Risen is the story of a Roman soldier named Clavius (played by Joseph Fiennes) who has been given the task of tracking down the body of Jesus after it disappears from the tomb where it was placed after his crucifixion. I appreciate the symbolism of the search for Jesus.
The film takes you into the Roman world. The pressure is high in Jerusalem as there is the threat of insurrection against the empire. People believing in a resurrected Messiah could bring that to a tipping point. As Clavius searches for the apostles and interviews people in the hope of finding Jesus’ body, it felt somewhat like an episode of Law and Order.
It was interesting to think of what people would have been saying in the days after the crucifixion of Christ.
In the Bible, it is an angry mob who demands that Jesus be crucified. And he was, and he was buried. What would those who opposed him say on the news of the empty tomb?
It’s easy to take for granted that we know the story, almost 2,000 years later. But what would you make of an empty tomb? Surely there would be a more likely reason than that someone had actually risen from the dead. To this point, Clavius assumes that Jesus is dead. He witnessed it! In the movie, the Sanhedrin, who were a governing council of the Jews in the city suggest that the body was taken by the apostles to put forth the myth that he had risen from the dead.
This is something that people have speculated throughout the history of the Christian Church. That Jesus didn’t really die and rise but that it’s just what his apostles said. What’s interesting about that is that as we study history and the lives of the apostles, all of them (except for John) ended up being martyred for their faith. As did many early leaders in the church. And none of them ever recanted. As Josh McDowell has asked, who would die for a lie?
You also get an interesting look at the apostles after the resurrection. At one point, Bartholomew (Stephen Hagan) talks of how Jesus had said he would die and raise, but admits that none of them really believed it.
In the four gospels, given that the apostles all abandon Jesus during his passion, that seems to have been true. In the gospels, the apostles do show faith, but they also never quite grasp the full magnitude of who Jesus is under after the resurrection. They realize that he’s not simply a prophet or a great teacher. He is God on earth.
My favorite thing about this movie was that it makes you an eyewitness to the most important event in human history. It puts you in the shoes of someone outside the inner circle of Jesus. I think any Christian has times where you imagine what it would have been like to look at the cross and see Jesus being crucified, or to have heard his scars after his resurrection, to have heard the teaching. In this movie, we all get to be Clavius, and to experience this.
It shakes everything Clavius has ever believed. He’s a pagan. A pagan who gave the order for Jesus to be stabbed in the heart to speed up the crucifixion.
I felt that the screenplay was good and that there were some really powerful lines in the film. I felt like Fiennes really captured the internal crisis as he’s trying to make sense of all he’s seen. The first part of the movie was a bit slow as Clavius does his interviews.
It’s my hope that this movie will give people much to think about in terms of the historicity of the death and resurrection of Jesus. And with that understanding, what do you do with him? Do you doubt his historicity? Or doubt his death or doubt the accounts? Or like a group of men almost two thousand years ago, do you see Jesus for who he really is? He’s the God who came into the world to save the world from sin. The God who died for his people and was raised to the life that we can all enjoy with him through faith in him.