On Images of Christ
The mere natural sight of Jesus, however dear and beloved, did not bring the grace of faith during His days on earth. So, why do we seek instruction or edification through images made centuries later? Mere reflections, however true or faithful, cannot produce a more significant effect than the original.
Images of Jesus Christ are easy to find. They can be found on everything from Christmas cards to children’s bibles to screen adaptations like The Passion of the Christ, The Gospel of John, and The Chosen. We also see depictions of Christ in historical masterpieces of painting or sculpture. Some of those in Reformed churches encourage the use of images. However, the confessions of the Reformed churches are unanimous in condemning images not only of God the Father or the Holy Spirit, but also of the incarnate Christ. These provisions are often subject to debate, and in the Presbyterian Church in America, many officers declare exceptions to portions of the standards which forbid such images. Despite their current unpopularity, we should rediscover the truths and helpfulness of the confessions concerning the use of images. They are supported by many arguments from many sources, including the Scriptures, and essential teachings of Reformed Christology.
Peter’s confession of faith illustrates a strong, yet under-appreciated case. While Jesus and the disciples were near Caesarea Philippi, Jesus questioned his disciples. Then as now, the crowds called Jesus many different things, such as a prophet or a mere teacher. Then Jesus asked them directly, “But who do you say that I am” (Matt 16:15)? Peter rightly answered, calling Jesus the Christ and the Son of God.
Despite his many foibles, it should not surprise us that Peter knew the answer. He was already prominent among the disciples, traveling with Jesus from the beginning of the Galilean ministry. His failings were notable, as were his eagerness and persistence. That is why Jesus’s reply is remarkable. “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven’” (Matt 16:17). “Flesh and blood” did not teach Peter this crucial fact about the great person whom he followed! Peter, who was chief among those who learned about Jesus through flesh and blood! He saw Jesus. He walked, bivouacked, ate with Jesus, and even accepted fishing advice from Jesus. Even Before this questioning near Caesarea Philippi, he strode upon the water toward Jesus!
Nevertheless, flesh and blood did not avail. Peter’s eyes did not perceive Christ until the Father gave him eyes to see and ears to hear. The sight of the eyes does not open the eyes of the heart, only the Spirit of God. Throughout the New Testament, tangible things were means of gaining faith in Jesus. But with one exception, it was not the natural sight of Jesus that brought many to faith in him.