Is it wrong to have pictures of Jesus?

Question: "Is it wrong to have pictures of Jesus?"

When trying to decide what, if any, Christian imagery is appropriate to place in our homes, a good place to begin is the Ten Commandments. When God first gave His law to mankind, He began with Himself, a statement of who He is: “the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2), and a warning that we are to have no other God but Him. He immediately followed that by forbidding the making of any image of anything “in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters below” (Exodus 20:4), for the purpose of worshipping or bowing down to it. The fascinating thing about the history of the Jewish people is that they disobeyed this commandment more than any other. Again and again, they made idols to represent God and worshipped them, beginning with the creation of the golden calf at the very moment God was writing the Ten Commandments on tablets for Moses (Exodus 32)! Idol worship not only drew the Israelites away from the true and living God, it led to all manner of sins including temple prostitution and orgies, and even the sacrificing of children to these false Gods.

The God who created us, and who knows how deeply we are affected by sin, understands our desire to condense Him into a form we can see and understand. Perhaps it is the fact that our limited minds simply cannot comprehend that which is infinite and everlasting. Or, more likely, perhaps we are simply more comfortable when we can reduce God to a more manageable form, such as a picture or a statue. Man has always attempted to humanize God, to make Him over in our own image and bring Him down to our level. After all, if God is just like us, it stands to reason that we are just like Him, a very appealing concept (certainly popular today) and the same lie Satan has been feeding us since the Garden of Eden when he tempted Eve to eat of the forbidden tree: “You shall be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

Just as making idols led the Israelites away from the true worship of God, hanging a portrait of Jesus in our homes would seem to present a continual temptation to reduce Him to nothing more than the image in the picture. Even if we are not bowing down and worshipping the picture, how can we not eventually equate Him in our minds with this simple image? How can we look at it every day and not be tempted to see Him as merely the figure in the picture? But can we possibly reduce Christ’s nature, character and power to a two-dimensional, eight-by-ten portrait? In addition, most of the “portraits” of Jesus portray Him in a softened, quasi-romantic style as a handsome and winsome young man while, in fact, He “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). If it were important for us to know what He really did look like, Matthew, Peter and John, who spent three years with Him, would certainly be able to give us an accurate description, as would His own brother, Jude. Yet, these New Testament writers offer no details about His physical attributes. Does this not suggest that, inspired by the Holy Spirit, they did so in order to carefully avoid encouraging us to make any image of Him?

We certainly don’t need a picture to display to us the nature of our Lord and Savior. We have only to look at the creation, as we are reminded in Psalm 19:1-2: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the expanse proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” In addition, our very existence as the redeemed of the Lord, sanctified and made righteous by His blood shed on the cross for our sins, should have Him always before our eyes and minds.

The Bible, the very Word of God, is also filled with images of Christ that capture our imaginations and thrill our souls. He is the Light of the world (John 1:4-5); the very Bread of life (John 6:32-33); the living Water that quenches the thirst of our souls (John 4:14); the High Priest who intercedes for us with the Father (Hebrews 2:17); the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for us, His sheep (John 10:11,14); the spotless Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2); the Way, the Truth, the Life (John 14:6); and the very image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). How can we even consider reducing Him to a piece of paper and hanging Him on the wall?

Recommended Resource: Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper.

Related Topics:

What did Jesus look like?

Is Jesus God? Did Jesus ever claim to be God?

What does it mean that Jesus is the Son of God?

Why did Jesus have to experience so much suffering?

Who is Jesus Christ?

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Is it wrong to have pictures of Jesus?