In order to understand and truly appreciate what is taking place in the opening scenes of The Passion of The Christ, one must go all the way back to the Garden of Eden.
In Genesis Chapter 3, mankind is separated from God and removed from His presence by being expelled from Eden. Not only does man lose dominion of the earth, but also he causes the entire creation to be thrown into slavery to corruption (Romans 8:20-21). All of this happens because the progenitor of the human race sinned. Eve was deceived by the serpent; Adam chose willfully to follow her and sin against God by doing the one thing God had forbidden him to do - eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
God, who is holy, cannot by His very nature tolerate sin. It provokes His wrath and must be judged. Yet God is also rich in mercy, so within the judgment pronounced on the serpent, there is an incredible promise1.
The following verse sets the stage for the entire movie:
"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.
He shall crush you on the head and you shall bruise Him on the heel."2
The film opens with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, back in the garden. He stands there as the "Last Adam"
(1 Corinthians 15:45) in communion/fellowship with His Father. Since He is also the promised "seed of woman", the real spiritual battle is here. Will He take and drink the chalice, the cup of God's wrath (Psalm 75:8), surrendering His life in atonement for sin or will He listen to the voice of the Accuser? The crushing of the serpent's head signifies His choice. The Father's Will will be done. This is the victory. From this point on there is no question, no doubt, no temptation that will keep Him from accomplishing His passion.3
The character of Satan is incredibly captured in the hooded genderless figure. The worm crawling up the nose comes from Isaiah 14:11, one of the two veiled references to Satan in the Old Testament.4 Notice Satan's primary tactic is always to attack at the point of identity: "Who is Your Father, who are You?"
There is an important principle seen in the scenes of Judas' betrayal; it is how the presence of Satan activates the mob to do his will. This will be demonstrated throughout the movie. In this case the taunting, demonized children drive Judas out to the place where Satan wants him. There is no doubt the dead donkey5 covered in maggots and flies is supposed to be the donkey that carried Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
The Three Trials
In the film, as in the Scriptures, Christ is brought before three men for three separate trials. All three are powerfully captured in the film. It is important to understand what is taking place here. Correctly understood, it would debunk any accusation of anti-Semitism.
The first trial is before the High Priest and a hurriedly gathered group of the Sanhedrin. It is at night, and it is illegal. The second trial is the following morning before the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate. The third is before King Herod, Tetrarch of Galilee.
The significance of these three men/groups is that each one represents a "world system". The High Priest/Sanhedrin represents the system of religion/education; Pontius Pilate/Rome is the system of government; King Herod signifies the system of entertainment. Jesus Christ had to be tried and convicted before each "system", so that when He was crucified and resurrected, these kingdoms/world forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:12) would be cast down and overthrown.
The questions asked in each trial leave no doubt that this is true. The Sanhedrin want to know if Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; the Sanhedrin are interested in spiritual/religious matters. Pilate wants to know if Jesus is Christ, the King of the Jews; Pilate is concerned with government. The debauched Herod wants only to be entertained with signs and wonders. Note that Jesus answers the first two, but does not condescend to the latter.
Finally, the order of the trials says something about the strength of each system. Many people think the entertainment/media system is the most potent, but it is only the loudest and most visible. The world of government is more significant, yet even it is not as powerful as the world of religion and education.6 Ultimately, this system is the most commanding and the most hidden (i.e. trial and capture at night). Religion and education deal with the realm of men's beliefs and ideas, which are the seeds from which all other systems grow.
This film is not anti-Semitic any more than it is anti-Roman or anti-The Herodian Dynasty. These figures only represent kingdoms of this world that are in opposition to the Kingdom of God and therefore The King, Jesus Christ.
The Three Crosses
"And when they came to a place called the skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals,
one on the right and the other on the left."
There had to be three crosses. Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross for the sins of mankind. He offered redemption through His blood to all who would receive Him. The other two crosses represent those who will accept His offer and those who will not. The two criminals are representatives for these two groups. One confesses his sin and recognizes the King, while the other mocks and rejects Him. In the film, this criminal is judicially blinded for his rejection of Truth, a visual picture of a spiritual reality. Years later when the Apostle Paul writes that he has been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), he is reminding his readers that he is in that group who identifies with Christ, just as the forgiven sinner did.
The Father's Tear
Mel Gibson gives an incredible picture of the Father's heart when he uses the tear of God released from Heaven to set off the earthquake after Jesus has died. Symbolically, it is judgment; it shatters all the world systems as evidenced by the scenes of Pilate, the High Priest, and Satan himself being cast down.
The Brave Heart
There has been much criticism of Mel Gibson for making The Passion of The Christ. People have accused him of everything from anti-Semitism to making the movie for money. They have scoffed at his own explanation that he was led by the Holy Spirit. Gibson stands firm in his belief of the calling of Jesus Christ on his life in regards to this movie and believes that there was no way that he could not have made The Passion of The Christ".
In 1995, Gibson starred in and directed a film that was acclaimed by the world and rewarded with Hollywood's highest honor, the Academy Award7. What the world and Hollywood did not understand is that Braveheart was part of Gibson's preparation for making The Passion of The Christ. For Braveheart is the story of Jesus Christ veiled in the life of William Wallace (see Movie Glimpse - Braveheart). Jim Caviezel, who portrays Jesus in "The Passion of The Christ, was likewise prepared as he played the Count of Monte Cristo in the film of the same name (see Movie Glimpse - Count of Monte Cristo). Obviously, these men and their "passion" are part of a much Larger Story. Gibson like Wallace in Braveheart and Christ in reality experienced "the years of popularity". Gibson may now enter into "the falling away" phase, a sacrifice he has been willing to make as he follows his Lord.
Braveheart has a beautiful ending. The Sons of Scotland are gathered on the field of Bannockburn, and it is Wallace's sword that is flung out to lead them in the final battle for freedom. The Passion of The Christ is no less a sword. It has been flung and has landed in the heart of the enemy, and he hates it.
1. Genesis 3:15 is called the Protevangelium - the "First Gospel".
2. "You shall bruise Him on the heel" is a reference to the Crucifixion.
3. His passion is the redemption of His bride. Unlike Adam who followed his bride into sin, Christ sacrifices Himself in order to save His bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:25-27).
4. There are two passages in the Old Testament, Isaiah 14:11-15 and Ezekiel 28:11-19, that most conservative scholars believe are references to Lucifer's (Satan) fall.
5. The scene of the donkey is artistic not scriptural. The Scriptures make clear that Satan entered into Judas and that he hung himself (John 12:27 & Matthew 27:5).
6. Prior to the modern age, education was conducted through the religious establishment.
7. Braveheart won five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.