I have a new favorite piece of art, and I have to admit that the basis of my appreciation is my own interpretation of the artwork. I haven’t researched the piece, so I don’t know what the artist intended for me to understand.
One of the unexpected gifts of our day in Denver was free admission to the Denver Art Museum. We spent the bulk of our museum visit in the Rembrandt exhibit. I was amazed by the tiny details on Rembrandt’s etchings, but one piece particularly interested me.
The piece is called “Christ Presented to the People.” The detail that struck me was not Christ’s expression or Pilate’s demeanor. Instead, I was intrigued by the outfits of the bystanders.
The masses yelling “crucify him!” are not dressed in first century robes. Instead, they wear 17th-century shirts, pants, and hats.
I have to assume that Rembrandt knew that Jesus’ contemporaries did not wear top hats. Therefore, I also believe that Rembrandt had a reason for his historical inaccuracy. As I said earlier, I have not researched this piece; everything that I am about to write is speculation on my part.
My first thought when I noticed the European garb was this: the sins of the first-century Jews, the sins of Rembrandt’s companions, and the sins of the postmodern world all had equal weight on the cross. Perhaps Rembrandt’s re-imagination of Jesus’ public trial is intended to remind us that we all contributed to Jesus’ substitutionary death. I think that we sometimes condemn the Jews for their rejection of the Messiah, but we all had a hand in Jesus’ crucifixion. Every person has sinned, and every sin is another reason that Jesus went to the cross.
It is depressing to think that our waywardness killed Jesus, but the same story is a message of hope. Because the sins of every human contributed to Jesus’ death, every person has the opportunity to receive His free gift of salvation.
Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” that is why Jesus chose to die; someone had to pay the price for every sin. Yet, the verse continues, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Because Jesus died, we don’t have to die. Romans 10:9 explains, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
I am not an art critic. Other than noting his tiny lines, I can’t tell you why Rembrandt was a noteworthy artist. However, I can tell you this: through Christ, you can have forgiveness.