Last year, my ninety-nine-year-old Aunt Lucy gave me her 1928 copy of The Drama of Christianity / An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation by S. L. Morris. She had received it when she joined the church at age twenty. Why in God’s sovereignty was I the recipient of this treasure instead of one of her children?
Unbeknownst to Aunt Lucy, I had just completed a Bible study on Revelation and had been commissioned by my church to paint a summary of redemption — “creation / fall /redemption” — to commemorate thirty years of our pastor Robert Drake’s preaching. Revelation was the subject of my painting called Scrolls Unfurled. (blog post)
Morris’s book unveiled this Revelation (literally translated The Unveiling from the Greek word for Apocalypse), which necessarily should not be an enigma or confusing if it is a revealing. God lifts the curtain to his dramatic picture book summarizing who Jesus Christ is, –God “who is, who was, and who is to come!” It is his letter of encouragement to his bride, the church, called to suffer like Christ, “the faithful witness (Gk: martyr) and first born of the dead.”
Morris writes that “the reason for the confusion of thought is that many regard it as a prophetic revelation of the future. Instead, this dramatic prophecy is an “unveiling” of the purposes of God in the Christian Dispensation; the prophetic events that would take place from Christ’s first Advent until his second coming.” (It has been reprinted and I located twelve copies for a study I am now teaching.)
Morris’s main point is the dramatic structure of the book, styled after the Greek dramas of John’s day. This divine book contains completely perfect symbolism and seven (perfect) visions in the form of seven panoramas (heptads), which cover the entire Christian Dispensation, from Jesus’ birth to His Return. The panoramas do not occur in historical succession but are a repetition of the same events in new settings from different angles, each augmenting the next. Like a Greek drama, each of the seven panoramas ends with an interlude and choruses about the coming of Christ or the Judgment scene. Common to dramatic structure it contains a prologue (Revelation 1), parts, acts, scenes, interludes, choruses, plot and counter-plot, temporary defeat and ultimate triumph.
The Apocalypse is the “big picture,” a comprehensive epitome of the whole Bible, God’s story of salvation. This final Word of God was written for the consolation of the saints, the church militant which should expect fierce conflict but anticipate victory.
(right: study for Stoning of Stephen; below: Outside the Camp Series.)
A drama is to be read aloud! The book begins with this command: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are they who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Rev. 1:3).
And important for not only artists who attempt to visualize unseen reality but for all who long to see what “eye has not seen,” it is a visual drama! God uses symbols, symbolic images and symbolic numbers. Symbols use familiar things of the natural world to point to the heavenly realm. All of God’s creation is a living revelation of God. To mention a few: animals — Jesus is The Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah; weather — rainbows, earthquakes, wind, and a voice like thunder; colors — white, a symbol of purity; red, a symbol of life, blood and war; and measurements of time and order — twelve, twenty-four, 144,000, forty, and seven, the number of perfect completeness. The seven churches, seven golden lamp stands, seven stars, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven thunders, seven bowls with the seven last plagues, seven eyes of the Lamb, and seven Spirits before the throne, and even seven diadems on the Dragon’s seven (completely evil) heads, reveal that this prophetic Word of God is perfect and complete!
Symbolism was the method of Christ himself for conveying to the minds of His disciples the most impressive spiritual truth as to His person, His mission, and His relation to the individual believer and the church. He said, “I am the true vine,” “I am the Door,” and “The Alpha and the Omega.”
Explaining the parable of the weeds, he says, “. . . the field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age and the reapers are angels (Matthew 13:36).
The Seed 36″ x 36″ oil and 23K gold leaf on panel
The great prophecy of the Old Testament was the first coming of Christ. The great prophecy of the New Testament is the Second Coming. The Apocalypse is the unique interweaving of all the symbols, types, shadows, figures, and fundamental ideas of both Testaments into one comprehensive and final UNVEILING.
My installation Be Lifted Up O Ancient Doors references Passover, a lamb’s blood on the doors, Jesus as The Door, and the triumphal return of the King of Kings who leads his people out of slavery.
All Scripture interprets Scripture. It is God-breathed and reveals Jesus Christ. It is the UNVEILING of His Story from beginning to end.
Another example from the Old Testament is from Ezekiel 9. A scribe is commanded to mark the foreheads of those people belonging to God before he destroys Jerusalem. In Revelation 7 an angel seals the 144,000 “servants of our God on their foreheads” before the other angels are allowed “to harm the earth or the sea or the trees.” Both prophets Ezekiel and Daniel also had visions describing the four living creatures that are repeated in the visions of God’s glory in Revelation.
The second panorama of Revelation is the Opening of the Seven Seals (Revelation 5-6). This vision again reveals how God fulfills his divine plan in the Christian Dispensation — conquering kings (the white horse), war (the red horse), famine (the black horse) and death (the pale horse). Unfortunately in this vision the four horsemen are often separated into an apocalyptic end-times drama (even by Christians). The fifth seal, the prayers of the saints, is equally important in God’s plan and fulfillment of His purposes.
I painted the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse after 9/11 upon the request of a DC gentleman who sought me out and asked me to help him paint this “apocalyptic” scene. We worked together and as a result I produced two paintings as demonstrations.
Albrecht Durer‘s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
I especially like Russian artist Victor Vasnetsov‘s painting because he shows the white horseman leading the way with his victor’s crown. He also shows the Lamb of God in the heavens above in charge of history overseeing his sovereign plan. Jesus is the victorious King of Psalm 45 and the Rider on the White Horse of Revelation 19 .
I made the assemblage (below) The Great Assize / Day of Judgment long before I read Morris’s book. A copy of a playbill from Richmond, VA 1774 is attached to the back of a discarded medicine cabinet. It begins, “By Command of The King of Kings, and all who love his appearing….The Lord Jesus will be revealed along with his mighty angels.”