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With thanks to the art galleries of London
Just preparing the second in a series of sermons on Revelation, this time on the second half of chapter 1. It struck me that this passage (v.9 – 20) teaches a lot about how to read the rest of the book. However, the problem then was how to get that across – which is where the National Gallery and Tate Britain came in. Using the three paintings below, I shall aim to give some guidance on charting your way through this puzzling book.
1. Impression not description
Like Monet’s wonderful rendition of the Houses of Parliament, John’s is an impression of what he saw, rather than an exact description. Hence the repeated use of the word “like”. To try to pin it down too much is to miss the point – just as people initially missed the point of Monet’s work when they refused to display it at the Academie Francaise.
2. History no object
If you know the story of Turner’s painting , The Fighting Temeraire, there’s a lot you can get out of it. You will know that the Temeraire, a veteran of the Battle of Trafalgar, is being towed away to the breaker’s yard. You might compare the ugly angular appearance of the steam tug with the ethereal beauty of the sailing ship. You might see in the setting sun a reflection of Britain’s diminishing naval prowess at the time of painting. Then again – you might not. If you don’t know all that history you can still enjoy the painting. In a similar way, with the book of Revelation – you can either run absolutely every historical symbol to earth (and get a lot out of it in the process) or take it at face value.
3. Get the message
There is no ‘side’ to Stubbs’ famous painting of whistlejacket. There is no fancy landscape, no nobleman to ride him. This is a beautifully executed painting of a horse – nothing more and nothing less. Sometimes our reading of Revelation is overly complicated. At heart the book is neither there to confuse nor frighten – but to encourage. When all’s said and done, beneath the bizarre details of each passage there is an underlying message about sovereignty and providence, I believe.
So there it is – a pictorial introduction to the book of Revelation. It makes sense to me – but whether it makes sense to others remains to be seen!