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Erica Galindo
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Last edited on: April 10, 2015.
Killing Jesus | Movie Review | Sonoma Christian Home
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3.8Overall Score
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Caiaphas is soon to be the head of the religious center of Judea, presiding over the Temple, its sacrifices, and the keeping of Jewish law.  Already his words reach the ears of governors and kings.  Ask him what he uses his power for, and he’ll tell you the preservation of order and the safekeeping of his people.

Herod Antipas is tetrarch of Judea, burdened with the memory of a despised and paranoid father and the selfish ambition of his brother’s wife Herodias, now his own bride.  He craves the favor of his people and longs to be his own man, a man of power but not cruel like his father before him.

Pontius Pilate is already a man of power and strength, and the world of the Jews bores him and disgusts him by turns.  Why can’t these people handle their own affairs? he wonders.  His aim is to preserve Roman rule and suppress any sedition or treason, and while he is sometimes slow to action, his methods are decisive and final.

These men have one common problem: a carpenter who sets himself up as a prophet, as the coming Messiah, who preaches love to enemies, drastic reform of Temple practices, and strength in apparent weakness.  His followers are growing, and their devotion seems to border on frenzy.  A man like this could cause rebellion and bring about the death of thousands.  No one wants that.

Their solution is simple.  They must kill Jesus.

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Jesus (Haaz Sleiman) & Simon Peter (Alexis Rodney) go fishing; Photo Courtesy of National Geographic.

Killing Jesus is based on the best-selling book from Bill O’Reilly, which in turn takes inspiration from Scripture and the work of historians of the time.  This National Geographic original movie stars Haaz Sleiman as Jesus Christ, along with Kelsey Grammer, Eoin Macken, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Rufus Sewell, Stephen Moyer, and John Rhys-Davies.  Christopher Menaul directs and Ridley Scott produces.

Perhaps the most standout performance was delivered by Sleiman, making Jesus seem much more human than most films do.  This can be good and bad (more on the bad later), but I liked seeing a Jesus who could joke with his disciples and his brothers, who really worked a carpenter’s trade, who sometimes felt anger and despair, but who truly loved others.  Sleiman pulls all these together in a striking performance.

See the trailer below:

The filmmakers opted for a heightened style of acting that reminded me of the old biblical epics.  The production values match, with gorgeous sets and costumes ranging from the bright colors of Herod Antipas’s house to the metallic shine of the Romans and the dusty homes of the common people.  However, some of the dialogue can feel forced and on the nose, as when characters tell us what they feel or what their motivations are instead of showing us through their actions or through subtext.


Christian Worldview

Killing Jesus is a look at the history and politics surrounding Jesus’ death, and it comes from a channel dedicated to the advancement of science and history.  It should be no surprise, therefore, that the film seems determined to skirt any reference to Jesus’ divinity.

Gone are the miracles, from the Holy Spirit attending his baptism to feeding the multitudes to healing the lepers (although Jesus does show them kindness, touching them and giving them water to drink).  We get two seemingly supernatural fish catches in answer to prayer and a demon-possessed boy who appears to die and then come back to life.  Believers will interpret these events as God-caused, but they could just as easily be explained by science.

Jesus himself never seems to know whether he’s divine, and his belief in his calling and others’ belief in him could be explained away by fanaticism or insanity.  Even the Resurrection is left open to interpretation; while Jesus’ body is missing, we never see him alive after his crucifixion.

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Herod Antipas (Eoin Macken) & Herodias (Emmanuelle Chriqui) in their palace; Photo Courtesy of National Geographic.

Not only will this treatment offend many Christian viewers, but it backs the film into logical corners as well.  During a rant against the Temple and the Pharisees, apparently fueled by rage at John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus inserts the prophecy, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.”  This is clearly a reference to his own death and resurrection, so why stick it in amongst criticism of the Pharisees and the market system in the Temple?  It feels out of place.

If he doesn’t believe himself to be God and is only a good man, why did he claim to be “the Resurrection and the Life; he who believes in me will live, even though he dies”?  Claims like these pepper Killing Jesus, as if the film flip-flops back and forth between believing that Jesus was a good man and that he was an insane fanatic with delusions of grandeur.  And if identifying himself by saying “I AM” to the Jewish council was only claiming to be a prophet, how is that blasphemy?  Blasphemy in that context was speaking against God himself, would lying about being a prophet really count?  It makes their reaction seem irrational, the opposite of the movie’s intent.

Bottom line: if you didn’t like the biblical problems with Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, this isn’t the film that will make you okay with taking license with Scripture.  But if all you’re looking for is a better understanding of the times in which Jesus lived and the rationale of the people who opposed him, Killing Jesus is definitely worth a look.  Just take its claims with a grain (or a pillar) of salt.

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King Herod (Kelsey Grammer) prays in the Temple; Photo Courtesy of National Geographic.


Biblical Discussion

As Christians, we believe that the Word made flesh was fully God and fully man.  In what ways was Jesus human?

  • Hebrews 4:15
  • Romans 5:15
  • John 11:35
  • Phillipians 2:7-8
  • John 1:14

What is the evidence that Jesus was God?

  • John 10:30-33
  • John 1:1
  • John 14:9
  • John 8:58
  • John 20:28
  • Philippians 2:5-6
  • Mark 14:61-64


Check out our interview with the star: National Geographic’s “Killing Jesus” – Haaz Sleiman on His Leading Role

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