In 2004, Mel Gibson released “The Passion of the Christ.” During the variety of reviews, which ranged from glowing to abysmal, two matters stood out in my mind: (1) the various reviewers that considered the film anti-Semitic and (2) the number of critics that decried the violence endured by Jesus Christ. Regarding both points, these were reviewers that clearly knew nothing about the story of Jesus Christ.
This is not a movie critique. Rather, I want to explore two frequent misconceptions about Jesus and Christianity by those who either do not believe or have minimally explored their purported faith. The story of Jesus is neither anti-Semitic nor for the faint of heart. Not understanding, however, could lead individuals to minimize the suffering of Jesus Christ and/or place the blame on the wrong parties.
For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation. Luke 17:24-25 (KJV)
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53:3
Tackling the subject of anti-Semitism first, the various reviewers simply did not understand that which they were watching. These were the criticisms of secular journalists. The Jews did what they were supposed to do.
For generations, the crucifixion of Jesus was used as an excuse to harm Jews. Like the authors of the various critical reviews, these were the acts of individuals that either did not understand the story of Jesus Christ or simply used religious ground to justify their bigotry. The Jews, as God’s chosen people, had to offer the final sacrificial lamb. Jesus is the fulfillment of a redemption made through sacrifice and promised by God.
The actions of the Jews were not “bad” for arresting and prosecuting Jesus. Nor, for that matter, were they made “bad” by choosing Barabbas. To fulfill Biblical prophecy, Jesus HAD to be rejected by the Jews and chosen to die. That was his mission. He was sent on the earth to die for our sins. Those who viewed the events depicted in the movie as anti-Semitic, therefore, simply did not understand the important role Jews had to play in their own salvation.
Jesus is the spiritual culmination of a journey from paradise to enslavement… wandering… a promised land (Israel)… moral failings… redemption… and paradise regained in salvation. Human life is a microcosm of the greater story of mankind’s relationship with God. We all start with the simplicity that is enjoyed as babies. As we grow we become enslaved by secular desires. God offers freedom and a Promised Land through acceptance and redemption, but it takes a while to find those gifts. When salvation is found, we are still confronted with human realities and moral failings. But it is not through personal achievements that we achieve redemption. It is through our relationship with God that we reclaim the promise of the Lord. For Christians, the Promised Land is in the afterlife. This is through the acceptance of a Savior… the Savior, Jesus Christ… within whom redemption and eternal paradise is found.
The story of Jesus’ relationship with the Jews follows a crucial portion of this well-established and prophecized Biblical pattern: the inability to recognize the opportunity that redemption offers through acceptance. As with prophets who were rejected in earlier times throughout the Old Testament, Jesus Christ, the embodiment of all that has been prophecized, had to be rejected. That is not anti-Semitic; that is simply part of the journey of salvation.
For those who neither believe in Jesus nor studied Jesus the Christ, depictions of events as they occurred in the Bible may appear anti-Semitic. They are wrong. Rather, in the case of the Mel Gibson film, movie critics were watching events on film that they simply did not understand. The media, in its never-ending inability to respect Christianity as a faith, simply failed to appreciate the totality of the story of salvation. The Jews were portrayed as they would have acted, inspired by a divine requirement to reject Jesus as part of prophetic fulfillment, nothing more.
But what about the violence?
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 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. Isaiah 53:5-6
Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him and the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, and said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands. John 19:1-3
Many who watched the film were horrified by the brutality and suffering experienced by Jesus. Those individuals, many of whom raised on sanitized versions of Jesus’ suffering, are similarly individuals that never truly explored Jesus’ role as a sacrificial Lamb of God. He had to suffer as part of the last test as Jesus the human. It was not only prophecized, it is a critical part of who Jesus was.
If you believe in Jesus you understand that He was not simply God incarnate, He was also purposely designed to be a man. His purpose as a human being was to understand and empathize with that which we mortals experienced daily. That was part of the spiritual fulfillment of Jesus Christ.
As God, Jesus could have satisfied his hunger in the wilderness. Satan attempts to solicit a response from Jesus, even His submission, but Jesus rejects these temptations. But why would Jesus have felt such temptations in the first place? Because He was also a man.
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man… For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted. Hebrews 2: 9, 16-18
Jesus was sent to experience humanity. He was sent to suffer the temptations of ordinary human beings. Thus, there would be no greater temptation than that which Satan attempts in Jesus’ final hours: get Jesus, the man, to abrogate his mission of Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God, upon whose suffering, death, and resurrection, salvation could be achieved – and Satan would be destroyed.
From the point of His birth, Jesus was sent to die for our sins. This was His purpose. The Devil, for his part, hoped to make that experience so overwhelmingly torturous that Jesus would not fulfill his role.
Consequently, when John states that Pilate had Jesus “scourged,” it is not only important to understand the historical meaning of the term “scourged” in the Ancient Roman sense, but the spiritual necessity. Satan does not give up easily. The Ancient Romans, while sophisticated in many ways, were also brutal. Punishment was not something they did lightly. A scourging in ancient times was not your run of the mill beating. It was drastic, bloody, and brutal. Few could live through the scourging.
As conduits of that final test of His human side, the Romans would have been extra fierce. This, after all, was Satan’s last ditch effort to get Jesus, the man, to walk away from the role of Jesus, the personification of God and the Christ. Satan needed to appeal to that part of Jesus which might buckle under the pressure of extreme pain. Thankfully, that was not God’s plan, and through Jesus, the only true Salvation, Satan was, can, and will be defeated.
In this regard, those who watched the film and those who did not (individuals that may believe in Jesus, but fear the violent scenes), fail to understand that which Jesus did for us. He did not merely die a painful death. With each lashing he took upon Himself, Jesus not only absorbed the sin, but the temptation that comes with the sin. The overwhelming pain endured by Jesus, with each whip and slash, were experienced by the man and endured by God.
Surely, Jesus the man was tempted to walk away from this brutality. Jesus the Christ chose not to do so. Why?
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16
Jesus got what was coming to Him. He knew it was coming to Him. Yet, He endured that pain for us, God’s children.
Thankfully, He did and He rose from it to offer us eternal salvation.
Happy Easter and have a Great Week.