Thoughts on the Movie “The Passion”
Several people have asked for my response to Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion. So, here is a short summary. Overall, I was very impressed with the movie. I would give it four and a half stars out of five. I am confident the Holy Spirit moved Mr. Gibson to make this movie, and if one person surrenders his life to Jesus as a result of viewing it, heaven will rejoice!
Of course, there’s much more to the ministry of Jesus than any two hour movie can tell and my understanding of the passion of Jesus is somewhat different than Gibson’s. However, God has raised up a man with the prerequisite talents and assets to put Jesus on center stage in the United States and I am delighted that Mr. Gibson had the faith and courage to make this movie.
Since much has already been written about the movie in newspapers and magazines, I will limit my remarks to contrasts between certain scenes in the movie and my understanding of what actually took place.
1. – The movie begins with Jesus agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane. I found the anguish of Jesus to be misunderstood and understated. The Bible says that Jesus was in such anguish that his sweat was like drops of blood. (Luke 22:44) What caused His horrible anguish? Was it the prospect of dying on the cross?
No. Gibson presents the scene as though Christ was tempted by the devil to doubt His mission and identity. I can understand this widely accepted point of view because the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness to doubt His mission and identity. Nevertheless, I think there was a greater temptation.
I understand the anguish of Jesus in the garden was caused by an eternal farewell between Jesus and the Father. Jesus predicted He would be resurrected on the third day (Matthew 17:23), but in the garden, that assurance evaporated when the Father placed the guilt of our sins upon Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21) In the garden, Jesus could not see beyond the grave. It had to be unbelievably difficult for Jesus—as God—to submit to the penalty of sin. As a coeternal member of the Godhead, the Author of Life struggled beyond human comprehension with the finality of eternal death.
The plan of salvation required a member of the Godhead to die the second death, and after an enormous struggle that nearly killed His flesh (Luke 22:43), Jesus surrendered with these words, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) Think about this: To pay the penalty for all sinners at one time, a member of the Godhead had to experience the finality of the second death. Revelation 20 indicates the wicked will be resurrected and informed of God’s judgment at the end of the thousand years, and then they will be executed, never to enjoy life again.
The penalty for sin is eternal death and it is marvelous to me that God does not impose a harsher penalty for sin upon any wicked person than what God Himself has first suffered. Jesus (God) received the wrath of God’s law against sin, and Jesus also suffered the wrath of men against God. This latter suffering was vividly presented in Gibson’s movie, but the greater sacrifice of Jesus was not presented.
2. – I have had some personal experience and association with religious leaders, and I found Gibson’s portrayal of the Jewish leaders to be accurate and balanced. I did not see any antisemitism. During the movie, I remember thinking that history is so ironic because centuries later, the leaders of the Catholic Church would treat Protestants the same way Jewish leaders treated Christ and His followers during the first century A.D. The pertinent point is that it really does not matter which religion is in control, few religious leaders are godly people.
It is my observation that religious leaders tend to make their religion their god rather than imitating the attitude and life of the humble Jesus who came from God in “Spirit and Truth.” Religious leaders are human beings and most of us are dominated by the carnal heart. This is proven by our love for the things of this world. The carnal heart loves positions of power, influence, wealth, pleasure, and luxury. Jesus is the perfect model of a spiritual heart.
Out of love for God and sinners, Jesus gave up everything that Heaven had to offer and He condescended to a position of obscurity, poverty, rejection, and suffering to save us. No wonder the teachings of Jesus embarrassed the religious leaders of His day and contrary to the claims of Vatican II, the Jewish leaders intended to kill Jesus. The Apostle Peter was an eye witness. Read his words in Acts 3:13-18. The fact that the state carried out the will of the church does not lessen the guilt of those people who condemned Jesus to death.
Do you remember what God told King David after he put Uriah in harm’s way so that he could take Uriahs wife, Bathsheba, as his own? The prophet Nathan told King David, “You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.” (2 Samuel 12:9, italics mine) Of course, Jewish people today cannot be held responsible for the actions of first century Jewish leaders, but the bottom line remains clear. Religious leaders are often opposed to the teachings of Jesus. This is why Jesus said we are to be wary of religious leaders. The blind can lead the blind into a pit. (Matthew 15:14; 23:16)
3. – And speaking of blindness, here is an eyeopener. As I watched the suffering of Jesus, I remember thinking several times that the penalty for sin is very great. Jesus took my place during the scourging and on the cross. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
As I walked out of the theater, I realized that I observed the suffering that belonged to me, but Jesus took my place. It is ironic that very few people actually understand that they will suffer the penalty for sin unless they surrender their lives to Jesus as Lord and Master.
4. – I became distressed during the movie with the fact that none of the disciples supported or helped Jesus after He was arrested. Jesus went through His passion alone. I knew this fact before I saw the movie, but I had not absorbed the reality of His rejection until I saw how cowardly all of the disciples were.
I became especially disgusted with the Apostle John. He did not even offer to help Jesus carry the cross and John was only a few feet away from Jesus! The Romans conscripted a strong looking man from the crowd, Simon of Cyrene, to help Jesus carry His cross. As a Jew, Simon was probably in Jerusalem to observe Passover and little did he realize that he would have an important part in the sacrifice of The Paschal Lamb of God.
I was touched by the way Gibson showed Simon putting his strong arms around Jesus and the cross, and together, they pressed forward under the heavy load toward the top of Golgotha. Do not misunderstand my comments here. If I had been there, I would have probably abandoned Jesus, too. That was the disgusting part. I saw my weakness and felt ashamed and wept.
5. – The placard on the cross above Jesus’ head was not presented correctly (or if it was, I did not read it correctly). According to the Bible, the sign stated “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews” in three languages. (John 19:19–21) This placard made the Jewish leaders quite angry and they wanted it removed. But Pilate refused. Pilate and his wife were spiritually touched by Jesus and this sign was Pilate’s first testimony of his faith in Jesus. That sign also has profound significance to me because Jesus remains the King of the Jews. Everyone who believes in Him is a Jew! See Ephesians 2 and Galatians 3.
6. – Gibson portrayed the devil as a being with a lovely but sinister face. The character was more female than male in appearance, but the voice was more male than feminine. (Actually, I think the devil character was played by a woman who had shaved her eyebrows and hair.) Gibson also portrayed demons as adult-like children (like midgets) or children having gross and abnormal features.
This portrayal of the devil and demons is consistent with Renaissance mythology. No doubt you have seen pictures from that era where good angels are represented as children (or cupids) because good angels were thought to be “children of God.” During the Renaissance, evil angels were sometimes painted as grotesque children because they were thought to be “children of the devil.” I mention this matter because in the scene where Jesus is stumbling toward Golgotha, the devil was shown in the crowd carrying a strange looking child with a bald head and splotches of hair on growing on its body.
The child looked toward the suffering Messiah with a demonic smile. Perhaps Gibson put these clips in the movie to affirm that the devil is the mother of demons, and they were delighted to see the inhumane treatment of Jesus.
7. – While I am on the subject of demons, a few words about Judas are necessary. The story of Judas was told, but not developed very well. (Remember, this is only a two hour movie.) Yes, Judas received thirty pieces of silver from the priests, kissed Jesus in the garden, and returned the money to the priests when he realized the magnitude of his sin, but Gibson’s understanding of the torment that caused Judas to take his life is quite different than mine. In the movie, Judas was harassed and ultimately chased by demonic children to an isolated place.
There, alone with his shame, a tortured Judas discovers the bloated carcass of a dead animal (maybe a donkey) covered with maggots and flies. As Judas reflects on his betrayal of an innocent Jesus, he sees the dead animal who is not disturbed by the vermin eating its body. Judas concluded that he wanted to die so that he might be free of the demons that are eating at his soul. So, Judas took the rope from the animal’s head and hung himself from a tree branch overhanging the dead animal.
My understanding of the circumstances that caused Judas to take his life is somewhat different. I do not think Judas was tormented by demons; Judas was tormented by the Holy Spirit. Here is how: Judas loved to be around Jesus. Judas even loved Jesus, but Judas did not love Jesus above himself; his carnal heart would not permit it. Judas wanted to be somebody. He wanted the things of this world: money, power, position, luxury and pleasure. When he realized these perks were not part of the kingdom of Christ, he became disillusioned and angry with Jesus.
Judas knew the Jewish leaders were preparing to kill Jesus, and Judas saw an opportunity to make some money. He agreed to show them where Jesus was located that night because Jesus had ruined his hopes of fulfilling his carnal desires. (Judas may have reasoned that Jesus could save Himself from death if He wanted to because He had done that before.) After witnessing the mockery and trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, Judas was overwhelmed with Christ’s submission. Judas realized the magnitude of his sin and horrible grief overcame him.
That morning, the Holy Spirit pressed both disciples, Judas and Peter, to surrender their love to God and love Jesus as He loved them. Peter surrendered to the love of Jesus and became a converted man that morning even though he had denied the Lord three times. Judas refused to surrender his heart to the Holy Spirit, and to escape his anguish and guilt, he committed suicide.
The experience of these two men represent two groups of people within the human race. Some will confess their sins and love Jesus more than they love themselves, others love themselves so much they would rather die than repent.
8. – The part of the movie showing Pilate’s consternation was presented very well. Pilate and his wife were convinced early of Jesus’ innocence, but Pilate was not about to sacrifice his coveted office over the fate of a Jewish prisoner. Even though Pilate did not like the Jews, he realized that Jesus was no ordinary man. Almost immediately, Pilate was favorably impressed with Jesus, and he thought that he could pacify the Jews if he had Jesus scourged within an inch of His life. Needless to say, Pilate’s efforts to save Jesus only made the passion of Jesus far worse.
As I watched Pilate’s behavior in the movie, I saw how hard it can be for a person to go against the tide to do what is right. Pilate knew that Jesus was not a criminal. Pilate knew that Jesus was not an ordinary man, but Pilate had a high position to protect. Ultimately, Pilate came face to face with the Truth, and like the disciples, he failed the test, too. He tried to negotiate his way out of personal culpability by offering the Jews a criminal named Barabbas who had earlier participated in a Messianic revolt and killed some people.
9. – The abuse inflicted on Jesus by the soldiers was sickening, but reasonable. War hardens a segment of our hearts for strangers. When I was in Vietnam, I saw soldiers abuse their captives. It happens like this: When a soldier loses a buddy to the enemy, revenge becomes personal, and it is extracted without discrimination.
The combustion of warfare is killing without regard, raping women, and tormenting and torturing the elderly. The Romans hated the Jews, and any opportunity to inflict hurt on “another Jew” was gladly received and Gibson presented this in a very believable way—at least to this ex-soldier. Gibson inserted a couple clips during the scourging showing the faces of the Jewish priests and they were not phased in the least by the horrible blows that Jesus received. These clips were very telling I thought. They were so angry with Jesus, that the horror inflicted on Jesus was fully justified in their minds.
10. – As far as I am concerned, the destruction of the temple was not given the significance it deserved. (Again, remember that this is a two hour movie. Smile.) When Jesus died, there was a great earthquake and Gibson showed the temple being damaged by the earthquake. However, the tearing of the temple veil was not shown, and the scandal that overtook Judaism was not presented. History indicates that when the veil was torn from top to bottom, the Most Holy Place of the temple was found to be empty.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of Passover worshipers had gathered at the temple for the slaying of the national paschal lamb that afternoon. When the hour came for the lamb to be slain at the temple, The Lamb of God died on Golgotha. An angel was sent to rip the four-inch thick veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy to signify the termination of the Levitical system.
As the worshipers looked into the Most Holy Place, they were surprised to see the shrine of Judaism empty. There was no ark. There was no Shekinah glory. There was nothing but darkness in that room. How poignant. How telling.
11. – In my opinion, the resurrection of Jesus was not given near enough significance. It appeared anticlimactic, almost an afterthought. Gibson’s movie positions the victory of Jesus as though going to the cross was the victory. I view the victory of Jesus in a larger frame of reference. Jesus had to live a perfect life, He had to die a complete death, He had to suffer God’s wrath and man’s, so that He could apply the merits of His righteousness to all who will obey Him. This is why the resurrection of Jesus is so critical—He decides who will receive the merits of His accomplishments.
Paul wrote, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:7–9)
12. – When the movie was over, a reverence was felt in the room. Everyone silently departed. There was no talking. When I stepped into the bright sunlight, it was as though I suddenly returned from a trip to A.D. 30. I was deeply moved. As I drove home alone in my thoughts, I wished the terms and conditions of salvation through Jesus could have been stated in a more direct way, but I was very pleased that Mel Gibson had been able to present Jesus in such a powerful way.
I have no doubts that God raised up Mel Gibson to tell a segment of the story about Jesus. God gave him courage, God gave him a mission, and God gave him wealth to do it. I think every Christian should thank Mel Gibson for putting Jesus on the big screen. I pray Gibson’s movie will be a success in three ways.
First, I hope millions of people will be spiritually moved by the sufferings of Jesus to surrender their lives to Him. Second, I hope millions of people will be inspired to study their Bibles so that the gospel of Christ will transform their lives. Last, I hope Gibson will make another movie about Jesus. How about, “The Revelation of The Christ?” Smile. If the Apostle Paul were alive today, I think he would say of this movie, “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:8)