I didn’t realize NBC was going to play the previous week’s episode of “A.D.” at 8 p.m., an hour before the new episode, but apparently that is going to be the case. At least it was this past Sunday, April 12. So if you miss the previous week’s episode, you can still catch it right before the new one airs.
You can also watch episodes of “A.D.” on NBC’s website for the series. Just google “A.D.” and you’ll be directed to the website. Along with the episodes that have been aired, you can also view other shows that both summarize and give behind-the-scenes information related to the series.
Last Sunday’s (April 12) episode of “A.D.” depicted the gospel story from just after Jesus’ resurrection to His ascension. This in-between time includes appearances of the risen Jesus, along with some scenes that were included for dramatic effect.
Conversations between Pontius Pilate and his wife, Claudia, are not found in the Bible, but they are plausible, if fictional. Also fictional are the conversations between Caiaphas, the high priest, and his wife, Anna, whose father is Annas, the former high priest. (Apparently it was good to marry into the high priest’s family if you wanted to become high priest yourself.)
Another conversation that was made-up for dramatic effect was a conversation that took place between Caiaphas and Pilate while Caiaphas was taking a bath. This was not the only conversation between the high priest and the Roman governor that was included in this episode. Again, they are all speculative in nature and are not included in the biblical accounts.
It is worth noting, however, that the priority of the governor, Pilate, was order. He didn’t want trouble of any kind, especially from the “occupied” people of Jerusalem and their religious leaders. Pilate wanted to be seen as a governor who was effective at keeping rebellion and insurrection at bay. For him, to be perceived otherwise, was not only distasteful, but the worst that could happen to him.
Caiaphas had a similar agenda, but his centered on the Temple and the running of the Jewish religion in Jerusalem and, be extension, the entire country. Of course, the center of the Jewish faith was the Temple and all of the rituals surrounding its life. Jesus was a definite threat to that order, so he had to be dealt with. Otherwise, as high priest, Caiaphas would be seen as an ineffective ruler of his religion and his people.
Pilate consider the “Jesus affair” to be a Jewish problem. To make it his problem was to be a pain in his neck, which also might tarnish his image as an effective governor. But because Caiaphas wanted the “Jesus problem” to be taken care of in such a way that Jesus would go away and stay away, he had to turn to Pilate to solve that problem.
The Jewish method of executing someone accused of blasphemy, of which Jesus was declared guilty by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council of 70 members in Jerusalem, was by stoning. But, with the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, the Jews did not have the right to carry out a death sentence. They had to get the Romans to kill Jesus. The Roman method of execution was crucifixion. Only Pilate could authorize a crucifixion.
The religious leaders harassed Pilate into solving their problem, which was getting rid of Jesus once and for all. Needless to say, Pilate was not happy to be used by the Jewish leaders this way. So he “washed his hands” of the problem, after pronouncing the death sentence on Jesus, and told the religious leaders that he was not responsible for Jesus’ death. His blood was on their hands, not his. Hence the symbolic washing of his hands.
The many extra-biblical conversations noted above illustrated this tension. Everyone had his or her own interests that they insisted be attended to and taken care of. Pilate wanted to get away from Jerusalem to his place on the Mediterranean and away from all of this annoying trouble. Caiaphas wanted to get the machinery of the Temple running smoothly again. They both wanted to look good, competent, effective. Image mattered.
Even though the disciples stayed hidden because they were afraid, their fear was not of the Roman guards, as depicted in “A.D.,” but instead of the Temple guards. The Temple had its own police force or legion of guards, separate from the Roman soldiers of the occupying army. It was Temple guards who arrested Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. It was Roman guards who flogged and crucified Jesus. Getting Jesus from the shackles of the Temple guards to the deadly, crucifying hands of the Roman guards was what Caiaphas needed to pull off … and he did.
Roman guards chasing down the apostles and then pursuing them through Jerusalem? Nothing biblical about that. Nor is it biblical that the city was shut down so that no one could leave while a search for the apostles was on.
One interesting side note is the conspiring of the Sicarii, the insurrectionists known for their knives, with the apostles. It is thought that Judas might have been a Sicarii, hence his biblical moniker, Iscariot. The aid given to the apostles by the Sicarii in “A.D.” is speculation. But it makes for good drama.
One of the most touching scenes of this episode takes place while the disciples are in hiding in Jerusalem and Peter says his deepest regret is that he didn’t have the chance to tell Jesus he was sorry for denying Him. It is then that the risen Jesus appears in the locked room, puts his hand on Peter’s shoulder from behind and says Peter’s name, telling Peter to have peace. The look on Peter’s face is priceless. Forgiveness invades his heart and life. He is given mercy by the only One who could adequately proffer it, Jesus Himself. Liberation is granted. Peter is free of guilt, shame and regret. It was a moment of real, authentic and undiluted Christianity on display.
Jesus appears to His disciples in Galilee while they are fishing and it is after this that the famous series of questions and answers between Peter and Jesus takes place. This is the conversation where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. We know that Peters answers yes each time the question is asked. But, both in this episode and in the Bible, it is clear that the end of the conversation is not satisfying to either Jesus or Peter. But nothing more is said by either one. Not a perfect ending, but it’s what we’ve got. It seems that Peter’s love for Jesus, and ours, still falls short of what is asked of us. The good news is that grace fills the gap.
The episode ends with the ascension of Jesus which, if you follow the book of Acts, looks like it takes place near Jerusalem, probably on the Mount of Olives. The small church of the Ascension is located at the top of the Mount of Olives today. But this episode gives the clear impression that Jesus’ ascension took place in Galilee, following His appearances as the Risen Lord to His disciples there. The end of the gospel of Matthew might lend itself to depicting the ascension this way.
Again, like at the tomb when Jesus was raised from the dead, the archangel Michael is “guarding” Jesus’ ascension, along with a number of other angels. Shown this way for dramatic effect, it is not consistent with the biblical description of His ascension. “A.D.” has Jesus commanding the disciples to “go into Jerusalem and preach.” It would have been a lot longer walk to Jerusalem from Galilee than it would have been from the Mount of Olives, located just across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The ascending Jesus could have pointed to the Temple Mount as He gave this command and the disciples could have turned their heads to see what He was pointing at if the ascension took place on the Mount of Olives. Not so in Galilee.
Overall, I like the series so far. The “dramatizations” are okay, even if they are extra-biblical. The essential points are still being covered: Jesus was crucified, dead and buried. He rose again on the third day and ascended into heaven. Sounds a lot like the Apostles’ Creed.
(As an additional note, it is a distraction that both Peter’s eyes and the eyes of Caiaphas are blue. That would not have been the case for people living in the ancient near east. Today, if someone living in the middle east has blue eyes, they are outcast because people don’t want them to look at them, believing they have the “evil eye.”)