What Does Seeing Jesus Mean Today?

In the endless streams of Internet notifications, pop-up ads, AI signals, and binge-watching demanding our attention, the quest to “see Jesus” may seem like a throwback to a bygone era. Yet, the idea of wanting to encounter Christ, to truly see and understand his message, remains as relevant and urgent as it was two millennia ago. But what does it mean to “see Jesus” today? How do we see him amid complex global challenges, wars, corruption, divisive rhetoric, and a constant barrage of information that often muddies the waters rather than clarifies them?

Going beyond mere iconography or pursuing an aesthetic ideal, “seeing Jesus” demands a radical shift in perspective and action. It is a souled longing.

A Universal Desire

John 12:20-33 depicts a universal desire —the longing to see Jesus. Here, “some Greeks” voice this yearning, akin to the profound human quest for meaning and truth. These were those considered outsiders, not part of the inner circle, not steeped in Jewish traditions. Their request transcends cultural and religious boundaries, expressing an innate human need for spiritual understanding. This scene mirrors our timeless search for a unifying and guiding truth. This figure can transcend our differences and bring us together.

Today, we encounter people from all walks of life, a myriad of faiths, the agnostic and the atheistic, all sharing an intrinsic need for moral and spiritual grounding. Consequently, “seeing Jesus” is an aspiration not confined to the pews of a church. It resonates in concert halls, echoes through calls to peace and advocacy, and vibrates in the hearts of those who pursue understanding, love, and empathy. Also, our hearts’ ultimate desire is deeper than our accomplishments or the things we enjoy or possess.

The Call to Suffer and Love

In the very Scripture that documents “seeing Jesus”, the Messiah does not promise an easy path. He declares: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25).

Jesus foretells his imminent suffering. He underscores a fundamental paradox of Christian theology—that salvation is found in the union with Christ’s pain and, ultimately, his love. It means dying to oneself and living according to a higher purpose. This must have been surprising, if not disappointing, to Jesus’s friends and fans who sought to see him. Wholeness arises from healed wounds, not from the banishment of all pains. The reality of life on earth is the certainty of the cross.

Image depicting seeing Jesus

For us today, this is a call to action. To “see Jesus” is to be prepared to bear our crosses and to stand in solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized. It means choosing love, even when faced with hate, and choosing compassion when met with indifference.

This undertaking requires the strenuous daily effort to retreat from the comfort of our echo chambers, step into the shoes of the less fortunate, and advocate for change that uplifts and heals. “Seeing Jesus” is a verb — it demands unyielding commitment and resolute action. As we are alive on earth, seeing Jesus is always a process. There is a newer and deeper encounter every time we seek.

Beyond Miracle Spectacles

Popular depictions often highlight Christ’s miraculous deeds—healing, turning water into wine, or feeding the multitude. Many prosperity gospel preachers celebrate only that version of Jesus, just like many believers settle in the triumphant Christ. However, reducing “seeing Jesus” to a spectacle of miracles diminishes the depth of his life and message. One cannot truly see Jesus only in the depictions of triumphant cathedrals. We see Jesus in the resurrection and the crimsoned cross.

If we focus solely on the extraordinary, we may overlook the ordinary and vital aspects of Jesus’s life and teachings — the words of love and wisdom, acts of service, and the integrity of his character. We would lose the very essence of the triumph—dying to live.

Today, “seeing Jesus” is an appeal for a moral and ethical revival—a challenge to ourselves to live in accordance with the values that Christ embodies. It requires a discerning eye to recognize Jesus’ hand in acts of justice, compassion, and humility. Engaging in the mundane with the spirit of kindness, charity, and forgiveness is what it truly means to see Jesus in our world today. In other words, in the very life we live every day, Jesus wants to be seen.

An Inclusive Vision

While the Gospels speak in the language of judgment, with the notion of those ‘in’ and ‘out,’ ‘saved’ and ‘lost,’ the narrative simultaneously paints a picture of a universal message to all. All are welcome. “Seeing Jesus” is not about elitism; it’s about breaking down barriers and building bridges. Those bridges are built because people are ready to embrace—no matter the pain of losing something precious—the purity of the Gospel’s challenge of renewal.

To truly see Jesus today means to advocate for love that binds and builds. It is to work towards a united human family where every person, regardless of their background, is valued and appreciated. Seeing Jesus calls for dismantling systems of oppression, challenging biases, and seeking harmony in recognizing our shared humanity.

It means being ready to be vulnerable and renewed, and embracing the cross every day, knowing that overcoming its struggles will bless humanity.

Perseverance Amid Opposition

The wish to see Jesus is not a passive request. It is a longing that draws one into the depths of the human experience. Christ’s words about the grain of wheat falling to the ground suggest a process of transformation and new life emerging from hardship and death.

Amid opposition, misunderstanding, and the persecution that often accompanies efforts to spread love and justice, “seeing Jesus” calls us to demonstrate resilience, fortitude, and an unwavering commitment to our beliefs. It demands an assertive and non-violent steadfastness, seeking to reconcile and heal rather than to divide or conquer. Again, the “us” versus “them” rhetoric misses the point of divine judgment, for judgment isn’t about God against us but God inviting us.

Hearing and heeding the Call

The call is about hearing the echoes of injustice and suffering that cry out in our world and responding with courage and compassion. “Seeing Jesus” is about recognizing our role in the grand narrative of humanity. It is about understanding that our actions, no matter how small they may seem, can bear fruit that outlast our individual lives.

We may not witness the miracles of the loaves and fish. However, “seeing Jesus” invites all of us—whatever our beliefs or stances—to participate in a divine and grace-filled drama that elevates and transforms our world.

It’s a call, as Teresa of Avila often says, to be the hands and feet of Christ today, in acts of love, justice, and compassion. It’s about redefining the meaning of ‘seeing’ as an active engagement. In an age dominated by images and information, seeing Jesus involves not just observation but profound interaction and thoughtful response. It is self-regulation that results from divine gaze and purity.

The Task Ahead

Therefore, to see Jesus today is to be committed to bringing about the Kingdom of God in our time. It is to build, heal, and love. It is to create a world that reflects the values of the gospel, challenging as they may be. Nevertheless, the reward, like the ripe grain emerging from the earth in due time, is abundant fruit. We would be offering a feast that can sustain the soul of a hungry world—eternal peace, too.

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Fr. Maurice Emelu

The Reverend Dr. Maurice Emelu is the Chair of a number of non-profit boards and a professor of digital media and communication at John Carroll University, United States. His research and practices focus on digital storytelling and design, media aesthetics and theological aesthetics, and church communication. Dr. Emelu lives where digital media technology meets culture, communication, philosophy, theology, religion, and society. He is the founder of Gratia Vobis Ministries, Inc. To know more about his professional background, visit mauriceemelu.com

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