The power of both physical and spiritual healing takes precedence in Episode 11 of the 12-week series A.D. The Bible Continues. Viewers experience miraculous works chronicled in the chapters of Acts and recreated in a pitch-perfect retelling of the dangers and majesty surrounding the birth of Christianity.
“Rise Up,” superbly written by Ben Newman, is a riveting episode that expertly weaves scripture and history, crafted with fast-paced and thoughtful dialogue. The episode begins with Jewish High Priest Caiaphas (Richard Coyle), befitted with a black and white robe, passionately persuading a throng of temple leaders and laypeople to protest the addition of the blasphemous golden statue of the Emperor to the Temple. His wife Leah (Jodhi May) watches, hidden amongst the crowd, as Caiaphas proclaims, “Come together to protect the Temple!” The onlookers enthusiastically support the impassioned high priest’s plea to save the temple from sinful desecration.
Far from the prominence of the public eye, underneath the city streets of Jerusalem in an earthen room, Mary Magdalene (Chipo Chung) compassionately cares for Tabitha (Marama Corlett), “a woman abounding with deeds of kindness and charity, which she continually did” (Acts 9:36) whose continual blood loss is putting her in critical condition.
Also below the streets, hidden from the Roman persecutors, are the apostles, debating whether James (Alastair MacKenzie) should go before Caiphas and negotiate a deal. He suggests that the apostles support the High Priest’s efforts if he agrees that the apostles will be free to speak the name of Jesus in the light of day. Acting with much caution, Peter (Adam Levy) wonders, “Would supporting the Temple equate with denying the Lord?” The Zealots, backed by the weapons of the Ethiopians, have already made their decision. They will support the High Priest because, as they say, “God calls upon you to defend the temple.”
The subterranean setting of these proceedings is both a literal and abstract nod toward the underground movement that is taking place. But the mood is not sinister; light radiates into every darkened crevice.
As the scene shifts to Governor Pilate’s palace, Pilate (Vincent Regan) and his wife Claudia (Joanne Whalley) seem to be having an intimate moment of conversation. The camera focuses on their faces and for a moment, viewers see Pilate as a loving husband. Claudia requests that Pilate release Joanna (Farzana Dua Elahe). She waits for his response, hoping that he will comply with her grace-filled request. Instead, he spews, “Empathy breeds weakness. You are not weak.”
Once again, viewers are reminded that every decision in Pilate’s life is made from a place of shrewd politics.
In contrast, the apostles’ decision-making is not based upon politics, but upon the teaching of Jesus. The ever-wise James convinces Peter to allow him to negotiate with the Jewish leaders by reminding him of one the last prayers spoken by Jesus when he was hanging on the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).
These words cause Peter to see clearly, and he urges James forward, now knowing James’s actions are approved by their Master. Peter also realizes he must leave Jerusalem to go forth and preach the good news. The scene closes with Peter, glowing with the light of Jesus, walking through the arched entrance of the city to go out into the world.
James boldly approaches a white-robed Caiphas and implores that the apostles and believers be allowed to preach and speak freely about Jesus. In a timely scene on the subject of the freedom of speech, Caiphas and James debate whether or not speaking of Jesus and calling him the Messiah is sedition. James says calling Jesus the Messiah is the “Truth.” Caiphas vehemently argues that it “offends.” James, not cowing to the demands or wishes of the supposed spiritual leader, states, “We will not be censored.”
And so the persecution for speaking about Jesus ends as the apostles, zealots, and religious leaders all unite around the common cause of protesting the Emperor’s statue.
But as their movement comes alive, the life of Tabitha grows dimmer. Mary Magdalene honors the woman’s last request and takes her to Joppa to be with her family. They set out on their journey through the barren landscape with the weakened Tabitha lying in a roll-cart.
Also weakening is the plan of the Ethiopians and the Zealots: an attempt at insurrection against Rome. This secretive plot is thwarted when Leah deceives her husband and goes before Pilate to tell him of the plans. Immediately, Roman soldiers are released and march through Jerusalem. They climb the stone stairs to the rooftops and find the arsenal of Ethiopian weapons. The Ethiopian eunuch, Gabra, (played wonderfully by veteran actor Colin Salmon) is caught and placed before Pilate, and his act of war is met with the punishment of banishment. “Diplomacy,” Pilate states, “prevents me from killing you.”
But the life of Gabra was truly spared by the power of God. In a majestic cinematic scene that recreates portion of Acts Chapter 8, Gabra meets the apostle Philip who was on a spirit-led journey. The two meet on the dust-blanketed Gaza Road.
“And when Philip had run up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, do you understand what you are reading? And he said, ‘Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up, and sit with him.” (Acts 8:30-31)
The two travel together until they come upon a resevoir of water, where Gabra asks to be baptized.
“And when they came up out of the water, the Spirt of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch saw him no more, but went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:39)
Far away from the Gaza Road, two to other principal characters, Claudia and Cornelus (Will Thorp), are also feeling the tugs of the Holy Spirit. Claudia bravely goes to the prison and releases Joanna in defiance of her husband’s orders. However, both she and Joanna are caught and are marched to Pilate. When Claudia pleads to her husband for Joanna’s life, his answer is that Claudia can “choose to set her free by strangulation or the cross.” Claudia looks into the eyes of her husband and calls him a monster.
Joanna, who can barely walk from starvation while imprisoned, makes the decision for herself. She ambles forwards and takes a seat, awaiting her death. She utters to Cornelius, “In the name of Christ I forgive you.”
Leather straps encircling her neck are pulled tight, making it impossible for Joanna to fill her lungs. The camera focuses on the faces of Claudia and Cornelius as they bemoan her unnecessary death. In a particularly moving scene, Cornelius approaches a basin of water and attempts to wash his hands of the murder. But guilt permeates his soul as viewers hear him sob and watch tears fall onto his golden armour.
As the hour unfolds the scene shifts to Joppa. The camera angle provides a sweeping view of the city’s natural beauty, resting alongside the azure sea. Tabitha has died, and Mary Magdalene and Tabitha’s family are bereft. The score, filled with the sounds of string instruments and piano, accompany the grief. But Mary Magdalene meets the apostle Peter, who has arrived in Joppa. She urges him inside and shows him the linen-covered body. He looks uncertain.
“But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, ‘Tabitha, arise.’ And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up.” (Acts 9:40)
The visual effects department, once again, supberbly portrays this scripture with reverance and majesty as the Holy Spirit is personified as the whirl of wind that encircles the room. As the strong gusts waft through Peter’s hair, an ashen Tabitha is resurrected and peach tones of life flow back through her body.
She has risen and is alive.
As the episode concludes in the stately home of Pilate, moonlight dances around the large wooden crate that sits in the courtyard. Inside the wooden box is the golden statue. The massiveness dwarfs Pilate as he tries to make his decision. The placement of the blasphemous object is no longer a hypothetical argument, but has entered the province of Judea. What will happen?
The casting department of A.D. should be applauded for filling the episodes with a global cast that was hand-picked for excellence. The geographic diversity adds to the authenticity of this dramatic representation of the Bible. Attention to details such as this are just one of the reasons why A.D. The Bible Continues has been beloved by churches and believers around the world.
“Rise Up” leaves viewers with a resplendent account of the scriptures. The plot lines are seamlessly woven together and A.D. The Bible Continues wows week after week. With only one episode left, fans are left on the edge of their seats, wondering how the series will end. We thirst to follow the apostles and political leaders further into their lives and wait with anticipation for another season to soon be announced.
Don’t miss this coming Sunday’s episode at 9/8c on NBC!
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