Of all we know about Jesus’ life from Scripture and scholarship, there still remains one, gaping hole in the story of His life: His childhood.
But a new movie to be released in theaters this Friday, March 11, speculates what it might have been like to grow up both God and man, and WND obtained an early screener of the film to review.
The movie, “The Young Messiah,” is based on the novel “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” by Anne Rice, the on-again, off-again Catholic who has become a bestselling author of spiritually inspired novels, vampire novels and even erotic fiction.
For some audiences, Rice’s connection to the film may be an automatic turn off, but I decided to let the film stand on its own merits, regardless of its origins.
The Scriptures give us the story of Jesus’ birth, another brief tale when He was still very young and again as a child of 12 years. But other than that, we’re only told the boy Jesus grew in “wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man.” The story doesn’t pick up again until Jesus was 30.
What happened in all the gaps in between?
“The Young Messiah” begins its speculative story when Jesus is seven, living with his parents, Joseph and Mary, in exile in Egypt, which roughly follows the biblical account.
In an intriguing twist, however, “The Young Messiah” posits that Joseph in particular was very protective of the young Jesus, uncertain and even fearful of revealing to the boy the true tale of his Divine conception.
“How do we explain God to his own son?” Joseph agonizes. “I can’t. Can you?”
This gives the entire film a mysterious, suspenseful twist, as the boy struggles to understand the miraculous powers He’s already displaying, and a demon that follows Him tries to fathom His true identity.
And when the family returns to Israel after King Herod’s death, another, whole layer of suspense is added in the form of a Roman soldier (played by Hollywood pro Sean Bean) tasked with finding and killing the boy who has returned from Egypt.
The movie’s production values and entertainment value are exemplary, a story filled with distinct and well-blended characters, believable acting, and a script well balanced with mystery and humor. This is no “Christian movie,” but a first-rate, Hollywood production. Jesus’ “uncle,” Cleopas, is a particularly endearing character, and the elderly Sarah, who hides the Holy Family, is a true delight. The entire film is an intriguing exercise in speculation about both the boy Jesus and his earthly father, Joseph, whom Scripture is also largely silent about … so long as we all realize this is merely speculation. It’s not meant to be an addition to the biblical canon.
Theologically, in fact, the film suggests a few controversial plot points and makes a couple of distinct errors. One plot point is casting an older child as James, Jesus’ “cousin,” which – if intended to be the author of the Book of James – would align with Catholic teaching that Jesus had no biological siblings, but doesn’t square with predominant Protestant thinking, which suggests James was Jesus’ younger brother by birth.
That plot point could be simply dodging the controversy, but the distinct errors, while almost certainly unintentional, include a couple of scenes in which the boy Jesus deceives others – which, I would argue, contradicts Scripture’s clear teaching on Jesus’ sinlessness.
The bulk of the film, however, is a positive, affirming tale: entertaining, suspenseful, funny at times. It takes us on a quest in which we can easily relate to this boy Jesus, who wonders aloud to God why the Almighty made Him human at all? And even if fully human and fully God, what was the purpose of making the Messiah a child? Why not just incarnate Him as an adult? As the boy seeks to understand these existential questions, the audience is led to ask them of themselves as well.
And the answers … are surprisingly in line with truths even many Protestant churches have affirmed through the years in the Westminster Catechism.
“The Young Messiah,” however, is not a catechism, not doctrine, not the biblical story. It’s an exercise, a poem or a song about Jesus in movie form, and an entertaining one at that. I’m afraid I can’t recommend it as highly as I did “Risen” only a few weeks ago, but it’s still a film that Christian audiences especially may profit from seeing and discussing and debating at great length.
- “The Young Messiah,” rated PG-13, contains neither obscenity nor profanity.
- The film does contain some sexuality, including a shirtless man bathing, a dancing girl scantily clad with lurid movements and flashing cleavage, male courtiers in heavy makeup with the possible implication of homosexuality, a lewd comment, and a scene where a man violently attempts to rape a woman but is thwarted.
- The movie also has some gore and violence, including wrestling, beating, blood, swordplay, death, crucified and bleeding bodies, blood splatters and screams as soldiers kill children and a man painfully stabbed to death.
- The film contains a significant amount of religious content, not only in its theme material, but in quoting Scripture, depicting miracles and reenacting some scenes actually contained in Scripture. The movie also depicts a demonic character that follows and torments Jesus and a character who has tormented visions of snakes.