The Young Messiah (2016)

The question as to what Jesus did with Himself in-between His birth and ministry, the best part of thirty years, has both puzzled and fired imaginations in equal measure. Apart from the account of His visiting the temple aged 12 and impressing the teachers of the law, we know very little. The film The Young Messiah (Ocean Blue, 2016), tackles the issue, at least in part.

I have such low expectations of films about Christ that I was almost guaranteed to be impressed. The young Jesus, played by an actor who becomes less irritating with time, is in Alexandria, awaiting Herod’s death. He is frequently being watched by a hooded, good-looking man attempting to figure out His identity. This turns out to be Satan who refers to Him dismissively as ‘angel-boy’, aware that he is different, but not divine. Indeed, this is the attitude of the boy Jesus Himself, though the director has Him performing miracles including raising the dead. That Satan, and possibly Jesus Himself, were unaware of the Messiah’s divinity is not something I could accept, and is one of the few questionable elements of the film.

When the family return to Judaea because of Herod’s death, the latter’s son and heir, Philip, hears rumours of a little boy’s return who escaped his father’s massacre at Bethlehem. He employs a Roman centurion called Severus (played by characteristically grim Sean Bean) to hunt him down. The climax of the story is the meeting of the two in the temple; Severus chooses not to kill Him and returns to Herod claiming otherwise.

This is actually a really good film; the excitement and plot would grip a secular audience without Christians claiming heresy. Jesus’ brothers and sisters are described as his cousins, the children of Uncle Cleopas (nice touch). This was presumably a sop to Roman Catholics who couldn’t bear the idea of Mary having more children.

What the real Jesus actually got up to we do not know. I’ve read all manner of speculation that He came to Britain (‘And did those feet, in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green’) and India. In all likelihood, He lived a quiet ordinary life, not revealing His true identity until those final three years of ministry. That His sinlessness would have distinguished Him from His peers, I doubt not, and His willingness to perform the odd miracle to help those around Him I also concede. The gospels remain quiet about such things, as they ultimately do not matter.