Our Ugly Jesus

When you imagine Jesus, what do you see? A man with a lovely shining face, long flowing hair, and a winning smile? Is your Jesus sun-kissed and bronzed, not quite Middle-Eastern and not quite Caucasian? A perfectly handsome, approachable, and even Western looking man?

We’ve all seen the paintings that hang on church walls and in elderly ladies homes–Jesus in His traditional white robe, surrounded by lambs and children, whilst His long dark hair blows softly in the wind.

But, is this really Jesus?

Was the Son of Man really a mix of a Ken doll and Romeo? Probably not. Many Bible scholars actually believe (and not that they are always right) Jesus was, in fact, ugly.

Yes…our ugly Savior. And so what if He was ugly, what does that matter?

Actually, it matters a lot…

Isaiah 52:14-53:3 is often referred to as the passage of the “Suffering Servant” and many believe these verses speak of Jesus:

“Just as there were many who were appalled at him– his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness…He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering (NIV).” 

If we believe this verse speaks of Christ, than we acknowledge that Jesus was indeed ugly. If anything, according to this scripture, He was almost repulsive. “Disfigured” and “marred.” He was the man you would look away from while passing him on the street. He was the man you would not make eye contact with, so as to avoid staring upon his appearance for too long.

So now, imagine Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father and declaring that He would empty Himself out and become a man. My husband said to me just the other day, that it wasn’t simply that Jesus became a babe in a manger–as we so often think. Instead, He became a fetus, surrendering Himself over as one of the most fragile organisms on earth–helpless in every way.


Jesus accepting to live in human form, and to do so as a unattractive, potentially hideous man, speaks to His divine humility:

“[Christ] Jesus: Who, being in very nature God,…,but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself…” Philippians 2:5-8

More than that, Jesus choosing to come and grow as a man disfigured and marred speaks to His contempt of that which the world loves.  An ugly savior reminds us of our need to love the unlovely and the unlovable. It reminds us that God judges the heart, not one’s outward appearance.

To be sure, Jesus enraptured all of the beauty of the Lord, but it was not beauty to look upon, but rather spiritual beauty to behold.

Jesus is a friend to the forgotten, a hope for the hopeless, a hand to the untouched. Wouldn’t it follow that He chose to resemble so many of those He came to save? The disfigured, the scarred, the broken, the crippled?

We don’t like to think of our Jesus as ugly. We certainly don’t like to think of Him as almost repulsive to look upon–with nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. We would rather take our Jesus handsome and comely, a perfect looking Savior.

But, I like the idea of this ugly Jesus who chose to take human form and, in doing so, remain lowly–not elevating Himself in any way, including in His physical appearance.

An ugly Savior reminds us that external beauty is fleeting and vaporous. It reminds us that Christ suffered in so many ways, and perhaps as a man, people avoided Him because He was not lovely to behold. An ugly Jesus reminds us that our God is not concerned with appearance, but the heart. It reminds us that our God is not constrained by worldly standards or influenced by earthly desires.

Jesus climbed onto that cross willingly and offered Himself as a final grotesque and yet glorious sacrifice -whipped, stabbed, bleeding, broken, and forgotten. Not beautiful, yet all together wonderful.

How do you imagine Jesus? What image comes to your mind when you think of Him? And have you ever actually seen Jesus? 

image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/epsos/

22 thoughts on “Our Ugly Jesus”

  1. I imagine I might not have given Jesus a second look in a crowd… unless I met his eyes — his startling, known-me-forever, mirthful, sorrowful eyes that truly see me, and completely love me (flaws and all). There is nothing more attractive than that. :-)

  2. How do you imagine Jesus? What image comes to your mind when you think of Him? And have you ever actually seen Jesus?

    He’s insipid in His appearance. Not flashy. Not loud. Not boisterous or full of braggadocio. He listens intently, considers and ponders with purpose, and then He speaks. When He says Yes, He means Yes. When He says No, He means No. He laughs easily, and is quick with the casual touch of a friend. He is difficult to upset, but when He is moved by righteous anger, look out. He plays openly with children, eschewing His adulthood for the fellowship of fun and laughter that make up childhood, and worries not what others think of Him in doing so. He tolerates much, but He won’t let anyone cross the line with Him.

    As to His image? I haven’t the slightest idea. I do know, however, that He was not some white guy with brown hair and green eyes. And He surely wasn’t the effeminate shepherd of Catholic art, prancing about like an attendee at a Village People concert.

    I have seen Jesus in the Spirit, but I have never seen His face. My vision stops at His shoulders, for some reason. Someday, though, we all will look upon His face and be fulfilled.

  3. This is really interesting. We’ll never know for sure whether Jesus was ugly or good-looking, but what you said about Jesus coming as a lowly servant- and therefore not elevating himself above others, even in terms of physical appearance- makes a lot of sense.

  4. It’s interesting that you pose this question right as the new History program/miniseries, The Bible, is on the air. Have you seen that Jesus? WOW. I would’ve been one distracted follower back in biblical times! This is really not anything new. There have been countless depictions of our Savior as being rather handsome. While it’s pleasant (albeit somewhat awkward) to think of Jesus as being easy on the eyes, I don’t think that’s accurate. The above verses testify to that. Jesus didn’t want us to be attracted to His physical self (He didn’t need fangirls), but to His Spirit. His message is what counted, not His appearance.

    I guess I don’t often put a face to Him when I think of Him in human form. It becomes too easy to get caught up in the superficial that way. Instead, I picture a white robe and hands that are usually holding me or guiding me.


  5. Funny how we seek to find God in beauty. It is the essence of what people look for in their daily walk. Or is it that beauty is what we long to see? Yet for some reason our eyes are always drawn to the ugliness of this place. Ugliness is what draws our attention more so then beauty. What we aspire to be is beautiful. But, what we tend to focus on is the ugliness. In reality “if” Jesus were ugly, he was indeed the essence of what man has become. As an example: if Kim K. were to one day wear the wrong piece of clothing, or become disfigured, we would fixate on her imperfection. Since she is “so perfect” in the worlds eye, we really would rather see the flaws to entertain our passions for finding the ugliness in what is beautiful. The ugliness is reality. The beauty is what we see when our eyes look further then the mere exterior of a thing.

  6. I tend to think that Isaiah 53 is talking about his appearance after the beatings and on the cross. Before that, who knows. However, he is no longer on the cross or in the grave. The descriptions of his glorified resurrected body suggest that he is pleasant to look at now. God values physical beauty, but in a fallen world it is better to have character than beauty. I believe that beauty is a common grace that some are given more of than others. We all deserve to be born into ugliness as we are born sinners. But when we are raised with him all effects of sin will be swept away including, I believe, ugliness. The apostles tell women not to be consumed with their appearance here because the way to get the physical beauty and honor they long for is to store up beauty in heaven through dying to self here.

    1. Peter – the only problem with your first statement about isaiah 53 referring to Jesus after the beatings is matthew 8 16,17 whic shows this being fulfilled a long time before the cross

  7. Hi Nicole,

    I had heard that before but hadn’t thought about it recently. Thanks for shaking up my thoughts there. :) I usually picture a Middle Eastern carpenter, with brown hair, and strong rough hands and shoulders from hard manual labor. But the face, ahh, that’s a good point. I’ll have to consider that more now.

    Have a great week, Nicole.

    Jennifer Dougan

  8. I love the way this post forces me to examine my preconceptions. Thank you. I think the way His love drove Him up onto the cross also points to another important truth, especially poignant as we near Easter – Jesus could lay down His life because He KNEW the Father would lift Him up again; that kind of faith is what Jesus wants from us as well, the kind that lets us lay our lives down at His feet, because we KNOW that God will lift us up again, for His sake.

  9. As someone who loves Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy—both in book and movie form—I’ve imagined Jesus looking much like the character Aragorn. Definitely rough around the edges and having a very rugged sort of appearance, but still possessing a kingly and noble beauty.

    And I still believe that, however ordinary or even ugly he might’ve actually been, he was actually quite beautiful, if such a contradiction makes sense. Maybe not in the way the world looks at beauty, but certainly according to God’s definition of beauty. Some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known, and still know, are beautiful in the same way. It’s a deeper kind of beauty, that radiates from the inside out, and transforms even the ugliest, most ordinary-looking people into the kind of people you just look at and go, wow, there’s something different about them. Similar to how Stephen is described in Acts 6:17, when it says his face was like the face of an angel. I think that’s the kind of beauty Jesus had when he walked the earth as a man. Maybe not the kind of superficial beauty, as Isaiah says, that would make us feel attracted to him, at least in the natural sense, but the kind of beauty that made even the outcasts of society feel drawn to him.

  10. “My husband said to me just the other day, that it wasn’t simply that Jesus became a babe in a manger–as we so often think. Instead, He became a fetus, surrendering Himself over as one of the most fragile organisms on earth–helpless in every way.”

    beautifully said. Honestly After reading the first sentence of you saying jesus was ugly, I literally stopped reading and had like a five minute convo with myself that basically went like this “nu uh, no way, this can’t be, omg this can’t be true, no way, child boo” Lol than after reading it all it makes perfect sense and the verse from Isaiah brought me chills.

    I am a newly subscriber and I am glad I did, looking forward to your next posts.

  11. While I agree that our pop-culture images of Jesus are probably beyond incorrect, especially in that Jesus wasn’t white, I don’t see where you get ugly from.

    I say this, because every pastor/scholar I’ve heard or read (which obviously doesn’t cover all the different opinions out there) sees the Isaiah text you referenced as more surrounding His crucifixion than normal life.

    Especially the “his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” I’ve always heard and read that as after He took the lashes and before the cross.

    “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” could easily be referring to Him just being ordinary in appearance, neither overly attractive nor ugly.

    Everything I can remember from the gospels leads me to believe that “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” was because He kept telling people to repent, and those whose hearts were hardened rejected Him because they didn’t want to see the Light.

    I’m not saying Jesus wasn’t ugly, or that He was. I just understand how you land there from this text.

    1. Don,
      Thanks for the comment, but to be fair, I didn’t “land” anywhere, as you suggest. I offered this entire post as theory–and more than that, to help lead us to the conclusion that Christ’s sufferings and His acceptance of the unlovely makes Him even more beautiful.

      My pastor had a saying that I think applies here: “Chew the meat, spit out the bone.” There’s enough meat in this post that focusing on the “bone” isn’t quite necessary. I see nothing wrong with imagining and asking questions if it can bring greater revelation of Jesus Christ.

  12. I never thought of him as being physically disfigured until he was scourged for our transgressions, but I have always imagined him to be rather ordinary looking without any distinguishing features or maybe even a bit homely. I never saw “The Last Temptation of Christ”, but I thought that Willem Defoe would be a more realistic looking Jesus than some of the other choices of actors just because he isn’t a handsome guy.

  13. I really must agree with Peter Daniel James’ thoughts in the commments. I certainly don’t picture Jesus as a chiseled abs kind of guy. I imagine him looking ‘run of the mill’ for time and place. I really think the passage in question here is refering to the crucifixion of Jesus. Isaiah 52:13 says “See, my servant will act wisely[b];he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” The footnote shows that some texts insead have the word “wail”. I think it’s important to consider the meaning of the verse with this word as well. The gospels don’t seem to suggest that Jesus was constantly in physical pain, so when would he be wailing? When he was being tortured before crucifixion and during it as well is my understanding.

    Regardless of my opinion, thanks for sharing yours! It definitely an interesting thought.

  14. I think the disfigured appearance mentioned in Isiah is actually after the crucifixion. My vision of Jesus based on scripture though was that He looked “plain”. He wasn’t grandiose or ostentatious in his dress or appearance. He was someone who you would walk pass on the street without a second glance as far as appearance is concerned. I also envision Him being a little dirty and stink even, he travelled long distances, with people touching him and I am sure he had times where He sweat profusely. Very far from the long flowing hair and perfect glowing skin we are used to seeing in movies.

  15. After Jesus drove the money-changers out of the temple, Rome put out wanted posters with a physical description of him. Virtually all the posters were later destroyed by Christians, who feared that Hellenistic society would not accept a god-man who was less than perfect, but Josephus preserved a copy, according to a document that most historians consider genuine. Jesus was described as “a man of simple appearance, mature age, dark skin, small stature, three cubits high [4 ft 6 in; 137 cm], hunchbacked, with a long face, long nose, and meeting eyebrows, so that they who see him might be affrighted, with scanty hair (but) with a parting in the middle of his head, after the manner of the Nazirites, and with an undeveloped beard.”

    Not the tall, pretty, white, Aryan Edward Cullen that we want to picture him as, but a balding hunchback with a big nose, a unibrow, a patchy neckbeard, and a lame haircut.That is my god. The god of the rejects. And leading the charge with him are the inaugural members of the new thing he is doing: an Ethiopian eunuch and an abused, misunderstood woman from the wrong side of the border.

    That is true beauty.

  16. It’s difficult to say as my perception of ugly is shaped only by what I know during my lifetime. What the world looked like and the cultural biases of their day may be completely different than what we in the developed world are familiar with.

  17. Just because Jesus wasnt good looking doesnt mean he was ugly. Beside, even if this was the case, that wasnt his real appearance; his real appearance was the one he had when he was risen. I dont know if you are familiar with the shreud of turin but if we have to take it for a fact that it belongs to Jesus, the face depicted based on it, was a handsome one in my opinion

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