Can all be forgiven in the eyes of God? How can a fallen man be used as an instrument of salvation? Christ’s redemptive power resonates throughout Episode 9 of A.D. the Bible Continues as Saul, famed persecutor of Christians and a former Pharisee, now proclaims that he is filled with the love of Jesus, seeking forgiveness from those he oppressed.
“Saul’s Return” – superbly directed by Rob Evans – begins with Roman soldiers strolling the dark labyrinth of Jerusalem’s stone streets, searching for their former ally: now a traitor who deserves to die. Saul (Emmett J. Scanlan) cowers in a shadowy corner outside the gates as the endearing Barnabas (Kenneth Collard) makes plans for Saul to stealthily reenter a fortified Jerusalem.
“Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him. But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.” (Acts 9: 23- 25)
Morning approaches. In a beautiful cinematic clip that takes full advantage of the sheer wonder of the show’s massive city miniature built in Morocco, the sun rises far above the streets of Jerusalem. But this image of peace is deceptive and fleeting, for behind the walls of Jerusalem, discord prevails.
Chief among those angered by Saul are Jewish high priest Caiaphas (Richard Coyle) and his wife Leah (Jodhi May). They are personally insulted by Saul’s drastic conversion. For them, this fallen alliance is a game-changer. The tyrannical persecutor, who had promised to murder Peter and the other apostles, is now whole-heartedly aligned with his former enemies.
The scene shifts to Governor Pilate’s palace where the new Emperor is deftly asserting his power. Viewers quickly find that Caligula (played marvelously by Andrew Gower) is a power-sickened tyrant who seeks to humiliate and annihilate all who disagree with him. He demands that Pilate (ever-fierce Vincent Regan) kneel before him. In a sordid scene, Caligula sits with a goblet in hand and watches with pleasure as one of his devotees is asked to kill himself as a sign of devotion to his new Emperor. With fire flickering in the background, the devotee willingly impales himself on own sharpened sword. Pilate, his wife Claudia (Joanne Whaley), and guard Cornelius (Will Thorp) are forced to watch the gruesome display as they kneel before the Emperor.
The score heightens, as does the gravity of the situation. Caligula demands that statues of himself should be spread across the Roman Empire, including inside the holy walls of the Jerusalem temple. No one dares to argue with his heretical request, even though they all realize the further turmoil and outrage it will cause, risking stark rebellion. Later, Pilate asks Claudia, “How do you control a madman?”
Within the city walls, a perplexed Peter (Adam Levy) is pondering a similar question: “How do you trust a madman?” A changed Saul has entered the apostles’ chambers and shows his exuberance for the Good News. He wants to be forgiven and to join the believers. Even the sun filtering through the sheer-lined windows cannot outshine his faith. He argues that he was “baptized” and has been “made new again.” But the apostles are not convinced, wrestling with this drastic turn-around. The score, led by Lorne Balfe and a highly trained music department, soars with emotions of restive distrust that the apostles feel in relation to this request by Saul.
“And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26-27)
The apostles are convicted by Jesus’ words on the subject of forgiveness. Does forgiveness have limits? In a brilliantly moving scene, Peter and Saul come face-to-face and humanize the Biblical themes of conversion and redemption. Peter must decide whether or not he can forgive and trust his former tormentor.
This scene is representative of the outstanding work the thirty-plus members of the visual effects department have performed throughout the season. Over and over, this team, under the leadership of Alan Spalding, has created thought-provoking visual metaphors that burst with cinematic perfection. Light filters through the windows and radiates into the darkened room, just as God’s love can light up even the darkest of hearts.
Still, Peter is uncertain.
As the hour unfolds, Mary Magdalene (Chipo Chung), who has infiltrated the home of the Governor, overhears conversations that reveal the dire danger the apostles will continue to face and the chance of an impending war.
Caiaphas and Pilate meet and belligerently debate their course of action concerning the statue in the temple. As they argue, their cunning wives make plans. A statuesque Leah attempts to broker a deal with Claudia that would unite Judea. She posits that Saul should be publicly killed so that Caligula would hear news that Judea is protecting the interests of the Emperor by putting to death blasphemers. Perhaps, she powerfully offers, this would buy them some time in having to place a graven image in the temple.
As the riveting episode concludes, Peter calmly enters the room where the apostles congregate around a small table bathed in candlelight and moonlight to deliver his much-thought-about decision. He announces, “We welcome Saul as a brother in Christ.”
Dissension swells among the followers of Christ, as they do not all agree with this new alliance with their former oppressor. Simon (Fraser Ayres) storms out and races through the dark streets where Roman soldiers parade with outstretched swords and burning torches. He seeks refuge with the zealots and takes steps to enter their contingency. Saul follows after Simon, in an effort of reconciliation, but is soon spotted, captured, and thrown behind prison bars by his former allies.
The last sentence viewers hear in Episode 9 is Saul, standing inside the very prison in which he once held believers, voicing the stanza of the Lord’s Prayer, “Deliver us from evil.”
Executive producer Roma Downey has said her goal in creating the smash hit The Bible was to “tell the grand narrative of the Bible.” She and fellow executive producers Mark Burnett and Richard Bedser have done a stunning job following through on this desire in the making of A.D. The Bible Continues. Alongside teammates such as Jack Levy, the lead researcher, this unstoppable production alliance has managed to humanize and dazzlingly portray, with Biblical and historical accuracy, the first 10 chapters of Acts.
Fervent fans pray that they will be called to the dynamic task of humanizing future texts of the Bible as well. A.D. The Bible Continues has upped the ante of faith-based media, and viewers plead for more.
Don’t miss this coming Sunday’s episode at 9/8c on NBC!
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