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Figure 13 - Phil McKay, The Second Coming, 2009.

Credit: Australian Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Photo: Phil McKay.

A Visual Apocalypse: Adventist Eschatology in the History of Art

By Neale D. Schofield


Neale D. Schofield is an Australian pastor and historian, specializing in media. When CEO of Adventist Media Network in the South Pacific Division, Schofield was instrumental in the film Tell the World and his Masterstroke series on Christian art. His education includes a Master’s degree from the School of Divinity at King’s College London and a Ph.D. from the Reformation Studies Institute, School of History at the University of St Andrews, Scotland.

First Published: December 7, 2022


Jan Swart of Groningen (1495-1563), painter and designer of woodcut illustrations, supported the burgeoning Protestant movement in northern Europe. Two of his eschatological drawings are of particular interest. Created as a pair, The Narrow Way and The Broad Way portray the paths up to salvation and down to damnation (please see Figure 1 in More Photos).1 The medieval church deemed itself critical to successfully travelling to heaven, a theme presented in the fourteenth-century fresco Via Veritatis in the Spanish Chapel of Santa Maria Novella, Florence.2 Swart opposed this view. The artist established identity in Protestantism by presenting a stark visual contrast: a flute player and drummer lead a procession down the broad way to hell, headed by the pope, his priests, and a king. In the antithetical image, there is no evidence of the ecclesiastical order. Simple, humble folk, including a farmer and peasants, escape the threat of thorns, snakes, and devilish creatures as they walk together on their successful journey to heaven.3

Elfred Lee, a Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) artist, painted The Christ of the Narrow Way between 1989 and 1991 (Figure 2 in More Photos). As a testimony to its importance to Adventist identity, this wall-sized canvas is featured in the SDA World Headquarters. Lee based his painting on a vision that Ellen G. White, recognized in the Church for her influence and prophetic gift, experienced shortly after what became known as the Great Disappointment in 1844.4 The vision embraces the last moments of Earth and the magnificence of seeing Jesus coming in the clouds, surrounded by ten thousand angels. Tenacious, faith-filled believers completed their journey to heaven, entering through the pearly gates into the celestial city.

The locus of the painting is a standing Jesus, inviting and leading His people along the narrow way. The Ten Commandments, the Bible, and three angels with end-day messages from Revelation 14 are behind Jesus, reflecting His glory. Historical characters, events, church institutions and doctrines important to Adventist history and identity appear above the upward path. In the foreground is Alan Collins’ sculpture of the Good Samaritan, a work located on the campus of Loma Linda University in California.

Lee’s painting leaves little to the imagination as it serves a more defined purpose than Swart’s work 460 years earlier. The artwork communicates Adventist identity as expressed in the church’s history, fundamental beliefs, and mission. Above all, this eschatological work shows the imperative of Jesus Christ, and His soon return, to the faith.

The Christian church has embraced the visual arts, communicating theology, devotion, and missiology. Gregory the Great was a central character during the late sixth century. Art historians consider him a visionary for promoting the use of paintings on church walls as books for the illiterate.5 However, a visual expression of theology introduced new complexity into biblical hermeneutics, particularly within eschatology.

Visual exegesis is impacted by the artist’s understanding of the text, the views and demands of the patron, and the viewer’s perception of the artist’s image through time and across cultures.6 During the Middles Ages, the church largely determined the content and role of its art: pedagogy turned into iconography, paintings became “oil-idols,” and portrayals of the Lord’s return misrepresented the character of a loving God.7 Reformer Martin Luther vehemently opposed the worship of images, yet he encouraged visual expression in his books. Luther included pictures in his prayer book for “the sake of children and simple folk,” specifically to help them learn and remember “divine stories.”8 Paintings and illustrations of a gracious God who will return to Earth, gifting salvation to those who believe, became a vital component of Lutheran identity.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church achieves its mission through sharing the everlasting gospel in word and image. Ellen White wrote:

The second commandment prohibits image worship; but God Himself employed pictures and symbols to represent to His prophets lessons which He would have them give to the people, and which could thus be better understood than if given in any other way.9

A visual highlight of the apocalypse is the Second Coming of Jesus. This article provides context for Adventist eschatology by sharing different perspectives on the Parousia and Last Judgment from periods in church history where art was an essential form of communication. Today, the Adventist Church displays depictions of this cosmic event in spectacular framed paintings, as a collective of illustrations in books, and in high-resolution images on digital screens. Adventist identity is forming around the idea of hope: The heart of eschatology, God is love, is demonstrated in the context of God's eternal kingdom.

The Medieval Church: Hope or Doom?

A review of eschatological art within the Christian tradition reveals the popularity of presenting Christ as King and the Last Judgment. Amillennialism became popular within the medieval church, a theology that led to a focus on individual eschatology.10 The church’s profile lifted in the visual arts as the significance of hope in the Parousia waned.11 Church theologians, notably Augustine and Tyconius, interpreted Revelation’s period of peace as the presence of Jesus Christ in the church, reigning in majesty over all earthly kings and kingdoms.12 Christ was colorfully illustrated on Byzantine and Western frescoes, in manuscripts, sculptured from rock and painted on retables as the Pantocrator, the Majestas Domini, regularly with scenes from Revelation 4 and 5 portraying worship and adoration of Christ, surrounded by the four living creatures and 24 elders (Figure 3 in More Photos).13

Without the dividing millennium, the time between the Parousia and the Last Judgment is a moment, deeming the Parousia the means to an end.14 The climax of apocalyptic eschatology became the coming of Christ, “who will judge the living and the dead.”15 This universal, inescapable event was presented dramatically in the visual arts, with a clear dividing line showing those going to heaven and those hurled, pulled, or directed into the eternal fires of hell. Since the 9th century, frescoes have lined the walls of churches and chapels.16 Featuring this image in the church or on entrance doors acted as a continual reminder; indeed, warning of the need for penitence and confession, the importance of acts of goodness and the consequences of rejecting or neglecting church liturgy. Michelangelo’s famous work in the Sistine Chapel is typical for content; with the resurrection of the dead, angels blowing trumpets announcing the judgment, ferocious images of hell and a stark contrast in the size of books between the saved and lost, signifying how few make it to heaven. Christ is central, presiding over the event and surrounded by saints. Ghoulish fiends destined for hell rise from graves as others emerge from a cave, likely a representation of Catholic teaching on the role of purgatory or limbo.17

Two paintings of the Last Judgment uniquely unveil the eschatological identity formed first within the medieval church: Stefan Lochner’s vivid depiction of the final day and Jan Provost’s works-oriented display.18 Provost, a Flemish artist from the Renaissance, painted Last Judgment around 1525 (Figure 4 in More Photos).19 Early Protestants of the Low Countries had reason to recoil from the message of meritorious theology and intercession of the saints seen in Provost’s work. The nail-scarred Christ sits above a judgment table, with a sword and lily representing His justice and mercy. Two angels are blowing their long, curved trumpets as Mary and John the Baptist take the role of intercessors on behalf of humanity. Mary reveals her breast, a common motif representing her right to intercession, just as Christ presents His scarred hand or wounded side to the Father.20 Placed on the table is an orb, the book of life, gold coins, and other precious items collected from the rising saints. The resurrected lift their paid indulgences as evidence of piety and their right to an eternal home of bliss.21

Stefan Lochner's Last Judgement is a “Doom” painting, an English term used to describe the hellscape as it became ever more horrific during the Middle Ages (Figure 5 in More Photos).22 A seated Christ is pictured wearing a red cape, separating the saved and lost with hand movements. Lochner painted the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist a similar size to Jesus, flanking Him, to form what art historians have labelled as the iconic “Deesis” (“supplication”). Michael the Archangel is regularly featured in paintings of the judgment. Rogier van der Weyden’s Michael weighs earth's inhabitants on scales, one by one, to determine who is worthy of salvation.23 Michael is the centerpiece of Jan van Eyck’s work; below him, covering nearly half the painting, is a mangle of tortured bodies, devils, and beasts crammed into hell with an enormous skeleton keeping guard.24 But Stefan Lochner chose a different path. Instead of focusing on the earthly work of Michael, the viewer sees a cosmic battle for souls: Christ’s angels and monster-like demons fight over the resurrected. Within this eschatological imagery, heavenly gates await the righteous while the infernal city welcomes the damned. A beastly demon drags a group of naked men with Ottoman headgear into hell by a chain, a picture showing the antagonism that had built up against the Turks. The narrow cathedral-shaped gates of St. Peter overshadow those entering eternity. This image is the artist’s attempt to visually establish an unbreakable link between the church’s spiritual authority and personal salvation.

Illustrations of Christ’s return that focus on Jesus and the righteous, not the fate of the wicked, can be seen in early churches, Bible manuscripts, Books of Hours and prayer books. Yet, these visual displays regularly reinforce a soteriology based on human effort and the intercession of saints. The spectacular mosaic Christ in Glory is in the apse of Rome's Basilica of Sts. Cosmas and Damian. The apostles Peter and Paul present the martyrs Cosmas and Damian, with crowns in hand, as worthy due to their generous humanitarian works as physicians. Beneath the main image stands 12 sheep, representing the apostles, as they look towards the Lamb of God standing on a platform. As Christ descends from the clouds, He stands on the fish-filled Jordon River, representing His presence among those He has saved. An inscription under the mosaic reads, “…through the merits of the physician-martyrs, the sure hope of salvation comes to the people, and by this dedication this place will grow in honour.”25

Martin Luther and the Last Judgment

As a young boy, Martin Luther became familiar with visual interpretations of eschatology. By his own account, Martin looked towards the stained-glass windows in his home church of Mansfeld and saw a colorful and dramatic portrayal of the Last Judgment.26 The image filled Luther’s impressionable mind with anxiety and fear; he saw Jesus depicted as a stern, sword-wielding inquisitor ready to send much of humanity—including himself—into the eternal and torturous flames of hell. This image, reinforced in the illustrations of Schedel’s Chronicle of the World, preoccupied Luther’s imagination and formed his early view of God’s character and relationship with mankind.27 Although not cognizant of the fact at the time, at this very young age, the future Reformer encountered the persuasive capability of the arts to translate and communicate theological ideas.

A significant achievement of Martin Luther, and his colleagues in the visual arts, was the ability to change perceptions of the Second Coming. The Reformers maintained a form of amillennialism, but the Last Judgment became good news to Lutherans. Hope permeated from justification by faith and the intercessory work of Christ, ideas that embraced the character of God.28 Luther gave explicit instruction to Reformation artists:

Therefore do not make Christ into the severe, angry judge before whom one is afraid, as before someone who wants to throw us into hell; this is how people paint him, seated in judgment on a rainbow, with his mother Mary and John the Baptist at both sides as intercessors against his terrible wrath.29

Luther’s influence on religious art is evident in German publications during the Reformation and confessional period.30 Hans Lufft, who became known as the bibeldrucker for printing over 100,000 copies of the Luther Bible, regularly illustrated his title pages with Lucas Cranach’s Law and Grace. The Last Judgment is placed in the top left corner of this illustration, on the side of the Law. But Cranach changed the design from his earlier rough sketches to be consistent with Luther’s advice (Figure 6 in More Photos).31 Wittenberg’s bookbinders stamped the Last Judgment on Reformation book covers as local printers featured the scene on the title page of Melanchthon’s books.32 The Parousia became a critical illustration in Luther’s Bible and sermon postils, highlighting texts from Matthew 24:27-31 and Luke 21:25-27.33 Jesus explains the Second Coming to His disciples as they look to signs in the heavens, simultaneously witnessing the visible, literal return of Christ (Figure 7 in More Photos).

Lutheran churches used paintings and illustrations of Christ’s return polemically to reinforce confessional identity. Reformation churches showcased the Last Judgment, not only as a single work of art, but within a triptych beside the cross and the Lord’s resurrection.34 The altarpiece in St Mary’s church, Wittenberg, is renowned for its acute presentation of Luther’s theology. The rear of this altarpiece is less discussed in scholarly circles, yet it is an essential pedagogical instrument. Cranach painted Last Judgement on the predella with the resurrected Christ in the centerpiece and two Old Testament stories of faith on either side.35 Judgment is seen once more in the context of the work of Christ and justification by faith, not works. Paintings on Protestant epitaphs presented life after death as a story of hope in the resurrection. In 1558, Michel Ribestein painted an epitaph in Berlin with Bible verses on the judgment beneath the image, including “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 7:21).36 The artist avoids the typical Deesis composition; instead, a resurrected man kneels in humility, with a Bible, his rule of life, in a bag at his feet. In contrast, the pope is seen wearing his tiara and long cape, leading a line of the damned towards the infernos of hell. Anna von Einsiedel was the wife of the Lutheran theologian Hans von Einsiedel. She lived in the small Saxon village of Prießnitz and sadly died at just 34 years of age. With the Last Judgment featured on the family epitaph, the words of Hans demonstrate the beauty and anticipation of Christ’s return and the resurrection, “Hurry in, come soon Lord Jesus Christ, Your coming is my salvation, give back to me my dearest one, then we will sing our joyful songs.”37

Adventists and the Advent Hope

Postmillennialism became a popular apocalyptic framework during the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly among American evangelicals and those who trace their roots to Reformed Protestantism.38 The Parousia became a secondary consideration: Jesus will return after the millennium which, even if a thousand years is deemed symbolic, was not imminent. The world was becoming a better place, not in desperate need of rescuing from the horrors of sin. In Europe, the visual arts integrated the Last Judgment into personal eschatology through illustrations and paintings presenting stages of life. Human life is shaped as a pyramid from birth, rising by the decade until mid-life and descending to death. Visually central to the journey of life is judgment, illustrated below the steps and considered the next stage after life (Figure 8 in More Photos). Inspired by works such as the German Jörg Breu’s The Ten Ages of Man, the visual theme of life stages ending in God’s judgment spread through France, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden, and England.39 In the Holy Charity hospital in Seville, a large painting displays the Last Judgment beneath the stages of life. The work can be viewed by visitors immediately outside the chapel, with similar images on display in the chapel.40

William Miller and the early “Second Adventists” of the 1840s thought differently to the post-Enlightenment philosophy of a progressive world. Miller believed in premillennialism and the imminent return of Christ, based on Bible prophecy. The printing and expansive distribution of broadsheets, tracts, periodicals, and books rapidly communicated their message of a soon-coming Savior. Published works were dominated by text, with minimal use of art styles seen in earlier Christian periods. Prophetic charts became central to Millerite identity, featuring symbols, animals, diagrams, and timeframes taken from the prophetic books of the Bible.41 A historicist approach to prophecy, in which times and events span earth’s history, suited this visual approach. Nebuchadnezzar’s image from Daniel 2 became a favorite, showcased by evangelists and replicated in games and personal drawings among children.42 Millerites employed the arts to prove prophetic fulfilment and provide certainty in future time-based prophecies. Readers saw connections and consistency between the prophecies and, most importantly, understood their time in the context of the Second Coming.43

The use of visualization broadened in Joshua V. Himes’ Illustrations of Miller’s Views of the End of the World in 1843 (Figure 9 in More Photos).44 In this “large sheet,” an illustration of the Parousia dominates the page.45 Printed on either side of the main image are charts of Daniel’s visions from the Old Testament and John’s visions from the Book of Revelation, with a synopsis of Miller’s views on the manner and timing of Christ’s return forming the primary text.46 The publisher presents the Second Coming as a matter of urgency, and dire consequences await those who are not ready. Above the scene is the Bible text, “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). Jesus stands in the heavens with open, welcoming arms, as angels surround Him. The resurrection of the dead is not pictured, but the saved ascend towards Jesus in a posture of adoration and worship. Directly below Jesus, the dark clouds hover above a scene of fiery destruction; a clear line forms between the saved in the heavens and the lost on the earth. In scenes reflecting the frightful opening of Revelation’s sixth seal, rocks fall from mountaintops, and people rush into a cave as a giant chasm engulfs the wicked.47 The artist depicts confusion as those who are lost appeal to Jesus to save them, but it is too late. The message of this image is clear: Now is the time to get ready for the coming of the Lord.

The Second Coming illustration of 1843 received a mixed response. A printed broadsheet displayed the panoramic image after Samuel S. Snow announced a different date for the world’s end.48 Yet the Millerite editors of the periodical The Signs of the Times denounced the artist’s impression on May 10, 1843, with “unqualified dissent.”49 Joshua Himes opposed the picture; ironically, he was the publisher of the original broadsheet just a few weeks earlier. The perceived issue was the inappropriateness of visualizing one of the most significant and holy events of the Bible. Millerite leaders declared the advent and ascension of “such awful interest, which are beyond the province of man to delineate”, claiming the printed work as poor taste and “presumptuous in the extreme.”50 It is unknown how widely this view was shared. Concerns within the Reformed tradition about pictorial representations of Christ and biblical scenes trace back to Calvin, Zwingli, and their followers. Early Calvinists accused Protestants who promoted the arts as “half-papists” and “idolators.”51 Lutherans labelled their accusers as “deformed, not Reformed” due to their churches’ lack of artistic beauty.52 Many of the Millerites came from Reformed denominations; they were comfortable with symbols, timelines, and charts. But a detailed rendering of the Second Coming went too far within their hermeneutic framework.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church grew out of the Millerite movement. As it formed, a visual culture developed that embraced pictorial apocalyptic art. Uriah Smith, author of the prolifically illustrated Adventist book Daniel and the Revelation, considered illustrations from earlier charts “but the words of the prophet in another form.”53 Nevertheless, Second Coming portrayals developed slowly. As church leaders established an identity based on a unique mission and message, they visually shared their story. With encouragement from Ellen White, new prophetic charts were designed and published that included images of the cross of Calvary, Christ’s work in the heavenly sanctuary, the Three Angels’ Messages of Revelation 14 and the Second Coming of Christ (Figure 10 in More Photos).54 A flowing banner heralds the importance of the Commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, a pointer to the seventh-day Sabbath. The illustration of Christ’s return in Otis Nichols’ chart of 1850 is small, the same size as the reaping angels.55 But in 1863, the year the Seventh-day Adventist Church became an official denomination, church publishers removed the harvesting angels, leaving the focus on a larger representation of the Cross and Christ’s return.56 The Second Coming is seen as the end point of earth’s history and the culmination of prophecy and church mission.

A further move towards pictorial representation saw the publishing of The Way of Life posters in 1873 (Figure 11 in More Photos).57 This allegorical composition went beyond visual pedagogy; the artist promoted his work as a devotional ornament in the home.58 The original lithograph sought to present the Adventist perspective on the fall and redemption of humanity, with the Ten Commandments and the Cross of Calvary taking prominence. The Second Coming is part of the pictorial story but in the background between Earth and the New Jerusalem. James and Ellen White supervised revisions to this poster in 1876 and 1883, including an engraving by Thomas Moran in which he removed the Law and placed the crucified Christ front and center. 59 As Adventists came together for family worship, they could look up and see the overwhelming love of Jesus towards each member of the family. The artists did not include the Second Coming in the revised posters. The new pictures may have been a theological call by James and Ellen White to focus the Church on God’s love and His gift of justification by faith more than any other teaching.

Quality illustrations added value to early Adventist books, assisting colporteurs as they sold literature door-to-door. Publishing houses introduced special editions, books with decorative hardcovers and bountiful illustrations from artists such as Raphael, Gustave Doré, and Christian Dietrich. Ellen White was concerned about increased costs and pricing and feared limiting the evangelistic potential of doctrinal books.60 Still, Church publishers created an expansive visual culture that prioritized quality licensed and commissioned images across their published works. The question-and-answer style Bible Readings for the Home Circle is an example.61 With over 300 illustrations, including 80 full-page drawings, this book became popular for Christian families during the first half of the twentieth century. Among the works of art are eight pictures of the Second Coming, showing facets relevant to the topics discussed in each chapter.62 Adventist publishing houses worldwide included the growing portfolio of Second Coming pictures in other Adventist publications, including their high-profile eschatological works The Great Controversy and Daniel and the Revelation.

A review of over 150 Adventist illustrations of the Second Coming reveals three main themes.63 First, Christ is pictured in the heavens, surrounded by angels, and “coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”64 This setting demonstrates the tangible, visible, and global nature of the Lord’s return. Christ, the triumphant King, is all-powerful and worthy of worship; for that reason, artists paint this theme as a devotional wall painting for the home and church. Harry Anderson, arguably the most famous Adventist artist, painted The Second Coming for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1969 (Figure 12 in More Photos). A standing Jesus, with arms outstretched, is presented as a loving, welcoming Saviour. Anderson was comfortable painting this work for another denomination because the content is consistent with Adventist theology. A tightly framed picture of Christ’s return in the heavens is generally appropriate for all Christians who believe in a literal return of Jesus, irrespective of their view on the millennium. Adventist periodicals and pamphlets regularly include artwork showing Christ in the heavens to introduce the topic to their readers (Figure 12). The role of this art is different to paintings such as Anderson’s; pictures in periodicals draw attention to the article and reflect the main idea of the text.

The most popular paintings of the Second Coming showcase people who are ready and “looking for the blessed hope.”65 The saved stand on Earth, arms outstretched as they witness the joy of their life, Christ’s return. This theme presents hope and God’s love; He returns personally to honor His promise of eternal life, without the need of intercessory saints. Such pictures build a remnant identity as viewers see themselves as part of God’s final church (Revelation 12:17). Without naming a date, artists and their publishers include contemporary objects in their works, inferring that Christ will come in the lifetime of their readers. For example, T. K. Martin, art director at the Review and Herald in the 1940s, introduced a modern car stopped at a mountain lookout. When the passengers see Jesus coming, they quickly leap out of the vehicle, raising their arms to hail their God.66 A challenge for publishers is that this art quickly dates, especially when fashion, media or transportation is featured. Phil McKay’s oeuvre of Adventist paintings includes two works that picture the redeemed waiting for the second advent. The spectacular red landscape of the Australian outback is the scene for one painting (see the article's main image at the top of this page, Figure 13). Indigenous Australians, including well-known Adventist church members and local leaders, are those receiving salvation. McKay’s Second Coming inspires viewers with the thought that Jesus is coming for me no matter where I am, and He is coming in my lifetime.

The first resurrection, the resurrection of the righteous, is the third central theme (Revelation 20:5, 6 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17). Adventist artists show angels standing at open graves, handing babies back to their delighted mothers (Figure 14 in More Photos). Recent decades have seen this image become a visual motif, building identity around hope. The Church, which began as a movement based on the imminence of Christ’s return, continues to hold to this conviction. Yet, a pictorial emphasis on the resurrection of loved ones may be a natural consequence of an aging church still waiting to see their God. A full-page illustration in Daniel and the Revelation depicts a broader perspective.67 Franklin Booth sketched the resurrection of men and women from various periods rising from their graves, looking up as they ascend towards heaven. The dead respond to God’s voice, rising with new bodies to inherit eternal life (John 5:28).68

Nathan Greene includes the resurrection in his aesthetically rich The Blessed Hope, a work that expands on the story told by Harry Anderson's painting 40 years earlier (Figure 15 in More Photos). Jesus stands in the heavens, surrounded by His trumpet-blowing angels. The arc of a resplendent rainbow separates light from darkness. Greene captures the moment when the resurrected meet the waiting redeemed, reuniting families. The diversity of traditional clothing among the saved reflects Adventism’s global reach and cultural diversity. Working with the evangelist Mark Finley, Greene unveiled his canvas to the World Church at its General Conference session in 2010. Since then, the painting has become famous, hanging worldwide on the walls of homes, churches, and administration buildings. The Blessed Hope encapsulates Adventist eschatology: Jesus returns, the resurrection is real, and salvation is complete.


Pictorial representations of Christ’s return have changed during the church’s history, creating identity and unique identities. Broader eschatology, particularly the millennium presented in Revelation 20, has influenced second advent artwork since the turn of the ninth century. A spectrum of identity markers developed. During the medieval period, the church used vivid and fearful images of the Last Judgment to build church authority and communicate the necessity of prescribed good works. Martin Luther and his artists altered Catholic pictures to express their differentiated eschatology. Identity formed from picturing a loving God who offers justification by faith, a welcome relief to those paying indulgence money to escape the terrors of purgatory.

Seventh-day Adventist eschatological art differs from that before it. Belief in premillennialism and a pre-advent judgment is reflected in illustrations of the Parousia: a literal, personal, and imminent return of Christ. This event is the much-anticipated final step on life’s narrow way.69 The Seventh-day Adventist Church is seen as the church of the last days. Its identity centers on hope and a new world to come, reuniting families through a resurrection, and a rescue from this planet of pain. Adventist artists display a panoramic vision filled with palettes of color and radiant light as they build an identity of irrepressible optimism, moving forward in the knowledge of redemption through the life, death, and coming of Jesus.

Looking to the future, Adventist identity will build as its eschatological art’s profile, reach, and scope expands. Stylistically, the visual culture has room for innovation, welcoming the variety seen in early Adventist publications and the broader art world. In a digital age, if representational art turns into a form of hyperrealism, there is a danger that eschatological pictures will fail to inspire reflection. The visual culture of Adventism rightly reflects its theological perspective, looking for clarity and certainty based on biblical principles. Still, an opportunity exists within this framework to reach more people, stimulate enquiry, and inspire contemplation through pursuing unique portrayals of Adventist eschatology.


A Pictorial Illustration of the Visions of Daniel and John. Battle Creek, Michigan: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1863.

Chazelle, Celia. “Pictures, Books, and the Illiterate: Pope Gregory I’s letters to Serenus of Marseilles.” Word and Image: A Journal of Verbal and Visual Enquiry 6, no. 2 (1990): 138-153.

Daley, Brian. “Eschatology in the Early Christian Fathers.” In Jerry J. Walls (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Fitch, Charles. A Chronological Chart of the Visions of Daniel and John. Boston, Massachusetts: Joshua V. Himes, 1843.

Gardener Kellogg, Merritt. The Way of Life. From Paradise Lost to Paradise Restored. Battle Creek, Michigan, Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1873.

Heal, Bridget. A Magnificent Faith: Art and Identity in Lutheran Germany. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Illustrations of Miller’s Views of the End of the World in 1843. Boston, Massachusetts: Joshua V. Himes, 1843.

Klein, Peter K. “The Apocalypse in Medieval Art.” In Richard K. Emmerson and Bernard McGinn (eds.), The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1992.

Koerner, Joseph Leo. The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Lindsay, Thomas M. A History of the Reformation, 2 vols. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1999.

Luther, D. Martin Luther’s Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe 46. Weimar, 1883-.

Luther, Martin. “Personal Prayer Book,” Luther’s Works 43, no. 458. Quoted in R. W. Scribner, For the Sake of Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

MacGregor, Neil. Seeing Salvation: Images of Christ in Art. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000.

Moran, Thomas. Christ, the Way of Life. Battle Creek, Michigan: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1883.

Morgan, David. Protestants and Pictures: Religion, Visual Culture, and the Ages of American Mass Production. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Nichols, Otis. A Pictorial Illustration of the Visions of Daniel and John and their Chronology. Dorchester, Massachusetts: Otis Nichols, 1850.

O’Kane, Martin. “The Artist as Reader of the Bible: Visual Exegesis and the Adoration of the Magi.” Biblical Interpretation 13, no. 4 (2005): 337-373.

Polzer, Joseph. “Andrea di Bonaiuto’s Via Veritatis and Dominican Thought in Late Medieval Italy.” The Art Bulletin 77, no. 2 (June 1995): 262-289.

Posset, Franz. “Martin Luther on ‘Deësis.’ His Rejection of the Artistic Representation of Jesus, John, and Mary.” Renaissance and Reformation 20, no. 3 (Summer 1996): 57-76.

Schedel, Hartmann. Liber Chronicarum Das Buch der Croniken und Geschichten. Nurenberg: Anton Koberger, 1493.

Shrimplin, Valerie. “'Hell in Michelangelo’s "Last Judgment’.” Artibus et Historiae 30 (1994): 83-107.

Smith, Uriah. Daniel and the Revelation. Washington D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1944.

Smith, Uriah. Key to the Prophetic Chart. Battle Creek, Michigan, Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1864.

Veldman, Ilja M. “Protestantism and the Arts: Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Netherlands.” In Paul Corbey Finney (ed.), Seeing Beyond the Word. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999.

Vogel, Winfried. “The Eschatological Theology of Martin Luther.” Andrews University Seminary Studies 24, no. 3 (Autumn 1986): 249-261.

White, Ellen G. Early Writings. Washington D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1963.

White, Ellen G. Selected Messages from the Writings of Ellen G. White, Book Two. Washington D.C., Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1958.


  1. Jan Swart based his illustrations on the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:13,14.

  2. Joseph Polzer, “Andrea di Bonaiuto's Via Veritatis and Dominican Thought in Late Medieval Italy,” The Art Bulletin 77, no. 2 (June 1995): 262-289, here 262, 263.

  3. See Ilja M. Veldman, “Protestantism and the Arts: Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Netherlands,” in Paul Corbey Finney (ed.), Seeing Beyond the Word (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999): 397-420, here 401-403.

  4. Ellen G. White, Early Writings (Washington D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1963): 13-20.

  5. Celia Chazelle, “Pictures, Books, and the Illiterate: Pope Gregory I’s letters to Serenus of Marseilles,” Word and Image: A Journal of Verbal and Visual Enquiry 6, no. 2 (1990): 138-153, here 138.

  6. Martin O’Kane, “The Artist as Reader of the Bible: Visual Exegesis and the Adoration of the Magi,” Biblical Interpretation 13, no. 4 (2005): 337-373, here 338, 339.

  7. Karlstadt used the term Ölgötzen (oil-idols) in his denunciation of the worship of paintings and other images. Andreas Karlstadt, Von abtuhung der bylder und das Keyn betdler unther den Christen seyn soll (Wittenberg: Nickel Schirlentz, 1522), sig. A2r. USTC 702681.

  8. Martin Luther, “Personal Prayer Book,” Luther’s Works 43, 458; quoted in R.W. Scribner, For the Sake of Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981): xi. See USTC 642365, sig. i3v for an image of the Last Judgment in the prayer book.

  9. Ellen G. White, Selected Messages from the Writings of Ellen G. White, Book Two (Washington D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1958): 319.

  10. Illustrations featuring the church’s role in Ars moriendi (the art of dying) became popular during the medieval period. See the St. Nicholas altarpiece in St. Mary’s Church in Mühlhausen for artwork of an angel removing the soul from the mouth of the dying saint as he is surrounded by priests holding a candle at his bedside.

  11. Neil MacGregor, Seeing Salvation: Images of Christ in Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000): 194-198.

  12. Brian Daley, “Eschatology in the Early Christian Fathers,” in Jerry J. Walls (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008): 91-109, here 99, 100.

  13. Based on Revelation 4:2-7. See Peter K. Klein, “The Apocalypse in Medieval Art,” in Richard K. Emmerson and Bernard McGinn (eds.), The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1992): 159-199, here 161-163.

  14. Foundational Bible chapters include Matthew 25, 26, John 14, and Revelation 14, 20.

  15. 2 Timothy 4:1 (NKJV).

  16. The oldest known Last Judgment is from c. 800, the fresco in the Convent of Saint John, Müstair. A sarcophagus lid from around the turn of the fourth century shows Jesus separating sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31,32), now housed in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, Gallery 300.

  17. Valerie Shrimplin, “Hell in Michelangelo’s ‘Last Judgment,’” Artibus et Historiae 30 (1994): 83-107, here 94. For a painting of purgatory see Alonso Cano, The Souls of Purgatory, Convent of Mt. Zion, Seville. 1635. For a painting of Limbo see Follower of Hieronymus Bosch, The Descent into Limbo, Netherlands, 1550-1570.

  18. Other artists to paint the Last Judgment include Hieronymus Bosch, Fra Angelico, Peter Paul Rubens, Hans Memling, Giotto, Luca Signorelli, Rogier van der Weyden, and, in modern times, John Martin, William Blake, and Wassily Kandinsky.

  19. Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg. Inv./ 323.

  20. Franz Posset, “Martin Luther on ‘Deësis.’ His Rejection of the Artistic Representation of Jesus, John, and Mary,” Renaissance and Reformation 20, no. 3 (Summer 1996): 57-76, here 62, 63.

  21. Joseph Leo Koerner, The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1993): 404, 405.

  22. Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne. Gallery 6. WRM 0066.

  23. Rogier van der Weyden, The Last Judgement, c. 1445-1450. Hospices de Beaune, Beaune.

  24. Jan van Eyck, The Last Judgement, c. 1440-1441. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Note that this is a diptych painting alongside the crucifixion.

  25. MacGregor, Seeing Salvation, 195. See also Liz James, Mosaics in the Medieval World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017): 247, 248.

  26. Thomas M. Lindsay, A History of the Reformation, 2 vols. (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1999): 194.

  27. Hartmann Schedel, Liber Chronicarum Das Buch der Croniken und Geschichten (Nurenberg: Anton Koberger, 1493): 262. USTC 748765. See commentary by Roland H. Bainton, Here I stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1977): 11, 12. Carl C. Christensen, Art and the Reformation in Germany (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1979): 16. Steve Ozment, The Reformation in the Cities: The Appeal of Protestantism to Sixteenth-Century Germany and Switzerland (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1975): 49-56. William J. Bouwsma, “Anxiety and the Formation of Early Modern Culture” in A Usable Past: Essays in European Cultural History (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1990): 157-182.

  28. Winfried Vogel, “The Eschatological Theology of Martin Luther,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 24, no. 3 (Autumn 1986): 249-261, here 261.

  29. Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe 46 (Weimar, 1883-): 8, 32-36. See translation in Koerner, The Moment of Self-Portraiture, 404.

  30. The confessional period is generally recognized as spanning the years of 1555-1618, between the Peace of Augsburg and the start of the Thirty Years’ War.

  31. Martin Luther, Biblia, das ist (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1541). USTC 616672. For an early sketch of Cranach’s Last Judgment in his Law and Grace see Max Friedländer and Jakob Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach (New Jersey, Wellfleet Press, 1978): 24.

  32. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Einbanddatenbank, Joerg Bernutz (bookbinder number w002855), p001631. Philipp Melanchthon, Explicatio symboli niceni (Wittenberg: Konrad Rühel, Johann Krafft, 1561). USTC 65550.

  33. Martin Luther, Kerckenpostilla, dat ys (Wittenberg: Johann Krafft, 1563). USTC 669761. Meister CE illustrated the Parousia in 1563. See Philipp Schmidt, Die Illustration der Lutherbibel, 1522-1700 (Basel: Friedrich Reinhardt, 1962): 346. The Pitts Theology Library shares a digital library of over 100 images on this topic.

  34. Lucas Cranach the Younger, The Last Judgement Tripytch, c. 1550-1580. Kuntsmuseum, Moritzburg, Halle.

  35. The stories are of the brazen serpent (Numbers 21:4-9) and the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19).

  36. Michael Ribenstein, Epitaph for Hans Tempelhoff and family, Protestant church of St. Peter, St. Mary’s Berlin. 1558. Shutterstock No: 68395173.

  37. Johann de Perre, Epitaph for Anna von Einsiedel, Prießnitz village church. See quote in Bridget Heal, A Magnificent Faith: Art and Identity in Lutheran Germany (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017): 166, 170.

  38. Timothy P. Weber, “Millennialism,” The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, 365-383, here 375, 376, 379.

  39. Jörg Breu the Younger, The Ten Ages of Man, Augsburg, 1540. A copy is now housed in the British Museum. Registration number 1927, 0614.181.

  40. This chapel houses the famous and ghastly paintings on death and judgment, Finis Gloriae Mundi and In Octu Oculi by Juan de Valdes Leal.

  41. Charles Fitch, A Chronological Chart of the Visions of Daniel and John (Boston, Massachusetts: Joshua V. Himes, 1843), Broadside.

  42. David Morgan, Protestants and Pictures: Religion, Visual Culture, and the Ages of American Mass Production (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 162.

  43. Ibid., 128-133.

  44. Illustrations of Miller's Views of the End of the World in 1843 (Boston, Massachusetts: Joshua V. Himes, 1843), Broadside.

  45. The reference to the “large sheet” is in The Signs of the Times (May 10, 1843): 73-80, here 76.

  46. The visions are from Daniel 2, 7, 8 and Revelation 12, 13 and the trumpets from Revelation 8.

  47. Revelation 6:15, 16.

  48. A broadsheet printed before October 16, 1844, announced the coming of Christ on October 22, 1844. This printed work was sold by newspaper boys in Boston, Massachusetts. Ellen G. White Research Center, Avondale University.

  49. The Signs of the Times 5, no. 10, 76.

  50. Ibid.

  51. Simon Gedik, Von bildern und altarn in den Evangelischen Kirchen Augspurgischer Confeßion (Magdeburg Johann Francke, 1597), sig. Biiv. USTC 702750. Bridget Heal refers to this book and the accusations within it in Heal, A Magnificent Faith, 109, 272.

  52. Balthasar Meissner, Collegii Adiaphoristici Disputatio Tertia De Imaginibus (Wittenberg: Johann Gormann, 1616). USTC 2095101. sig. C1v, point 27.

  53. Uriah Smith, Key to the Prophetic Chart (Battle Creek, Michigan, Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1864), 5.

  54. A Pictorial Illustration of the Visions of Daniel and John (Battle Creek, Michigan: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1863). The original 1843 chart did not include an illustration of the Second Coming.

  55. Otis Nichols, A Pictorial Illustration of the Visions of Daniel and John and their Chronology (Dorchester, Massachusetts: Otis Nichols, 1850).

  56. A Pictorial Illustration, 1863. Note also the inclusion of the seventy weeks prophecy from Daniel 9.

  57. Merritt Gardener Kellogg, The Way of Life. From Paradise Lost to Paradise Restored (Battle Creek, Michigan, Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1873). Kellogg published the poster The Fall and Redemption of Humanity in 1899 that included a scene with people walking up a narrow path to meet Jesus at the Second Coming.

  58. The artist wrote of his poster as an “ornament” with pedagogical value. The poster was varnished and “suitable for framing” at the cost of $2. The size was 19 inches by 24 inches. ARH 41, no. 24. (Battle Creek, Michigan, Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1873): 192. The chart is advertised by the Review and Herald as “painted and mounted.” ARH 41, no. 15 (Battle Creek, Michigan: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1873): 120. For comments by Adventist leaders on the importance of having this poster in the family home, see Morgan, Protestants and Pictures, 178.

  59. Thomas Moran, Christ, the Way of Life (Battle Creek, Michigan: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1883). Elfred Lee painted a colored version in 1980, with slight revisions.

  60. Ellen White letters to Pacific Press, 1899. Referenced in Morgan, Protestants and Pictures, 196, 197.

  61. 1915 edition, first published in 1888. The book was promoted with the line, “More than Three Hundred Beautiful Illustrations,” see Bible Readings for the Home (Takoma Park, Washington D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1947), Title Page. Photographs relevant to doctrinal subjects are included in the 1947 edition.

  62. The variety of images include a picture of Christ’s return in the rock striking the feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s image in Daniel 2, Jesus answering questions about His return, the saved with arms outstretched, the great earthquake of Revelation 16, the resurrection of the just, a panorama of Christ coming and the destruction of the wicked. See Bible Readings (1947): 208, 332, 338, 340, 360, 514, 519, 767.

  63. Images are sourced from Adventist artists and publishing houses and licensed for use by GoodSalt. Of these images, which date back to early Adventist art, 85 percent relate to the three themes outlined in this paper. For the purposes of this article an “Adventist illustration” is defined as an image created by an Adventist or used in Adventist media that reflects Adventist theology on the Second Coming.

  64. Luke 21:27 (NKJV). Jesus is often pictured with a sickle in His hand, a reference to the harvest of Revelation 14:15.

  65. Titus 2:13 (NKJV). Over 40 percent of Adventist portrayals of the Second Coming are based on this theme. Artists include Clyde Provonsha, Phil McKay, Jim Arrabito, Nathan Greene. T. K. Martin and Lars Justinen.

  66. Bible Readings (1947): 338.

  67. Uriah Smith, Daniel and the Revelation (Washington D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1944): 738.

  68. This thought is expressed by the editors in the comments below the image.

  69. Matthew 7:13, 14.


Schofield, Neale D. "A Visual Apocalypse: Adventist Eschatology in the History of Art." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. December 07, 2022. Accessed April 23, 2024.

Schofield, Neale D. "A Visual Apocalypse: Adventist Eschatology in the History of Art." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. December 07, 2022. Date of access April 23, 2024,

Schofield, Neale D. (2022, December 07). A Visual Apocalypse: Adventist Eschatology in the History of Art. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved April 23, 2024,