Captivating rays of light pierce through the darkened room where Stephen’s body lies. As John reads from Isaiah in hushed tones, Peter solemnly prepares the body of the first martyr, his beloved friend, for burial honoring the Jewish tradition to pay last respects to the deceased.
“No longer will violence be heard in your lands, nor ruin and destruction in your borders. Your walls shall be called salvation, your gates praise. No longer will you have the sun for light by day, Nor for brightness will the moon give you light; But you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And your God for your glory.” (Isaiah 60:18-19)
In Episode 6 of NBC’s 12-week series A.D. The Bible Continues, viewers witness the swelling tension and heated tug-of-war of Power vs. Faith. Saul, soon to become the legendary evangelist Paul, is introduced into the storyline as the confrontational Pharisee eager to violently persecute the Christians.
As the believers carry Stephen’s slain body, Peter, exquisitely played by Adam Levy, is grief-stricken as he leads the mourners through the dusty streets of Jerusalem to Stephen’s burial site. Wailing fills the air and Stephen’s weeping mother meets Peter in the streets, pounding on his chest and blaming him for the death of her son. Her words weigh heavy on Peter as she exclaims, “Because of your politics, my son is dead.”
The plot thickens as Saul enters the rapidly growing camp of the disciples, flaunting his superiority over them as scholar, Jew, Pharisee, Roman citizen, and defender of the great temple. The score is ominous as he gives them an angry foreshadowing of the wrath to come. As the episode progresses, we see violent persecution from the hands of Saul intensify.
Emmett J. Scanlan, the Irish actor known for Guardians of the Galaxy and nominated for Best Actor in numerous English television awards, delivers an exceptional performance in the pivotal role of Saul. He inhabits the character with fierce intimidation, haunting authority, and the intelligence of a scholar. His innate good looks and magnetic personality fuel Saul’s rise to power as he forms an alliance with Caiaphas.
In one commanding scene Saul towers over Barnabas as he challenges the Christians’ beliefs, calling them blasphemous. The dialogue is written with detailed attention to how Saul is depicted in Scripture, portraying his character as judgmental and legalistic, with venom in his eyes and words that spew scorn and disgust.
The camera spins, looking down on Jerusalem and the grand temple, making the encampment where the believers dwell appear small and insignificant in contrast. The score is moody as Jewish dignitaries ponder why believers would leave everything they once knew and loved. This scene is an example of the brilliant directing of Tony Mitchell and his skill in creating dramatic tension and conflict between those loyal to the temple and the dedicated followers of Jesus.
Caiaphas is portrayed as a man caught between his need to cooperate with Rome and the desires of his own people. The High Priest is angered by the increasing popularity of the Christians and his failed attempts to silence the gospel of Jesus Christ. As the Sanhedrin seeks a shift in power, highlighting Caiaphas’s shortcomings, they push Jonathan to fill the role of the High Priest.
As Caiaphas wrestles with his turmoil and increasing lack of support, Saul approaches him to ask for his authority to carry out his plans for persecution. Viewing Saul as a solution to his problems, Caiaphas tells him to do whatever it takes to stop the Christians.
The script fully captures and highlights the inner struggles within the hearts of the High Priest and council, as well as the struggles of Peter to lead the believers forward after witnessing the brutal stoning and death of Stephen. In a scene of gripping cinematography, the apostle stands with clenched fists and howls at the sky. Dust swirls around him as he releases his torment and grief.
Spurred on by one failed attempt to deal with the Nazarene camp, Saul charges the streets with an angry crowd ready to take the lives of anyone standing in their way. Weapons clang as Saul’s army charges the Christian’s camp. In another display of artistic cinematography, flames stretch high and engulf tents in a cliffhanger ending, leaving viewers waiting for how next Sunday’s episode is going to play out.
Once again Roma Downey and Mark Burnett have brought the Bible to life with movie quality, leading their incredible team of ensemble cast, directors, writers, editors, and cinematographers. The series continues to show great promise for the last six episodes, earning high praise from viewers across the globe as it introduces another generation to the Bible.
For more on this incredible show, check out the links below: