Theology 101

A Jesus That Would Make Thomas Jefferson Proud

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On Good Friday I watched Killing Jesus, a television movie based on Bill O’Reilly’s book by the same name. It was worse than I anticipated.

The historical representation of Jesus’s life, minus the supernatural elements, was an attempt to appeal to both religious and non-religious audiences. Jesus was presented as a controversial rabbi/preacher who upset the political and social order in Roman-controlled Judea and had to be put to death.

This cardboard depiction is unhistorical.

The only detailed historical information we have on Jesus’s life is found in the Gospels. The producers rewrote the original source material, editing out the pieces they found “unnecessary.”

This is not the first time this has been done.

Thomas Jefferson constructed his own version of the Bible, titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Jefferson cut and pasted numerous sections from the New Testament, excising all miracles, Jesus’s divinity, and most mentions of the supernatural – including the resurrection.

Jefferson’s “bible” is much closer to what we see in Killing Jesus than the original, historical text. A would-be Messiah becomes a nice guy who says some nice things, saves an adulterous woman from being stoned, and doesn’t seem to be quite sure what he is until Simon Peter informs him that he is divine.

The movie reminded me of what C.S. Lewis famously argues in Mere Christianity, sometimes called the “Lewis trilemma”: The one thing people cannot say about Jesus Christ is that he was a great moral teacher but not the Son of God.

Lewis writes,

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell…. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.

The empty tomb is shown at the end of Killing Jesus, but even that is not proof of the resurrection. Even Muslims believe Jesus was crucified and the tomb was empty, but they reject the resurrection.

The Christian’s hope is in the resurrection, both in the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection and our future resurrection. It is this great hope that has emboldened Christians throughout the centuries to live lives that make a difference in the world by bringing about flourishing in their families, their communities, their churches and their vocations.

As Charles Wesley wrote over 275 years ago (and many of us sang on Sunday):

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!/Foll’wing our exalted Head, Alleluia!/Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!/Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

This truth about the resurrection leads the Apostle Paul to write:

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17-19).

He has risen. He has risen indeed, and we too will rise again on the last day.

Between today and that future glorious day we work in the power of the resurrection, for we are those who are not to be pitied. Our present work and life are full of meaning because we know our future in Christ is sure. This is why we, in the present, give ourselves “fully to the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

As Christians, everything we do in the present through our work will be part of God’s eventual Kingdom. As NT Wright explains:

The resurrection means everything you’ve done in the present through your body – works of justice and mercy and love and hope – somehow, in ways we don’t understand, will be part of God’s new creation.

Don’t waste your time watching Killing Jesus. As is true with most movies, the book was better…the original book that is – the Bible.

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  • Donna

    I felt the exact same way you wrote. I was shocked at what they left out and if it was a matter of time, they used time for things that weren’t needing at all. It was just all wrong to anyone knowing the 3 Gospels. I was very disappointed. If Bill really does write all these books himself, he writes them fast.

    • PeterKushkowski

      We can’t expect much more of Bill O’Reilly who, on his popular FNC TV program, refers to Jesus as “a philosopher”?

  • PeterKushkowski

    What can one expect of Bill O’Reilly who, on his popular FNC TV program, refers to Jesus as “a philosopher”?

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