“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? … He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”
Isaiah 53:1-2 (NIV UK)
A few years ago the Getty Museum held an exhibit highlighting ancient Christian artwork. And one of the paintings on display really caught my eye. Created sometime during the 6th century AD, there is a painting entitled “Christ Pantocrator,” which translates to Christ ‘Ruler or Sustainer of all’. What I really like about it is how loaded is the imagery with profound theological concepts. Let me tell you about it…
Since the time of our Lord, theologians have affirmed the dual substance of Christ—the fact that he was both fully human and fully God. In theo-speak, that’s called the “Hypostatic Union.” But how would you paint that?
Well, here this artist chose to portray it in a really interesting way. Examine it and you’ll see that the face of Christ feels more like two different faces fused together. And his expression looks like two different expressions. And if you look closer, you even see that his eyes portray this bifurcation—the one on the right is focused on us, the Earthly viewer, while the eye on the left is turned toward Heaven.
I think that’s quite ingenious. Now let’s see how the artist tackles the Trinity. If you look at Christ’s hand, you will see that he’s holding three fingers together, forming a circle. That’s how the artist chose to symbolise the Trinity—three distinct divine persons, completely joined and unified—three-in-one.
Of course, as in all our representations of our Lord, it’s a poor imitation of the glory that is the Incarnation and the mystery of the Trinity. But I love that the artist waded into the deep end and was willing to wrestle with how to convey these important theological understandings of Christian faith in an interesting and unique way. It’s always interesting to see how an artist can “paint theology” into his canvas. I hope art like this will encourage us to dive deeper into the Word of God, and inspire us as we share these truth’s with those Christ brings us into contact with.
Heavenly Father, Jesus appeared to be just another human being. But he was uniquely God and man in one. Help us to see the God in him, in his life and what he says, and what is recorded about him throughout the Bible. This we pray in Jesus’ name.
Study by Joseph Tkach
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