We believe that the pictorial representations of Christ are not sinful in and of themselves, unless they portray him as unjust. Some people harbor the sin of idolatry inside their own hearts and then project it onto an object, person, place or idea. Undermining idolatry is not possible by simply destroying that which a human commits it with. Idolaters suffer from a particular affliction that will simply transfer itself to another form or obsessive fascination once the former object is removed. Idolatry must be dealt with between the transgressor and the Holy Spirit; it is the only real solution for curing this sin.
In ancient times, visual depictions of human gods were often used to enamor those people suffering from superstition, they used ideas attached to objects that were not often just or easy to live by. One also needed a great deal of wealth and craft to make very artistic renderings or sculpture and the poor and rich alike became easily fascinated with these artifacts. We have all read...
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;" Exodus 20:5 (NKJ)
The key to understanding this commandment, is to understanding the sin of those who needed to hear it and keep it. If a person does not worship and put other gods before God, he is not an idolator. Also, if that person clearly understands that a depiction of Christ is not Christ himself, he is not an idolator. Therefore the mere possession or observance of a picture of Jesus is not inherently evil for the one who keeps God's commandments.
Also look at the word "graven." This word is very important. The meaning of the word graven is "past participle of GRAVE. The meaning of grave is - "a place of burial for the dead and or a word used as an allusive term for death" Those who worship dead images are worshiping death or "nothing." God is saying that He is not to be compared with "nothing" or "death." So you see that this commandment goes much deeper than most people presume.
Modern people, including Christians, battle more realistically with the sin of idolatry using material goods like: cars, fancy homes, personal care products, clothing. They may also put their thinking ahead of God concerning: financial security, the acquisition of wealth, and advanced knowledge instead of wisdom. Idolatry has morphed into something far more sophisticated than it was in ancient objects that once represented pagan gods. Our compulsion with anything, be it an obsessive one, puts that thing, person, place or idea in God's place because it should be God who we fix our gaze and hope upon. It should be God who we worship not money, fame, power or sex.
So why did God give a commandment that only a few need? The answer is, He didn't. God gave the commandment to all because all of us suffer from some form of idolatry many times within our lifetime. Just because we don't bend and dance around little wooden carvings anymore. . . this doesn't mean that we aren't idolators. In fact, idolatry is so common place that we need the shed blood of Jesus to forgive it often and guess what, you may not even have a picture of God/gods among your possessions.
Then there is also the added complication in this argument that Jesus is in fact, God. So admiring a representation of him is not quite the same problematic circumstance that ancient people had with graven images, is it?
The problem that Christians have with keeping images of Christ only becomes serious when they attach incorrect interpretations to those images. Interpretations like, painting Jesus only as an Anglo Saxon because you think that Middle Eastern people are not as intelligent. All of this prejudice should not be attached to the Lord, for no matter if his eyes were blue or brown, he was and still is Lord. He is far smarter and superior to us all. That is why he commands us to study and strive to understand his word.
There is great danger in being overly simplistic in the interpretation of God's commandments. In doing this, one has a tendency to fall victim to misunderestimating God's concern for us throughout time. It also makes people quick to criticize the necessity of the gospel, the necessity of the cross.
Many modern Christians make the mistake of believing that if they keep law by their own interpretation of that law, they have fulfilled the law. But how many of us are guilty of worshiping death? We live in a culture that surrounds us with a fascination for death, yet in the future, in God's future, there is no death.
The truth is that the law cannot be kept perfectly at all times so Jesus keeps it for us at all times. Inside of us he sent the Holy Spirit, to abide with us and teach us right from wrong. Worship the one true God, then learn to look upon things, people and ideas in correct perspective. Remember that Jesus calls himself our brother and the devil our adversary. If you keep this in mind, you will have a deeper understanding of Matthew chapter 5. (Jesus takes our place before the judgement of God only he is capable of fulfilling the law perfectly.)