I have always loved The Last Temptation of Christ by Martin Scorsese. I think I love and appreciate it the most, because it’s the most human portrayal of Jesus I’ve ever seen anywhere. Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of Him seems so relatable. He struggles with God’s plan for Him. He agonizes over things. He doubts. He goes through periods where we see Him as extraordinarily human, which He is. But at the end of the day, He overcomes those doubts and temptations, and takes our place on the Cross.
I can understand why the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, and many Evangelical Christians got all worked up over the movie, though. People think a movie like this diminishes the God/Man nature of Jesus. And it’s scandalous to some to imagine Jesus having a wife and children, even though those scenes are a “what if” scenario taking place in Jesus’ mind as He hangs on the Cross. But I think The Last Temptation of Christ makes Jesus’ sacrifice all the more beautiful because it shows several things:
- Jesus is human like we are. He lived with the trials and tribulations of daily life as a human just as we do. Which means He loves us and truly understands our human struggles. So we can go to Him when we are at our lowest and most discouraged, knowing He was there too at one point.
- It shows the humanity of Jesus in a way that Scripture might not. People often might see a situation in the Bible like the Agony in the Garden the night before Jesus’ Crucifixion, yet if they’ve seen it or read it so many times, it might lose its meaning and power. Especially if people go through the motions. But when there’s a whole movie that shows Jesus struggling to realize the ultimate plan God has for Him, everything draws our focus back to exactly what He went through while He was here on Earth.
- The movie shows a scenario where Jesus DOESN’T die on the Cross. I always find it interesting as a sort of “alternate history” type of thing. But more importantly, it shows what would have happened if He hadn’t sacrificed Himself for us. Take a look at the video below. Powerful stuff!
I think we are often guilty of just seeing Jesus as God incarnate, which He is. But when we see Him as only God or only as a man, we get things confused. Sometimes in our minds He’s merely a flawed human and failed messiah. Or He’s a rigid, unfeeling God who doesn’t even remotely understand the struggle and pain that sometimes comes with being human. But when we accept that Jesus is both God and a flesh and blood man, this portrayal becomes one of the most powerful and beautiful things ever!
I find this movie fitting as we approach Palm Sunday this upcoming weekend. Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Jesus’ life on Earth. On Palm Sunday, Jesus returned to Jerusalem and was hailed by huge, adoring crowds…knowing full well these same people who were shouting His praises and laying rugs and blankets before Him that day, would be howling for His blood five days later at Golgotha.
If He’s as human as we think, I’m sure part of Jesus wanted to avoid the inevitable. I’m sure part of Him however big or small, wanted to hide out and avoid going to Jerusalem. But He avoided that temptation, and took our place. He paid the ultimate price. He was made our scapegoat. And afterwards, God glorified Him by raising Him from the dead on Easter Sunday!
I encourage everyone to see the Last Temptation of Christ if they haven’t watched it before. If you’re someone like me who struggles, despairs and doubts often, it is one of the most comforting things ever. Jesus loves you more than you can ever possibly know. Whether you know Him, or believe in Him or not. He knows where you hurt, sin and fail. He knows where you struggle and doubt with life. He knows your thoughts, and the deepest desires of your heart, and wants to be an active part of your life. All you need to do is ask Him to be part of it. He is waiting for you with open arms 🙂
There’s one warning I have for people though: Do not go into watching The Last Temptation of Christ with a closed mind. Do not hold onto your preconceived notions of Jesus while you watch this movie. Trying to fit Jesus into what we think He should be or is, will not work here. But if you can keep an open mind and heart, I promise you it will be one of the most powerful and moving films you will ever see!