“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,  but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
YOU SHALL NOT
The language in the Hebrew, lo, prescribes an ABSOLUTE prohibition of any image of God set before men. The commandment here is TWO-FOLD:
- You SHALL ABSOLUTELY NOT make an image of GOD for any purpose.
- You SHALL ABSOLUTELY NOT worship any image.
- This means that an image that reflects the nature of the Lord in one’s mind would invade their worship.(fondness, remembrance etc).
For the sake of understanding, the Lord prohibits any use or existence of Him as an image. In Deuteronomy 4:15-16 Moses instructs God’s people to have a fondness of the Lord in the heart and to never paint Him with the eye. God is Spirit and has no form, thus He must be worshiped in Spirit. His self-revelation can be understood through Jesus, who has a body and a form. Jesus’ body though, is no longer in the world, but in the abode of God as Jesus has ascended into Heaven. Paul says that Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. So, as God desires to be known, Christ makes Him known. The fulness of God’s glory is revealed in Jesus (John 1:14, Col 1, Heb 1, 2 Cor 4:6) and NO OTHER means of identifying God’s likeness is allowed, period, in any manner. Scripture, the Logos, or word, reveals Jesus perfectly to us. A picture of Jesus on film or canvas can teach something about Jesus contrary to the Scripture, and worse, cause us to consider what we know and love about Jesus to be aroused by what we see, rather than the Truth of Christ’s word.
The blond blue-eyed man seen adorning the relics of history has no resemblance to the historical Jesus. Or course, Jesus was not caucasian nor was he was not European. These images were birthed in the mid-third century when depictions of the ‘roles’ of Jesus began to arise. (ie. the good shepherd) Once Constantine embraced Christianity, pictures of Jesus became common and were central to worship and adoration. Historians reveal narratives of parishioners bowing down to these images symbolically as a representative of Jesus Christ. Depictions of Jesus originally were clean-shaven and youthful but by the fifth century, these depictions began to portray long hair in relation to the pagan gods of Greece, namely, the sun god Apollo, as a symbol of rule. As time progressed, artists wanted to “capture” and portray the different roles and attributes of Jesus. In doing so, His image changed and continually molded until the embodiment and knowledge of Jesus came from these pictorial attributes. A beard was added later in history to reveal strength like Jupiter and Neptune, eventually, the progressive combination of a slender, effeminate, bearded man with long hair took root. Once European influence captured much of the world’s art, the result is the man most people show today as Jesus. He looks just like a man I once knew who was a hippie named Billy, so that’s what a few us call that picture, “Uncle Billy”. It is not, in any form, a depiction of Jesus but it is in every form, a direct violation of God’s word to call it Jesus. By the fact that the depiction is recognized by so many as Jesus reveals the idolatry of the image.
SPIRIT & TRUTH
Jesus teaches in John 4 that true worshipers worship in Spirit and Truth. Jesus reduces the precepts of any religious experience as the potential for being idolatrous-such as the temple and speaks strongly that those who worship God will only do so through the Son. God chooses to reveal Himself fully through His Son and because the Son has ascended, the only means of seeing and knowing Jesus is through the Scriptures. To invade the glorious view of what Scripture reveals with a man-made fondness is to rob God of His intended glory. Ultimately people are unable to avoid associating what they see with their eyes as a representation of what they hold fondly in their hearts. For example, when we read a book, we envision the characters in the book, we involve our minds into the fantasy as we read. Then if a movie is released, it never ‘seems’ right…. If we see the movie first, the book reveals itself in relation to the images that we have in our mind’s eye. In a very similar way, but more tragic way, depictions of Jesus can reversely be idolatrous unaware. If you love the Lord Jesus and you’re walking along in town and observe a painting of Jesus through a gallery window, you may feel joyful or emotional. At that moment you have worshiped a graven image and that is why depictions not derived from God’s prescribed revelation are forbidden.
SEEING WHAT IS NOT SEEN
The scripture says that God has shown us the fulness of His glory in the Face of Jesus Christ. Paul says that we hope in what we CANNOT now see but we love Jesus anyway as we peer into the Word of God. One day we will see face to face, until then, we do ourselves a great injustice to recognize Jesus from any portion of man’s caricature, whether in words or depictions. The Apostles teach continually about the hope of what is ‘unseen’ in contrast to that which is seen. John expounds on the reality that they have seen Christ, touched Him, and heard Him in the flesh, but that they now manifest Him to “you” through the writing of Scripture. This writing, proclamation of the eternal life is what brings communion with God, not the description or paintings of their memories. Peter explains to his readers that they do not believe in clever myths when discussing the truth of the resurrected Lord. He continues to say that their eyewitness accounts are not valid proof of their claims, but that the Scriptures stand as the better and sure evidence of the Lord’s coming and return to which his readers would “do well to pay attention.”
Seeing pictures representing Jesus is damaging to the body of Christ because it belittles the glorious and makes it an image of man. I won’t go into how this sits squarely in Romans chapter one, but it would be wise to admonish us from that text. The flesh resolves to find hope, warmth, and adoration in what can be seen but as I’ve already stated, this contradicts what God has established through His commands for our good, and when so often we find ourselves fighting for the rights against the Lord’s commands, it is proof positive that we love our flesh, revealing that we have no hope for eternal life apart from the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The images of Jesus are so affirmed as such that when people cross our paths with beards and long hair the first thing that pops into our minds is, “they look like Jesus.” We are far better served with the words of God from Scripture working through our minds instead of the emotional attachment to the experiences of the sensory. Images of Jesus offer a fleshly assistance to our devotion which is idolatry.
Even if we are not captured by the aforementioned fodder, we do well by our brethren to be careful of their stumbling. In California, a dear brother brought some pictures of “Jesus” to hang around the property. These images were installed without the knowledge of the elders before service presenting a large picture of “Uncle Billy” at the entrance of the main doors. Just seconds before the service began, a dear sister, who was raised Catholic, ran in exclaiming of her horror to see such a demonic relic hanging near where we would worship the True God of Scripture, not the one made by the hands of men.
Let us keep ourselves from idols. Including our weak understanding of the severity of those who used to worship them. Images of Jesus lie to us. They teach us to know Christ in a way that we should not know Him, in error and caricature. God understands our need to see and has given us His Spirit that we might see what we cannot see through the pages of Scripture. This isn’t only talking about pictures, but movies, images, caricatures, statues, or books that teach something about Jesus that is not found in Scripture. Be discerning beloved.
LOSING SIGHT BY SEEING
I added this note as I sat in my truck this morning (3/2) while considering the implications of adoring visual representations of a so-called Jesus. Paul teaches that through all the affliction of his ministry he is able to stand firm and see what is unseen. Therefore he doesn’t lose heart. So, the alternative to looking to the unseen is to look at what is seen, even those relics and images that offer help in our time of need are of no help and ultimately cause us to be shaken. We cannot look to the God of scripture by looking at His picture or even a symbol of His work or history. We must be able to see and savor the living God who lives within us through the word He’s left for us. Otherwise, we not only lose heart, we lose hope. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Rest well beloved.