powerful effect on the people. He was very widely known and highly controversial. Yet John knew his own limitations. He continuously stressed that
"There is coming after me a Person much more powerful than I, and I'm not fit to stoop down and untie His shoe! I am immersing you in water, but He will immerse you in the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:7-8, paraphrased).
John had warned the hypocritical Pharisees of their attitudes - He told them that they were represented by the analogy, of a "tree that doesn't bear good fruit," and predicted that, " . . . even now is the axe laid unto the root of the trees: every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire . . . " Jesus was to repeat this same saying to His disciples later.
Gathering to listen to John, in addition to the common masses of people, were a heterogeneous collection of Roman soldiers, Pharisees, Sadducees and publicans (publicans were tax collectors). Different groups clamored for answers following John's inspired preaching about repentance. He surely attracted attention and generated controversy since he had begun by a direct attack upon the religious leaders. He had said,
"You generation of snakes; who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth fruit [evidence] fitting to prove you are really repentant; and don't' kid yourselves by saying in your hearts, 'We are the descendants of Abraham'; because I'm telling you God is able to create out of these rocks children to fulfill God's promise concerning Abraham's seed. Even now is the axe laid unto the root of the tree . . . " (Matthew 3:7-10 and Luke 3:7-9, paraphrased).
Some of the crowd asked what they should do, and John said,
"He that has two coats, let him share with him that has no coat at all; and he that has plenty of food; let him learn to share with those who are hungry . . . " (see Luke 3:10-11).
The tax collectors wanted a special answer, too. John said, "exact no more than that which is required by law." Inevitably, the young men serving in the Legion asked their own questions: "How about us: what should we do?" John said, "Don't treat people brutally, with violence; don't extort from anyone, or accuse anyone wrongfully; and learn how to be content with your own wages!" (verse 14, paraphrased).
Groups of people were discussing this remarkable phenomenon - for example, they were intrigued by a ceremony in which a person walked out into the water, professed he was sorry for his sins, and was "baptized" by being lowered into the water in solemn symbolism of repentance for his past life. It was a poignant experience.
Some began to wonder whether John was the Messiah. After all, didn't almost everyone hear rumors that the Messiah had finally come; that He was forming a secret army; that He was already marching on Jerusalem; that He was collecting ships in secret harbors for an attack on Rome itself? The Jewish people were an occupied, oppressed nation.
They were also impoverished, especially in Samaria and some parts of Galilee. They desperately hoped for a champion, a deliverer, a Messiah to come and free them and to begin building a kingdom with some of the lost grandeur of David and Solomon.
John knew about the rumors. He tried to dispel them and at the same time, both prepare the common man to accept Christ as the Messiah and warn hypocrites that Jesus would step squarely on their painfully sensitive consciences.
"I am, for a fact, baptizing some of you with water; but there is coming after me One that is much greater than I am, whose shoes I am not fit to unloose. He will baptize you both with the Holy Spirit [in the former case] and with fire [in the latter]: His fan is in His hand, and He is ready to use it to thoroughly clean up the threshing floor. He will gather the useful wheat into His garner: but the chaff He will burn up with unquenchable fire . . . " (see Luke 3:16-17).
From this ominous warning of Gehenna fire for rebellious hypocrites came the incredible misunderstanding in the minds of some that a "baptism with fire" is some strange charismatic experience accompanied by glossolalia (speaking in strange "tongues"), though it is obscure how anyone could misunderstand the two-part message of John.
The biblical truth is that John was baptizing by immersion, meaning plunging completely into the water. For the Greek word baptize means immersion. There is no linguistic justification whatever for the corruption of the term in an attempt to give biblical approval to various traditions of religious organizations whether dipping, pouring, sprinkling, dabbing, spraying, or hosing down a group of cavorting believers with a fire hose attached to a street hydrant. Then follows the account of Christ's own baptism.
John was stunned. He had extolled Christ's calling, His character and sinless nature; he knew he didn't need baptism, and said as much. Then Jesus from Galilee came to John, where he was baptizing in the Jordan, to be baptized. John would have stopped him. "I have need for you to baptize me," said John, "and you are coming to me?""Don't worry about it, John," he answered, "Let me go ahead with it; because I must fulfill an example of total righteousness." He walked out into the water, and John baptized Him.
Some saw a beautiful dove seemingly materialize out of the sky, and light on Jesus. Some thought they heard a distant roll of thunder, and those nearby heard a voice as if out of the sky say, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:13-17, paraphrased).
The gossip was carried immediately as far south as Jerusalem; for when the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the publicans and Romans who were in the vicinity saw and heard these events, especially John's strongest affirmation that Jesus was the true Messiah, it was a startling announcement.
Remember, John the Baptist conducted a wide-ranging, well known, public ministry. He attracted huge crowds and continually preached a powerful message of repentance. He knew that "the law and the prophets were until John," and that after Jesus Christ would bring grace (unmerited forgiveness for past sins and crimes) and mercy.
Jesus' baptism was the formal announcement of the beginning of His ministry. It was only the next day that John proclaimed to those standing around,
"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water" (John 1:29-31).
Choosing the Disciples
Jesus had no doubt spent many months in Capernaum during each year over a span of at least 18 years. He knew many of the people; and He actually knew the families from which He would eventually choose His disciples.
Millions assume that Jesus recognized His disciples through some mysterious, mystical perception and convinced them to follow Him through an equally mysterious, hypnotic power. The popular image is that he was dreamily strolling along the seashore one day and beckoned to a man named Peter, and said, "Come, and follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men." Peter, it was supposed, took one look at this beautiful man in white, with long brown locks, pointed beard, a multicolored halo around His head, and was so mesmerized he instantly dropped the net he was mending and, zombie-like, trudged off after him. Ridiculously false.
Joseph had known Jona closely, Jona's two sons, Peter and Andrew, had grown up in their father's trade, fishing, just as Jesus and His brothers' education had included stonework and building. Jona believed the Scriptures - believed a Messiah would soon come. That belief was equally strong in his two young sons as they developed. Peter married (it is not clear whether Andrew was married by the time of Christ's ministry), and had taken over the family fishing business by the time John the Baptist's had grown so large.
Bethsaida, Peter's home town, was a distance to the south from Capernaum, along the western side of the Sea of Galilee. There is no doubt Peter and Andrew had heard of Jesus and His brothers. Who knows, maybe "Joseph and Sons, Construction" had built Peter's home in Bethsaida?
It was Andrew who was following John the Baptist, as one of his disciples. When John saw Jesus, he made it clear to his disciples, including Andrew, that this was the Messiah. The following day after the baptism John and two of his disciples were standing together and saw Jesus pass near. One of them was Andrew, Peter's brother. After this brief discussion, they followed him, arriving where He was staying about two hours before dark (John 1:37-40), and stayed for the remainder of the day. John says in his account that, " . . . they came and saw where he was staying, and stayed with him that day " (John 1:39).
The next day Jesus went to Galilee and ran across Philip who was also from Bethsaida, Peter and Andrew's home town. He told Philip to follow him, and Philip immediately found Nathanael (who could have been a well known prophet), and told him they had found that Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, was in fact the prophet of whom Moses and the prophets did write. Nathanael wondered aloud whether anything good could come out of Nazareth, and so Philip invited him to come and see for himself. When he saw Nathanael coming to see if he could identify Him, Jesus said, "Look, there is an Israelite for a fact, who is without guile!"
Nathanael wondered aloud, "Where could you have known me from?" Jesus answered, "Before Philip called you and you were sitting under that fig tree, I saw you." Nathanael said, "Master (Teacher), you must be the Son of God; You must be the One who is King of Israel!" He was a student of the Scriptures, and knew the time was near. That he should meet a person with such superhuman powers of observation convinced him. He used Nathanael's quick judgment as an opportunity for an invitation to wait for more fruits; to see the works he would perform in the future, and referred to the ultimate setting up of God's kingdom on earth.
No doubt, they asked Him many questions and were tremendously impressed by His knowledge, His wisdom, and the calm intensity with which He spoke. Andrew and the other man (not identified) asked,
"Andrew then went to get his brother Peter. He wanted to tell him that Jesus was definitely the Messiah; and when Andrew introduced him to Jesus, during the ensuing conversation, Jesus said: "Thou art Simon, the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, a stone" (John 1:41-42)
The Greek word for "stone" is petros. There was a definite purpose in mind for calling Simon "Peter" - made clear by reading Matthew 16:18 and Ephesians 2:20, where Peter is plainly a part of the foundation (as a "stone" of the New Testament Church. Jesus Himself is the Rock (petra) of Matthew 16:18 (see also Deuteronomy 32; 1Corinthians 10:4), and the chief cornerstone of the Church, while Peter, together with the other 11 (except for Judas, replaced by Matthias later) made up the foundation . (The number 12 always signifies "organized beginnings" in the Bible and is found in connection with perfect government structures - ancient Israel, the Church, and the Kingdom of God.)
Now that you know about the first formal encounter between Jesus and Peter, you can read the account in Matthew 4:18-19, and it makes much more sense.
Jesus was now beginning His ministry. He had finished His careful selection of a big group, numbering 120 in all, who were to be His disciples (students).
"And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
"And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him" (Matthew 4:17-20).
Jesus showed He knew who Peter was: knew his father and family background, prior to this event. Remember, he prayed for hours about these appointments. There was no "magic" to it. no strange "pied piper" calling, no siren song. He knew the character of these men and selected them quite deliberately. The same is true with the calling of Philip. Philip lived in the same town as Peter and Andrew, Bethsaida. Jesus knew these people - He had lived and worked in these towns for those 18 years from about 12 to age 30, the beginning of His formal ministry.