Book Review: The Art of Revelation by Dr Jonathan Welton

It was an honour to be asked by Dr Jonathan Welton to write the Foreword for his book, “The Art of Revelation” – here is what I wrote:

Imagine you are walking around an art gallery, looking at various paintings. You know a little bit about art, but you are by no means an art expert. You look at a painting and you are impacted by the main subject or object in the painting. You do notice that there are other things in the background, but you are more used to looking at photographs than paintings, and background is usually just … well, background. It’s the main subject that is important.

But then, you see an art expert who is taking a group on a tour around the gallery, and you decide to tag along. He stops at all the paintings you have just looked at but he sees things in the painting that you missed. The “background” is not just a random background like it may be in a photograph. The artist has taken time to choose what to put in the background and, as the expert explains, it all has meaning. He talks about the artist who painted the picture – where he lived at the time, what the political circumstances were, why he chose certain subjects, what it was that he was seeking to communicate through the images he chose to depict. All of a sudden the painting makes sense. Its not just a “nice picture” – it is a story, a message, it has meaning.

Then you begin to feel a bit defensive about what you are learning. Why do you need to have an expert with a degree in art history to explain a painting to you? You mean to say that before you can appreciate a painting you need to find some expert or you will misunderstand it? It sounds like a lot of high-brow intellectualism and its ruining your appreciation of art! You walk way and start to go through the obligatory gift shop that is always before the exit. You browse for a while and see lots of books – not high-brow, overly intellectual books, but easy to read and highly informative books about many of the artists who have painted the works of art you have been looking at. The you realize that you don’t need to find an art expert every time you want to understand a painting – you yourself can become more educated about the artists and their art by studying a bit. You buy a few books, take them home and read them and feel like your understanding has been expended – now you not only see the skill of the artist, you understand the message they were seeking to communicate. You had been looking at the art through the lens of your own culture, history, ideas and experiences and you had missed the point. Now you are able to see the art from the perspective of the person who painted it and you see their original intention. It’s a real “aha” moment.

That’s how many people react to the book of Revelation. They read it and process it through their own culture and experiences (often through a lens of Hollywood movies, rather badly made Christian movies, a lack of knowledge of ancient history etc). If an “expert” who has been studying Revelation in-depth for many years comes along and explains the history, culture, background, meaning and fulfillment of the prophecies in Revelation, your first reaction can be to dismiss it as theological intellectualism: “you mean that I now have to find an expert to explain Revelation to me? The Holy Spirit isn’t enough?”. But, once you “see” something, you can never “unsee” it. Once someone has explained, for example, the history of Emperor Nero and how his own subjects called him “that great beast”, and how he had statues to himself set up at the entrance to the market places in Asia Minor and insisted that no one be allowed to buy or sell without first offering worship to his statue ….. you can’t forget that. Every time you read Revelation 13 that knowledge now comes flooding back and no matter how much you want to believe the latest internet video about who the Beast of Revelation is, it no longer convinces you because your gullibility has been ruined. No, you don’t have to find an expert – you can “study to show yourself approved” (2 Timothy 2:15) and become an expert yourself. You now have a hunger to dig and research and have continual “aha” moments as the original intention of the book of Revelation becomes clear.

Dr. Jonathan Welton is like the art expert in my original example. He has studied Revelation, and the historical background that it was written in, for many years, in great depth, and from a wide rage of perspectives. As you read this book he will open your eyes to see things “in the background” that you have never seen before, and he will explain their meaning. It will create a hunger within you to do some digging and some research yourself and begin to become competent at reading the language of symbols. That’s what Revelation is …. it’s an “apocalypse”. In todays Western culture, we think that word means a catastrophe, or a dystopian future, or the end of the world. What the word actually means is “an unveiling” or “a revealing” and it described a particular genre of prophetic writing (very popular in Jewish and Christian circles from 100BC-100AD) in which prophecy is delivered “in the language of symbols”. So the book of Revelation is basically a series of symbolic pictures, and the symbols have real-world meanings. It’s an art gallery of paintings that tell a story of the end of one covenant and the beginning of a new and better covenant.

Browse through these symbolic paintings, take time to look deeply into the background, and let your eyes be opened, your mind expanded, and your faith soar. Thanks Jonathan for being our guide through this gallery.
Dr. Martin Trench