Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Imagery of the Book of Revelation

Turning the Book of Revelation into some road map of the future is to rob the book of it's true power. For the Book's power lies not in the minute details of it's message but in the arresting nature of the imagery the words try to convey. Last night, as is true of many nights in my ministry, we talked about some of that imagery. The book is today my favorite book in all of scripture, but not because of whatever prophetic power may be present within it (I do not deny it lacks some prophetic power, though I think it's message is broader and less specific than some seem to think it is). What captivates me is specific pictures, painted with words.

So powerful is that imagery that I am mildly obsessed with the idea of getting an artist to do their own renderings of specific passages. There are so many great artists at the comic conventions I attend, and some of them are very good at creating alien and strange images. Many can capture darkness very effectively, too, which would be important when thinking about the Book. What is great about the book is the alien nature of what it tries to express. It defies simple production on the page and for that reason a good artist could do amazing things with it. Their imaginations could run wild as they try their best to express visually a message that outstrips our very language.

Here are examples of images that I would love to see produced by a good pop artist:

Revelation Chapter 5
First and foremost I'd love to see someone try to tackle the image of the lamb slain. Though their have been attempts at doing this before, most of them are more kitsch than art, and try for a too straightforward approach. So alien is the lamb that it is shocking as much as it is inspiring. We are told the Lamb "looks like it has been slain", it is presented as supremely vulnerable, and weak. Yet it has seven eyes and seven horns, visions of both omniscience and omnipotence. It sits on a throne coming down from heaven and crowns are cast at it's feet. The image conveyed must be one simultaneously of vulnerability and supremacy, of strength through weakness. The sum total of God's being is expressed in this one chapter, this is God as God really us: a lamb slain that yet forms the foundation of the world.

Revelation Chapter 6
 Of course the Four Horsemen have been dealt with perhaps more than any other image from the Book. And some of these representations are truly great. Yet there is still more here that can be done. There is so much ambiguity around the Horsemen. They bring destruction, yet they serve God. They are dark and yet they usher in justice. What do Conquest, War, Famine and Pestilence look like when given physical form? Moreover, what would God's wrath AS these beings really look like?

Revelation Chapter 7:1-8
The 144,000 sealed. What does the seal look like? What is it to see God's grace placed upon your forehead?

Revelation Chapter 12
This is the image that sticks with me most. The Woman, the Dragon, and the Child. The child Jesus dead and taken up to Heaven. The Lamb Slain given form within a vulnerable baby. The woman is God's People, given form. How does one sum up the entirety of the Old Testament in the figure of one woman? The dragon is forced from Heaven. It is not a fire-breathing dragon, but rather it exhales the waters of chaos. The once was able to stand between God and man, but now it falls to Earth, and seeks to take its vengeance out on those God and the Child love. The stars, the angels, Michael working with Jesus to take down the demon. All of this comes together in a striking mosaic that to my mind has never been handled to its full potential in the visual arts.

The Beasts
Of course the beasts are some of the best known images from the book. Yet have they ever truly been represented in any coherent way on canvas or in film? The first beast is a simple representation of overwhelming power, insisting on its divinity. This is tied up with images of Rome, with which the writer of the book seems to identify the beast, for obvious reasons. The pure beastly nature of the creature could provide so much for a good visual artist. The second beast is actually a bastardization of the Lamb itself. It is the lamb seizing power. How does one picture blasphemy made flesh?

The Harlot
The Harlot is also a challenge in that it both repulses and attracts at the same time. The writer of the Book of Revelation represents power and wealth as an attractive prostitute, but at the same time, and interchangeably, reveals this attractive being as a hidden demon. The message is that when you deify money and power you have intercourse with a bloodthirsty demon. How does one capture both the attractiveness and the horror of lust for money and power?

Jesus The Rider
The second image of Jesus, which we first see early on in the first chapter of the Book, is of a conquering spirit. Here the Lamb Slain becomes that force which overcomes the world. This is the victory of God represented in the form of a massive almost kaiju-like vision of Jesus Christ. The words tattooed on Jesus, the sword coming from His mouth, all of this comes together to form a vision both frightening and exciting.

The New Jerusalem
There have been some truly great images of this one as well. And this may be the hardest to approach. There is so much to it, so many moving parts, I doubt any easy image could be made. But perhaps a good graffiti artist could do something massive on a wall? 

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