leans toward a biblical worldview
|Faith and/or Biblical Relevance|
|Faith-compatible Depiction of Characters and Character Relationships|
|Faith-compatible Depiction of Situations|
|Family Viewing Suitability|
|view our criteria|
One of the greatest mysteries in the Bible is what happened to Jesus in the years between His family’s time in Egypt as a young boy and the start of His earthly ministry at age 30. Other than an incident recorded in Luke 2 in which the twelve-year-old Jesus amazes the teachers in the temple with His biblical knowledge and understanding, very little is known about how He “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2: 52) in the intervening years.
Into this void comes THE YOUNG MESSIAH, opening in theaters nationwide on March 11, 2016. Based on the Anne Rice novel, "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt," this film imagines a year in the boyhood of a seven-year-old Jesus and makes the claim that it is inspired by scripture and rooted in history.
Brought to the big screen by Ocean Blue Entertainment in association with 1492 Pictures and CJ Entertainment, THE YOUNG MESSIAH is directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh (THE STONING OF SORAYA M., THE DAY REAGAN WAS SHOT) and stars Sean Bean (THE MARTIAN, JUPITER ASCENDING) as Roman centurion Severus, Jonathan Bailey ("Crashing") as Herod, Sara Lazzaro ("The Young Pope") as Mary, Vincent Walsh (300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE) as Joseph, and Adam Greaves-Neal ("Sherlock") as young Jesus.
Overall Faith and/or Biblical Relevance
THE YOUNG MESSIAH is set in the biblical context of Matt 2:13 –23 in which an angel appears to Joseph and instructs him to flee to Egypt with Jesus and Mary until the death of Herod. In the film, many Jews have taken refuge in Egypt and Israel is depicted as being in rebellion and chaos—with the people on the lookout for their long-promised Messiah to deliver them from Rome’s oppressive rule.
Beyond this accurate historical setting, THE YOUNG MESSIAH necessarily treads on speculative ground in its creative exploration of the young Jesus coming into his unique identity as the both the Son of God and Son of Man—fully human, yet also fully divine. Given that most young people ask questions relating to their core identity and purpose in life, the premise of the film will likely resonate with many viewers.
While some may argue that God would have told us more in the Bible about Jesus’ youth had He wanted us to know, THE YOUNG MESSIAH does a good job of presenting a plausible story within the outlines of scripture in which the young Jesus navigates the real world—yet remains holy, pure and sinless. In managing to balance both the humanness and divinity of Jesus as the God-man, THE YOUNG MESSIAH depicts a boy who increasingly grows into a fuller understanding of His supernatural power and knowledge, yet obediently submits the exercise of His divinity to the will of God the Father.
Faith-compatible Depiction of Characters and Character Relationships
Overall, the depiction of characters and their relationships in THE YOUNG MESSIAH is faith-compatible. Jesus has been entrusted to Joseph and Mary for their care and upbringing until He becomes an adult and they take pains to not answer Jesus’ questions about His identity until God the Father tells them to. Joseph is depicted as loving and respectful toward Mary and their relationship with close family members like Mary’s brother Cleopas and nephew James are realistic given the nature of extended families in the Ancient Near East. Together, they work hard to communicate clearly with each other and be unified in their parenting of Jesus. Mary affirms that Jesus has no evil or sin in Him, and the young boy is correctly referred to as Jesus-bar-Joseph by some and the Son of David by others—a nod to biblical prophesies of Jesus as Messiah.
As for Jesus, He is shown to have fully human questions, feelings and emotions and even gets sick with a fever, during which Satan declares “chaos rules and I am its prince.” Throughout the film, Satan is visible only to Jesus and appears as a shadowy—if not campy—figure who is not omniscient nor omnipotent, speaks lies into people’s heads, and is obsessed with figuring out exactly who Jesus is and destroying Him.
From the Roman perspective, the decadent Herod continues to be paranoid about the possibility that the Jewish Messiah remains alive—despite his slaughter of all boys under age two in Bethlehem several years prior. He has tasked the centurion Severus with finding Jesus and killing him—a matter given greater urgency as word spreads of miracles performed by the young Jesus. Throughout the film, Severus and Jesus have several encounters—culminating in a transformative scene in which Severus releases Jesus in the temple and lies to Herod that the boy has been killed.
In the end, Mary eventually tells Jesus about the circumstances of his birth—that she was fourteen when angels appeared to both her and Joseph. She clarifies that God is Jesus’ father—and that He is not just a “child of God” but “begotten of God.” Here, Mary tells Jesus to keep His power within until His heavenly Father tells Him to use it. Satisfied with the answers to His questions, Jesus realizes that while He does not have all the answers yet, He must grow into wisdom and maturity. And He knows that He is here on earth to live and experience life—even the hard things, including death.
Faith-compatible Depiction of Situations
Given the speculative premise of THE YOUNG MESSIAH, there are many scenes that are not explicitly biblical—with some being more faith-compatible than others. As the film opens, Joseph and his family live in a Jewish area of the bustling city of Alexandria, Egypt. After bullying Jesus for playing with a girl, cousin Eleazer unwittingly trips on an apple dropped by Satan and dies. Jesus is blamed for his death and Mary rescues Him from the ensuing commotion. In resurrecting Eleazer, Jesus is depicted as having mystical, almost super hero-type powers that he doesn’t understand. Meanwhile, Joseph has just had another dream in which an angel tells him that Herod is dead and it’s safe for them to return to Galilee.
As the extended family makes the difficult return journey back to Nazareth by sea and land, they pass by Roman crucifixions of Jews along the road and come across Severus and his soldiers battling some Jewish insurgents. Then they witness a man attempting to rape a woman and sell her into slavery and Jesus heals his dying uncle Cleopas in a scene evoking a river baptism. Increasingly, family members are uncomfortable with the questions Jesus is asking about himself. Some think he should be told the truth, but Joseph and Mary say it’s too soon and that they must wait on God to reveal Jesus’ identity as His Son.
Upon arriving in Nazareth, the family finds that the villagers have fled in the face of Roman persecution, with only Aunt Sarah remaining. The world is a chaotic and dangerous place and Sarah prays the Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6:24-26 over some passing Roman soldiers who threaten to seize them. Meanwhile, Severus and his swordsmith blithely discuss the ease with which they murder children under Herod’s orders.
In one tender scene, Joseph finds Jesus playing and praying alone. During their conversation, Joseph tells Jesus that He must hold His questions in His heart because they are the questions of a child—but the answers are the answers for a man. And in another heart-warming scene, Jesus and His cousin James are brought before the local rabbis by Joseph and Cleopas to see if they are ready to start school. Jesus impresses them with His knowledge of the Torah and they are accepted into school.
It is in this context that Jesus says He wants to go to Jerusalem for Passover. Although Mary is worried about the danger, Joseph agrees and hasty arrangements are made to go. Along the way, Roman soldiers continue to sweep through the Jewish pilgrims in search of a young boy of seven years that works miracles and brings people back to life. In the commotion, Jesus gets separated from his parents and goes ahead to Jerusalem on His own in a quest to get answers to His questions about His identity. Once in Jerusalem, He heals a blind man and comes face to face with Severus, who lets Him go. Later, in a flashback, James tells Jesus about when the magi came bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh—worshipping the baby Jesus in the stable in Bethlehem.
Family Viewing Suitability
With a run-time of 111 minutes, THE YOUNG MESSIAH is rated PG-13 rating for some violence and thematic elements. Given this, parental guidance is recommended for children aged 13 and under. And while care is taken to minimize the amount of blood in battle scenes between the Romans and Jewish rebels, there are scenes involving roadside crucifixions and decadence in Herod’s court that may not be suitable for young children. There is also a scene in which a woman kills a man who is trying to rape her and force her into slavery.
THE YOUNG MESSIAH offers moviegoers an action-packed journey that paints a somewhat ethereal, but largely plausible, picture of what life might have been like for the young Jesus. It depicts well the dangers and challenges of living in a land of ongoing civil unrest and brutal Roman oppression, and it also explores deep questions about the identity of the young—but fully human and fully divine—Jewish Messiah in a way that is relatable to modern audiences and fosters further discussion after the closing credits. The production values are generally high and the cast is strong, with kudos to Sean Bean in his role as Severus and young Adam Greaves-Neal, who plays Jesus with a believable innocence and purity.
While some faith-driven moviegoers may initially struggle with what seems to be a young superhero vibe to the presentation of Jesus’ divine powers, THE YOUNG MESSIAH quickly corrects course and ultimately depicts a Jesus who grows into wisdom and maturity, obediently submitting His will to that of God the Father.