Killing Jesus

Overall Rating

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Leans toward a biblical worldview


Ranking Categories:
Overall Faith and/or Biblical Relevance 2.5stars.png
Faith-compatible Depiction of Characters and Character Relationships 3.0stars.png
Faith-compatible Depiction of Situations 2.0stars.png
Family Viewing Suitability 3.0stars.png
Entertainment Value 4.0stars.png
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Summary

Just in time for Easter this year comes the National Geographic Channel presentation of KILLING JESUS,  a three-hour television movie premiering on Palm Sunday, March 29th at 8 ET / 7 CT.  Executive produced by Ridley Scott (EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS, GLADIATOR) and based on the best-selling book, Killing Jesus: A History, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, KILLING JESUS features a strong cast, including Muslim-raised Haaz Sleiman as Jesus, Kelsey Grammer as King Herod, Rufus Sewell as Caiaphas, John Rhys-Davies as Annas, Stephen Moyer as Pilate, Emmanuelle Chriqui as Herodia, and Eoin Macken as Herod Antipas.   

Following in the pattern of previous collaborative efforts by O’Reilly, Dugard and National Geographic to bring to television audiences the lives and deaths of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy (KILLING LINCOLN and KILLING KENNEDY), KILLING JESUS examines the socio-political context of the life of a very influential figure in human history. By chronicling the life and death of Jesus through three perspectives—that of the Roman occupiers, the Jewish religious leaders, and his family and followers—Scott and his team depict Jesus as fully human, but barely divine.


Overall Faith and/or Biblical Relevance

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According to the Bible, Jesus is the pivotal figure in all of human history. The Old Testament points forward to the redemptive life, sacrificial death and resurrection of a Jewish Messiah who will break the bonds of sin and redeem mankind—ushering in the Kingdom of God and restoring peace between the Creator and the created. Likewise, the New Testament points back to Jesus as this long-awaited Messiah—a savior, deliverer and king who is both fully human (Son of Man) and fully divine (Son of God). Indeed, Scripture teaches that it is in, by and through Jesus that all things come together and have their being. 

Given the historical centrality of the person and work of Christ to Christians, the biblical relevance of the story of Jesus as the God-Man cannot be overstated. However, by focusing on the humanity of Jesus and largely ignoring the many supernatural and miraculous events described in the Bible—including clear claims to His divinity—the makers of KILLING JESUS get the story only half-right.


Faith-compatible Depiction of Characters and Character Relationships

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For many characters depicted in KILLING JESUS—particularly the Roman and Jewish leaders—the texture and nuance of their motivations is presented in ways that are both commendable and highly engaging. We understand why Herod, Pilate, Antipas, Caiaphas, Annas, Herodia, Salome and Nicodemus make the choices they make—and they are congruent with the socio-political context presented in the Bible. Even the depiction of Judas Iscariot makes sense and is compatible with biblical teaching.

 

When it comes to Jesus and his family and followers, however, KILLLING JESUS offers a mixed bag in terms of the depiction of characters and their relationships. Mary the mother of Jesus seems unaware of the special call on Jesus’ life and expresses concern that He is a sorcerer. Brother James remains highly skeptical throughout until the final credits when he is mentioned as a martyr according to traditional understanding of the fate of each of the disciples.

For their part, the disciples are depicted as highly skeptical—unsure who Jesus is yet somehow, rather inexplicably, willing to give up their prior lives to follow Him.  Even Peter, who more than the others seems to understand that Jesus is the Messiah, doesn’t truly believe until an extra-biblical scene unfolds in which he returns to his fishing job after Jesus’ death and receives a second “big catch” on one side of the boat—after seemingly praying for the first time.

Most importantly, the depiction of Jesus will cause some concern for faith-driven viewers. While his human anger and frustration in certain circumstances is portrayed in ways that are understandable, KILLING JESUS presents Jesus as a man who only very slowly grows into relationship with God as Father—and the subsequent understanding of who He is and what He’s being called to do. Here, Jesus is often depicted as tentative and hesitant—testing the waters to build confidence and showing only flashes of the flint-like resolve and clarity recorded in the Bible.


Faith-compatible Depiction of Situations

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Given the challenges associated with making decisions about which biblical stories and historical events to include in a television movie about the life of Jesus, it’s understandable that the makers of KILLING JESUS conflate some of the stories and make passing reference to some important events recorded in Scripture.

And while the socio-political climate leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus is presented well in KILLING JESUS, viewers looking for many traditional elements of the story of Jesus—including signs, wonders and miracles—will be largely disappointed. There is no angelic visitation upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, nor is there a joyous kicking in Elizabeth’s womb by John the Baptist.  Joseph receives no direction in dreams and there is no Roman census requiring him and Mary to go to Bethlehem. And while the Magi accurately visit a Jesus who is likely about two years old, there is no star to guide them and their method for identifying him is decidedly Eastern.

Beyond these early years in Jesus’ life, there is no depiction of Jesus as a young teen in the temple engaging with the biblical scholars and, significantly, precious few miracles that point to His divinity. There is only a hint of the supernatural in two instances—fishing with Peter in the Sea of Galilee and in the healing of a demon-possessed child, who is shown as likely having epilepsy. Otherwise, the miraculous is downplayed—there is no wine from water at Cana, no walking on the water with Peter, no multiplication of loaves and fishes to feed the multitudes, no Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus at His baptism by John in the Jordan, no temptation by Satan in the desert, no resurrection of Lazarus, no earthquake or darkening of the sun when Jesus dies, no tearing of the temple veil, and no angel at the tomb telling the women that He is risen. 


Family Viewing Suitability

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While the biblical message of KILLING JESUS is meant for people of all ages, discernment must be taken with younger children due to the unavoidable inclusion of some mature themes, including the murder of male Jewish infants by the decree of Herod, incest, suicide by hanging, violence and the brutal scourging and crucifixion of Jesus. 

On a spiritual level, care must also be taken to discern that the teaching of Jesus as presented in KILLING JESUS is distilled into the largely inoffensive, humanist and universalist messages that “God is love” and one must only look into one’s heart to find both truth and the kingdom of God.  While these are biblical concepts, without the fuller teaching of Scripture they are incomplete and can easily lead to unbiblical conclusions. Here, it's significant that KILLING JESUS largely avoids any mention of the need for repentance, and rather than portray Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” shows Him to be merely a righteous teacher who represents a “new light” and a “new dawn.”


Entertainment Value

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Despite its spiritual limitations, KILLING JESUS offers the high quality production values and attention to detail that one expects from National Geographic. Each scene unfolds in a way that is engaging and artful—with impressive sets and cinematography. And it’s nice to see a racially diverse cast that more accurately represents the time and place depicted in the story. 

At 132 minutes in length, KILLING JESUS is a well-paced and entertaining epic that depicts the life and death of Jesus from a strictly humanistic historical perspective—largely ignoring biblical claims to His divinity. While the makers of KILLING JESUS do a good job exploring the socio-political times in which Jesus lived and died, the primary focus on His humanity paints an incomplete picture and leaves the viewer wondering what could possibly compel all but one of His disciples to die spreading His message—and why 2.2 billion continue to follow Him two thousand years later.


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