Once, during a trip to the United Kingdom, I had the opportunity to visit the National Gallery in London. This imposing complex of great buildings houses some of the finest examples of art from the Renaissance and earlier periods, along with works of art from more recent times. As I walked through the great galleries and observed the ancient paintings, large and small, I was struck by the recurring theme of most of the works, especially from the Middle Ages up through the 19th century. They were almost exclusively religious scenes, or depictions of biblical stories, biblical characters, various saints and often events in the life of Jesus Christ. Many paintings contained mythical characters such as winged cherubs shown as infants or small children. Further, many of the subjects in the paintings had halos or some other characteristic depiction of holiness or religiosity.
I suppose this should not be unexpected, since the rich and powerful church that dominated Europe during those ages was the primary sponsor or patron of the arts. Artists producing these incredible works that have been so enduring were simply producing what the customer wanted and expected.
“What’s the problem?” you might ask. The problem is that these paintings and sculptures, so beautifully done, present a false impression and depiction of the biblical accounts. Misinformation and mental images that mislead and distort the truth are useful to the Adversary, Satan the Devil, who wants to thwart the plan of God and to deceive mankind.
Scripture gives us this clear instruction, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). Clearly, we should be very careful about how we depict God the Father or Jesus Christ the Messiah.
We also see that we must be very careful to be truthful. “You shall not bear false witness…” (Exodus 20:16). Since much of the treasured art of antiquity portrays a false image, it doesn’t meet the Biblical standard of acceptability.
This kind of misinformation and misunderstanding is nothing new. The Apostle Paul gave stern instruction about it: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6–9).
Strong words, to be sure, but they show the importance of clinging to the truth of the message of the Kingdom of God brought by Jesus Christ. To depict a false image of the Messiah or the biblical message, or to sing a hymn that contains error or misunderstanding about the plan of God, causes confusion regarding the most important message ever given.
Jesus made it plain to the religious leaders of His day, who clung to their traditions and their power, rather than accept and embrace the message that He brought. He said, “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
While we can certainly appreciate the gifts, talent and accomplishment that it takes to make beautiful works of art, music and literature, we should make certain that these items do not cause the identity and the message of the Messiah to be misunderstood.
At Tomorrow’s World, we strive to present God’s Truth in plain and understandable ways as we prepare for the Messiah’s return. Our Tomorrow’s World Bible Study Course is an excellent way to learn the simple and precious truths of Scripture that for so many remain a mystery obscured by false human tradition. Sign up for the Course today—it is available both online and in print!