Who is Jesus 1

By William Holman Hunt – [dead link], Public Domain,

For the next week, I’m going to be sending out several emails like this with a link to an image of Jesus. Each email will include a link to an online version of the image, with some thoughts. Some of the thoughts will be from Michael Bird and Alan Hirsh’s Re: Jesus that I’ve been reading through lent. Some will be my own thoughts.

When you get the email look at the image first. Spend some time really looking at the image, the face, and the background. How does the image make you feel? What questions does it raise? Do you think it’s a good representation of Jesus, and if so what attributes do you feel the artist is trying to portray? You may wish to write some of your thoughts down.

Here’s the first link:

“In the early 1850s, William Holman Hunt, one of the founders of the avant-garde Pre-Raphaelite movement, painted an immeasurably popular picture, The Light of the World. It is an image of Jesus, standing outside a closed, heavy, wooden door, under a stone archway. He gently raps on the door with the back of his open hand. In his other hand he holds a jewel-encrusted lantern. The scene is dark, and behind him can be seen wild woods with twisted branches silhouetted against the setting sun. It seems that Jesus has braved an inhospitable terrain to make it to this ivy-covered door. According to Hunt, he “painted the picture with what I thought, unworthy though I was, to be by Divine command, and not simply as a good subject.”6 The picture is certainly reminiscent of the text from Revelation: “I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Rev 3:20). It’s hard to quantify the popularity of this image. At the turn of the twentieth century, it toured Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa and was seen by thousands. In our homeland of Australia, more than five hundred thousand people saw it in Sydney and Melbourne in a time when the combined population of those cities was fewer than a million people. Across the United Kingdom, postcard-sized copies were made, and people couldn’t get enough of them. They carried the image like a keepsake or a relic. Servicemen were given copies to keep in their uniforms, a physical reminder of the closeness of Jesus to them in their time of battle. The Salvation Army composer, Sir Dean Goffin, was inspired by the painting to compose his most famous piece, also entitled The Light of the World. Hunt’s original is now in a side room off the large chapel at Keble College, Oxford, and he painted a large copy toward the end of his life, which is now in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. A closer examination of Hunt’s Jesus reveals some interesting observations. For example, the wooden door has no exterior handle. It can obviously only be opened from the inside, adding weight to its portrayal of the passage from Revelation 3. Jesus is excluded from his own fellowship because he disturbed the Laodicean desire for wealth and opulence. Rather than getting rid of Jesus and denouncing the faith, they subtly qualify his Lordship for the equation of discipleship. Furthermore, Jesus is wearing a silk ball gown (we’re not sure what else you’d call it) and a royal red robe or cape. He has a golden crown on his head, flattening his glorious blond, shoulder-length hair. His beard is blond, too, and his serene gaze makes him look more like a mythic English king—Richard the Lionheart perhaps—than a Middle Eastern radical. In his genuine attempt to portray Jesus’ kingly grandeur, Hunt has cast him as King Arthur or Henry V, a wise, unruffled, beautiful English monarch. A classic co-option.”

Frost, Michael; Hirsch, Alan. ReJesus: Remaking the Church in Our Founder’s Image [Revised & Updated Edition] (pp. 58-59). 100 Movements Publishing. Kindle Edition.

I’ll send the next image anon…