by Bill Nugent
I recently viewed the film The Passion of the Christ and I highly recommend that all people (except very young or sensitive children) see it. The realism down to the Latin speaking soldiers with rotten teeth gives an air of such authenticity that you feel that you’re actually there. The special effects of the violence gives a stunning — and jarring — appreciation of the depth of Jesus’ agony as He died for the sins of all people.
The film opened with a quote from Isaiah 53:6 “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” This is a predictive prophecy that was fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth. It was written in the Old Testament about 700 years before His birth.
I should also by way of caution point out that the film included some material that was totally foreign to the gospel accounts. Perhaps the most glaring of this nonbiblical material was the portrayal of Jesus being beaten by Jewish temple officers as these officers were leading Jesus from Gesthemane to the courtyard of the Jewish high priest. The scenes in the film portrayed a rather severe beating. The Gospels contain no record of this beating.
The only beating by Jews recorded in the Gospels occurred at the high priest’s residence during and after the first trial. Furthermore the Gospels do not depict this as an especially severe beating.
This overemphasis on Jewish brutality may fuel anti-Semitism on the part of ignorant and unspiritual people. While it is impossible to tell the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus without mentioning that the majority of the Jewish leaders rejected Him and turned Him over to be crucified, it is certainly not wise to overemphasize the Jewish role and especially not wise include unbiblical details.
Film director, Mel Gibson did include a detail that communicated a very important theological point. Gibson has said that it is his hands that are shown holding the spike in the scene when the spike is being driven through Jesus’ hand. This is Mel Gibson’s way of taking personal responsibility for the suffering of Christ. Our sins put Jesus on the cross.
It wasn’t just a few Jews and Romans but rather it was the sins of all people that put Him there. Jesus willingly took the punishment of our sins upon Himself. Jesus said in John 10:15-18 that He would willingly lay down His life for the sheep and that in essence no one would actually take His life. It says in Acts 2:23 that the crucifixion was in accord with the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God. Jesus was born to die for our sins. It was foreordained of God and prophetically predicted through the ancient Hebrew prophets.
Not all who call themselves Christians are biblically literate. Hundreds of millions of Christians (including some clergy) around the world are cultural Christians or Christian in name only. They believe that Christ was just a teacher of morals. To them the crucifixion and resurrection make no real sense. These nominal Christians in large part believe that they can earn salvation by doing good deeds and staying out of trouble. This “salvation by good deeds” doctrine is called Pelagianism. The doctrine is named after the early fifth century British monk, Pelagius, who taught and promoted this doctrine. The great theologian Augustine opposed Pelagius and refuted his erroneous doctrine.
Pelagians don’t understand the serious nature of sin and that a holy God must punish it. The pelagian nominal Christians don’t understand that Jesus took the punishment of sins upon Himself in His crucifixion. To them the death of Christ was a senseless tragedy in which Jews were complicit. This has caused some of them to resent Jews.
While I continue to recommend The Passion of the Christ as an excellent film that is truly a “must see” I also feel we should be sensitive to Jewish concerns and we must fight anti-Semitism. Since Christianity is the fulfillment and extension of Judaism this makes Jews worthy of special respect. The New Testament accords Jews this special respect in Romans 11:25-29.
We must also bear in mind that much of the reason many Jews to this day do not acknowledge Jesus as Messiah is because of the bad witness of Christians. Therefore we must explain to nominal Christians that Jesus’ crucifixion was not a result of Jewish or Roman brutality but He willingly gave His life to atone for our sins.
I will mention in closing that an informal poll conducted in Hebrew (responders were probably mostly Israelis) indicated that fully 95% agreed that the film was not too controversial to be shown in movie theaters. Jewish people by and large are not put off by this film.