Episode12: June 21, 2015
The finale for this season of NBC’s series, “A.D.—The Bible Continues,” and the twelfth episode, was aired on Sunday, June 21.
Even thought two-thirds of the Book of Acts, or The Acts of the Apostles as Acts has more traditionally been titled, concerns the travels and travails of Paul the Apostle, “A.D.” has rightly emphasized the genesis of the early Christian church in Jerusalem. Christianity has its roots in Judaism, and first century second-Temple Judaism was centered in Jerusalem.
As Christianity was formed through the work of the Holy Spirit, centered on the person of Jesus, crucified and risen, there was much to affirm. The power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. The peace of God in the midst of challenging and life-threatening situations. The egalitarian nature of the community of the New Humanity where all are welcome and all have a place at the table.
But Christianity, just like any other important movement, had to also define itself by what it was not. It was not Judaism. God had revealed Himself through Jesus as a triune God. Not that the evidence had not been there since the beginning, spread through the Hebrew scriptures (what we call the Old Testament). But with the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus, God’s revelation now had more data, more that could be known. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.
With Israel now reconstituted around its Messiah, Jesus was the center of Israel. The Temple was not. Therefore, the mark of the faithful Israelite became being a faithful follower of Jesus, not a faithful worshipper at the Temple in Jerusalem. The center had, literally, changed. And “A.D.” highlights this tension and shift. We can see the decline of the significance of Caiaphas and the Temple, while also seeing the rise of the Christian church.
Christianity also defined itself against Rome and all it represented. Rome, shorthand for the Roman Empire and its leader, the Roman Emperor, made religious, political and imperial claims for itself. This was represented very well in “A.D.” with the threat of the installation of the statue of the Emperor in the court of the woman at the Temple in Jerusalem. Because Rome was Rome and the Emperor was the Emperor, whatever Rome said was to take place … was to take place. Rome was the alpha dog of the time. So from Rome’s perspective, there was no need to respect the Temple and its traditions. To the Jews, to have a statue of the Roman Emperor in the Temple was an “abomination of desecration,” something spoken of in prophecy that would preclude and usher in the “last days.”
“A.D.” even depicts the early Christians believing this. They anticipated that the battle over the placement of the statue of the Emperor in the Temple would precipitate the return of Jesus to reign as King. The seditious belief of Christians, to this day, is that Jesus is King, which means that any other person claiming to be king is a pretender to the throne. As “A.D.” rightly pointed out, such a claim would have painful and even deadly results in the days of the early church. Yet Christians then, as now, stubbornly hang onto such a belief.
So the early church had two battlefronts, one with the Temple and the other with Rome. And both the Temple and its leaders, along with Rome and its leaders, including Pontius Pilate, the governor of Jerusalem, know they are in a battle. Pilate declares he will use the force of Rome to demonstrate the power of Rome. Caiaphas will use the tradition of the Temple to maintain its primacy. But both Rome and the Temple will pass away. Rome will eventually destroy the Temple (in A.D. 70) and the Roman Empire itself will gradually decline and disappear.
Only Christianity will endure. But the weapons of power employed by the early church are the same as they are today.
When the Romans come to the Temple to install the statue of the Emperor, the force of Rome met the stubbornness of the Jews. The Romans were willing to kill people to get their way. The Jews were willing to die, rather than allow the desecration of the Temple.
But in steps the Christians, led by Peter, who kneel beside their Jewish brothers, willing to sacrifice themselves because they are led by the Holy Spirit to do so. God intervenes (through the attack by the Zealots), seeming-chaos ensues, and the statue is broken and unable to be installed.
The tide of history has shifted. As illustrated by the relationships with their wives of Caiaphas and Pilate, the Temple is doomed to die while Rome is too powerful for most to resist. Leah, Caiaphas’s wife, is murdered as a result of betraying her husband and his effort to preserve the Temple through his leadership. Claudia, the wife of Pontius Pilate, grows to hate her husband because of his cruel enforcement of the power of Rome. When Claudia tells her husband he can rule differently, he says, “I have no choice.” Then, as she turns to walk away from him, Claudia says, “But you enjoy it.”
Both are trapped, for in the end, even though her husband and his ways disgust her, Claudia, when faced with the choice of becoming a follower of Jesus or not, responds to her husband’s call with, “He calls and I must go.”
Acts does not end with the work of Peter, James and the early church in Jerusalem. But the foundation has been established. And it is from this foundation that Paul the Apostle sets out, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to the non-Jewish world, overseeing the expansion of the Christian church.
Finally, even though “A.D.” appears to play fast and loose with biblical material, inserting dramatic material for the sake of “telling the story,” the series got the main themes right.
Jesus is who He said he is.
The church was birthed and strengthened by the Holy Spirit.
History has been divided between the time before Jesus’ life on earth and all that is taking place since, for now we live “A.D.,” anon domini (in Latin), in the “year of the Lord.”
Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords.