The Crucifixion outside Jerusalem,
Painted after John Martin (1789–1854),
Painted between 1830 and 1840,
Oil on canvas
© Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven
Jesus resolutely took the road for Jerusalem
As the time drew near for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely took the road for Jerusalem and sent messengers ahead of him. These set out, and they went into a Samaritan village to make preparations for him, but the people would not receive him because he was making for Jerusalem. Seeing this, the disciples James and John said, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?’ But he turned and rebuked them, and they went off to another village.
Reflection on the painting
Our Gospel reading today marks a shift in how Luke tells the story of Jesus. Up until this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ public ministry has been located in Galilee. Now Jesus leaves Galilee and begins his journey to Jerusalem. Because Jerusalem has a reputation as ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you’ (Lk. 13:34), Jesus has to steel himself for this journey. As Luke tells us in our gospel reading, ‘Jesus resolutely took the road for Jerusalem’. Jesus was fully conscious where this journey would lead, and yet he also knew he had to take it.
In our early 19th-century painting by a follower of John Martin, we see the crucifixion scene set outside the walls of Jerusalem, which features very prominently in the background. The sky is dark, clouds have gathered. But the skies have somewhat opened to let through some light, and we see the Roman soldier piercing the side of Christ.
The painter didn’t paint an accurate picture of what Jerusalem would have looked like at the time of Jesus, nor the way it would have looked in the 19th century. It was the painter’s creative liberty to paint a Jerusalem which sits between the earthly and the heavenly city. As Jerusalem was already a popular pilgrim destination during the Middle Ages, artists would have been very familiar with what it looked like. So these fantastical representations of Jerusalem with exaggerated architectural details and other artistic liberties were chosen by artists to convey the city's spiritual significance… a city towards which Jesus in our reading today resolutely started walking.
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