This mystery is the heart of the new Columbia Pictures movie Risen — an investigation into the disappearance of Christ’s body by a high-ranking Roman tribune (general).
Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) sends Tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) to finish off the Crucifixion and make sure Yeshua (Jesus) is dead. At Pilate’s instruction, Clavius sets Roman guards on the tomb and adds the official seal of Rome, intending to prevent theft of the body by Yeshua’s followers.
When rumors persist that Yeshua has risen from the dead, Pilate becomes anxious over the possible resulting civil unrest due to an impending visit by Tiberius Caesar. He charges Clavius with investigating the disappearance and finding the missing body asap to quell the turmoil and threatened uprising over a risen Messiah. Clavius and his aide Lucius (Tom Felton) strive to solve the mystery of what happened to Jesus’ body following the Crucifixion.
The movie is an unusual approach to the greatest event of history, an event that changed the world forever. It tells the story of the Resurrection from the perspective of the unbelieving Roman Tribune Clavius as he tries to uncover what he thinks is a hoax. It’s like a detective story as Clavius works to discover the truth about the missing body.
Members of Jesus’ inner circle enter the movie primarily as subjects of Clavius’ interrogation. Mary Magdalene, Bartholomew, and Peter have the main roles among Jesus’ followers.
Here is a trailer for Risen, the movie. This is not a routine Sunday School movie; it is very gripping and realistic with startling violence.
Is the Movie Biblically Accurate?
Yes, it is Biblically accurate, with a few minor exceptions relating to timing and location which most viewers won’t even notice. Biblical history is fleshed out with historical fiction to make a fascinating story for the movie that is generally true to Scripture. It strongly affirms that Jesus of Nazareth actually did physically rise from the dead.
One disagreement I have with Risen is that it portrays Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. She is never described so in the Bible, whereas Scripture does not hesitate to record the sexual sins of many other heroes. It only says that Jesus cast out seven demons from her and depicts her as a faithful disciple (Luke 8:1-3). For my arguments against her being a woman of ill repute, see Mary Magdalene, Lady or Tramp?.
Mary Magdalene was an important figure in the Gospels. She was a reliable and faithful witness to the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth 2,000 years ago. See Mary Magdalene & the Resurrection for how Mary Magdalene contributes to the veracity of the Resurrection accounts.
Another small disagreement was about the clownish Roman guards for the tomb. There would have been at least 4 guards, not two, and they would have been serious soldiers, not foolish goons.
Do I Recommend the Movie?
Should you spend your hard-earned money to buy tickets to this Hollywood movie?
Yes. It’s worth the money. It’s a new approach to telling the story of the most significant events of history. The story is gripping, settings and costumes are authentic, characters are believable. It’s one of the best Biblical movies I’ve ever seen. It delivers a superb portrayal of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
Historically, it’s an accurate presentation of the times, including the political relationship between ancient Rome and Israel.
The extreme barbarity and horror of a Roman crucifixion come through very well. Early in the movie Clavius leads his troops in a violent battle against the Barabbas-led Jewish rebels. Graves are opened and decaying corpses appear as Clavius searches for the missing body of Jesus.
Such violence, brutality, and gore depicted in the movie might disturb children under 12. For myself, I would take them and just cover their eyes when necessary, because they would benefit from most of the movie.
My wife and I enjoyed Risen very much. I would recommend it for Christians and non-Christians alike. If possible, take unbelievers with you. It can stir their hearts and prompt them to look into the Resurrection more thoroughly. The movie comes down solidly on the side of an authentic resurrection.
Tom Felton, who plays Clavius’ aide Lucius, said the movie “definitely changed me” in an interview with The Movie Times. Felton said he moved from being “an out-and-out atheist” to “an indecisive agnostic.”
Is There Real Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ?
The movie focuses on two areas of evidence: the empty tomb and the eyewitnesses. Only the Bible explains both these two key facts: the missing body and the eyewitnesses who said they saw Him alive. The explanation is that Jesus actually physically rose from the dead.
Did the disciples steal the body while the guards slept? This is what the Roman guards claimed as urged by the Jewish leaders who promised protection and money (Matthew 28:11-15). But how would the guards know who stole the body if they were asleep? Besides, Roman soldiers didn’t fall asleep on the job. They had a strong incentive to keep each other awake, because the penalty for sleeping was death.
The Gospel in the Movie Risen
The movie shows the Crucifixion and burial of Yeshua and then focuses on Clavius’ investigation into the missing body after the Resurrection and the development of his understanding of what happened.
Why is the death of Christ essential to the Gospel? It is by Christ’s death that God’s wrath is turned away from sinners who trust Christ (Romans 3:21-26).
Why is the Resurrection essential to the Gospel? Because it vindicated Christ’s claim to be the Son of God. Because it validated the efficacy of His sacrifice for sin — if the Resurrection did not occur, then we are still in our sins and subject to God’s wrath and judgment. Because it displayed Christ’s victory over death. (Romans 1:4; 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:17-19,21-22)
Intriguingly, the Apostle Paul used Genesis to explain why Jesus died and the significance of His resurrection. Paul knew Genesis was a firm foundation for his theological explanation of the Gospel. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22,45-49)
Paul’s “died…buried…raised” sequence of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 clearly teaches the Resurrection was literal and physical. The body that died by public execution was the same body that was buried by Joseph and Nicodemus. This same physical body that was buried is what Paul says was raised. This refutes the popular notion that the Resurrection was merely “spiritual” (whatever that means).
The significance of the burial is that it proved His actual death. Covered with 100 pounds of aromatic spices and bound head to toe in linen wrappings, Jesus was buried by two prominent members of the Jewish Sanhedrin: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, called “the teacher of Israel” by Jesus. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and other Galilean women witnessed the burial in Joseph’s own tomb. The tomb was closed with a massive stone, officially sealed, and guarded by soldiers.
Jesus’ death was attested by both friends and enemies, including battle-hardened Roman soldiers who knew death when they saw it. In all history, these contemporaries are the people best qualified to evaluate whether Jesus actually died or not. At the time nobody had even the slightest doubt that He was dead. It was an accepted fact confirmed by the burial.
The significance of Jesus’ appearances to eyewitnesses is that they verified the Resurrection. In all, Scripture records at least 11 different appearances after the Resurrection, in at least 9 geographical locations spread over 150 miles. They began 3 days after the Crucifixion in Jerusalem, where He was crucified and buried. Jesus appeared to individuals, to groups, and even to a crowd of over 500. These were extended daylight interactions, not brief glimpses. Meals were shared, conversations developed, activities enjoyed. From personal encounters with the risen Christ, hundreds of people in all walks of life knew Jesus rose from the dead.
The tomb was empty. The disciples began preaching the Resurrection there in Jerusalem. Their message could not have been sustained for even an hour unless all parties accepted the empty tomb as fact. All it would take to extinguish Christianity at its inception would be for the Sanhedrin to look in the tomb and produce the body. How hard could it be to find the body from a public execution, buried by Jewish leaders before witnesses in a government-guarded tomb? This they could not do, because it was not there.
The disciples changed from craven cowards evading authorities before the Resurrection to bold witnesses defying government suppression afterwards. Discouraged, dejected, despairing men were suddenly energized to ignite a revolution which encircled the globe; 2,000 years later it still impacts millions.
What so profoundly transformed them? These men, Jesus’ closest confidants, could not have been fooled about the Resurrection. They knew whether Jesus had been raised. Most died for their certainty that Jesus rose from the dead. Men do not die for what they think may be false. Remember how fast the Watergate conspiracy fell apart, everyone scrambling to save his skin.
Some object, “It’s scientifically impossible to rise from the dead!” Generally, yes, resurrection is highly unlikely. But Jesus was no ordinary man. Consider His words predicting death and resurrection. Consider His claims to be God and to be the Truth. Consider His faultless character and His miracles. Then the presumption switches from “unlikely” to “likely.” The real question is not, “Was it possible for Jesus to rise from the dead?” The real question is, “Was it possible for Jesus to remain dead?” Scripture says, “God raised Him up…since it was impossible for death to hold Him.” (Acts 2:24)
The reason many think “Impossible!” about the Resurrection instead of “Impossible!” about Non-Resurrection is that people evaluate evidence with sin-clouded minds. Worldview and personal morality determine explanations of Resurrection evidence, just as they determine interpretations of scientific evidence about origins. Resurrection was not what was impossible. Non-Resurrection was impossible. Christians should challenge skeptics to defend Non-Resurrection, instead of accepting the burden of proof to defend the Resurrection.
Grounded in History
The Christian faith is firmly grounded in history. The central events of the Christian faith, Christ’s Crucifixion and His bodily Resurrection, are well-attested facts of history that happened on this earth in the city of Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago. This authenticity is crucial, for if either event did not happen, then Christianity is false and we are still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). The Gospel by which we are saved is bedrocked on actual historical events.
Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also.” (John 14:19) True hope for the future is grounded on the Resurrection.
The Wager Everyone Makes
One key line from Clavius in the movie is when he is asked, “What frightens you?” Now Clavius is a high-ranking Roman officer, trained for battle and leadership, a veteran of numerous violent battles. Clavius, who worships Mars, the Roman god of war, gives a stunning answer about what frightens him: “Being wrong. Wagering eternity on it.”
Clavius is not the only one making such a wager. Every single human being wagers his eternal destiny on what he decides about Jesus of Nazareth. Is there a God or not? Did Jesus rise from the dead? Your answers to these questions determine your eternity. Choose wisely.
Questions to Ponder
- Do you have a Clavius in your life — an unbeliever willing to take an honest look at the evidence for the Resurrection?
- How would you explain the article’s statement, “Non-resurrection was impossible” to a friend or relative?
Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Read my other Movie Reviews:
The Genesis Code (with video)
Marilyn Monroe and the Age of the Earth
Mystery of Noah’s Flood (with videos)
God’s Not Dead, the Movie (with videos)
Noah, the Movie (with videos)
Exodus, the Movie (with video)
1. Patterns of Evidence: Exodus – Did It Happen?
2. Patterns of Evidence: Exodus – Facing the Facts (with video)
3. Patterns of Evidence: Exodus – The Debate
4. Patterns of Evidence: What Did Jesus Think?
5. Patterns of Evidence: Exodus – Does It Matter?
Read the next movie review:
Is Genesis History? The Movie (with video)
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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday February 24, 2016 A.D.
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. And so she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and they were going to the tomb. And the two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter, and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. Simon Peter therefore also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he beheld the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb entered then also, and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. (John 20:1-9 NASB)