Jesus is probably one of the most famous and influential people in history (unless of course you believe that he never actually existed and is just a fictional character). He has been frequently depicted in paintings and sculptures and other works of art since at least the second or third centuries C.E. With the advent of motion pictures and television, Jesus has also been portrayed in movies and television series. When I was growing up, a perennial favorite for me was the miniseries "Jesus of Nazareth" with Robert Powell as the long haired and bearded messiah. My image of Jesus in appearance and personality was defined by Powell's performance and it is probably true for many other Christians who watched it.
The image that many people get of Jesus, whether from works of art or film performances like Robert Powell, Max von Sydow, and Jeffrey Hunter, to name a few, is that of a serene and very gentle man. One common theme one sees in paintings is Jesus with children, which is likely inspired by passages such as Matthew 19:13, where Jesus is quoted as saying "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Here is one such image I found while searching on Google:
While the face of Jesus can only be seen from the side, he clearly looks happy, as are the children walking beside him. The image of Jesus conveyed by the artist, unintentionally I would think, is the Christian savior as the Michael Jackson of the early 1st century Palestine!
Another common theme in Christian works of art is the representation of Jesus as a shepherd. In the picture below, Jesus is shown bathed in a beam of light from the heavens as he cradles a little lamb in his arms, his face a mask of serenity and benevolence:
Other popular depictions of Jesus in art, such as the one below, show us a Jesus as a divine radiant being, with a halo around his head. Quite often, as with this picture, we see a Jesus with big, soft blue eyes, staring directly at the viewer but otherwise appearing rather passive.
What I began to notice after reading the Gospels after a while was that the depictions of Jesus in the paintings above did not seem to square with the Jesus we find in the Gospels. The Jesus of the Gospels, if you read them with your blinders off, is actually a rather hot tempered and impatient man, particularly with his apostles.
"Are you still so dull?" he says to them in Matthew 15:16 when they ask Jesus to explain one of his parables to them. A little bit further on, in Matthew 16:8, Jesus berates them, "You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand?... How is it that you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread?"
In Matthew 17:17, after being told by a man that the apostles could not heal his epileptic son, Jesus says in a fit of anger, "O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you. How long shall I put up with you?" I can almost picture Jesus going about his ministry wearing a t-shirt that reads "I'm surrounded by idiots!"
But where we really see the temper of Jesus on full display is in Matthew 23, where we are treated to a litany of "Woe to you" to this group and that group, and "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?" This is not the kind of man I want my children to hang around with and this Jesus certainly is not the same man as the Michael Jackson-like figure in the picture at the top of this post.
Perhaps though I am being a little unfair to Jesus. Maybe it's not easy when you think you have been sent to Earth to redeem mankind and your closest followers turn out to be a bunch of half wits. I think this clip from the late Sam Kinison helps us to understand the pressures that Mr. Jesus labored under, and maybe from that we can feel a little more sympathy for our would be savior: