Over the years as a pastor, I have been asked why making an image of Jesus is wrong. In fact, I have been frequently criticized for my position that making images of Jesus is forbidden in the second commandment. I have come to expect that such a view will be treated as “legalistic” and impractical, especially for use in children’s books. The fact remains, however, that we were never given an inspired image of Jesus, and that we were expressly commanded not to make one. The Heidelberg Catechism on the second commandment states,
96. Q.What does God require in the second commandment?
A. We are not to make an image of God in any way, nor to worship him in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word. 2
97. Q. May we then not make any image at all?
A. God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way. Creatures may be portrayed, but God forbids us to make or have any images of them in order to worship them or to serve God through them.
“Well, ok, but what if we aren’t worshipping them? This all seems a bit too stretched” as I often hear. Just how dangerous can making images of Jesus really be?
There is another reason that might surprise you as to why we should avoid making images. Stephen Prothero in “American Jesus” shows how Jesus has been used for people’s cultural agendas for decades-these are some of the awful representations in the book.
Go ahead, “take a look” at some of them:
So which image “is” Jesus and which one do “you” pick? Now things get a bit more complicated. The problem is self evident: When we make a Jesus according to our own ethnicity, Jesus is co-opted and tailored visually into a savior who is comfortable and familiar to our own people group. Not only is this idolatry, but it directly undermines the mission of Jesus to “all” peoples. We easily create a false Jesus that comes from our own imaginations.
Jesus was not a white, European anglo-saxon. When Christ assumed a human nature, he took on a Jewish ethnicity. Yet, the only description given of him in the Bible comes from Revelation 1 and is entirely symbolic, describing him in resurrection glory. Humans have the propensity, just like Israel in making a golden-calf and calling it Yahweh, to refashion in their minds a Jesus of their own making. To fashion a picture that is not Jesus, and then to parade that image with only those characteristics of my own ethnicity can legitimately receive a charge of racism in our highly charged, cultural racial divide. Further, in this way, Jesus can easily become a mascot for whatever social agenda a person or organization may pursue.
Jesus will not be used for any one people’s social agenda, and that’s really good news. Jesus is the savior of all races/ethnicities, and together all peoples should confess and bow before him as Lord. Today, we worship him by faith and believe in him as he is revealed in his Word, as he draws “all peoples” to himself. Tomorrow, with our resurrected bodies, in the beatific vision, we will gaze our risen eyes upon him in glory.