Christians, and many non-Christians, worldwide know the course of events during Holy Week that lead to Jesus’ death: the Last Supper, Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest, and the trial before Pilate and Herod that leads to Jesus being condemned as guilty (Luke 22:7-71, Luke 23). The recently released film Risen takes advantage of this being a well-known story, skips over Jesus’ capture and trial, and begins with what many people in 33 AD thought was the end: His crucifixion. However, the Jewish priests and Roman higher-ups treat this convicted Man and His death with caution. They know He (referred to as “Yeshua” (Cliff Curtis)) had developed quite a following before his imprisonment, and His radical followers just might steal His corpse in an attempt to fulfill His promise to rise from the dead.
To avoid the brouhaha that the resurrection of the Messiah would cause (especially on the eve of a visit from the emperor!), a Roman Tribune named Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is charged by Pilate (Peter Firth) to prevent the body to be stolen. Clavius is present at the crucifixion to control the crowd. He gazes into Yeshua’s face fixed in death, and orders His legs not to be broken. Later, Clavius assists his fellow Romans as the stone is rolled in front of Yeshua’s tomb and is bound with ropes and seals. He leaves two guards (in hindsight, rather incompetent guards) at the tomb and assumes his work is done.
Of course, we know what happens: As the sun rises on the third day following Yeshua’s death, news spreads that the body is gone! The ropes holding the stone burst apart, and the heavy stone was flung from the tomb’s entrance. Convinced that a rational explanation and a physical body will end any rumors of a resurrection, the Jewish leaders tell the tombs guards what to say when questioned, and Pilate commands Clavius to provide a body as evidence. Clavius and his assistant Lucius (Tom Felton) go on a manhunt that includes Biblical figures such as Nicodemus and Mary Magdalene. Clavius’ hunt is frustrated, however, when a convincing corpse cannot be found, and he hears affirmations of Yeshua being more than a mere man.
At last, as Clavius is tracking down Yeshua’s disciples, he barges in on the whole gang, including Yeshua Himself, sharing a meal in happy fellowship. It took me a moment to realize Yeshua was among them, and I felt a happy thrill of amazement as flashbacks to Yeshua’s dejected figure on the cross were contrasted to the scene of the smiling Son of God surrounded by his followers. Find Yeshua raised from the dead begins the slow erosion of Clavius’ disbelief and allegiances. As he follows the Disciples from Jerusalem to Galilee, he begins to understand what would make men abandon worldly position and possession so they could be with the Messiah.
The film portrays Jerusalem in 33 AD with acceptable accuracy (I’m no history buff, but at least I wasn’t rolling my eyes at, for example, sliced Wonder Bread being shared by the disciples). The grittier parts are harsh but not excessively gory. The instruments of execution used during the crucifixion tear at the heart: they are reminders of the pain and suffering Jesus endured as He died for our sins. The dusty, sandy landscape makes the story of the woman at the well (John 4:7-14) more poignant: People in this time and region were constantly fetching water for drinking and washing, but Jesus told the woman that acceptance of Him would quench her internal thirst and she would never need to draw water to sate it again.
I enjoyed the film overall. There were no uproarious moments, but some lines and scenes made me smile and chuckle, such as the tension between the Jewish and Roman leaders, and the gushing, bubbling testimony given by Bartholomew (Stephen Hagan). However, near the end, whether the filmmakers intended it or not, theamazement of the disciples and Clavius at Yeshua’s resurrection seems already stinted. Clavius asks the disciples why they would follow Yeshua. He then witnesses Yeshua perform a miracle for an outcast of society, and a disciple says, “That’s why.” But Clavius and the disciples respond to the miracle with little more than wry smiles. Oh, yes, another miracle. Ho-hum. Well, it’s time to repair nets. Reading the same Bible verses over and over, and having the same routine every Sunday can take away the amazement Christians should have in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We should be inspired to apply our knowledge of Jesus in new and interesting ways that keep our devotion to Him alive. Maybe one way to do this would be to invite a non-Christian friend to see Risen.