The Glory of the Judge

When I was first trying to figure out which cover art I should use for the cover of my new book, The Glorious Mysteries, I had one requirement:

No scenes of the Last Judgment.

Mind you, I had an idea of what I wanted. I wanted a picture which focused on Jesus in Heaven, reigning as King. I wanted the colors to be vibrant and gorgeous. I wanted it to be a peek at Heaven, since the Glorious Mysteries are all about the contemplation of God and Heaven and how He wants to bring us up there as His children.

But I didn’t want to have any pictures of the Last Judgment.

And there was a good reason for that! Some of the pictures of the Last Judgment are terrifying. After all, in the Last Judgment, you typically get to see an artistic representation of Hell. And Hell is terrifying. Just take a look at this Last Judgment painting by Hieronymus Bosch, who was particularly creative about his representation of demons. Even the famous Michelangelo’s famous Last Judgment scene, located in the Sistine Chapel can be scary… I think the detail that frightens me the most is how Mother Mary’s face is turned away from the people who are pleading to her as they sink into Hell.

So, no Last Judgment scenes!

At first I looked at some of Giaquinto’s works, since I love how he reveals Heaven… just take a look at this artwork of the Holy Trinity and the Sacred Heart! Or this artwork that I featured for All Saints Day. And there’s another, prettier picture of the Coronation of Mary that I haven’t featured yet… soon!

But… no. Those artworks didn’t focus enough on Jesus, so that Jesus got lost in the scenery.

So then I thought, “Why not focus on Jesus as God?” And there’s a bunch of artwork for that too! You have the Coronation of Mary scenes, for instance, which are both pretty glorious and feature Jesus as God. And so I went up this route… and realized, after looking at a particular Coronation scene, that the artist I wanted to feature was Fra Angelico.

See, his artworks are vibrant. They are often painted with gold, making the whole scene shine. They focus on Jesus so that there’s no way that Jesus could hide in the scenery. And they are glorious.

In short, they were everything I wanted.

So, I pursued Fra Angelico’s piece… and came across this piece, which was perfect:

The Last Judgment, by Fra Angelico, c. 1450. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany. Via
The Last Judgment, by Fra Angelico, c. 1450. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany.

And, guess what? It’s a Last Judgment picture!

As with all Last Judgment pictures, it is a bit frightening at parts. And by “a bit” frightening, I mean it is very frightening at parts… so much so that I am probably going to feature this again near Halloween and focus on the terrifying parts when I take a look at macabre religious artworks again!

But, for this moment, let’s take a look at the Heavenly parts — for it is a truly glorious picture!

Directly below Christ is an angel, holding the Cross before the people, indicating that it will be the Cross that will decide who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. After all, there is nothing we can do by ourselves without Christ to earn Heaven… we must rely on the Cross that Jesus shouldered and pick up our own crosses and follow Him, just as He commanded. But, it is by following Him that we are saved. And so the Cross has a very prominent role in the artwork!

Those that are going to Heaven on Christ’s right are so wonderfully joyful! Some of them are chatting with each other in conversation, others are praying by themselves, others are embracing their angels, and still others are embracing each other. Each of them retain their own individuality and are able to act freely in whatever manner they would like, for they are free! And so they mingle with each other and love each other.

But, there is a movement with them… they seem to be heading upward. Angels lead them up to where Christ is. There, near Christ, the saints gather around Him and behold Him. Some of the saints can be identified by their appearance or what they are holding… for instance, Mary is to Jesus’s right and Peter is to her right, holding his key. But, some of them are anonymous.

And, what a wondrous image of Christ! He seems to be enthroned on a flaming cloud held up by cherubim and seraphim that almost seem to meld into the throne and into the glory of Christ. But the glory doesn’t just stop there — Christ is adorned with beautiful garments and His wounds — you can see His pierced hands and pierced side — gleam of gold. And it is actually real gold too… Fra Angelico didn’t skimp on any materials and frequently painted using gold!

Christ raises up His hands to simultaneously bless those whom have come into Heaven and dismiss those who flee His presence into Hell. And He is quite an impressive judge, full of power and might who is not to be trifled with!

In short: He is King. Looking at this picture, there is absolutely no denying who is in charge. Jesus is Judge and King.

There is a tendency for us to think of Christ as this meek and mild person who will love us, no matter how awful we are and will accept us in whatever state we’re in so that He can have a relationship with us.

And there is some truth to that… we all can be pretty awful, and yet God loves us anyway and wants to adopt us as His Children. And when we first go to Him, He will accept us in whatever state we’re in, even if we’re doing remarkably sinful things. And He does want to have a relationship with us because He wants to be family.

But there is another side of Jesus — a side filled with Glory. He is King. He is Judge. And He has authority which we must submit to, and one day we’ll be judged by Him.

When we pray the Glorious Mysteries, we acknowledge this side of Jesus, for we acknowledge that He has gone to Heaven and become King. And we are gladdened by it as well, because we recognize that He defeated Satan and destroyed death through His Resurrection and opened up Heaven for all.

So, let us submit to Him now and let Him reign over our hearts now, knowing that the best is yet to come!

This is the cover for my new book, The Glorious Mysteries! Though, the actual cover is actually a close-up on the detail of Jesus. Anyway, the book goes through every prayer of the Glorious Mysteries, each prayer individually illustrated with classic religious artwork. Take a look at it and buy it here!

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of four, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer.

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