'Killing Jesus' Film Tells Resurrection Story for Non-Christians to Believe; 'Historical' Jesus Lacks Divinity [MOVIE REVIEW]

Killing Jesus

This Sunday on the National Geographic Channel will be the series debut of "Killing Jesus," which is based off the book of the same name by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. BREATHEcast had the opportunity to head on over to the red carpet premiere on March 23 and watch it in its entirety. During this review BC will compare the film, book, and the Bible.


It is important to note that the "Killing Jesus" book was written to be the "historical" telling of Jesus' life and the events surrounding his death. What that means is the book gets additional information from some of the historians of that time, most notably Romano-Jewish scholar Josephus. It also digs into archealogical findings and Roman record books.

Killing Jesus
(Photo : Wiki Media)

About one third of the book is dedicated to speaking about the emperors and rulers of the Roman Empire as that information adds a ton of historical and textual validity to the story of Jesus. What the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John do not tell us, is why King Herod, Herod Antipas, and Pontius Pilot were as hated or vial as they were during the time of Jesus. Their rule and at times evil governing of the Jews was brought upon by the debauchery set forth by Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus, and Tiberius Caesar. These men each consecutively ruled with a bloody iron fist, and killed or destroyed anything they deemed a threat to their throne, including their own sons.

Killing Jesus
Stephen Moyer
(Photo : Stephen Moyer)

With this setting the stage for the book, it lays the tone for the timeline of Jesus' life. The movie skips all this back history and begins with King Herod's orders to kill all Jewish baby males under the age of two years old. It was revealed to him in a dream that a child would grow to be the King of the Jews.

His orders to terminate all the male babies of Israel failed as Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt. This is in contrast to the Biblical and even the book's account. In the Bible King Herod finds out about a king being born through the visit of the three wise men.

Unfortunately this tidbit of the movie is not the only thing that is lost in translation during the course of the film. There are many instances of the movie veering from the scriptures. Some of these changes are understandable, and some are questionable. Some of the liberties in the movie are surprising since the book for the most part follows the Bible's account relatively closely.

Skipping ahead in the movie a bit, audiences see Jesus as a grown up just before He is to start His ministry. We see Him wander over to the Jordan River to see His cousin John the Baptist preaching or "preparing the way" for the Messiah. John is stopped dead in his tracks when he sees Jesus walking through the crowd. He announces that Jesus is the Chosen One he has been preaching about this whole time.

It is then that Jesus acts as if He is confused about what John is saying. He questioned John asking him if he's sure about that. This is in stark contrast to the Bible's account. Jesus is aware of His miraculous birth from a virgin mother. The Bible also speaks of Jesus being about 12 years old in the temple preaching to the gathered Pharisees. Mary and Joseph were looking for Him and Jesus replies, "Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business? (Luke 2:49)." "Killing Jesus" the book spends a lot of time focused on that portion of scripture and even says the way Jesus said "My Father" was referring to God actually being His father. The movie dismisses that whole notion, and makes John the Baptist the person who awakens the spirit of Jesus.

From there the audience is shown how Jesus begins His ministry and starts gathering the 12 Disciples. There are things that happen in the following scenes that are a bit mixed or out of order on how they occur in the Bible, but these are forgivable due to posterity and moving the story along in a timely matter.

Although what we can see throughout the movie is a powerless Jesus. Jesus is called the Son of God and also the Son of Man, this movie focuses on the latter, but in a way that only shows the humanity of the Messiah. The movie is devoid of any miracles performed directly by Jesus that cannot be explained. For example, when Jesus enters the boat with Peter, He tells him to cast his nets out. All of sudden the nets are filled with so many fish the boat cannot contain it. Was it Jesus, or was it coincidence? The movie infers that it was Jesus, but it does not imply His power of say walking on water, raising Lazarus from dead, or even simply touching a leper and him becoming healed. Instead we are treated to Jesus ministering and cleaning the wounds of a leper with no healing seen.

This makes sense in the context of being a "historical Jesus," meaning it cannot be physically documented that these miracles happened other then what those around claim to have seen. However, then why show Peter slicing off the ear of one of the soldiers arresting Jesus. In the Bible, Jesus picks up the ear of the soldier and presses it back onto the man's head. In the movie, the guy is just missing an ear, and nothing else is mentioned. It is curious as to why the filmmakers choose to include that if the miracle was not involved in the story.

Another interesting choice for inclusion was Jesus casting a demon out of a boy; or did He? The Bible has Jesus addressing demons by their names and telling them to flee in the name of God. "Killing Jesus" shows Jesus talking to the boy directly without addressing the demon. The point of that part of scripture is to show there is power in the name of Jesus.

The "Killing Jesus" book does not focus too much on the miracles of Jesus but does address them throughout as stories that eyewitnesses tell. Again, the book stresses that Jesus knows He is one with God, and comes in His name without a doubt.

Some major events of Jesus' life are skipped such as feeding the 5,000, Lazarus being raised from the dead, and the transfiguration. The film shows an alternate take of Jesus turning the tables over at the temple. It paints Jesus as almost a rebellious leader that wants to overthrow Rome. It shows him angry and almost inciting a riot. The Bible is unclear on how angry and to what extent Jesus acted out His anger, so there may have been some liberties taken here.

Throughout the whole movie the priests of the Sanhedrin are seen lurking around wherever Jesus went to try to trip Him up or arrest Him for some sort of act against God. "Killing Jesus" did a great job of showing the constant headache Jesus provided the priests with, especially Caiaphas.

Killing Jesus
(Photo : National Geographic)

As the events that lead to Jesus' death unfold, the film seems to move about in different directions. The Sanhedrin begins to pressure Pontius Pilot about killing Jesus, saying He is inciting the fall of Rome. Caiaphas arranges Jesus' capture with Judas, and then the least inspired Last Supper of all time is shown. There is no mention of the blood and body being the wine and bread.

Jesus then goes to the garden and prays. Judas shows up and marks Jesus with a kiss letting the guards sent to arrest Him know whom it is they need to capture. From there Jesus is beaten up and tried before the Sanhedrin. He is then volleyed back and forth between Pontius Pilot and Antipas. Antipas' wife Herodias is given a lot of control in this movie. She is seen as the person who encourages her husband to try and get Jesus killed. Throughout the entire movie she sways almost every decision he makes.

Finally Pilot delivers the crucifixion sentence, but there is no mention of Barabbas, the criminal who was sanctioned to be crucified as well. In the Bible and in the book, Pilot brings the two to the crowd for the people to decide. Ultimately they pick Jesus, which is not seen at all.

"Killing Jesus" shows the torture, beatings, and lashing of the Son of God, and even shows Him walking through the city to Golgotha where the vertical beam of the cross is awaiting Him. The nails are driven through His wrists and feet as He is hoisted up to die. Historically speaking, Romans nailed the wrists and not the hands, as most people believe. The flesh of the hands is too weak to support body weight. "Killing Jesus" took special care to get this detail right, but fail to mention the two other men on the cross with Jesus, or the fact that Jesus cried out, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." They did however include, "It is finished."

Killing Jesus Photo
Photo of Killing Jesus |
(Photo : Video Screen Grab from Hollywood Reporter)
Photo of Killing Jesus

After Jesus is taken off the cross He is placed in the tomb. The Bible then says three days later the two Mary's, and Salome (not Herodias daughter) visited the tomb and saw that it was rolled away and Jesus was gone. He then appeared to them, and continued to appear for the next 40 days. Christ had risen from the dead just like He said. "Killing Jesus" shows the women, plus a few men showing up to an empty tomb, and then the movie ends with no further explanation.

Overall "Killing Jesus" did a great job of setting the scene and casting the right people for the roles. Jesus was played by a Middle Eastern man, which added to the feel of the movie rather than the typical almost surfer looking Jesus. They nailed the attention to detail as far as what was going on in the scenes and bringing the viewer into the screen.

Where the movie missed the mark was during key moments in the Jesus narrative. The film was almost completely devoid of any supernatural elements in it. The understanding is it focuses on the historical aspect, which would be forgivable, had the filmmakers not taken liberties on certain information.

The positive that can be taken away from this movie is that it opens up dialogue about Jesus and the resurrection story. With the special airing on National Geographic, potentially millions of people will view the greatest story ever told. For those who may not believe in the supernatural or the power of God, this movie is perfect for them to watch as it will inject a seed of the gospel into them. Perhaps it will open up their eyes and make them eager to search for more. For the already Christian, they may easily dismiss this movie or be angered at some of the film directions used.

The "Killing Jesus" book does a fairly good job of lining up with the Biblical text and acts as a great companion to the Gospels. "Killing Jesus" the film is a good stepping stone into the story of salvation.

Be sure to tune into "Killing Jesus" on Sunday March 29 at 8 p.m. EST on National Geographic.

National Geographic | 'Killing Jesus' - Exclusive Clip | BREATHEcast.com (HD)