Episode 6: May 10, 2015
The sixth episode of NBC’s series, “A.D.—The Bible Continues,” was aired last Sunday, May 10.
The previous episode ended with the stoning of Stephen, with Saul noticably absent. In this episode Saul comes front and center, but in ways that can be inferred from Scripture but are not based explicitly on the Bible.
First, even though “A.D.” portrays the early Christians encamped outside of Jerusalem, that is probably not the case. In the immediate aftermath of Jesus’s resurrection and ascension, and the giving of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles and their followers had what was an almost-daily routine of meeting in the Temple courts of Jerusalem and in homes, also in Jerusalem, for the twin purposes of teaching and fellowship.
In this episode of “A.D.” Saul visits the Christian camp and debates the merits of the Christian faith. This is not true, but it’s good because it makes the solid point that Saul was enthusiastic regarding the Jewish faith, life and belief. He was well-versed in Scripture, being a Pharisee himself. Pharisees want to, first and foremost, be keepers of the Law, the Torah. Their strategy was to be found faithful to the command of Moses upon the return of God to the earth. Being a faithful Jew was the highest value and goal of the Pharisees. Saul was an exemplary Pharisee.
Later, Saul seeks out Christians in Jerusalem, actively persecuting the new believers. He confronts Peter and John in the Holy City, upon the authority he received from Caiaphas, who continues to be stymied by the Christians and just wants them to be gone. For Caiaphas, the Christians, as they proclaim Jesus the Crucified One risen and alive, are the source of all his problems, both in the Temple and with Pilate. Both religiously and politically.
Pilate is facing pressure from Pilate, Herod Antipas and from even his father-in-law, Annas. Annas is leading a movement to replace Caiaphas as the High Priest. His daughter Anna, who is married to Caiaphas, is caught in the middle. But the plot to overthrow Caiaphas is decided by Pilate (talk about a fiction!), who decides who will be the High Priest by the toss of a coin. Caiaphas retains his position because Pilate uses a two-headed coin, thus appearing to choose at random when, in fact, he is choosing the “poison he knows,” rather than the one he does not know. He takes the safer route.
The episode ends with the Temple guards setting fire to the Christian camp. But Peter has set a trap for them, capturing them in a circle of fire.
It is a bold act for Peter, one that will certainly get him into even more trouble with the Temple and Caiaphas. But he has been emboldened by the words of Mary Magdelene, who said to him, when Peter was hesitating and languishing as a leader, “Honor Stephen by leading us, Peter. We must go to Jerusalem and preach the Word. We must build the church.”
While I am enjoying “A.D.,” even with its fictional additions to the biblical story of Acts, I am increasingly wondering if it will serve the purpose of either helping people understand what the Bible says about the early church or encourage those who are wondering about the truth of Christianity and its significance.
After all, “A.D.” means that we now live in the “year of the Lord,” telling us that everything since the birth of Jesus means we are stepping increasingly into the age to come, when the Kingdom of God will exist in all of its fullness. To use “A.D.” as the marker of time is to proclaim Jesus as Lord, which was the first formal proclamation of the church.
Jesus is more than Messiah (Christ). He is more than Savior. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. The story of Christianity is the story of how God became King in Jesus. And consistent with the abiding themes of Creation and Covenant, God always includes human beings in His project of uniting heaven and earth as the fit dwelling place for God WITH both people and His creation.
A new heaven and a new earth, with order not chaos (hence, no sea). Without sin and death. God and human beings dwelling face-to-face. And the church, with the name of Jesus on their foreheads and the Holy Spirit as a seal on their minds and hearts, bearing the image of Jesus the Lord and King into God’s good, renewed creation.
That’s where we’re going.
But Saul is headed to Damascus.