Filled with abstract and often retributive iconography, the book of Revelation is one of the most difficult in scripture for the average Christian to understand. Reading it through without grounding in its content or possible meanings for the figures appearing in the apostle John’s vision leaves many reeling in chaotic sensory overload. Just imagine how John must have felt.
Like many others, my name can be counted amongst those for whom biblical prophecy is a terrible, wild, and confusing no-man's land. The main thrust of materials developed to delve into the prophecies concerning the commonly termed “end-times” tends towards forecasts, timelines, drawing parallels (imagined or real) between current events and scripture; What In the World Is Going On? is a best-selling example of this approach. Fictional interpretations speculating on how Revelation might be played out in the future such as the Left Behind series have also been met with a torrent of consumer response. In the midst of all such projections I find myself wondering… if Jesus Himself stipulated that He neither knew the day or hour when He would return, how can we hope to do better?
It was with some caution that my family sat down to view Painting Revelation: A Visual Exploration of the Last Book of the Bible from artist and teacher Debby Topliff. Upon seeing the disc's brightly painted cover my husband declared that our six-year-old could do as well, my young children protested in anticipation of a boring documentary-style film, and I braced myself for the potential onslaught of anti-Christ/Middle East/oil crisis/terrorism imagery. Forty-five minutes later we emerged from a beautifully captivating, gentle, face-value presentation of the book of Revelation, our initial impressions having been proven utterly groundless and inaccurate.
The film’s creatrix, Debby Toppliff, experienced the same confusion when confronted with the book of Revelation as a young Christian receiving her Masters degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois. Many years later she engaged in an intensive Precepts-based course of study and through charting, notes, and most importantly a pictorial timeline she drew that ordered the visual descriptions John shares from his vision, she began to make Revelation her own. It was this timeline that planted the first inkling of a large painting encompassing the visual imagery of Revelation on a single canvas. Encouraged by a friend and undaunted by her lack of professional training as an artist, she completed the task in a spirit of lighthearted love regardless of whether the final result resembled that of a seven-year-old. It is this painting – bright, bold, and yes, beautiful - that she uses to guide us through the confusing, tumultuous landscape so many of us find in the Bible’s last book.