Understanding the Passion

Is the extent of Jesus' physical suffering theologically significant?

The Passion of Jesus, more than other parts of the gospel story, cries out for a theological commentary. While the uninitiated can easily appreciate scenes of Jesus’ ministry, in which he appears as a compassionate healer and teacher, they will be less clear about what to make of a gruesome execution. The crucifixion made no sense to Jesus’ own followers, who had to start rereading their scriptures in an effort to discover why the mighty prophet of God, the one God raised from the dead, died an ignominious death.

As an evangelistic tool, then, Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ presents some challenges. Offering only fleeting references to Jesus’ life and ministry, the movie focuses on a bloody day of torture and therefore on that most mysterious of theological topics—atonement.


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