“All who heard Him felt His power,” says the John the Apsotle player in Son of God the movie. What? Felt His power? You won’t hear this saying in the Bible but many postmodern relativists may use these types of phrases in their appeals to feeling the truth rather than knowing the truth and heart knowledge vs. head knowledge.
Hollywood’s goal is to make money and entertain, not to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. According to Christian Post Entertainment, the filmmakers of Son of God (2014) accomplished their goal as the film earned $26.5 million in a second place win at the box office this past weekend. Christian reviewers celebrated the success, calling it a “miracle.” I was not as impressed.
I haven’t been to a movie theater in years, but I did attend the movie last night for research purposes. Religious leaders including Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, and Bill Hybels have urged churchgoers to view the film. In fact, Christian leaders, including megachurch pastor Rick Warren, rented every screen in numerous multiplex theaters across 10 cities for the premiere on Feb. 27. Rick Warren is also offering the Son of God: The Life of Jesus in You Bible Study from LifeWay. So, I had to see what the big deal was for myself. Considering such endorsements (and commentaries from evangelicals and Roman Catholics for the film), I expected the worst.
I anticipated that the producers would use their artistic license to add and subtract from the Gospel record and I also expected Roman Catholic overtones based upon the endorsements from the Catholic community (I will elaborate on the ecumenical agenda below). Most of the additional side stories about the religious Pharisees, governing Romans, and Mary Magdalene as a more prominent figure were just fine and to be expected in a Hollywood movie about the Son of God. But sadly, these additions became the focal point while the substance of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God was almost completely gutted from the film.
Audiences don’t want to hear the teachings of Jesus. They want to be entertained with emotion, violence and nudity. And Son of God the movie offers as much of that as it can for a PG-13 rating. There were several unneeded scenes of Roman violence and oppression of the Israelites. I also could have done without seeing Pilate’s half-naked wife from shoulders up and Pilate training with a Roman male soldier wearing nothing but a loin cloth.
I’m afraid that most people who are curious about the most impacting figure of world history will walk away from the film unimpressed by Hollywood’s Jesus and uneducated about the profound and radical teachings of Christ. Hopefully, it will perk their curiosity to actually read the Gospels for themselves because those documents are really the only truth we have for the historical Jesus.
The Hollywood Jesus
A word or two about the Hollywood Jesus. First of all, the Jesus of the Gospels would not draw millions to Himself at the movie theaters. Jesus said,
[The world] hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil (John 7:7) . . . If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (John 15:19).
Yet the world is being drawn to the Hollywood Jesus in Son of God the movie. This is because the Hollywood Jesus does not say the offensive things Jesus actually said. In fact, because of the movie’s Roman Catholic support I thought for sure that it would include Jesus’s offensive teaching that unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you (John 6:53). Because of this hard saying of Jesus, many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more (John 6:66). But even this was gutted from the narrative. Instead, Jesus just walked away from the crowd. Rather than presenting Jesus’ teaching for which the crowds walked away, the Hollywood Jesus does not offend but walks away from the crowds.
Speaking of the feeding of the 5,000, this is without exception included in every Hollywood rendition of the Gospels, including Son of God the movie. And rightly so, this is the only account which occurs in all four Gospels. But what you won’t expect to find in Hollywood’s Gospel is the only saying of Jesus that occurs in all four Gospels. Apparently, this important teaching was so crucial to the Gospel that all four Gospel writers chose to include it, but Mark Burnett and Roma Downey chose to conveniently delete it from Son of God the movie because it is offensive. Here is the one teaching of Jesus which is in all four Gospels that did not make the cut for Son of God the movie:
If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26)
Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (Mark 8:34-36)
If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? (Luke 9:23-25)
He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. (John 12:25-26)
Secondly, the Hollywood Jesus of Son of God looks like Brad Pitt with a woman’s hairstyle. But the Jesus of the Gospels had no worldly attractiveness about Him that we should desire Him. Isaiah the prophet said:
He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. (Isaiah 53:2)
What’s with the cliche of the long hair in the Hollywood tradition of Jesus? None of His disciples were cast with long hair. But Jesus had long hair. The Apostle Paul explained how none of the churches held to the custom of men having long hair. Paul wrote in the teaching of women’s prayer veils:
Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:14-16)
The Gospel of the Kingdom of God
I must say that I appreciated the emphasis on loving one’s enemies as presented in the film. The movie did include Jesus’s comments about His kingdom being not of this world so that His servants don’t fight and His rebuke to Peter for taking a sword to the ear of the high priest’s servant Malchus.
But I think any viewer who is unfamiliar with the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, whether professing Christian or unbeliever, would be left ignorant of this core teaching of Jesus: the Gospel of the Kingdom. Almost all of the parables of Jesus about the Kingdom of God were cut from the movie. “But you can’t include everything,” said one moviegoer to me after the film. But there were many dramatized side stories which were added to the presentation while the most central message of Jesus, the Kingdom of God, was forsaken.
In fact, when the Hollywood Jesus began to teach on the Kingdom of God in the parable of the mustard seed, the teaching was interrupted by other characters in the storyline. Apparently the producers did not find the conclusion or even the meaning of the parable important enough to include.
And that was not the only time that the teachings of Jesus took the backseat. When Jesus said, “I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28), He was offscreen in the background and His voice was very quiet but the focus is directed to a conversation of two other characters standing by. Once again, the teachings of the Kingdom of God were neglected while the Hollywood storyline was emphasized.
Speaking of the Sermon on the Mount, the greatest Kingdom message ever preached, the film included the teaching on lust of the eyes above above, the beatitudes, God’s provision and the Lord’s prayer. These are all appealing segments of the Sermon on the Mount. But what about conditional forgiveness? Christ fulfilling the Law of Moses? murder beginning in the heart? marriage being sacred and binding between a man and woman? divorce and remarriage being adultery? going the second mile? loving your enemies? not serving riches? Certainly these passages would be offensive to audiences and even members of the megachurches pastored by Warren, Osteen and Jakes who endorsed the film. Of course the Hollywood Sermon on the Mount cannot include the concluding warnings of Jesus to apostates: “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:23) and, “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall” (Matthew 7:26,27).
Included in the trailer, the Hollywood Jesus says, “Pray to Him and He will listen.” Perhaps this addition is harmless, but for a biblically illiterate audience, I found this added phrase to be very problematic. First of all, Jesus never said that, especially in the Sermon on the Mount where it was inserted. Actually, Jesus said God would not hear your prayers if you use vain repetitions (Matthew 6:7), but this would have been offensive to some Roman Catholics. John the Apostle clarifies: “if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14). For the average audience, the phrase, “Pray to Him and He will listen,” can be very misleading which could also contribute to much disappointment when God actually does not hear the prayer. “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, But the prayer of the upright is His delight” (Proverbs 15:8). “The Lord is far from the wicked, But He hears the prayer of the righteous” (Proverbs 15:29).
In short, the core message of Jesus and the Gospel, the Kingdom of God, was taken away from Son of God the movie. The message of John the Baptist, the message of Jesus, and the message of the Apostles is:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (See Matthew 3:2; 4:7; Mark 1:15)
While the Hollywood Jesus did tell the adulterer, “Go and sin no more,” the message of repentance was lacking. This core message of, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” was not preached in Son of God the movie. The whole point of the glorious conclusion of the Resurrection in the Gospel message is God’s assurance to people of the Judgment to come and stamp of approval on the teachings of Jesus and commandment of repentance (See Acts 17:29-31).
Catholicism and Ecumenism
In the movie, the apostles partook of the Lord’s Supper once Mary Magdalene informed them that He was risen from the dead, almost as if the remembrance of the Lord’s body and blood summoned His appearance to them. This wasn’t originally in the Gospels and almost made it seem like it was based on the initiative of the apostles rather than Jesus by which He appeared. The insertion of this seemed very strange and Roman Catholic to me.
Who initiated this Lord’s Supper which was absent from the Gospel accounts? Peter, of course, the first Roman Pope in their view. In consideration of the Catholics view of Peter, I found it very interesting and Roman Catholic how Peter was given such preeminence in the story. Granted, Jesus did build His church with Peter as the rock and leader in Jerusalem. But the movie’s Peter additions obviously catered to Catholics, such as the scene where Jesus and Peter are together in the boat in a very epic shot after Jesus says that they (Jesus and Peter) will “change the world.” Not only was this quote inauthentic but apparently Andrew, Peter’s brother, didn’t make the cut either (Mark 1:16-18). The movie ends with a crane shot of the disciples walking through the desert and the comment from John how they went into all the world “with Peter as our leader.” Once again, not needful and overtly Catholic.
Much like Mel Gibson’s Passion movie, much emphasis was given to the torture, crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. I was happy to see more of an emphasis in Son of God the movie on the Resurrection. But almost a third of the movie in my estimation (about 40 minutes) was given to depict this violence. Once again, this is what people want to see to be entertained. But the Gospels only give these events a chapter or two each. This is very unbalanced and possibly Roman Catholic.
Finally, the end credits features a mother Mary montage which was very strange and obviously Catholic. It focuses on the life of Christ very much from the perspective of Mary with CeLo Green singing “Mary Did you Know.” Thankfully, there were no hints at any perpetual virginity of the mother of Jesus, but no information about the siblings of Jesus was given either. So Roman Catholics can comfortably watch the film while holding onto their own presuppositions.
Misrepresentations and Bad Doctrine
The viewer is left with some false impressions about certain historical figures of the story and the Gospels. For instance, Pontius Pilate seemed to be blamed above and beyond what the Gospels present. At one point, his wife said, “It was you who killed Him.” John the Baptist was beheaded in the movie, but the reason was not given that John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). Also, Judas seemed to be duped into betraying Jesus almost to the point where the viewer wants to sympathize with him. The priests convince Judas to bring Jesus to them because they just want to “talk to Him.” But in reality, Jesus said of Judas:
The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had never been born. (Mark 14:21)
Jesus said to Nicodemus:
Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:7,8)
But the Hollywood Jesus said to Nicodemus, “So it is when the Spirit enters into you.” This seems to change the emphasis from the effects on one who is born of the Spirit to how the Spirit enters somebody. This is unbiblical because the Holy Spirit doesn’t just enter whoever He wishes like the wind blowing. The Bible says that God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). Just as you cannot see the wind but can see the effects that the wind has on objects which are blown about by it, so you cannot see the Holy Spirit but can see the effects He has upon those who are filled with the Spirit. In this way, the Holy Spirit is like the wind, not in a seemingly random and chaotic entrance into whosoever.
In the Great Commission, Jesus said,
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20)
The Hollywood Jesus didn’t really command anything to His disciples in the movie. As demonstrated above, most of the commandments of Christ and the Kingdom of God were gutted from the film, so it would be senseless for the Hollywood Jesus to say, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” And this was exactly the case. The Hollywood Son of God just said, “Go into the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.” Once again, what Gospel? Not the Gospel of repentance for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
And this brings up another point. In the very end of the film, the Hollywood Jesus pronounced a blessing of God’s “grace upon all of God’s people.” But who are God’s people? Everybody in the movie theater? This selective statement requires some elaboration. Since the story was being told from John’s perspective, how about clarifying that statement with, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).
Overall the film was far from miraculous as other reviews stated. On the contrary it was biblically incomplete and historically inaccurate. To conclude, I quote from the Apostle Paul:
But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it! (2 Corinthians 11:3,4)