9 “Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons. 10 Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, ‘Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.’ 11 You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom. 12 Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice.
Are images that attempt to portray Jesus idolatrous? I have been thinking about this for a long time. Today, in Evangelical and Fundamental churches, much of the teaching on idolatry centers on Paul’s statement that covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5), or condemns the exaltation of anything in our lives that takes the place of God. But what about the literal making and using of images of Jesus?
isn’t an illustration in a Children’s Bible,
a doll in a manger,
a flannelgraph, stained glass,
statue in a cemetery,
or appealing sketch of a laughing man.
He isn’t even the central figure
in an amazing mural
in our nation’s Capitol.
All of these things are lies that diminish
our understanding of the Lord and of walking by faith.
Bible-believing Christians are using so-called pictures of Jesus on blogs, in videos, movies, emails, and even on T-shirts. Please study this issue prayerfully. It isn’t a trivial thing. The question is: If we use them, can we call ourselves Bible-believers? May the Lord never say this about us:
17 Ephraim is joined to idols;
Let him alone.
What does God’s Word teach about this? Here are some important passages:
We are not to make images and likenesses. Exodus 20:4-6
Whoever keeps the whole law, yet offends in one point, is guilty of breaking the entire law. James 2:9-11
Obedience to God is love for Him. John 14:21
True worshipers worship the Father in spirit and in truth. John 4:22-24
We walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8
A side note – An accusation, and a little about old arguments
Awhile back, in preparing this I came across a blog that leveled a very old charge against Christians who object to images of Jesus. This is the charge: That because of the Incarnation, if we say that He should not be depicted, we are denying His humanity. But I confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh – that He is God in the flesh – but also affirm that because images of God are forbidden, and since Jesus Christ is God, that therefore images of Him should not be made.
Another old argument strikes a blow at making these images. It argues that because God the Son is both God and Man it is impossible to portray Him, for His Deity can never be portrayed.
24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?
1) We can’t know how Jesus looked during His earthly ministry – no artist is capable of doing this. The prophet Isaiah, and John in Revelation, described some of Jesus’ characteristics. Here is Isaiah’s description, which reveals a negative, that the Lord wasn’t handsome as so many images picture Him:
1 Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
3 He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
In Revelation, John described what He saw, the Lord Jesus Christ as He is now, having risen from the dead and ascended to the Father; not as He looked when He fed the 5,000, or walked on the waves of the sea. (Seeing the Lord as He is now would make us fall at His feet as if dead, just as John did.)
13 and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. 14 His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15 His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters.
2) Particular depictions of Jesus may appeal to us but repel others.
Having concern for the lost
You probably don’t worship images, kiss them, or bow before them in prayer – but some people do and think that this is right worship. Do you want to stand with them in darkness, or be a light to them? Do you want to preach Christ crucified to them, or offer them a lie?
1 Peter 1:8-9
8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
I’ve tried not to be discouraged by the seeming blindness of Christians to the obligations of the second commandment, but it is difficult when even mature Christians dismiss them. After studying and praying, I can see that there is no ultimate argument that will convince others, who in many ways are better Christians than I – only the Lord can convince and convict. May He pity us! May He help us to get ready for His return! And may we find comfort in the knowledge that someday He Himself will destroy these things.
17 The pride of man will be humbled
And the loftiness of men will be abased;
And the Lord alone will be exalted in that day,
18 But the idols will completely vanish.
19 Men will go into caves of the rocks
And into holes of the ground
Before the terror of the Lord
And the splendor of His majesty,
When He arises to make the earth tremble.
20 In that day men will cast away to the moles and the bats
Their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
Which they made for themselves to worship,
21 In order to go into the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs
Before the terror of the Lord and the splendor of His majesty,
When He arises to make the earth tremble.
22 For the Lord is our judge,
The Lord is our lawgiver,
The Lord is our king;
He will save us—
For further study
Idolatry Condemned – “J. Vernon McGee on Pictures of Jesus and Idolatry”
IdolatryCondemned YouTube channel – “On God’s Covenant to Save His People From Idolatry”