Jesus, The Son of Man,

In Michelangelo's Last Judgement

Christ the Judge

Will there be a judgment? Consider these words of Christ: "I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." Matt. 12:36-37.(NRSV)

"Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out - those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. 'I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.'" John 5:24 -30. (NRSV).

"See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him. These are grumblers and malcontents; they indulge their own lusts; they are bombastic in speech, flattering people to their own advantage." Jude 15-16. (NRSV).

"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account." Heb. 4:13 (NIV).

The Hands of Christ the Judge.

Notice the Hands and arms of Christ. One hand, his right, is upraised. Could this be a greeting to those being received into the Kingdom?

The other is horizontal, palm down. Could it be holding down or pushing down those who are damned?

 

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'" Matt. 25:31-36. (NRSV). "Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels..." Matt. 25:41 (NRSV).

 

Color of Light.

Notice the color of light. The sky of the heavens appears blue, just like a good day on earth.

However, directly surrounding Christ is an intense yellow. This looks to me like the light of the sun. Why here? Recall that most painters put halos around saints to show holiness, even though Michelangelo doesn't. So here he may mean something more than just holiness. Recall the theology of John:

1John 1:5 "This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all." John 8:12 "Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." John 12:36 "While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light." John 12:46 "I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness."NRSV.

Jesus feet rest on a rock. Under the rock is something that is blue-white in color. This is not the same color as the sky. Could it be water, like the water of a flowing steam or fountain?

Rev. 21:6 "Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life."

Rev. 22:1 "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb."

Rev. 22:17 "The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let everyone who hears say, "Come." And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift." NRSV.


Other things to note in Michelangelo.

Mary looking at the Lost.

 

Mary is positioned near Jesus and a little lower. Wouldn't this be to describe her rank as it is understood in Catholic teaching?

Notice that Mary is looking downward. Is she concerned about the damned? Looking at Mary's hands and arms, is she both thoughtful and horrified? The finger on her cheek seems to me to say she is thinking about the fate of the condemned, and understands intellectually why the damned are lost, but her arms held close to her chest seem to indicate deep emotion.

The color blue of the cloth across her legs picks up the blue from the sky of heaven. However notice the red. It does not seem to be the color of the cloth she is wearing. Instead it looks like a reflection. Could the red be coming from Christ? What would it signify? Anger, rage?


 

clouds

When you look at the elect they are standing on something. It could be stone, but it is clearly in the air, because of the blue sky underneath. Also, the people in the middle who are ascending or descending are in the air, floating. So what could they be on? Mark 14:61-62. "But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, 'Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?' Jesus said, 'I am; and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,' and 'coming with the clouds of heaven.' " Rev. 1:7 "Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen." NRSV. Obviously, we would want to be ready when we see the Son of Man coming, through repentance, prayer, and good work.


Nearly Naked Jesus

Jesus is nearly naked in this image. Why? Is this disrespectful?

"Adam andEve naked in the Garden of Eden before the Fall represent purity and innnocence... During the Renaissance, nudis naturalis referred to the natural state of man as he emerges from the womb, pure unencombered, and full of virtue. 1Tim. 6:7 '[F]or we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it...' Nudity can also refer to poverty. This is good when entered into voluntarily to renounce worldly possessions." G.G.Sil, A Handbook of Symbols in Christain Art, Simon and Schuster (1975) p. 64.

Perhaps the artist wants to create the association of Jesus with Adam in our minds, because Jesus is the New Adam. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 411 and 504. (However, nudity can also signify sin depending on the circumstances and subject.)


The images of Michelangelo's Last Judgment are used with the permission of the owner of the copyright, Christus Rex. Images are displayed here for non-profit religious and educational purposes only. No other use is intended or permitted. The text is by the Rev. Roger J. Smith, unless attributed to someone else, and is presented "as is". ©1997, Roger J. Smith.

"The Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved."

I am not an art critic or artist. I just invite others to think about the message presented by the work of art and then in meditation reflect on its meaning and possible application in your life. In addition, use your imagination. Put yourself in the position of one of the people depicted and feel what they feel. A painting may have tremendous spiritual meaning for you whether or not the artist intended it, or the art critics would agree. If you find meaning, work with that meaning thanking God.

This web page is the responsibility of Rev. Roger J. Smith, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Comments can be sent to him by email. To see our many other pages click on home below.

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