What’s Jesus like?
20 Biblical images of Jesus
According to a survey, 40% of people in England don’t believe that Jesus was a real person. Instead they think He is a mythical figure. Some think that the characters in the Bible are metaphors for something deeper. That the Bible is a symbolic story. That the gospels are historical fiction. On the other hand, some think that Jesus was a historical figure, but His resurrection was a metaphor rather than a real event.
What do the historical records show? According to the New Testament scholar Darrell Bock (2015), “Christ’s story is just as well attested as Caesar’s. You can accept or deny claims made about Jesus in the Gospels, but you can’t pretend they were never made …
If we believe what the best sources say about Julius Caesar, then we should believe what the best sources say about Jesus Christ”.
Today we will look at what Jesus is like from the images given in the Bible. This will help us to follow Him. Paul said, “I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor.11:1NIV). And Peter said, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Pt. 2:21). Jesus told His followers “follow me” and “learn from me” (Mt. 11:29; 16:24).
The big picture
The Bible says that there are three aspects of God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That’s where the word “Trinity” comes from. Today we are looking at Jesus, who is God the Son.
As a spirit, God doesn’t have a body like us. He’s invisible. But when Jesus came to earth, He took a human body. So God was visible when Jesus lived on earth. Paul wrote, “The Son (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). He’s “the exact representation of His (God’s) being” (Heb. 1:3). And Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). So Jesus is the best image of God. However, He lived before cameras were invented, so the only images we have of Him are words in the Bible.
Metaphors as images of Jesus
The best way to know what Jesus is like is to look at what the Bible says about Him because it’s a message from God. In the New Testament, there’s lots of information about what Jesus said and did.
But today we’re looking at images of Jesus in the Bible. These are mainly metaphors which are powerful images which help to show who Jesus is and what our relationship with Jesus can be like.
First; Jesus is likened to certain people.
When Jesus is described as being a “Son” it doesn’t mean a biological son, Instead, it’s a figure of speech. For example, Judas Iscariot was called the “son of destruction” (Jn. 17:12ESV). This means he was characterised by destruction. James and John were called “sons of thunder”, which meant they were like thunder (Mk. 3:17). Likewise, Jesus was called “Son of Man” and “Son of God”. So it means that Jesus was like a man and like God. In fact, He was both a man and God. He was fully human and fully divine.
The most common title that Jesus used for Himself was “Son of Man” (Mk. 8:31; 14:62). It’s used 78 times in the gospels. It had two meanings in the Old Testament. In Daniel’s vision the son of man was the heavenly Messiah who will rule over the whole earth in a kingdom that will never end (Dan. 7:13-14). This was a subtle way of saying that He was the Jewish Messiah (Mt. 26:64). But “son of man” also meant a human being (Ps. 8:4; 144:3; 146:3). God called the prophet Ezekiel “son of man” 93 times. So the title “Son of Man” indicates that Jesus is both the Messiah and a human being. In Jesus, the invisible God is revealed (Col. 1:15).
The other title “Son of God” (Lk. 1:35; Jn. 5:25; 10:36; 11:4), meant that Jesus was God in human form and that’s why the religious leaders had Him killed (Jn. 1:14; 10:33-36; 19:7). Sometimes this is abbreviated to “the Son” (Mt. 11:27).
Jesus is also called “Son of David” (Mt. 21:9; Lk. 18:38). This title is equivalent to “Messiah”. He fulfilled the Davidic covenant and with respect to His humanity, He was a descendant of king David (2 Sam. 7:11-16, Ps. 89: 4, 36-37). Jesus was the only one who was qualified to be the Jewish Messiah. And because His lives forever, His kingdom will last forever,
If Jesus is Son of Man and Son of God, then He is both human and divine. Because he was human, He could die. And because He was God, He was sinless. So He’s the only one who could take the punishment for our sin.
Jesus is like a lord or master. A lord or master had power and authority over servants, slaves, or property.
The Greek noun kurios (Strongs #2962) translated “Lord” means master or owner. One who has power, authority and control. The master rules the servant and the servant respects and submits to the master. In the Bible, the title is given to God as the ruler of the universe.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted from Joel “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21), which the Jews would have understood as a reference to God the Father. But then he said that “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). So, He’s giving Jesus the same title as that given to God the Father in the Old Testament. It means that Jesus is the ruler of everything in the universe. He is supreme over all creation (Col. 1:15). And we know this is true because He is both the Creator and the Redeemer (Col. 1:16, 20). Besides this, Jesus is head of the church (Eph. 1:22; 5:23).
Paul said, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). And Jesus is “Lord of all”; both of the Jews and the Gentiles (Acts 10:36; Rom. 10:12). In future, everyone will “acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11). And John said that Jesus is “Lord of lords” (Rev. 17:14; 19:16).
This metaphor caused tension in the Roman Empire. It was declaring that there was only one God, not many. Jesus was above all their other gods. Also, it was deemed to be unpatriotic because the Emperor was treated as being divine. But Jesus was above the Emperor.
If Jesus is like our master, then it’s like we’re under His rule. This image reminds us of the need to submit to Him and obey Him.
Jesus is also like a bridegroom and husband. A bridegroom loves and cares for his bride. They belong together.
The church is the bride of Christ. Christians belong to Christ, like a bride belongs to her husband (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23-32).
Christ showed His love for the church in three ways (Eph. 5:25-27). By:
– Redemption – “He gave Himself up for her, to make her holy”. He gave up His life on the cross to make us positionally holy before God.
– Sanctification – He’s “cleansing her by the washing with water through the word”. As we hear and obey the words of Scripture, we are being made holy practically.
– Glorification – He will “present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless”. In the future the church will be perfectly holy.
This metaphor continues after the rapture when there is rejoicing “For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7-9). Jesus is like the bridegroom and the church is like the bride. And their union is like a wedding and a wedding supper.
If Jesus is like our bridegroom, then we are like His bride. We belong together. This image reminds us of His love for us.
Jesus is like a king. In ancient times, a king ruled a city or nation. A king has authority over all others. They have ultimate authority.
Nathaniel, the crowds, and the religious leaders called Jesus “king of Israel” (Jn. 1:49; 12:13; Mt. 27:42). This title is equivalent to “Messiah” (Mk. 15:32). The Magi came to visit “the King of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2). And the notice on His cross said that He was “The King of the Jews” (Jn. 19:19-21).
This metaphor is absent in the Scriptures that describe the period between Christ’s death and his second coming. Instead, the main title used by the early church was for Jesus was “Lord”. But Jesus comes as the “King of kings” in His second coming (Rev. 17:14; 19:16). And after this as a great “King” he will judge the Gentile nations (Mt. 25:31-46).
If Jesus is like a king, then the time will come when He will defeat all opposing powers to bring justice and peace and rule over all creation.
Jesus is also like a judge. A judge assesses the guilt of the accused and determines the penalty if they are guilty.
When John had a vision of Jesus as a judge, he was told “I hold the keys to death and Hades” (Rev. 1:12-18). This means that He controls both the body and the soul. And Jesus can raise the dead. Then Jesus judges the seven churches in Asia (Rev. 2:1 – 3:22).
After the rapture, believers will be rewarded according to their service at “the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 2:6; 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:12-15; 15:58; 2 Cor. 5:10). The rewards are expressed in the second coming and the millennial kingdom (Lk. 19:17-19; Mt. 17:27; Rev. 3:21).
In His second coming (Rev. 17:14; 19:16), Jesus judges those left after the rapture and after this He will judge the Gentile nations (Mt. 25:31-46).
Peter said that God appointed Jesus “as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). This is consistent with God the Father “entrusting all judgment to the Son” (Jn. 5:22). This means that Jesus will be the judge at the Great White Throne where each unbeliever will be judged “according to what they had done” (Rev. 21:11-15). That’s when people’s secrets will be judged (Rom. 2:16).
If Jesus is like a judge, then we are like the accused. Because Jesus paid our penalty, this image reminds us of God’s love for us.
Jesus is like a shepherd. A shepherd cares for sheep by protecting, guiding and sustaining them.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11). He laid down His life for both Jews and Gentiles (Jn. 10:15-16). The relationship between Jesus and His sheep is like that between Jesus and God the Father. In contrast, the religious leaders were like hired hands who abandon the sheep when there is trouble (Jn. 10:12-14). They are selfish and don’t care about the sheep.
The Bible says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Our sinfulness is likened to sheep going astray. But Jesus, like a Great Shepherd, gave His life for our protection (Heb. 13:20; 1 Pt. 2:25). When He returns at the rapture it will be as the Chief Shepherd (1 Pt. 5:4).
If Jesus is like a shepherd, then we are like the sheep. This image reminds us of His loving care.
Jesus is also ike a high priest. A high priest went into the Most Holy Place of the Jewish temple once a year to atone for the sins of the people of Israel.
Jesus was a great high Priest, who was tempted like us, but didn’t sin (Heb. 4:14-15). As a High Priest, when He died Jesus made atonement for the sins of the people (Heb. 2:17). Jesus was a mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5-6; Heb. 9:15).
He was a high priest of the order of Melchizedek. Unlike other Jewish high priests he wasn’t a descendant of Aaron or from the tribe of Levi (Heb. 5:6-10; 7:1-28). “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood”. His sacrifice was “once for all” and “He always lives to intercede” for us. And His new covenant is better than the old one (Heb. 8:1-13).
If Jesus is like a high priest, then we are like sinners separated from God. Because Jesus was both the sacrifice and the High Priest, this image reminds us that because of Jesus was can approach God the Father.
Jesus is like a servant. A servant serves others. It’s a humble position.
There are four servant songs about the Messiah in the book of Isaiah (Isa. 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:13 – 53:12). The last one about the suffering righteous servant is often quoted in the New Testament in regard to Christ’s suffering. Its central verse is, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). Christ’s death brought spiritual healing; forgiveness and salvation; to those who trust in Him. That’s His greatest work as a servant.
Paul says that Jesus took the very nature of a servant (Phil. 2:7). Jesus told His disciples, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:44-45). He gave up the enjoyment of His rights to live a life of obedience to God the Father.
If Jesus is like God’s servant (Acts 3:26), then we can benefit from His work of salvation. If He’s our example, then serving God and others is more important than serving ourselves.
Second; Jesus is likened to some animals.
Jesus is also like a lion. A lion was a symbol of sovereignty, strength and courage.
In Revelation, Jesus is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5). This title comes from Jacob’s final message to his son Judah (Gen. 49:8-10). He said, “The sceptre (of royalty) will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his” (Gen. 49:10). This was initially fulfilled by David, but as it was also stated by Ezekiel, it refers to Jesus, their Messiah (Ezek. 21:27).
In this verse, Jesus is also called the “Root of David” (Rev. 5:5). This is a reference to the millennial rule of the Messiah that includes Gentiles (Isa. 11:1-10; Rom. 15:12).
If Jesus is like a lion and a great ruler, then everyone should submit to Him (Phil .2:10-11). This image reminds us of His coming reign as Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).
Jesus is like a lamb. A lamb is a young sheep.
When John the Baptist saw Jesus he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29).
The Israelites killed a lamb in the first Passover and annually since then (Ex. 12:21). Paul said, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7).
Lambs were also sacrificed in the fellowship offering, the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the guilt offering. (Lev. 3:7; 4:32; 9:3; 14:12). When they walked up Mount Moriah, Isaac asked his father, “where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7-8). Abraham answered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering”. Isaiah wrote about the servant who was “led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7; Acts 8:32). Peter said He was sinless; “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pt. 1:19).
In the book of Revelation, Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb” 28 times. In John’s vision of heaven, he “saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6) who was being praised, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain (Rev. 5:12).
If Jesus is like a lamb, then His death was a sacrifice for our sin. This image reminds us of the need to accept His sacrifice as the only way to be reconciled with God.
Third; Jesus is likened to some inanimate objects. Now physical things are used to teach spiritual truths.
Jesus is also like bread. Bread is food that helps to sustain us physically.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (Jn. 6:35). And, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51). To “eat this bread” means to believe in Him and receive eternal life (Jn. 6:47). Those who accept Him in this way satisfy their spiritual hunger forever.
If Jesus is like bread, then His death provides spiritual life to those who believe in Him. This image reminds us that without accepting Jesus, we are spiritually dead.
Jesus is like a light, which is the opposite of darkness. We need light to see and to know the way to go at night.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12). And, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (Jn. 12:46). To follow Jesus means to believe in Him by repenting of our sin, trusting that His death paid the penalty we owe, and committing our life to Him.
Conversion involves moving from darkness into His wonderful light (1 Pt. 2:9). So darkness symbolises evil, sin and separation from God.
If Jesus is like a light, then He is the solution to the evil and sin in the world. This image reminds that without accepting Jesus, we are in spiritual darkness.
Jesus is like a gate. A farm gate keeps animals safe from danger and predators.
Jesus said that He was “the gate for the sheep” into the sheep pen (Jn.10:1-10). The sheep would be safe if they went through the gate to the protection of the sheep pen. In contrast, the religious leaders were like thieves and robbers who climb into the sheep pen by some other way so they can steal, kill and destroy the sheep.
If Jesus is like a gate to the sheep pen, then we are like sheep. If we rely on His provision for us, then we will be safe. This image reminds us of the security of Jesus’ salvation.
Jesus is also like a vine. A grape vine has branches and fruit.
On the night He was arrested Jesus told His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). If we keep in fellowship with the Lord by prayer, reading and obeying His word, and fellowshipping with His people, we can be fruitful. This fruit is associated with peace, love and joy (Jn. 14:27; 15:9-11). It’s Christ’s character, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). It’s evident as answered prayer, being aware of God’s love for us, and the joy of being used by God (Jn. 15:7, 9-11).
If Jesus is like a vine, then we are like its branches. This image reminds us of the need to stay connected with Him.
Jesus is like a stone. In those days, buildings were constructed with stones.
When Peter describes the Christian’s privileges in the church he uses the illustration of a stone building (1 Pt. 2:4-8). He uses the metaphor of “the living Stone” to describe Jesus. He was rejected by people, but chosen by God. Because of His resurrection, Jesus is alive forevermore. And He gives spiritual life to those who believe in Him, who are called “living stones”. They are being built into a “spiritual house” like the Old Testament temple where God dwelt and was worshipped. Jesus is like the most important stone in the building, the foundational cornerstone (1 Cor. 3:10-11). The cornerstone was the first stone to be set in the foundation and all the other stones were placed in position with reference to it. “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. He’s precious to believers, but rejected by unbelievers. Peter takes the stone imagery from the Old Testament and applies it to Jesus (Ps, 118:22; Isa. 8:14-15; 28:16). Before this time, Jesus quoted this verse in the parable of the wicked tenants and Peter in an address to the Jewish Sanhedrin (Mt. 21:42; Acts 4:11).
If Jesus is like a cornerstone, then we are like stones orientated with respect to the cornerstone. This image reminds us that our faith is based on Jesus and what He and the apostles taught.
Jesus is also like a star. A star shines in the night sky.
Jesus is called the “bright morning star”, which appears in the night sky before dawn (2 Pt 1:19; Rev. 22:16). The dawning of the day symbolizes the end of the present church age (Rom. 13:12). And the morning star symbolizes Christ coming for the church. While we wait for the rapture, the Scripture is a like a light shining in a dark place.
Just as the morning star is followed by the sunrise, the rapture is followed by the second coming and reign of Christ, which is likened to the sunrise of the “Sun of Righteousness” (Mal. 4:2; Lk.1:78-79). Once again, Jesus will be like light coming to a dark world.
If Jesus is like the morning star, we can look forward to His coming for us. This image reminds us that better days are ahead for us.
Fourth; Jesus is likened to certain attributes.
Beginning and the end
Jesus is like the beginning and the end, which is symbolized by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega (Rev. 1:8; 22:13). As Creator of the universe, He was there when it began. He rules over history and has authority to reward the faithful and punish the wicked, “according to what they have done” (Rev. 22:11). And the Lamb is in the eternal new heaven and the new earth after the end of time (Rev. 21:1-22:5).
If Jesus is like the beginning and the end, then He is always present. This image reminds us that Jesus is eternal.
Jesus is also like a savior. A savior saves someone, like a lifeguard (or lifesaver) rescues people in danger of drowning.
The angel told the shepherds that Jesus was a Savior (Lk. 2:11). And the Samaritans said He was “the Savior of the world” (Jn. 4:42). Savior is used so much in the Bible that it is often used as a title of Jesus Christ.
A similar metaphor is that Jesus is like a redeemer who liberates and releases from a bad situation by paying a ransom. Jesus redeems believers from their sinful situation at the cost of His death (Gal. 4:5; 1 Pt. 1:18-19). The result is forgiveness of sins and being made righteous in God’s sight (Rom. 3:24; Col. 1:14).
If Jesus is like a savior, then people are like those rescued. This image reminds us that Jesus came to rescue us from the judgment we deserve for our sinfulness. Have you been rescued in this way yet?
Jesus is like words. Words communicate a message.
Jesus is called “the Word” (Jn. 1:1). As He is eternal, He had no beginning. He enjoyed a personal relationship with God the Father and was fully God. The Word came to live on earth as a human being (Jn. 1:14). That’s amazing, God living as one of His creations!
Jesus is also called the “Word of God” (Rev. 19:13). Words express thoughts. We communicate our thoughts in words. Jesus expressed the thoughts of God. In this instance He executes judgment on the wicked.
So, Jesus was God’s communication or message to humanity. He showed us what God is like. For example, by His death, He showed us how much God loved us.
If Jesus is like words, then He tells us what God is like. This image reminds us of the uniqueness of Jesus.
Finally, Jesus is like a pathway. A pathway is a route to follow to a destination.
When Jesus told the disciples about heaven, Thomas asked about the way to get there. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). He is the only way, the exclusive way, to God and heaven (Acts 4:12). The early church was called “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23;22:4; 24:14, 22).
He is also the truth, everything He said is true. John said He was full of truth (Jn. 1:14). He is also the life, the source of physical and spiritual life. Eternal life comes from knowing Jesus Christ (Jn. 17:3). He is also “the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25-26). He has the power of resurrection and of life.
If Jesus is like a pathway, then there is no other route to God or heaven. This image reminds us to be on the right pathway.
Jesus also like a lawyer, a pioneer, and a last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-49; Heb. 2:10; 12:2; 1 Jn. 2:1).
We have seen that the Bible uses many images to show what Jesus is like. Different images highlight different aspects of His life and character. For example, He:
Is both human and divine, as Son of Man and Son of God
Rules like a master and a lion
Loves like a bridegroom
Reigns like a king
Sentences like a judge
Cares like a shepherd
Mediates like a high priest
Serves like a servant
Sacrifices like a lamb
Sustains like bread and fruit of the vine
Overcomes darkness like a light
Secures like a gate
Is a foundation like a cornerstone
Is coming soon like the morning star
Saves like a lifeguard (lifesaver)
Is a message that tells us what God is like
Shows us the way to God and heaven like a pathway
And, is always there.
So, that’s the example for us to follow (1 Cor. 11:1). In response, do we:
Live like He is the unique Son of God?
Follow His divine instructions in the Bible?
Feel secure in His love?
Have a close relationship with Him?
Anticipate His coming and His reign?
Realize that Jesus paid our penalty?
Care for one another?
Approach God the Father through Jesus?
Serve Him and others?
Feel thankful for His sacrifice?
Stay connected to the Lord?
Shine like a light in a dark world?
Feel safe in salvation through Christ?
Tell others about salvation through Christ?
Realize Christ’s presence with God on our behalf?
So, let’s “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Pet. 3:18).
Written, April 2016