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Jesus with a Whip


By Fay Voshell

This Easter season, I have found myself looking through a book given to me years ago.  It is entitled His Face.

Painted by world-renowned artists whose technical skills were and are inimitable, the depictions of the head of Christ range from iconic images painted by anonymous artists to Anthony Van Dyck’s “The Mocking of Christ,” a masterpiece located at Princeton University, where mockery of Christ is, ironically, now standard fare.

Georges Rouault’s “Ecce Homo,” in which Rouault depicts in spare, stark and bold strokes the humiliation of Christ, is also included, proving that even the minimalism characterizing much of modern art cannot suppress the powerful effect of the portrayal of the Man of God.  A copy of Rouault’s Christ is available on a postcard costing only a few pieces of silver — about 88 cents.

The last portrait in the book is that of the risen Christ, taken from Matthias Grunewald’s famous triptych done for the hospital of Eisenheim. Grunewald probably drew on the description of Christ’s post-resurrection appearance described in Revelation by St. John. The artist portrays the resurrected and glorified Christ as radiantly otherworldly — almost translucent, lit from within, but still recognizable.

The pages of His Face are filled almost entirely with depictions of the peaceful and contemplative face of Jesus or his patient, agonized visage when enduring the crucifixion.  The gentle, patient, longsuffering, and inoffensive Jesus predominates.

I found myself thinking a number of Christians would be offended if a fuller depiction of the character of Christ presented in portraiture were better known.  I thought particularly of the little known canvas by Rembrandt entitled “Christ Driving the Money changers from the Temple.” Rembrandt paints Christ’s face contorted with rage. The whip is a blur as he thrashes the terrified and craven money changers who are defiling his Father’s temple.

Here is a Jesus angry about unrighteousness.

Here is Christ with a whip.

What are contemporary Christians to think of an angry Christ with a whip? What are they to think of the Christ who judges evil with finality, such as the Christ of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment? The artist depicts the stern, immovable countenance of Christ raising his arm in judgment, as the terrified condemned are ferried away by Charon, who with gleeful malice escorts the shocked sinners across the river Styx to their eternal doom.

What should Christians think of the fact that many Christian theologians see Christ as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, riding in judgment along with the horsemen of war, famine and death?   Who has depicted the fierce and horrifying horsemen better than Albrecht Durer, who forsaking the static images of the Middle Ages, shows the horsemen riding at breakneck speed, trampling hapless humans into the dust?

Maybe Christians could start with thinking about just what fighting evil entails.

Read more: American Thinker

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