ASK Commentary
March 11, 2004 

Who Killed Christ? - Part 2

Commentary for March 11, 2004 — Mel Gibson’s Movie and the Bible

Read Part 1 at:

I viewed Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ some days ago. While it was a worthy film as an intense presentation of the last 12 hours of Christ’s mortal life on earth, I was disappointed in the extra information that was put into the movie, with scenes that had no relation to the biblical record at all. Having only seen one showing of the movie and not taking notes at the time, I found myself asking time and again, where did Gibson get that from? I guess the answer will be in the writer’s/director’s narrative of the DVD version that will come out in about a year or so.

The movie opened with Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemene on a foggy night with the disciples in the distance. Then suddenly Satan is there, working to tempt Christ. This must be artistic license I thought at the time, but Satan’s presence was visibly present to the audience in much (too much) of the movie.

The events in the Garden were very well done. Jesus was shown as having intense agony over the coming tribulations, but there were no “great drops of blood” that I saw (Luke 21:44). The betrayal by Judas, the confusion in seizing Jesus, the healing of the ear of the servant of the high priest by Jesus and the flight of the disciples were all presented with visual art.

Long Hair

Of course Jesus had the unkempt shoulder-length hair, as did most of the people in the movie except the Romans. This is in spite of the rules in Scripture (see Dr. Martin’s article, “The Pagan Images of Christians Today.” The Jewish sage Maimonides explicitly states about appearance of priests in the Temple, explaining Ezekiel 44:20–21:

“A priest whose hair had grown long was forbidden to enter to the place of the Altar and inward. If he did enter and minister, he was punishable with death by the hand of Heaven, just as one who ministered while drunk.”

Code of Maimonides, Book 8, Book of the Temple Service (Yale Press, 1957), pp 59

While it was allowed for priests to grow long hair, they were to cut it when they served in the Temple, which most of them did at some time during the year. The High Priests were forbidden to have long hair at any time (Code of Maimonides, p. 87). Men were forbidden to enter the Temple with long hair, unless it was braided and did not “hang disgracefully” (Code of Maimonides, p. 88). So where did Mel Gibson get the idea that the priests and Jews had long hair? Who knows? Perhaps it was from Catholic tradition, perhaps it was from the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich.

Portrayal of the Jewish People

It should be noted that everyone in the movie were very white skinned, except Simon the Cyrene, and with him it was difficult to tell. This is somewhat different than the Jewish self-assessment in the Mishnah, Negaim 2.1 (2nd century C.E.) where most Jewish men are considered of an “intermediate” shade between the light skinned Germans and the dark skinned Ethiopians. In fact, Jewish people in Palestine in Jesus’ day would have looked much like Iraqis today. Dr. Martin wrote a note in his copy of the Mishnah, citing a quote from Robert Graves’ book Hebrew Myths:

“The ancient Hebrews regarded what we call olive-green as the ideal complexion. Thus it was said of Esther, in praise of her beauty, that ‘her skin was greenish like the skin of a myrtle’ (B. Megilla 13a).”

Graves, Hebrew Myths, p. 64

The Sanhedrin Trial

The scenes of the false testimony against Jesus were well set out, the confusion and movement of the evil agenda was well presented, capped with the high priest ripping or rending his garments when Jesus admitted that He was the Messiah (or the Christ, Matthew 26:63–64 and Mark 14:61–62). It was that admission that made the trial legal in spite of the false witnesses. The rulers of the Jews had to put Him to death according to the Law. At dawn the Sanhedrin condemned Jesus to death and sent Him to Pilate (Matthew 27:1–2, Mark 15:1, Luke 22:66–27:1, John 28:1).

Pilate’s Trial of Jesus

In the film Mel Gibson presents Pilate as a man conflicted about condemning Jesus. This was shown to be for several reasons that I accept, although other people have thought this portrayal was not valid.

Yes, Pilate was a vicious, cold and bloodthirsty governor over the Jews. Yes, he had been warned by Caesar to reduce the violence of his rule (which means Pilate was bloodthirsty even for Romans). But even cold-hearted men have their reasonable moments. Pilate is presented in the movie as the Gospels describe him. His wife had a powerful and vivid dream and specifically warned him against harming the righteous man who was brought before him for judgment (Matthew 27:19). This would give pause to any man.

Further, in the movie when Jesus was before him, Pilate gave other reasons he did not want Jesus to be harmed, such as pressure from Caesar to keep Judea calm though the Jews were constantly threatening an uprising. We have scriptural evidence that he found no fault in Jesus (Luke 23:4). Pilate was so hesitant that Jewish leaders pressured Pilate.

“And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, ‘If you let this man go, you are not Caesar's friend: whosoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.”

John 19:12

The Jews said they would take their case to Caesar if Pilate released someone who spoke against the Roman emperor. Pilate’s sense of the intensity of the mob and the attitude of the Jewish leaders led him to give Jesus over to the Sanhedrin, after sending Jesus to Herod for a short while (Luke 23:6–12).

When Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate, the Jewish leaders and the mob were there waiting. Matthew 27:18 says that Pilate knew that the Jews wanted Jesus delivered up to be killed because they were jealous or envious of him When Pilate offered to substitute the guilty murderer Barabbas for Jesus, the crowd shouted demands for Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27:15–23, Mark 15:6–14, Luke 23:16–23 and John 18:39–40.

Pilate felt so strongly that he made a public show of innocency to demonstrate that he was giving the people what they wanted by saying:

“When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.’ Then answered all the people, and said, ‘His blood be on us, and on our children.’”

Matthew 27:24–25

[According to media reports about the movie, this statement by the Jewish leaders was apparently in the Aramaic words spoken by the actors in Gibson’s movie, but it was removed from the English subtitles. It was a concession by Gibson to his critics, even though the words were in the Bible.

The Scourging

Then came the scourging. Folks, if you read the biblical accounts, and understand the passages in the Old Testament as brought out in Dr. Martin’s book Secrets of Golgotha: The Lost History of Jesus Crucifixion (Portland, OR: ASK, 1996, ) particularly Chapter 21, “The Manner of Jesus’ Crucifixion” and Chapter 22, “The Surprising Cause of Jesus’ Death,” you will understand that the violent and disgusting beating portrayed in the movie was not as horrible as the reality as God saw fit for Jesus to suffer. He suffered for your sins, not just so He could receive a beating.

“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 has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:5–6

“With his stripes we are healed” is cited in 1 Peter 2:24 and is better stated “By His wounds you were healed.” (See also Psalm 147:3.)

Jesus’ wounds were grievous, almost beyond description, except God did describe it. The flesh was ripped from his body and chopped out so his bones were exposed (Psalm 22:16–17). He was beaten and marred and disfigured that it was difficult to recognize him as a human being (Isaiah 52:14). Then he was brutally stoned while on the tree of crucifixion by Jews passing on to the Temple. Of course the full reality of this was not shown (and could not be shown) in the movie.

Jesus was led to the crucifixion from the Roman scourging to Golgotha and Gibson stops at all the stations of the cross according to Catholic traditions, along with all of the nonbiblical people from those traditions. The crowds and women followed Him.

The Crucifixion

Then of course, Jesus was shown crucified on a cross and not on a tree. Jesus was portrayed as nailed to the cross through his hands and not, as is likely, through his wrist. The weight of the body would cause the nails to rip through the hands, whereas if the nails went through the wrists the body would be supported somewhat and the agony prolonged.

The Jews were shown reacting to the sign that Pilate ordered written in Greek, Latin and Hebrew that said “This is the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38, and John 19:19). What was not shown was the Jews complaint to Pilate about the sign (John 19:20–22). This might have been because Gibson felt that such a change of scene might have distracted from the events of Jesus’ death.

The Death and Resurrection

As shown in the movie the earthquake appeared to destroy the Temple. There is no evidence in the Bible for this, although Dr. Martin cites historical evidence that the earthquake did make the meeting place of the Sanhedrin unusable, and likely cracked the lintel of the Holy Place, prefiguring the Temple’s destruction (Secrets of Golgotha, pp. 361–362).

The veil of the Temple was not shown to be split in two (Matthew 27:51). The Centurion was not shown making either statement, “Certainly this was a righteous man” (Luke 23:51), or “Truly, this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54 and Mark 15:39).

One particularly striking artistic moment was when the sky was darkened and a single drop fell from above in the clouds and landed at Jesus’ feet as if a tear from God the Father at the moment of Jesus’ death. Although unbiblical, that was a nice cinematic touch. The scenes of Jesus’ burial were not shown.

The presentation of the resurrection was nicely done as viewed from inside the tomb. The stone was rolled away as light from the dawn entered the tomb. The wrappings around Jesus’ body suddenly and quietly lost their structure as the body was invisibly raised and the wrappings were deflated. Very fine and in line with John 20:5.

Other Comments

My major complaint with the film was the representation of Satan who was a constant observer in all the events. This was, of course, artistic license, but it was so unbiblical that I found it distracting. I did not like some of the symbolism in the film, which bordered on occultic, but they are not worth pointing out.

Just as Dr. Martin’s illustration drawing of Herod’s Temple is an excellent representation, yet it is still inadequate compared to the reality (and Dr. Martin understood that limitation). So too, any movie representation of Jesus’ sacrifice can only be inadequate. Only the biblical record can begin to set forth the terrible nature and the terrible necessity that Jesus’ death entailed.

By the way, if you look at Dr. Martin’s illustration of the Temple and note the locations, it is easy to follow the different movements of the participants in the last hours of Jesus as presented in the Gospels. I recommend you do so from the illustrations in Dr. Martin’s book, The Temples That Jerusalem Forgot.

Mel Gibson’s bold movie production has served its purpose; and the huge public response in ticket sales (and a good percentage of those have been sold to young people), and its message has been received positively by most people. It presents graphically that Jesus’ sacrifice was real, terrible, necessary, and was done out of the love for humanity by Jesus and God the Father. It appears that much good shall come from the film. It may set the stage in the minds of people around the world for God’s thoughts in the Bible to enter their thoughts.

To Conclude

I must again state specifically who killed Jesus Christ. It was God the Father who required Jesus death because of the sins of all of us (see the article: “God’s Reconciliation with Man.” Further, Jesus sacrificed Himself (John 10:15–17). And finally, the Jews represented us all by performing the specific act. Peter told the crowd at Pentecost, acknowledging their guilt in Acts 2:23:

“You men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as you yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you [you Jews] have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God has raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it [be held by death].”

Acts 2:22–24

David Sielaff

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