I have lost count of the many articles and commentaries I have read regarding the controversial film, "The Passion of the Christ." Many thoughts and emotions have inundated the minds of those who have seen the film and who have read some of the commentaries. Many applaud the film for its biblical accuracy, while others criticize it for its inaccuracy according to the New Testament accounts. Others see the liberties taken by the film makers, such as the mythical person of Veronica and the confusion between Mary Magdalene and the adulterous woman who was to be stoned to death.
Putting aside the various highlights of the film, both the scriptural and the non-scriptural, the arguments concerning the movie come down to this: the suffering of Christ on the one hand and the blame on the other. The reason for the suffering of Christ, from His arrest to His death on the Cross, has been widely discussed in print, while the blame for His death is more in the minds of the people. Explanations have been offered from the aspect of divine retribution demanded by God to the abject depravity and sinfulness of man who deserves no mercy and because of whom Jesus had to die. In other words, Jesus died because God the Father required it, both to fulfill His demand for divine justice and also because His Son had to pay for the sins of the world. In a sense, God had to satisfy Himself. Of course, this is not Orthodox Christian teaching; but let us go on.
In regard to the blame, the death of Jesus Christ has held sway for many centuries against the Jewish people and has caused brutal and catastrophic bloodshed upon them. Anti-Semitism has been so powerful, especially in western Europe, that finally the pope of Rome released an official statement a few years ago absolving the Jewish people from the death of Christ on the Cross.
From Holy Scripture it has always been clear to Orthodox Christianity that the Lord Jesus Christ, while here on earth, did not preach a new religious faith, but the fulfillment of the teachings and the prophecies of the Old Testament period. He clearly stated that He did not come to do away with the Law, but to fulfill it. Not an iota was to be removed nor added to the Holy Scriptures. Since the books of the New Testament had not yet been written--another one hundred years had to go by before the twenty-seven books would be compiled--Jesus obviously spoke of the books of the Old Testament.
In regard to the Holy Scriptures, many distortions entered into their interpretation, especially the New Testament, during the post-Apostolic period of the Church. These distortions have come down to the present time and explain why there are at least 23,000 different Christian denominations, sects, and cults in our country, aside from those Christian bodies with a historic Apostolic legacy.
The fact of the matter is that, as people attempt to explain the film "The Passion of the Christ" which contains only the final hours of the Lord on earth, they come into focus with the fourteen Stations of the Cross of the Roman Catholic Church and the replication of Michelangelo's Pieta at the base of the Cross, with His Body in His Mother's arms. Unfortunately, with such added scenes, they can miss the true significance of the death of Christ and His reason for it.
Most people do not take into consideration that Jesus came into the world as a perfect man, while yet retaining His divinity as the eternal Logos of the Father. He was theanthropos or God-man. As a perfect human He had no reason to die; for that which is perfect abides forever. He did not have the mark of disobedience of the first Adam because His virgin birth by the power of the Holy Spirit insured that He was the second sinless Adam Who came to renew creation from its fallen state. Only One Who is perfect, without any sin, could do this. The first Adam had the potentiality of perfection, but he lost it when he received the mark of disobedience brought on by Satan. He had gone contrary to the divine will and broke the bond which united him with God. Jesus Christ, the second Adam, was a total stranger to disobedience which always results in death.
When God created all things and finally man, He created all things to have life within themselves, not death. It was man in the persons of our progenitors who brought death into the world. We realize that death was a stranger to Christ when He stood before the tomb of Lazarus, His friend. He wept! He had come face to face with the stench of death and He wept, even though He knew that He would bring Lazarus back to life. Even in the face of this joyful expectation, Jesus wept upon facing the reality of death because He did not create death; man did, through his disobedience.
When the Lord prayed to the Father in Gethsemane, He was not thinking of His coming sufferings which He was ready to accept. He was thinking of something far more painful; He was thinking of the death, albeit temporarily, of His perfect and sinless Body which was a total stranger to the absence of life. At the tomb of Lazarus He must have envisioned His perfect Body unnaturally succumbing to Its separation from life only one week later. Although His Body did not see corruption as the body of Lazarus did, Christ knew that even for several hours His Body would be lifeless until His perfect human soul would return from Hades to bring it back to life through Its reunion with It, taking on Its resurrectional transformation.
No, it was not necessarily the great sufferings that Christ endured which had been the ultimate suffering as the film excessively depicted, but the fact that His holy Body would experience something that was contrary to His perfect human nature. Yet He willingly accepted this temporary plunge into the death of His Body in fulfillment of His words, "For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."
This is the God of the Orthodox Christian Church. This is why Orthodoxy teaches that man is intrinsically good, but being imperfect he constantly has the inclination to sin. Even so, all people have the opportunity to strive for sainthood based on the goodness which is innate in them. A person who is born in a depraved state, as some Christian groups claim, as well as being guilty of the primordial sin, can never qualify for sainthood, if depravity means that nothing good can exist in any person.
In regard to who is to blame for the death of Jesus, some Christian "theologians" lay the blame on God Himself! One must, therefore, ask, "Can God be guilty of anything? Does God the Father need anything, if He is a perfect God? If God did not allow Abraham to slaughter his son, Isaac, would He have had His own Son slaughtered to appease Himself?" It is self-evident that the sacrifice of His Son was basically and simply because of God's love for the world. God is a perfect God Who is perfect Love. Agape-love needs nothing, but always gives without expecting anything in return.
Was it necessary for any religious leader to state that the Jewish people are not guilty of the death of Christ? Do Christians know what they are saying when they lay blame on someone for the death of Jesus? If the Lord Jesus Christ had not come into the world to offer His life freely for the life of the world, today there would be no Orthodox Christian Church nor any other faith group by the name Christian. If we were to blame anyone for the death of Jesus, then we would have to say that Jesus did not want to die and was therefore murdered. He would not be the Lamb of God, as John the Baptist called Him, Who came willingly, out of His divine love, as the second Adam, to re-create the fallen world and to bring it back to its original purpose of incorruptibility in the presence of God's glory. No, Jesus did not have to die; He wanted to die, so that He would descend into Satan's former kingdom of Hades, which Isaiah the Prophet places in the nether parts of the earth, so that all, who were born from the time of our progenitors to the time of His presence in Hades and who were imprisoned there, would be released. This is the reason that He said, "No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again."
Consequently, the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to correct the error of Adam and Eve, so that they and their believing descendants would one day abide in God's eternal Kingdom, the Kingdom which has been prepared even before the foundation of this world. Through the Cross, He descended into Hades breaking down its barriers in order to bring back all people, placing them under His divine Kingship, either in His Kingdom or in the outer darkness for all eternity, according to their personal will. He accomplished this. Returning to His Sepulcher to revive His immaculate Body, He became the firstborn of the dead. The Cross, and His suffering, and especially His death were the Way He chose to destroy our greatest enemy, death. Because of this cosmic-saving event in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is obvious that the Cross has no meaning without the empty Tomb, and the empty Tomb without the Cross is simply an empty tomb.