Blinded by expectations: When our picture of Jesus meets the real thing

Throughout the Gospel accounts to the first chapter of Acts, we are confronted with story after story highlighting the dilemma that erupted when cultural expectations surrounding the Messianic identity of Jesus met with the real thing.

The vast majority of people living in Israel at the time of Jesus' arrival would have believed the primary identity of the coming Messiah-King would be that of a Warrior, who would overthrow Israel’s enemies, establish his throne, and rule forever as Lord of all. So, when Jesus arrived on the scene and his life and teachings did not align with this long-held warrior-type expectation, speculation began to ensue.

Jesus repeatedly redefined messiahship by saying and doing things that worked against this Messianic-Warrior definition. Simply put - Jesus consistently did and said things that did not match up with their Messianic expectations. The Messianic picture many had painted didn’t look at all like the real thing when it arrived.

And, his crucifixion and death only exacerbated their definitions.

I can only imagine how those who followed him must have felt when Jesus died - “The One we truly believed would set us free is now dead. How foolish we were to believe in him.”

No doubt they lost hope - “If he wasn’t the promised One, maybe no one will ever come.”

No doubt significant disillusionment quickly began to set in.

No wonder the disciples all ran away. I probably would have too.

Blinded by expectations

I believe this mistaken identity scenario in relation to Jesus is alive and well even today.

Everything we believed that God would be, what God would do, and what God would say are often set on edge when the real thing shows up.

We want to believe that Jesus is who he said he was, but when our ideas of what he should be meets with the way he actually is, our ideas often seem completely ridiculous - forcing us to shake our heads in disillusionment.

The underlying problem is one we all struggle with - expectations.

No matter who we are and where we come from, each and every one of us have been conditioned to think about God in a certain way, creating a mental picture of what we believe God to be like. Even if that picture has been framed around God’s non-existence, a picture has been painted nonetheless.

This picture in turn frames our expectations around the way God must be. Consequently, we end up spending much of our lives looking for a God who satisfies these expectations. If we cannot find it in a religious system, we begin to -

  • look in non-religious spaces,
  • create our own self-made faith expression built around our expectations,
  • walk away in disillusionment and abandon the whole ‘faith’ thing altogether.

Unlearn in order to relearn

You know what I’m discovering?

In order to learn about something, we sometimes have to unlearn many or all of the things we thought we knew about that something first.

In order to learn about something, we have to unlearn the things we thought we knew first. Click To Tweet

In our pursuit of God, sometimes we have to unlearn what we thought we knew about God as we relearn about the real God who lay behind our presuppositions, prejudices, and preconceived ideas.

The same can be said of Jesus.

The real Jesus may not always mesh well with the picture of Jesus we’ve created in our minds.

The real Jesus may not always mesh well with the picture of Jesus we’ve created in our minds. Click To Tweet

Through a variety of experiences and sources, a picture has been painted on the canvas of our minds of who we believe Jesus to be. While aspects of that picture may accurately depict the real thing, many other details have been framed on assumptions and ideas that, when compared to the Jesus we meet in the Gospel accounts, don’t measure up so well.

Experiencing image-anxiety

When we finally meet Jesus in the Gospels, many of us will begin to identify with the characters in the story and experience many of the same emotions they did - primarily that of image-anxiety.

Who they believed Jesus should be and who he actually turned out to be - particularly when he allowed himself to suffer crucifixion and death - simply didn’t make sense to them.

The picture of Jesus they formulated over many years fostered expectations that didn’t sync with the picture of Jesus they saw hanging on a Roman cross, which forced them to completely re-evaluate their ideas.

Even after Jesus’ resurrection, many of his closet followers still didn’t recognize him. Their story couldn’t make sense of the reality in front of them, which caused them to miss seeing Jesus altogether.

Start with a new blank canvas

We need to create a new picture. We need to give the real Jesus the space to reveal his true identity to us and to allow that new picture to begin to form a new life within us.

We’ve all painted our own mental picture of God with the colors of our past experiences and expectations. Jesus, however, invites to let go of that picture and start over with a new, blank canvas.

We have to unlearn in order to relearn. And, it all starts with a blank canvas and with Jesus as the Master Artist.

When we allow Jesus to paint a new picture of God - as only he can as the true Image of the invisible God - our vision will become clearer and clearer. And, we will finally begin to see Jesus for who he really is.

We will only be able to see Jesus and recognize him for who he is when we let go of our pre-made portraits and allow him to fashion a new painting on the blank canvas of our lives with his own colors - one brush stroke at a time.

So, let us release the preconceived ideas, false expectations, and assumptions that blind us from seeing Jesus for who he truly is. And, let us allow Jesus, the Master Artist, to paint a new portrait on the fabric of our hearts and minds that faithfully reflects the true image of God - the One who will always break down our idols of misconception and paint a new image deep within us - his image-bearers.

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Jeff is a columnist with ChristianWeek, a public speaker, blogger, and award-winning published writer of articles and book reviews in a variety of faith-based publications. He also blogs at

About the author