The Second Coming by Harry Anderson is a beautiful, inspiring depiction of the return of Christ in the Last Days. He is shown in strength and majesty with arms outstretched, and surrounded by concourses of beautiful maiden angels that are triumphantly heralding his return to Earth. This picture can be found in hundreds of thousands of meeting houses, church art packets, temples, and homes all around the world. And, one must certainly give credit to Mr. Harry Anderson, who rendered an awe-inspiring portrayal of the day that all Christians long for.
Most people would look at a painting like this and be inspired, and they should be inspired. It is a beautifully rendered image. However, if you are like me (which I hope is not the case), you start to note little details that ruin the picture for you. Well, I’ve pondered the matter quite a bit, and for those of you who have moved past the initial awe of this painting and are currently confounded by this painting, I have attempted to answer some of your questions, with some help from friends.
Who are the concourses surrounding Christ?Are they angels?
This is pre-resurrection, right? So I am guessing that these angels depicted are non-corporeal angels that will be selected to herald in Christ’s return. If this is the case, there probably is some sort of very challenging audition for those who will be selected for the ‘heralding in’. Sounding a trump without a physical body is likely a challenging feat. And they probably will have to be pretty stellar musicians. However, they’ve had billions and billions of years to practice, so they can’t be that bad. Maybe they have to audition for a panel that included King David, J.S. Bach, and Leonard Bernstein. Oh, and that Randy Jackson guy for comic relief.
Or they are angels that were never born, and specifically designated to herald in this great moment? Musicians on earth have always gotten the shaft.
Why do all of them look like teenage blonde women?
Good question. You know, maybe they aren’t women. Maybe gender is less pronounced in spirit form. Some look a little like Mia Maids, others look like Joni Mitchell clones.
What is Christ riding on?
They appear to be clouds. My extensive cloud knowledge tells me that these are cumulus (or very possibly cumulus congestus) cloud formations. They are low-medium level clouds, so Christ would likely be somewhere around 2000 metres in altitude at the time of the picture. We know that Christ can walk on water and can control the waters, so it is not an absurd notion that he could stand on and command cloud formations, which are just clusters of water droplets. However, I have not ruled out the Dragonball Z Hypothesis, in which a cloud formation becomes a solid object, depicted graphically in the picture below.
How far back do the angelic concourses go?
We know that Heaven is not anywhere in the atmosphere, so this angelic glory train would have to be traveling through some sort of trans-dimensional portal/wormhole, in which case we can’t be sure of a length, or would have to be a cloud-based spacecraft. I tend towards the first. Judging by the picture, I would estimate the angelic train to be about 1 or 2 kilometers.
What instrument are they playing?
Although it could very well be some angelic form of the Vuvuzela, The Herald Trumpet is my best guess for the instruments in use in this picture. Some have valves and can produce a variety of pitches. These appear to have no valves, and they are therefore limited in pitch. Which means, if the angels are skilled players, they could probably produce a handful of notes. Sort of like this video here.
What song are they playing?
Either ‘The Spirit of God’ or ‘Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky)’ by Bill Conti. You’re just going to have to wait and find out!
What kind of sound would this angelic concourse produce?
In order to really get an idea of how this cluster of noise would sound, we have to do a quick review of the Doppler Effect. From HyperPhysics at Georgia State University:
“When a vehicle with a siren passes you, a noticeable drop in the pitch of the sound of the siren will be observed as the vehicle passes. This is an example of the Doppler effect. An approaching source moves closer during period of the sound wave so the effective wavelength is shortened, giving a higher pitch since the velocity of the wave is unchanged. Similarly the pitch of a receding sound source will be lowered. “
So, we know these angels are trumpeting away at full volumes. There are a few possibilities: 1.)They could either be creating a random set of pitches, or 2.) playing in unison. We are making the assumption that they are bodiless angels, so their concept of timing may be perfected, but if they are coming into our physical plane and abiding by our laws, there would most definitely be a noticeable sonic drag from the front of the group to the back.
If my estimation is correct, those who were present for Christ’s descent would hear the Doppler effect in play. Lets assume they are all attempting to play similar notes. Think about how that would sound to someone on the ground! If they are able to match pitches, it would still sound like an air raid siren, a la the intro of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’, which would just be too ironic.
However, if the angels don’t match pitch, the resulting sound would probably be sonically similar to:
- A swarm of gigantic mutant bees flying through an empty metal silo
- A fleet of a thousand ambulances falling off a cliff
- A Flaming Lips concert
Wow, that sounds intense. How can I prepare myself musically for the Second Coming?
If all my assumptions are correct, and the artists depiction is somewhat accurate, the descent will definitely be absolutely great and terrifying. If you want to prepare yourself for it, listen to some atonal contemporary experimental composers like Schoenberg and Charles Ives. That way you can both be accustomed to the cacophony of sound, and pass off as an insufferable, pretentious music snob too.
I think you might be forgetting those who were resurrected at the time of Christ’s resurrection. They must have been taking brass lessons ever since.
The angels won’t be moving, but lining the route. Got to be an awful lot of them. The playing can pass along the route like a Mexican wave. The earlier trumpeters can drop out as those further down the line join in. Hopefully that can solve timing issues. I once played in a concert in a narrow church in which the youth orchestra had to be seated long and narrow. Those of us at the back were instructed to come in slightly before the conductors downbeat, so the timing would sound okay at the front. That was quite tricky. If you listen to recordings of congregational singing in large cathedrals, there can be quite a lot of drag front to back. some of that is down to lack of a conductor, but not all of it.
It’s great you think they’re women. I’d always assumed them to be the generic (male) angel.
There are great descriptions of the noise of the trumpets played in Ezra and Nehemiah with the temple celebrations.
I sometimes wonder if the ban on brass in our sacrament meetings is so any high priests dozing don’t mistake the second coming or something, though… my daughter a I played a trumpet duet at our ward Christmas party last month, and a week or so later a newbie sister missionary approached us and said, oh yes, you played the erm… [long pause] … violin. Really? If members can’t tell the difference between a trumpet and violin, there’s really no reason to ban brass. I don’t think heralding the second coming with string instruments will quite cut it though.
Very good insights!
The length of the route problem is resolved if space is relational. The only problem then is having enough energy to connect whatever part of space Christ is coming from to the earth. That would be quite a lot, though, since those parts of space aren’t usually nearest neighbors.
You are fun times Thomas 🙂
Best post ever. Seriously.
Thomas – Funny! But I can fill in some actual info on this picture for you. Harry Anderson was not a member of the Church – he was Seventh-Day Adventist. The Church liked his art and hired him to do a number of paintings and murals for them. When he originally painted this, the angels had wings. Mormons don't believe angels have wings, so the Church had him paint them out. Evidently the Protestant notion that angels are genderless remained! 🙂
I read a little bit about Mr. Anderson, and knew that he had been asked by the church to paint this painting, which is why I included it as ‘Mormon’ art. It is in almost every meeting house, tons of pamphlets, and temples all over.
I didn’t know about the wings, though. Funny.
Western art has become increasingly sentimental over the past several centuries, tending more and more to schlock and kitsch. This painting, though, is possibly one of the purest examples of sentimental religious kitsch available anywhere. Unfortunately there’s very little good religious art to contrast it with, so it meets all our expectations handsomely!
I have a serious question, though: What, exactly, do you (anyone) mean by “inspiring” or “inspirational” or “inspiration” in the sense used above?
The artist used his daughter as the model for the angels hence the reason they all look like a teenage girl.
That is true! He did use his daughter for that painting…and that’s why they all look the same as well.
nailed it. you forgot one thing. Christ will be wearing red when he returns.
Of course he’s riding a cloud. The second coming will begin once the 10 billionth prayer for moisture has been given. Only the Father knows when that will be because he’s the only one with enough patience to count that high.
Hah! Good one.
This is hilariously awesome, Thomas! I particularly appreciate your discussion of what the angelic concourses will sound like as they play.
In my opinion modern Mormon cosmology is a bit confused. In this unfinished article I compare it to similar cosmologies given in other restorationism movements and texts..
One for the Win. I am laughing so hard I am crying, my sides ache and my cheeks hurt. Love this.
you know, I often ponder how I can use my musical abilities in heaven. Now I know.
The view of Jesus is very close and you would have to be flying to see him that way. While you are on earth and if you are lucky that he is exactly above you then you and a couple of hundreds will get a nice view. If it is in a different town you probably will see it in TV. If it is in a different Country will it matter? All the paintings of the second coming show only 40 or 50 people experiencing the great event. What about the other 6 billion 999 million people?
Have you ever TRIED painting 6 billion people? Or even a million? Or even a thousand?
Awesome insights. What jumped out the most to me was the very white Jesus (as all Jesuses were in all the paintings in my home growing up), despite Jesus being from the Middle East, and how white all the angles are. The remarkable lack of racial diversity is disturbing.
Sorry, but I don’t find anything in the slightest funny about Harry Anderson’s painting. It is an inspiring image deeply symbolic of one of the single most important events in the history of mankind, and all that is necessary to understand it is some basic knowledge of the scriptures. The people that will come with Christ will all be resurrected so will have no problem blowing a trumpet. The trumpets are really horns which have a range of about six notes made by the lips of the player. They wont be playing a concerto, the horns are there to provide a “Trump” to announce the coming of the King. Resurrected beings learn things very quickly so wont have needed to practise for billions of years. Resurrected beings are young and when they are young they will all look very similar. Skin and hair colour are things to do with mortality and wont apply in the resurrection as such beings have bodies driven by spirit rather than blood. Also they are not subject to gravity so wont need clouds or anything else to ride on. Why mock something like this?
You are correct Vinnie Jesus Christ will come back with His multitudes behind Him then every knee shall bend and every head shall bow and every tongue shall confess Hosanna Hosanna to the highest at the coming Glory of our Lord Jesus Christ