I’m not sure where to begin here. I guess I’ll start by saying that, growing up, I never considered the color of Jesus to ever be an issue. I would see pictures of Jesus on paintings and in illustrated Bibles. I was given some Bible study books when I was a child and would see perhaps most of the depictions of Bible characters looking “European”, except for a few Old Testament characters and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts. But then I would see elsewhere, depictions of Black Jesus mainly in Black churches. I was never confused by either image. I guess I just figured for someone who lived 2000 years ago (before life-like paintings and photos), everyone was just guessing what He looked like. No harm, no foul. His color isn’t the most important thing about him anyway. Right? To me a Jew from the ancient Middle East probably looked, well like a modern Middle Eastern man. I was 8 or 9 when Operation Desert Storm happened and I remember thinking that most Bible people, Jesus included, probably looked like the people of Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.
Then as I got older I realized that the color of Jesus is a real stumbling block to a LOT of people. Some believe He is White. Some believe He is Black. Some even go to the lengths of giving God the Father one of the two skin tones. I don’t know if this is mainly an American problem. I’ve seen pictures of Asian Jesus as well but I have a feeling its not that much of a divisive issue in Asian countries as it is here in the U.S. I don’t know. It seems that different cultures like to represent Jesus as being like them in appearance. Maybe it makes Him more relatable. Maybe it was done in ignorance.
Some of us feel as though “White Jesus” was forced on to my ancestors in order to see “Master” as being closer to God. Or closer to the image of God. And because of the evil in men’s hearts, I can’t say that some slave owners didn’t do that exact thing. However, physical depictions of Jesus aren’t inspired and infallible. You can’t go to the ancient Greek or Hebrew texts and find a drawing of any person. There are some limited descriptions of certain people. Like David who was handsome and “ruddy” (the same red complexion given to Esau) 1 Samuel 16:12, Genesis 25:25. In Numbers 12 Miriam and Aaron were upset Moses’ wife was an Ethiopian (what I always assumed was the first fight over an interracial marriage). The point is that no one is really described in great detail how they look.
But, then there are those people who say that we can know Jesus was Black because of the description in Revelation 1:15 “And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.” I’ve heard the explanation, “Who else has feet the color of burned brass? Definitely not them White Jews!” However, just one verse before that it says “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire.” So, is this saying Jesus is white? Well, it said His head and hairs are white, but His feet were like brass. What color is Jesus?
First, I would like to point out that the Book of the Revelation is full of imagery. Symbolic imagery. Four chapters later Jesus is described as a “Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes.” Ok, well that’s obviously symbolic right? Well, I believe His depiction in chapter 1 is obviously symbolic or metaphoric also. Especially given how it describes His eyes and voice. And in verse 16 of chapter 1, He has a sharp, two-edged sword coming out of His mouth. It’s all imagery.
What does the Bible say about white hair? In Proverbs 16, it says wisdom and old age. Again, I’ve heard the objection, “But it says His hair was like wool. Who has hair like that?” It’s talking about the color, not texture.
In the Torah, bronze was used in the tabernacle for the laver (for cleansing) and the alter (for sacrifice). The Greek words here can be used to describe how bright and shining they are like if the metal is still in the furnace or if it is highly polished.
His eyes are as fire, shining light in the darkness. His face which the scripture says was like sun, as though the intensity is too much to bear. The sword that came out of His mouth pierces and cuts. Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.“
There is also a description of who we believe to be the Son of God in the prophetic Book of Daniel. Chapter 10:5-6, “I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz! His body was like beryl, His face like the appearance of lightning, His eyes like torches of fire, His arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of His words like the voice of a multitude.” Here we see similar descriptions. A face too bright to look at, eyes like fire, a voice so loud, arms and feet like burnished bronze. The “burnished” in the Hebrew means brightened or polished. Now, a simple Google search will show what burnished bronze looks like. And when compared to human skin it is very much non-white. So here, you may have an argument that the man Daniel was describing was a “Black” man. Or a sun kissed Middle Easterner. People didn’t spend a whole lot of time inside.
But what does it mean that His body was like beryl? Beryl can come in many different color variations: red, pink, aquamarine, emerald green, golden. But, it’s always translucent. The book of Daniel is full of imagery like the Book of Revelation, like his vision of the four beasts in chapter 7 and the king’s vision of the statue that represented four kingdoms in chapter 2. Remember that biblical visions and dreams usually are symbolic in nature.
It’s also important to note that even those who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry didn’t recognize Him after His resurrection (John 20:14-15; Luke 24:16).
The point is I don’t believe either depiction of Jesus describes His color. And if it does, I don’t believe that we should get so hung up on it that it distracts and divides us. No matter what, any physical depiction you’ve seen that is supposed to be Jesus is inaccurate. No one really knows what He looked like. At this point I’m almost willing to side with my Reformed brothers and say that all depictions of Jesus are violations of the 2nd Commandment. So much emphasis is being placed on what He looked like instead of what He did, it’s becoming idolatry.
I don’t need Jesus to look like me. The goal is to look like Him.