On the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus of Nazareth asked his disciples, “Whom do men say that I am?” (Matt. 16:13). Christ’s question has echoed through the global continents for almost two thousand years. Kaleidoscopic images of Christ have developed from the answers that humanity provided to the inquiry of Jesus. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), a German theologian and philosopher, who remains one of the world’s foremost experts in the theology of Jesus, wrote, “Each successive epoch found its own thoughts in Jesus, which was, indeed, the only way in which it could make him alive; typically, one created him in accordance with one’s own character.” “There is,” he concluded, “no historical task which so reveals someone’s true self as the writing of a Life of Jesus” (Schweitzer, The Quest for Historical Jesus, p. 4). In one’s journey to seek Christ, sanctimonious enthusiasts have been inclined to put more preconceived notions into Christ, than objectively discover what God has revealed about His Son.
During the Christmas season, images and portrayals of Christ abound in an array of considerations. While people should focus on how they consider and portray Christ every day, the image of Christ has become front and center in the American culture in this month. With so many depictions of the Saviour displayed on lawns and church building grounds, the dutiful Christian must consider what God has said in the Bible about Jesus, rather than simply adopt whatever the majority would interpret of Christ.
Professors of psychology such as Peter Hill and Leslie Francis have explored the psychological connection between how people see Jesus or God and how they see them themselves. Hill and Francis’s research found that on a personal basis, individuals view Jesus/God in light of how they view themselves. If one sees himself/herself as an upper-class, self-made capitalist, then traditionally, the individual emphasizes the view of Jesus as a strong and powerful King of kings. If a person sees himself/herself as a struggling, poverty-stricken workhorse, then the person predominantly sees Jesus as a humble Lamb of God that endured persecution. The aspects of Christ on which individuals focus their attention reveal more about the individuals than the actual person of Jesus. This study will discuss how much of what a person sees in Christ is biblical and how much a person sees in Christ is cultural or emotionally derived.
The image of Christ represents more than a painted picture. For this study, the word “image” embodies the metaphorical portrait or mental representation of Christ. While physical illustrations often influence the mental and allegorical understanding one holds of Christ, ultimately, the picture of Christ in a person’s head derives from what the individual wants to see. The interpretation of Christ reflects the socially-constructed features of a particular culture or emotional state of an individual, in that people interpret experiences and images subjectively from their culturally-constructed knowledge and feelings. How a person sees Christ will greatly determine how they interpret the Bible and how the individual will “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7).
Paul writes to the church at Corinth to correct their idolatry along with many other issues they faced when he penned by inspiration, “Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play” (1 Cor. 10:7). When people think of idolatry, ideas of statues and golden figures come to mind, but idolatry in the modern world is vastly different. Modern idolatry exists as the worship and following of false images of Christ, images of Christ that do not represent the words and teachings of Christ in the Bible. How is a believer of Christ to imitate the actions of Christ and interpret His words and walk in fellowship with the Messiah, if the person has no idea as to the nature and true image of the Lord? All those who call themselves Christians have some view or image of Christ that affects how they read and follow the commands of the Sacred Writ. If a Christian has been deceived by a false, idolatrous images of Christ, it will lead them to destruction (1 Cor. 6:9,10; 2 Cor. 6:14-17). Throughout this study, readers must challenge themselves to view Christ in different ways and determine which image of Christ is biblical and which image of Christ do they follow?