The dark streets of Jerusalem are a battleground as Saul and the Roman soldiers zealously round up and trample the believers. Saul is on a sinister mission, approved by Caiaphas–to find Peter and to kill him.
“Saul was going everywhere to devastate the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into jail.” (Romans 8:1).
Peter, however, is hidden below the moonlit city streets, along with the other Apostles and believers. Juxtaposed against the belligerent mayhem that swells around them, the believers are taking the sacred rite of Eucharist and peacefully praying amidst the flickering glow of lamps.
And so begins Episode 7 of NBC’s 12-week series A.D. The Bible Continues. Brilliantly directed by Brian Kelly, “The Visit” continues to investigate the political effects of Jesus’ crucifixion upon the Roman territory as well as the mortal danger that believers faced as they were hunted down and gruesomely murdered at the hands of Roman and Jewish leaders.
The malevolent shrewdness of Saul (masterfully played by Irish-born Emmett J. Scanlan) sets viewers on edge as they realize that persecutors were as villainous during the time of Christ as any modern-day oppressor. It also reminds the audience of the parallel between that ancient tribulation and the persecution descending upon Christians today.
The apostle Philip (portrayed by Joe Dixon) escapes Jerusalem and heads north toward Samaria to preach the “Good News about Jesus” (Acts 8:4). On his way, he passes the resplendent caravan carrying the powerful Roman Emperor Tiberius. Tiberius (played by veteran actor Kenneth Cranham of Maleficent) is en route to Jerusalem, not for banquets or revelry, but to see firsthand the unrest and mutiny that has taken over Judea. Pilate (Vincent Regan), Caiaphas (Richard Coyle), and their wives are unsettled; their positions of power are at risk of being taken away.
Philip finally arrives at the desolate outskirts of Samaria, where an overturned wagon catches his attention. He stoops to help some weary travelers, but is startled when they attack him, steal his valuables, and beat him. When the attackers are gone, Yitzhak, a Samaritan, offers Philip a hand and escorts him into the city gates.
Episode after episode, composer Lorne Balfe and the music department deliver a mesmerizing accompaniment that perfectly suits the mood of each scene. The score evokes a festival atmosphere as percussion instruments greet the two. The colorful turbans and robes worn by the bejeweled Samaritans add to the carnivalesque aura as the crowd watches the sorcerer Simon perform his dark magic tricks. Luciano Capozzi, who designed these divine costumes, should be given a standing ovation. His high-quality attention to detail in costuming the sprawling cast is awe-inspiring, providing the audience with a rich vision into the culture.
This celebratory mood is in contrast to Philip, who watches with disdain the “cheap trickery” that bewitches the crowd. Joe Dixon, who superbly portrays the apostle Philip, stands out from the worldly assembly with a compassionate aura of strength and dignity.
Back in Judea, the streets are bursting with people cheering for the arriving Emperor. The Roman caravan, flanked by soldiers carrying colorful flags and crests, parade toward the palace of Pilate. Pink rose petals are thrown from windows and land upon the carriage and horses as soldiers from Jerusalem urge the citizens to cheer for travel-worn Tiberius’ arrival.
The rich cinematography of this slow parade through the town adds to the climactic momentum of the episode; the audience knows how much Caiaphas and Pilate dread the Emperor’s visit.
As the two leaders welcome the Emperor, Claudia (Joanne Whalley), Pilate’s wife, immediately takes the offensive by trying to befriend the Emperor. In this way, she hopes to convince him that Judea is secure in the capable hands of her husband. She tells her husband to “smile” as a white-robed Tiberius enters the palace gates. Whalley continues her exceptional acting and shines in this episode by astutely influencing political affairs under the guise of hospitality.
The Judean officials throw a welcome party, and Mary Magdalene (played by the lovely Zimbabwean-raised actress Chipo Chung) dressed in an ethereal gown, serves drinks to the attendants. In what is certain to become a large part of the story in later episodes, Pilate’s guard Cornelius recognizes Mary but allows her to continue working. Chung plays this gripping and potentially deadly interaction with the confidence and poise that have become trademark characteristics of Mary Magdalene’s bravery.
As this plot-driven episode continues to advance, Maya (Helen Daniels), Peter’s daughter, is threatened by Saul, who has traveled to Galilee in an unsuccessful attempt to capture Peter. Maya handles the encounter with maturity, but the audience fears for her life nevertheless.
When Simon the sorcerer’s “cheap trickery” is not enough to heal an ailing mother lying before him, Philip offers to try. As he approaches the stage, Simon icily warns him, “If you fail, they will kill you.” But the Holy Spirit does not fail. In this beautifully filmed powerful scene, the clouds part, the whirl of the Spirit releases from the hands of Philip, captivating the crowd. Philip stands out as a beacon of truth and integrity, one swayed not by the deceptive dark arts, but by the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.
As the diseased woman awakes and stands, the Samaritans fall to their knees and grab Philip’s robes, recognizing this true miracle. Many of the multitudes are baptized, and even Simon approaches Philip, having discarded his red robe of sorcery and wearing a brown linen tunic. “Then Simon himself believed and was baptized” (Acts 8:13).
In the final scenes of “The Visit,” Herod joins the council of men who are debating the future of Judean leadership. For once, Pilate seems vulnerable, and it is his wife who continues to ensure that her husband does not lose his position. Caiaphas tricks Saul in order to get him out of Jerusalem and on the road to Damascus; the High Priest wants Peter dead, but not at the risk of the city seeming as if it is being controlled by rebels. He must ensure that the Emperor Tiberius thinks the city is calm.
It is the women, the silent advisors, who are the most committed to ensuring that their loved ones prevail. Mary Magdalene spends her time organizing the apostles and infiltrating the palace while Claudia and Leah, who is portrayed with great strength by Jodhi May, set their cunningly intelligent minds into overdrive to save themselves and their husbands from social demise. It is these “behind-the-scenes players” that possess the greatest gumption.
Each episode of A.D. The Bible Continues is legendary. Cinematographer Tim Fleming (who worked on Gladiator) delivers superb attention to detail in each scene, and each week viewers are swept into an alluring cinematic masterpiece. The riveting script of “The Visit,” penned by the masterful Andy Rattenbury, is brought to life with passion and skill by a cast of the best actors from around the globe.
As the plot swells, viewers are left at the end of each episode uncertain about the future of the apostles and political leaders and wondering how Christianity survived in the face of such gruesome violence. At this point in the series, faithful viewers are wrapped in the human drama and loyally invested in all of the characters, both protagonists and antagonists, in this story based upon history and biblical truths.
The drama is real, and fans adore this epic television series that teaches the world about the miraculous works of Christ. Roma Downey was recently named one of the Top 10 Christian Leaders in America. Both she and her husband, the famed Mark Burnett, are using media as an evangelical platform by introducing the world to the Scriptures via this big-budget award-worthy television series that contains nothing but the highest of production quality.
Week after week, A.D. The Bible Continues not only proves, but exceeds its worth.
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