Here we go again. When the blockbuster movie Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson was released in 2004, many evangelical leaders hailed it as “perhaps the best outreach opportunity in 2,000 years!”
Last weekend, another movie, Risen, was released, and we see the same excited response from most evangelical pastors and leaders. For instance, Eric Metaxas of Christianpost.com writes, “I think it will challenge audiences to confront, with Clavius, the question that defies doubters to this day: If Jesus is dead, then where is the body? Go see “Risen.” And take some unbelieving friends with you.”
But here are five reasons why I do not recommend movies about Jesus, and will not waste my time and money to take my unbelieving friends to see Risen.
First, it is unbiblical because, well, it is unbiblical. Movies about Bible characters and events are all fictional accounts of historical characters and events. Human beings are so naturally curious – and sinful – that we want to fill in the blanks, including those in Scriptures. But filling the blanks in the Bible is a violation of God’s prohibition, “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you” (Deu 4:2; Rev 22:18-19). This warning should strike fear in our hearts. So it is best to remember this principle,“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deu 29:29).
Second, a sinner is saved not by movies and entertainment, but by the preaching of the true gospel. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). The main reason why there is so much entertainment in many churches today is because they demean the true preaching of the Word. Instead of preaching, churches use movies and other gimmicks and innovations, in violation of the Second Commandment.
Third, the Second Commandment forbids the making of images of God. It not only forbids unauthorized worship and worship of other gods, but also prohibits making any representation of any of the three Persons of the Godhead (Deu 4:15-19; Acts 17:29; Rom 1:21-23, 25). The two parts of the Second Commandment cannot be separated, for the worship of false gods takes root in the sinful mind, then sprouts as the fashioning of that mental image into a tangible image, and finally matures into worship of that corporeal image. It is extremely difficult, if not utterly impossible, to separate the worship of God from the worship of the idol representing God.
Fourth, the doctrine of the two natures of Christ is not a warrant to make images of Christ without violating the Second Commandment. Many people who use images of Christ say that since Christ is fully human, he can be represented by an image. But the Chalcedonian Creed of the 4th century says that Christ’s divine and human natures must not be “separated, divided, changed, or confused.” If we then portray Christ in a picture or image, we separate, divide, change, or confuse his two natures.
What picture can depict Christ’s glory, majesty, and almighty power as God the Son? The apostle John says, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Even in his humanity, Jesus possesses the glory of the Father, a glory that they have seen. Paul says, “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19). Is it possible for a picture of Christ to show the glory and fullness of an almighty, perfectly holy, and infinite God dwelling in him? So, most probably, this is the reason why there is no surviving authentic pictures of Jesus made by the apostles and disciples who saw Christ while he walked on earth.
Moreover, since the Scriptures nowhere describe the physical appearance of Jesus, the manner in which he is portrayed in images is left completely on the impulse and agenda of the artist. How often do visual representations distort what we the Bible actually says! Images have influenced our image of Jesus as a tall, handsome, white man with long hair, looking like Kenny Loggins. (Or does Jesus look like Joseph Fiennes?) How did people come about thinking that Adam and Eve ate an apple in the Garden of Eden? Didn’t Jesus get immersed in the Jordan River in his baptism? So because of the absence of any physical description or any authentic image of Jesus, all visual representations of Jesus in images are unavoidably false, and therefore our mental images of him are also false.
Fifth, this present age is an age of not seeing Jesus. It is an age of Christ’s invisible presence in the Spirit. In this age, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). It is a temporary age of Word-centered spirituality of hope and faith. Christians have to wait patiently for the eternal age to come. While waiting, we are to commune with Christ in the “visible Word,” the bread and wine of the Supper, and the water of baptism.
But the age to come is the age in which the Christian will see Jesus face to face in the fullness of his divine glory (1 John 3:2; Rev 22:4). For now, the believer possesses only the hope of the “beatific vision” – seeing the glorified Jesus in the age to come, “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8:24-25; 1Pet 1:8). And when that last day of this age finally comes, Jesus will welcome us with these words, “Blessed are you who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).