A life-altering redirection from rage to redemption, “The Road to Damascus” is the riveting episode viewers were anxiously awaiting. Episode 8 of the 12-week series A.D. The Bible Continues transforms Saul from hate-filled murderer to impassioned evangelist in the best episode yet.
Acts 9:1 gives the account of Saul “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” as he journeys on the road to Damascus. Saul has a vision that leaves him blind, and the once intimidating Pharisee becomes an enfeebled man in need of miraculous healing. Viewers are enraptured by the redemptive change and working of the Holy Spirit as the brutal persecutor of Christians becomes the chosen instrument for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Previous episodes laid a strong foundation for Saul’s zeal in leading the brutal bloodbath against the growing body of believers. The enthralling salvation of Saul reflects the redemptive thread and pardon purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. His life-altering encounter with Jesus leads to baptism and becoming the Apostle Paul, one of the most influential figures in biblical history.
This episode begins as Caiaphas (Richard Coyle) orders Saul (Emmett J. Scanlan) to Damascus in pursuit of the disciples. Caiaphas sends Reuben as his reinforcement with the task of making sure Saul doesn’t bring his violent campaign back to Jerusalem.
Caligula (Andrew Gower) and his Jewish friend Agrippa (Michael Peluso) have come to Jerusalem with the Roman Emperor Tiberius (Kenneth Cranham). Caligula is quick to let Pilate know from the very beginning that they were at odds, challenging the governor’s position with the help of troublemaking Agrippa. In order to combat this threat, Tiberius and Pilate make a plan to separate the two.
But dark foreshadowing lingers in the opulent palace. Even as Tiberius reveals to Claudia (Joanne Whalley) his plans not to demote Pilate but rather to promote him to a prestigious position in Rome, carrion birds circle the city. Vivid images from nightmares torment Claudia’s mind and feed her fears of Pilate’s downfall.
Meanwhile Peter (Adam Levy), John (Babou Ceesay), and the disciples are hiding in a cellar, afraid for their lives. When they receive word that Philip (Joe Dixon) needs help in Samaria, they are faced with the choice to trust God and put themselves in danger, leaving their seclusion. News of Saul’s departure from Jerusalem makes it possible for the disciples to leave. Peter and John travel to Samaria to tend to the needs of the increasing number of believers. But even as they perform miracles in the name of Jesus, Saul’s army advances to thwart their influence and silence them altogether.
While en route to Damascus, Saul is met with a power stronger than his unrelenting rage against the Christians. Skillfully directed by Brian Kelley, the biblical accounts of Acts 8 & 9 are authoritative onscreen as temporary darkness swallows Saul. Jesus appears before him, and an all-pervading light radiates from the Son of God as He asks, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) In a scene with superb cinematography by Tim Flemin, the audience to see through the persecutor’s eyes as Saul’s sight fades to black. Scanlan’s performance soars in this dramatic moment as his character borders on madness, crying out desperately for help.
“And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Acts 9: 7-9)
While Saul wrestles with blindness in a darkened room, throngs of people seeking miraculous healing meet Peter and John in the crowded streets. The needs of the sick seem overwhelming, but as Peter lays hands on each one miracles take place, and hope swells in the hearts of those watching.
Simon the former sorcerer proves that his intentions are corrupt when he places money in the hands of Peter, asking for “a few drops of the Holy Spirit.” The sky turns black and fierce winds whip around them as Peter angrily confronts Simon and judgment rains down from heaven. Peter then drops to his knees, pleading for God to spare Simon’s life. God honors Peter’s prayers, and the heavens open to peaceful shades of blue.
Later, viewers witness the beautiful retelling of Acts 9:10-19 in which Jesus appears to Ananias. Ananias is fearful yet obedient as Jesus reassures him, saying, “He (Saul) is my chosen instrument.” In a moving scene, Ananias goes to Saul and finds him on his knees, asking for help. Ananias lays his hands on Saul and miraculously restores his sight. The High Priest’s strongest ally in the campaign against the Christians becomes a born again, baptized believer and bold proclaimer of the Gospel.
The juxtaposition between the relentless hunter versus the transformed believer is awe-inspiring. Irish-born actor Scanlan powerfully portrays the undeniable change of heart in Saul.
As Saul goes from darkness to light, the dark shadows within the palace tell a much different, ominous story. The evil acts of Agrippa and Caligula reveal a twisted behavior that is not befitting a future emperor. Disturbed by the opinions and actions of Caligula, Pilate is urged by his wife Claudia (exquisitely portrayed by Joanne Whalley) to cultivate “good will” with Tiberius’s successor.
Lorne Balfe’s epic score for this episode is eerily haunting as torches illuminate darkened hallways of the ornate palace. In a bed of luxurious fabric, Claudia wrestles with a nightmare of Caligula ruthlessly holding a pillow over Tiberius’s head, suffocating him in his sleep. She awakens, trembling in fear, to find her nightmare has in fact become reality. Caligula brings word that the Emperor is dead, claiming he died peacefully in bed.
The episode closes with Caligula brandishing his new power and commanding Pilate and Claudia to kneel at his feet, in the presence of their new emperor. The score evokes terror and foreboding as the episode comes to a dramatic end.
In a recent interview with Deadline, Roma Downey reveals her desire for A.D. The Bible Continues, saying, “With The Bible, we’re madly ambitious in having only 10 hours to try to bring to the screen the stories from Genesis right through to Revelation. A.D. has allowed us the chance to take a deeper dive into the Book of Acts. And this first 12 episodes, of which we hope it’s the first of many, takes us on a linear narrative on the first 10 chapters on the Book of Acts.”
With the incredible popularity of A.D. The Bible Continues and it’s stellar combination of talented cast, crew and movie-quality production values from award-winning producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey – it is obvious audiences across the country are eager for more God-honoring, artistically produced television that will continue to exceed their expectations.
Don’t miss the next exciting episode this Sunday at 9/8c on NBC.
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