Overall, considering the time constraints, I think they did a good job with the Jesus episode of this miniseries. I saw that they weaved many things together to present as much information about Jesus as possible within the allotted time. The only downside is that the time constraint has strained out a lot of the depth and detail. Jesus is three or four times more awesome in the gospels than in the miniseries. If you are a non-believer and you enjoyed the episode (I did enjoy it), then pick up an actual Bible, and you will have a very special, very awesome treat.
When the episode begins, Jesus already has all of his disciples, one of them being Mary Magdalene. The only two who Jesus is shown receiving are Peter in the previous episode and Mathew who appears later. The majority of the disciples lack speaking lines, and the majority appear to have no personality. Only Peter, Thomas, Mary, Mathew, and Judas have speaking lines.
Jesus heals the paralytic (Mathew 9:1-7), which in the actual Bible is the final miracle that convinces Mathew to seek Jesus for repentance. The episode proceeds a little differently. An unnamed Pharisee pursues Jesus and stalks him toward the tax collectors. The episode takes a parable from near the end of Luke's gospel and weaves it much earlier into the story of Mathew's repentance. Jesus tells the parable of the praying Pharisee and Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) in which the Pharisee is so arrogant in his own self-righteousness that he praises God for not making him a sinner. Mathew finishes the parable "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" and becomes a disciple.
In the actual Bible, Mathew repents and then invites Jesus over to his house for a party to celebrate his discipleship. Jesus brought over His other disciples at that time to join in the festivity (Mathew 9:10). When the Pharisees questioned why He ate with sinners, He replied:
"Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Mathew 9:12-13)
The last sentence is present in the episode but not in a party. In the episode, Jesus says it to explain to Mathew why He accepts him as a disciple.
Absent from the episode are the disciples who give depth and complexity to their relationships as well as to Jesus's ministry. Peter has a brother named Andrew who was absent from the episode. Andrew was originally a disciple of John the Baptist, and he appears to be the most religious and spiritually-inquisitive of the two brothers (John 1:35-41). So, it is intriguing that Jesus would prefer Peter instead of Andrew who was already searching for spiritual answers. Then again, Andrew gave Peter quite a lot of trouble and headaches.
Also absent from the episode were James and John, the two sons of Zebedee. I tend to imagine them as the youngest disciples, probably teenagers. These two always acted brash and impulsive and hot-headed, needing their mother to intercede on their selfish interests. Jesus scolded them on many occasions, and Jesus even gave them the nickname "Sons of Thunder" (Mark 3:17) Now, try figuring that one out.
Also absent from the episode is disciple Philip who had a supporting role in the gospels. Philip's most significant act is the baptism of an eunuch, which indicates the beginning of the Ethiopian Orthodox church (Acts 8:26-40) that quite possibly predates the church in Rome.
Let's see. Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip... that is five. There are a total of twelve disciples who become Apostles. Only Peter, Thomas, Judas, and Mathew are mentioned. So, eight disciples/Apostles are excluded from the miniseries.
The change that makes the least amount of sense - in other words the most nonsense dialogue - is the added dialogue when Jesus pardons the adulteress (John 8:1-12) In the episode, He challenges the Pharisees: "I'll give my stone to the first man who tells me he never sinned." That change makes absolutely no sense. It is only one line. Why not stay with the original line from scripture?
"He who is without sin among you, let him through the first stone." (John 8:7)
Still just one line, and it is the original text! I do not understand why they changed it. The original sentence is also more authoritative, more assertive and more challenging. It makes no sense to change it.
I like some of the added touches to the Feeding the of the 5000. Jesus bent down over empty basket and praised God for the bounty. All the disciples think He is crazy. Jesus then lifted up the basket. Here, they inserted one verse from a much longer sermon.
"Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Mathew 6:26)
Only, I think they added the line "how much more will He give to you?" Crowd chants 'Messiah' Jesus walks off and leaves the disciples helpless and alone among the crowd. I really hated that part of the episode: Jesus's reaction. I saw it as wimping out.
I understand that they did this to indicate that Jesus wanted to avoid going public about being the Messiah until the proper time. Repeatedly throughout the gospels, Jesus silences people who want to proclaim Him as the Messiah. This makes Him completely different from all other claimants. All other people who claimed to be some sort of Messiah or Savior did so during their lifetimes and were quick to build followings around their claims. Only after His death and Resurrection, Jesus gave the command to His Apostles to proclaim Him as the Messiah and Savior of the world. Until after His resurrection, Jesus seemed to be a miraculous Rabbi. This alone makes Him completely different from any other figure.
In the episode, they try to cover this by having Him abandon His disciples in the midst of a rejoicing crowd. Later, His disciples are peeved at Him for this. I think it was a poor decision on the series designers' part, but considering the time constraint, I do not know what else they could do. Even so, this was the worst part of the episode and did the biggest disservice to our Lord and Savior.
Disciple: they call you Messiah
Another Disciple: but you seem to ignore them
Jesus: who do you think I am?
Although Mary Magdalene is a disciple, the episode portrays her as one of the twelve, just "one of the guys" who would become an Apostle. In the episode, she helps them prepare the boat and argues with Judas who thinks the Messiah would be a warrior, not a healer. Although she is a disciple, the episode gives a false indication of what her future role or purpose would be. Furthermore, the episode also excluded Jesus's other two female disciples.
There were at least three female disciples traveling with Jesus.
"Now it name to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tiding of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities - Mary called Magdalene out of whom came seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna (Luke 8:1-3).
Joanna the wife of Chuza is a really intriguing character, much more intriguing than Mary Magdalene. Just from that one verse alone, readers, we can learn a lot about Joanna and her personality. At that time, women were supposed to stay with their husbands to serve and obey their husbands and to tend to their husband's every needs. Joanna left her husband Chuza to become a disciple and to travel endlessly from town to town. Joanna took authority of her own life to serve God. And her husband was a steward of Herod! All Mary Magdalene did was be demon-possessed. Joanna is awesome.
I also enjoyed the scene of Jesus walking on water in the episode. It follows Mathew's recollection of the event (Mathew 14:26-31) but includes the line to Peter "you need to be strong." Also, in the actual Bible, Peter was distracted by the wind; in the episode, he was distracted by lightning. In the actual Bible, Peter was able to cry out for help; in the episode, he plunged completely and immediately into the water.
The interesting thing is that Mary Magdalene was already a disciple in the episode. In scripture, she joined Him at some point after this incident.
"And He sent away the multitude, got into the boat, and came to the region of Magdala." (Mathew 15:39)
Jesus's entry into Jerusalem weaves together three or four different passages from scripture into the episode. Even though I liked how they weaved it together, here I really noticed how the time constraints strained away the depth and detail. Perhaps I enjoyed it because I always understood everything that was going on within the scripture.
The Pharisees are being sharply and harshly criticized for their strict adherence to the Law. Jesus never condemns the Law and approves of the Law, yet in His mercy, He tells the sinners, "Go and sin no more." The whole depth and complexity of condemnation, self-righteous arrogance, sinning, and repentance are completely lacking from the episode. And in today's culture, this is definitely something people need to understand. Despite everyone's best efforts, this falls flat due to lack of depth and space.
This episode's portrayal of Pontius Pilate is the most ruthless, violent, and brutal portrayal that I have ever seen. I actually like it for something different. On the other hand, this portrayal of Caiaphas is the most sympathetic portrayal. Although Caiaphas is still evil, he is noticeably less so than Pilate.
Caiaphas's primary concerns are avoiding a disturbance at Passover and sparing the people from another massacre by the Romans. More terrified of men than of God, he places too much value in the thoughts of men and gives little consideration, zero faith, to God. Caiaphas convinces Judas that betraying Jesus will save their people from Roman retaliation and from extinction.
Judas: 'what is in it for me?'
All Christians can and should agree that when He went to sit at the right hand of God the Father after His resurrection, Jesus is omniscience, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Before His death and resurrection, during His earthly ministry is subject to interpretation and debate.
When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.
And suddenly, a voice came from heaven, saying "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased." (Mathew 3:16-17)
Holy Spirit and Spirit of God are the same thing (Luke 3:22), and Spirit of God is the term most often used in the Old Testament. That Jesus needed the Holy Spirit to tell Him this indicates that He did not have omniscience during His earthly ministry.
In the episode, He needed special revelations from God the Father to know what will happen in the future. I do not mind this part, but how they portrayed the receiving of these revelations bothers me. In the episode Yahweh who is God the Father seemed to give knowledge to His Son, suddenly and unexpectedly, right at the last moment. This was no time for Jesus to adjust or to prepare Himself for what Yahweh had planned for Him.
In scripture, Jesus always knew what His Father had planned. Because of this knowledge, He waited until after His resurrection to be proclaimed openly as the Messiah to the public. Three times in scripture, He sought to prepare His disciples for His crucifixion and resurrection. The first time, Peter took Him aside and told Him that He was crazy (Mark 8:32).
Overall, I did like what they did within the time constraints. However, the time constraints also provided the biggest flaws for the episode - lack of depth, lack of characterization, etc. The primary goal with these reviews is to educate people about what is in the actual Bible. I hope that the miniseries will intrigue people enough that they will desire to learn more about scripture and will come closer to Christ. Every Christian should utilize this great opportunity to deliver the good news.