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Artistic Impressions vs The Historical Messiah

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Artistic Impressions of Messiah

From previous visits to the National Gallery, I was struck by the volume of biblically themed art and artistic license employed. A visitor may well be led to assume that Yeshua (Jesus) and His disciples were of distinctly European origin. Based on their attire, they appear to have been on the scene either in the late Middle Ages or possibly during the Renaissance or Victorian era. This does not accurately portray a rabbi from Galilee two millennia ago teaching His talmidim (disciples).That much was evident from observing many finely produced paintings from an array of work displayed.

It is no secret that other cultures have employed artistic reinterpretation and departed from a meaningful historical, geographical and theologically accurate understanding of the Bible.

On this occasion however, I listened in to an art lecturer commenting on a painting which included a scene of the crucifixion. Attention was given to the size of the characters reflecting their importance and the representation of angels in relation to death and what was and was not included. Interestingly, attention was not considered in relation to the historical narratives provided in the gospels or important literature written around that time such as the works of Josephus. It was as if the paintings were inspired by one of Shakespeare’s plays rather than an historical event.

Sure, this is an art gallery not an archaeological museum, though impressions can be influential and persuasive. There is no need to denigrate the use of art in connection with the Bible since remarkable artwork was used for the construction of the tabernacle and the temple. On a visit to the Jewish Museum in London, it was great to view and read about beautifully sculptured furniture and what it meaningfully represented. This was not purely for aesthetic effect since the design of the temple and its finer details foreshadowed the Messiah who tabernacled (dwelt) among us (John 1:14). Moreover the designs and dimensions of the tabernacle and required contents were given by the Lord (Exodus 25:1-40).

I know some people who are gifted craftworkers who had they lived a few millennia ago would have been invaluable in that work and who today have made some fine furniture with the emphasis wholly focussed on the glory of God. In former years, stain glass windows provided the basics of biblical narratives to make messages comprehensible to those who could not read or when the Bible was overwhelmingly read solely in Latin and sadly inaccessible to the masses.

The Historical Messiah

We live in a society where some claim to be living ‘in the here and now’ yet are suspicious of metanarratives or a sole claim to truth. Often the get out of jail free card is that ‘history is written by the victors’. Nevertheless, someone familiar with the Scriptures will be aware that the Bible does not hide the failures as well as successes of prominent characters. The consequence is that the deep and profound questions of life are sometimes ignored as if they are of no greater value than politics or philosophy, which are of course important yet not all important. Hence some today formulate their worldviews through the subjective medium of their experience and intuition. The reality is that our experiences are often predicated by our feelings that at times fluctuate like the weather. Even our conscience is not fool proof, since though we have been created in the image of God, we naturally do what is right in our own eyes.

The gospel was not set in a cultural and historical vacuum but in a distinctly Jewish setting. The promised Messiah entered our world, in the midst of three continents and through His unique life, message of grace and resurrection, changed the course of history and turned the world upside down. The gospel is for everyone and transcends human backgrounds, biases, causes and categories.

The Bible is the most commonly read book in the world for a reason. Though it was written millennia ago, it speaks clearly about how God has revealed Himself, spoken through the prophets and His Son, and how we can know Him and receive forgiveness for our sins and eternal life in Him.

The crucifixion of Messiah was a historical event to which history testifies and was foretold in Psalm 22, one thousand years prior to the event and before it was invented as a means of punishment. No credible historian would deny that Jesus was a historical figure considering the records provided by several independent historians from Roman, Jewish and Greek sources. In addition there are masses of Early Church writings providing further support. They would be ignoring overwhelming evidence to deny the event of His crucifixion. This calls for careful consideration of the evidence presented by eye-witnesses and His disciples, and the Apostles who penned the Brit Hadasha (New Testament).

We are all inseparably intertwined with history, yet we also have a day when our short sojourn on this earth will cease. There is a day appointed for judgement for which we will all have to give an account. Not one of us can evade that reality since Jesus the historical Messiah came to save us from our sins so that we could be reconciled to God. If you are trusting in the historical Jesus who is the promised Messiah, then you will have a sure and certain hope not just for this life, but for eternity.