Looking like Jesus?

Partly because I find shaving such an annoying chore, and partly for more aesthetic reasons, I have been allowing a beard to grow for the past few weeks (early days left). Reviews have been mostly positive but the funniest came the other day when a girl from my church said she thought I looked like what Jesus would look like if He were on the earth today! I’ve sung a song which includes the line “I want to look like Jesus” but I’m not sure this is what I or the songwriter meant by that.

This got me thinking, what does Jesus look like today? What will He look like when I see Him? The best answer we have for this is found in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, in which the apostle John has a vision of the glorified Jesus. Usually I’d just link it but I want to make sure you read it!

“Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around His chest. The hairs of His head were white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’” (Revelation 1:12-18)

“Seeing is becoming”
Preaching from this text, John Piper says, “One of the most important principles that guides the way I preach and what I preach comes from 2 Corinthians 3:18. It says, ‘We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.’ The principle is this: true gospel change of a person's character comes from steady gazing at the glory of Jesus. ‘Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into his image.’ We become like what we treasure enough to spend time focusing on. Some say, ‘Seeing is believing.’ This text says, ‘Seeing is becoming.’ You become like what you behold.”

Charles Spurgeon is similarly convinced: “When our thoughts of Jesus are expanded and elevated, we obtain right ideas upon other matters. In the light of His love and atoning sacrifice, we see the depth of the degradation from which such a Redeemer has uplifted us, and we hate, with all our hearts, the sins which pierced such an altogether lovely one, and made it needful for the Lord of life to die. Forming some adequate estimate of what Jesus has done for us, our gratitude grows, and with our gratitude our love—while love compels us to consecration, and consecration suggests heroic self-denying actions. Then are we bold to speak for Him, and ready, if needs be, to suffer for Him while we feel we could give up all we have to increase His glory, without so much as dreaming that we had made a sacrifice.”

That doesn’t look like a carpenter
Your first thoughts on reading the passage above is that this vision of Jesus that John records is not how most of us would immediately think of Him. We think of Jesus from His time on earth 2,000 years ago, a guy with nothing in His physical appearance to arrest our attention. Perhaps only in His transfiguration did Jesus unveil His true majesty but even then it didn’t bring the whole world to a standstill. There were glimpses of glory – a loving look, an astonishing miracle, an indisputable statement – but there was enough uncertainty to allow many to reject Him, and others to embrace Him by faith. When He comes to the earth a second time there will be no such ambiguity.

John’s vision is of the now-glorified Jesus. There has been much written about what his descriptions of Jesus signify. The most obvious thing about this is that it references the vision Daniel had of YHWH and Jesus in the Old Testament; John is seeing nothing less than God Himself.

Depending on which version you read, he uses the word “like” 6 or 7 times here. This isn’t, like, an Americanism, but an acknowledgement that what he is seeing cannot be fully expressed in words, that’s how great Jesus is! Too much allegory can make anything taste sickly sweet but it’s worth noting that a long robe with a highly-positioned valuable sash indicates a great priest, white hair can speak of purity but more importantly glorious wisdom and timelessness (Jesus isn’t old but He is Ancient of days), fiery eyes see all and burn with passion and are set in a face that shines brighter than the sun (if such a sight can be imagined!), feet like these are strong and conquering, and a great sword which allows for no argument: dividing with authority. Add to this a voice that, in John Wesley’s words, is “the comfort of His friends, and the terror of His enemies”, which announces Jesus’ great victory and eternal rule. One astute commentator notes that John looks at Jesus’ face and then casts His eyes down to His feet, then He looks up again but what he sees is too awesome for him and he falls to the ground “as though dead”. And so would we. Oh, so would we! Confronted with Jesus in all His glory none would stand, none would speak except with the sorrow that comes when sinners feel the holiness of God.

Spurgeon again, “It is an instance of the glory of God's grace that He conceals His majesty from His people, and wraps clouds and darkness round about Him; this He does not to deny His saints a bliss which they might covet, but to preserve them from an unseasonable joy, which, as yet, they are not capable of bearing. We shall see him as He is, when we shall be like Him, but not till then.” Some Christians seem to have an irreverence in their attitude towards God, a casualness that is not found in Scripture except in those who are described as fools headed for hell. Spurgeon is right to use the word “joy” but it is not a light and inconsequential joy, it is something greater than we have yet experienced.

Keep your distance?
Does this mean that we are to stay at a fearful distance as the people of God did in the Old Testament when God came down to be near them? No. Look at how Jesus responds to John’s fear: “But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not…’” Why are we to have no fear? Because this mighty and glorious One has died for us and been raised to new life that we might share with Him a glorious eternity. His death on our behalf has cleansed us from all our sin and shame: we are perfectly righteous in His eyes. Such is His amazing gracious love. David wrote, “Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.” (Psalm 62:11-12). Jesus tells John that he can get up and get to work – in John’s case writing down the rest of the things he’s about to see and hear. The same is true for us, as Piper and Spurgeon said. Jesus isn’t looking for fearful slaves but enraptured worshippers who live their whole life for Him and His glory. As this vision of Him shows, there is no-one more worthy.

Look at Jesus: keep looking at Him. Let Him consume your gaze. You will see unrivalled power and also unceasing love. And you will be changed.