His ministry aroused incredible interest in His time and throughout the centuries—and that fascination continues today. Yet disagreement abounds: What did Jesus look like? What was His life’s purpose? Why did He need to die? Has He always existed? Was He the prophesied Messiah—the Christ? Did He abolish the Ten Commandments? Was the gospel He preached about Himself—or something else? This series will examine these questions and more, and will shed the correct light upon the most influential figure in the history of mankind. Prepare to be surprised—if not shocked!
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Beginning more than 2,000 years ago, the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ took place. Few dispute the facts, or disagree that this Man forever changed the course of history and civilization.
Countless thousands of books, stories, novels, television programs and films have been written and produced about Him—and countless thousands of churches have been erected in His name.
Not many individuals, except for the rare world leader, inventor or religious figure, are talked about or remembered on even a small scale within several years after dying, let alone on a wide scale thousands of years later.
But after 2,000 years, Jesus Christ is commonly known in one way or another throughout the various cultures of the world, whether professing to be Christian or of another religion, or is an atheist. Many have nothing but positive comments about Jesus, regardless of their beliefs about who He was and what He taught. Of course, His name can also stir up great controversy.
The religious leaders alive during the life of Jesus—the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees—spoke nothing but evil of Him. They rejected nearly all His teachings—and marked Him as a heretic. Speaking with previously unheard of authority (Mark 1:22), Jesus’ piercing words incited fierce indignation from the “spiritual elite.” He was viewed as a threat to their positions and social status. What He taught the masses was drastically different from their dogma and traditions. If the citizenry followed Jesus, who would these authorities lead—who would look up to them?
At the end of Jesus’ three-and-a-half-year ministry, the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees called for His death. Unable to legally execute Him themselves, they turned Jesus over to the Roman government, under false charges, to be crucified—one of the most horrific ways to die ever conceived by man. Two thousand years later, Jesus is as renowned as ever.
Exactly who was the Man named Jesus Christ? Theories and ideas abound, but few seem to truly understand. Why?
Before examining Jesus’ life and what He taught, we must first gain an understanding of what He did and did not look like, and what manner of death He died. We must be sure starting out that an incorrect picture of Jesus is not in our minds.
When the name Jesus is uttered, what comes to mind? More than likely, a weak, long-haired, sickly-looking, effeminate man wearing a flowing white robe. This is the common portrayal of Jesus found in paintings across the world—yet these started appearing hundreds of years after His death.
While common as daylight, this depiction is simply not historically accurate on a number of fronts. It should be noted that the New Testament does not explicitly describe what Jesus looked like, and no eyewitness drawings of Him have ever been found. That said, Jesus Christ was Jewish, and as such would have looked like any other Jewish man of His time. This means He would have had short hair.
In a 2004 Reuters article, physical anthropologist Joe Zias, who has studied hundreds of skeletons found in Jerusalem, stated, “Jesus didn’t have long hair. Jewish men back in antiquity did not have long hair.”
If Jesus did have long hair, contrary to the accepted style of the time, He would have stood out in a crowd like a sore thumb. Yet on multiple occasions, Jesus managed to slip away amongst the masses and hide from His enemies, who wholeheartedly sought to kill Him (Luke 4:30; John 8:59; 10:39). This would have been most difficult to do if He had been the only man with long hair. Jesus was able to flee because He was an ordinary-looking Jewish man, not a long-haired “exception to the rule.”
Consider the account of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in the book of Mark: “And he [Judas] that betrayed Him had given them a token [sign], saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He; take Him, and lead Him away safely [securely]. And as soon as he was come, he went straightway to Him, and said, Master, Master; and kissed Him. And they laid their hands on Him, and took Him” (14:44-46).
If Jesus had long hair, would it have been necessary for Judas to use a special sign—a kiss—to betray Jesus to His enemies? Of course not. The scribes, chief priests and legionnaires would have easily spotted a singular long-haired person—a kiss would not have been required.
Though not in an obvious way, a particularly strong indication of Jesus’ hair length is given in the Bible, in I Corinthians 11:14. The apostle Paul states, “Does not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” The Greek word for “shame” means disgrace, dishonor, reproach, vile. These are strong words! No doubt, Paul and some of the people to whom he was writing would have seen Jesus face-to-face, or at least heard descriptions of His appearance, including His hair length.
We might ask: Would an individual who proclaimed to be an apostle of Jesus Christ make such a statement about hair length if Jesus had long hair? This would seem quite foolish for Paul to do. It would have been a blatant contradiction, and would have probably incited anger or at least bewilderment from those in the Corinth congregation.
Further confirming the fact Jesus did not have long hair is a wall painting that was erected after Jerusalem was captured in AD 70 to celebrate Rome’s victory. It pictures Jewish men with short hair being taken into captivity.
An article in the December 2002 issue of Popular Mechanics, titled “The Real Face of Jesus,” also challenged the commonly-held view of Jesus’ appearance. The article opens: “From the time Christian children settle into Sunday school classrooms, an image of Jesus Christ is etched into their minds. In North America he is most often depicted as being taller than his disciples, lean, with long, flowing, light brown hair, fair skin and light-colored eyes.
“Familiar though this image may be, it is inherently flawed. A person with these features and physical bearing would have looked very different from everyone else in the region where Jesus lived and ministered.”
The article continues: “Using methods similar to those police have developed to solve crimes, British scientists, assisted by Israeli archeologists, have re-created what they believe is the most accurate image of the most famous face in history.”
Using modern technology, this team recreated a face that appears nothing like traditional artist renderings.
Until about the age of 30, Jesus was a carpenter. The building trade of that time involved strenuous, back-breaking labor. Those who worked in this field were required to move and lift heavy stone (carpenters were also stonemasons at that time) and lumber without power tools or mechanical digging equipment of any kind. Week after week, Jesus cut down trees, hauled lumber and giant rocks, and constructed buildings.
Due to working in such an environment, Jesus would have been a rugged, physically fit, masculine-looking man. And He would have worn durable, practical clothing, which would have helped Jesus to blend in with the crowd, indistinguishable from the common “blue-collar” fisherman with whom He associated. This was another reason He needed to be identified with a kiss when arrested. Also, since Jesus spent most of His time under the Mediterranean sun, His skin would have been tanned—not pale and even chalky as Christendom portrays.
The above article also stated, “From analysis of skeletal remains, archeologists had firmly established that the average build of a Semite male at the time of Jesus was 5 ft. 1 in., with an average weight of about 110 pounds. Since Jesus worked outdoors as a carpenter until he was about 30 years old, it is reasonable to assume he was more muscular and physically fit than westernized portraits suggest.”
Another common image of Jesus is that of Him hanging from a cross with a trickle of blood oozing from the crown of thorns piercing His head, and a bit of blood running from the wounds in His hands and feet. All of Jesus’ skin is intact in these renditions. Some even show a “sacred heart” with a crack running through the center, depicting Him as having died of a “broken heart.” This portrayal is particularly venerated during the Easter season.
While most are aware that Jesus was beaten and then crucified, few comprehend the horrific mutilation that occurred to His body both before and during His crucifixion. Jesus’ body was so beaten and battered that He was virtually unrecognizable to the people of His day.
To help clear your mind of the typical picture of a barely-scarred Jesus hanging from a cross, a detailed examination of His execution must be described. While various forms of crucifixion were used, we will describe one possible method.
Before being crucified, Jesus is forced to undergo a severe scourging. To begin the horrible ordeal, He is stripped of His clothing and His hands are bound to a post above His head. A Roman legionnaire steps forward with a flagellum—a short whip with jagged pieces of bone, glass and metal tied into nine strips of leather. This is commonly referred to as a cat-o’-nine-tails.
The heavy whip is brought down without mercy, over and over again, across Jesus’ shoulders, back and legs. At first, the flagellum cuts through the skin only. But as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the flesh, causing blood to ooze from the capillaries and veins. Blood then begins to spurt from smaller arteries in the underlying muscles.
The flagellum begins to produce large, deep bruises, which are then ripped open by succeeding blows. In time, the skin of Jesus’ back is hanging in long ribbons, like spaghetti. The entire area is an unrecognizable bloody mass of torn flesh.
The severe beating is halted when the Roman centurion in charge has determined that Jesus is near death.
Though the Jews had a law that prohibited more than 39 lashes, there is speculation that the Romans would not have made any attempt to obey the statute.
At this point, Jesus is close to being in shock. One can only imagine the agonizing pain pulsing through His nerves. He is then untied from the post and allowed to fall to the ground—soaked in His own blood. The soldier performing the beating notices a great irony in a “simple, unsophisticated Jew” claiming to be a king. A robe is thrown across Jesus’ shoulders, and a stick is placed in His hand, like a scepter. To complete the mockery, flexible branches covered with long thorns are formed into a crown, which is pressed firmly into Jesus’ scalp. Since the scalp is one of the most vascular areas of the body, profuse bleeding begins almost immediately.
The soldiers proceed to mock Jesus and strike Him across the face. They then take His “scepter” and strike Him on the head—the thorns are driven deeper. At last, the soldiers grow weary of their vicious attack and tear off Jesus’ robe. This causes agonizing pain, similar to carelessly removing a surgical bandage, due to His robe having bonded to the clots of blood and serum in His wounds. Significant bleeding takes place once again, as though He were being whipped with the flagellum.
Ironically, in respect of Jewish custom, the Roman soldiers return Jesus’ garments, and then make Him carry a long wooden beam along His back. The condemned “criminal,” along with the Roman soldiers, begins His slow journey to the site of the crucifixion, Golgotha. Jesus struggles to walk erect, but considering the immense weight of the wooden beam and the state of near shock produced by incredible blood loss, He constantly falls. The weight is too much to bear. The beam gouges into the shredded skin and muscles of the shoulders. Jesus tries to rise, but the endurance of His muscles has been exceeded.
Wanting to hasten the crucifixion, the centurion-in-charge selects an onlooker—Simon of Cyrene (Matt. 27:32)—to carry the beam. Jesus follows behind Simon, perhaps slightly relieved, but still bleeding and in near-shock.
Finally, after a 650-yard journey, they arrive at Golgotha.
Simon is ordered to place the beam on the ground, where a worn-out Jesus is thrown down with His shoulders against the wood. Then the legionnaire drives heavy square wrought iron spikes through His hands, then deep into the wood. These were not the thin, smooth nails found at the neighborhood hardware store.
The legionnaires then raise the stake to which Christ is attached. At this point, Jesus’ body weight is held up by His spike-driven hands. Then His left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, both feet fully extended, toes down. A square spike pierces through the arch of each foot, leaving His knees flexed. As Jesus’ weight continues to sag downward, with more weight on His hands and feet, unbearable, fiery pain shoots along His fingers and up His arms. To add to the suffering, a soldier thrusts a spear into Jesus’ side, penetrating internal organs—blood spills to the ground; Jesus is dead.
To say the least, this is quite a different image from the “classic” barely-bruised, almost physically immaculate Jesus hanging from a cross. Jesus Christ suffered a horrific death, and what was left of Him defies imagination—His body was mutilated beyond recognition. He endured hours of unimaginable, excruciating pain.
Yet, Jesus’ death had a purpose. Was it foretold centuries beforehand? And is it possible that Jesus could have existed for all previous eternity? Judaism says no to both—Catholicism and Protestantism say yes to both—and certain groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses say yes to the former and no to the latter. Even among these opinions, however, there is much disagreement.
In Part 3 of this series, appearing in the May issue of The Real Truth, we will examine whether Jesus was the prophesied Messiah and whether He has always existed.