This is post is a review of the second episode of the History Channel miniseries Jesus, His Life. Called Pastor Gabe Hughes wrote a good review of the first episode of the History Channel miniseries, which you can read at his blog here, or at my blog here. That review suggested that the gospel message about Christ’s death for the sins of his people would be left out, and that the message of the gospel would be presented as ‘saving the world”. Episode 2 confirmed Pastor Gabe’s suspicions.
To be clear, reviewing the second episode in the same manner as Pastor Gabe, with ‘time stamps’ indicating exactly where certain things were said in the film or taught by commentators was both time consuming and difficult, especially when the film needed rewinding to capture exactly what was being said or taught. I did not watch it, or review it with hostile intent, but in order to be able to intelligently discuss it and point out areas that didn’t seem to be faithful to the Biblical account.
Having said all that, here is what I observed concerning John the Baptist: The Mission, with ‘time stamps’ and an occasional personal comment.
This episode began with some of the same footage as the first episode, and included comments from various Christian personalities. Probably the most notable (popular) evangelical would be Joel Osteen, who also was the executive producer of the series. That in itself is in indicator of sorts. If you wonder why I said that, just ask me.
Much of the story is told from the point of view of John the Baptist himself – what he might have been thinking during his relationship with Jesus. The operative term here is ‘might’. Keep that in mind.
Dan’s Observations & Comments, in chronological order, with approximate time stamps:
3:50 – Dr. Robert Cargill (University of Iowa) suggests that “John the Baptist came preaching fiery sermons about what we would call social justice.”
4:35 – During scenes depicting John’s activities at the Jordan River, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III (Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ) suggested that John was baptizing people for a ‘renewal moment’ and has John telling those being baptized “You are reborn!” (baptismal regeneration?) He also suggests that what is being washed away is “that which is old”
4:57 – Dr. Adam Marshack (Author of The Many Faces of Herod the Great)) tells us “John’s message is simple; repent of your sins, receive Baptism, receive purification, and you will be saved.” (baptismal regeneration confirmed?)
6:15 – Jesus’ first appearance at the Jordan River. John narrates and tells us that he thought his mission was to find Jesus, but instead Jesus found him. (not in the text of scripture?)
7:05 – Jesus and John are seen walking along the Jordan passing our food (fruit). (Initially we see John passing out food and Jesus watching and later Jesus passing out food and looking back at John?)
Professor Mark Goodacre (Duke University) interjects that while the gospels make it seem like the relationship between Jesus and John was brief, but in reality, it lasted much longer. They spent a lot of time together learning from one another and becoming part of the same group. (pure speculation?)
FR James Martin (Jesuit Priest) adds that for a time Jesus was one of John’s disciples. John was both a friend and mentor to Jesus, but in the end the student (Jesus) became the teacher and the teacher (John) a student. (Where is this in scripture?)
11:05 FR Martin asks the question “Why is sinless Jesus wanting to be baptized? In FR Martin’s mind Jesus wanted to start His ministry in a dramatic and public manner. (more speculation?)
11:51 – Dr. Cargill offers that Jesus realized he needed to do what he saw John doing. Jesus says “I’ve got to take an unpopular message to the people, even if it kills me.” (Really?)
13:06 – FR Martin (I think) tells us that Jesus (standing in the Jordan looking sort of puzzled) realizes who he is for the first time. Jesus finally realizes God’s plan for his life and surrenders to it. (Didn’t Jesus tell his earthly parents, when he was 12, “I must be about my Father’s business?) Jesus then stumbles out of the water.
Jesus heads to the desert and at @16:28 Satan shows up. Simon Sebag Montefiore (Author & Historian) provides commentary concerning the 3 temptations. The temptations are presented adequately, however Jesus saying “It is written.” after each temptation is omitted. Mr Sebag does include Jesus saying “Do not test the Lord my God.” It’s suggested that when Satan told Jesus “Worship me”. he was referring to the Roman Emperor. (?)
We now return to John’s story .
18:00 – Dr. Cargill says that after Jesus baptism John decided to “up his game” and take on political leaders. He heads to Galilee and publicly calls out Herod Antipas, The account of the rest of John’s life and execution seem to be accurate. What is embellished a bit is the visit of ‘Andrew’ to John in prison. I don’t believe scripture tells exactly who visited John in prison, only that John sent some of his follower to ask Jesus “Are you the one?” and Jesus sent a couple of his disciples to the prison to tell John what they had “seen and heard”
24:50 – Andrew visits John in Prison. We see bits of conversation between Andrew and John, with ‘flashbacks’ to what Andrew describes to John. Andrew tells John that a great Prophet has arisen.
At the same time, we are shown what Jesus was up to after the arrest of John.
25:14 Dr. Cargill tells us “After John is arrested, Jesus basically picks up the baton and runs with it. . . Jesus says to himself “This is My time.”” There is a scene of Jesus preaching the sermon on the mount to a small group under a tree. (borrowed from another film?)
26:16 – Jesus goes back to Galilee and recruits some of John’s disciples to be his own.
27:00 – We see Jesus and the great catch of fish when Jesus told them to cast on the other side of the boat, after an unsuccessful night.
31:00 – FR Martin says it was probably hard for John to let go of his own ministry. Back at the prison, it seems Andrew had left for a time, came back and told John of miracles performed by the Apostles. We see a scene of Andrew healing a sick person.
32:23 – Dr. Cargill talks about the needs of taking care of the poor, the widows, orphans, and the disenfranchised. (The mission of the Messiah that John needs to rethink?)
32:45 – Back to the prison. John realizes Jesus must become greater and he (John) must become less, because Jesus is doing work no one has ever seen.(we are not told in the Bible when John realized Jesus was the Messiah.).
Miscellaneous comments in summary:
Dr. Cargill doesn’t think John wanted to die and that he was actually afraid and sad. However John did understand his role in the life of Jesus.
Joshua Dubois (former faith advisor to President Obama) talked about understanding the profundity of the upcoming sacrifice and that John and Jesus were n the verge of a moment that would ‘change the world’. (Did Jesus die to save sinners, or the “World”?).
Back to the execution of John. The sword is about to drop for the beheading. John asks himself “Did I do enough? I hope so.” The sword drops and John’s head is delivered to Herod, Herodias and Salome in the banquet hall.
FR Martin reiterates that John was Jesus’ mentor and friend, and that Jesus would miss him at a very important time in his life.
Switch to Andrew, with a small group of disciples, saying to Jesus “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his followers to pray.” (See Luke 11:1. This happened, but the passage just says ‘one of disciples’ said that to him. Andrew was similarly named in other places on the film.)
Dan’s final comments:
1. There was much added to the film that is not in the record of scripture, which is the character and tendency of other Biblical films. You could say it’s a cinematic necessity in order to attract viewers and generate income. Some of the speculative additions are reasonable, but others seem silly to most biblically literate movie goers.
2. There are places in the above set of observations where I would have found it easy to biblically refute the action in the film, complete with scripture references. I deliberately chose NOT to comment so that I could not be accused of just sharing my opinion. That often happens when some readers find it repugnant that anyone say anything negative about a ‘Jesus’ film.
3. Where I did insert personal comments (italicized) I included question marks “?” so I wouldn’t appear dogmatic, and to encourage readers to compare the film with scripture on their own.
I sincerely hope this review has been helpful.
P.S. I WILL say with confidence that the only time I heard anyone say anything about the issue of “sin”, which is central to the message of the gospel, was when one of the film’s commentators told us that repentance from sins was necessary for salvation (correct), but water baptism was also necessary FOR salvation. I must therefore conclude, with Pastor Gabe, that the series will probably never offer a clear presentation of the gospel message. What we will be taught is that Jesus died to ‘change the world’