“Killing Jesus” – a review

Jesus overturns the tables of the temple money changers in National Geographic's/Bill O'Reilly's

Jesus overturns the tables of the temple money changers in National Geographic’s/Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Jesus”

“Killing Jesus” presents a Jesus declared to be the son of God by his disciples, instead of the eternal God  made flesh that is presented in scripture.

What can you expect from Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus? Let me borrow a scene from the Bible to explain:

After John the Baptizer1 is  put in prison by Herod Antipas (called Herod the Tetrarch) for preaching against Herod’s immoral, adulterous affair with the wife of his brother Philip, the Bible records John while in prison sends some of his disciples to Jesus to affirm that Jesus is in fact the messiah that John had announced to the world that he was when Jesus came to him to be baptized by John in the Jordan. In answer to John’s question – are you the one – Jesus provides John’s disciples evidence that he is in fact the messiah by performing messianic miracles (Is 35.5) in the sight of John’s disciples, and sends them back with the message that he is doing the works of the messiah as prophesied by scripture; and also sends a word of encouragement to John. (Luke 7.21-23)

Jesus then turns to the crowd and affirms John and his ministry by asking the people a series of questions that hones in on the expectations the people had about John:

“What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?
25 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces.
26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
27 This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’

Luke 7.24b-27

Why had crowds had been flocking to John? Jesus points out :

– It wasn’t because John had a popular message, changing it to fit his audience. No John preached to all a message of repent or be judged.
– It wasn’t because he was a rich, slick preacher.  No, he wore camel’s skin and ate locusts.
– It was because he was a  true prophet of God, with a steadfast message from God; and the people recognized God working through John’s message and ministry.

So let’s ask that same question about this movie version of the life of Jesus as rendered by popular cable news anchor Bill O’Reilly2 and co-author Martin Dugard.

What should you expect to see in this movie, a Biblically accurate account of Jesus?
– No, those who want a Biblically accurate account, go to see it from someone who  respects the entire Bible as written; not those who want to pick and choose what is in their mind “historical” in the bible, and what is not.

If not, what should you expect to see, a grand production along the lines of Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” honoring the traditional understanding of Jesus?
– No, as I point out in my review of Exodus Gods and Kings,  Ridley Scott (the producer of Exodus Gods and Kings and one of the producers this movie) along with mainstream media and Hollywood, no longer has a taste for such large scale – biblically accurate movies. No, only independent, Christian film makers like the people behind “Son of God”3 honor the traditional understanding of Jesus.

Well then what should you expect to see? A fanciful retelling? The  intrigues of man,  a Jesus divorced from his intimate connection  with God and separated  from the power of God; without miracles, and without all those eyewitness Biblical details?
– Yes!  And more than that, this is a denial of the Biblical depiction of Jesus as the Son of God.  This is the story of a man made out to be God by the long unfulfilled desires of longing Jews looking for a messiah; not the story of the loving, eternal God who clothed himself in flesh to make himself both visible and approachable.

If that’s what you’re after, a fanciful retelling with no regard for the Biblical Jesus, then Killing Jesus fits the bill. For the Jesus of “Killing Jesus” is the Jesus of liberal scholarship4,  who claim to be interested in the “historical” Jesus, which is a code word for the approach  that says – we don’t like the Bible as written, so we’ll take out anything we object to and substitute our own ideas of what we think is more reasonable or appropriate. Thus:

  • Since they don’t believe Jesus did miracles, you won’t see Jesus do miracles. (Which is the case here.  While there are few miracles depicted – Jesus doesn’t appear to do them – they just happen around him.)

  • Since they don’t believe Jesus knew from the beginning he was the Son of God, you won’t see the scene were Mary and Joseph lost Jesus as a young boy  only to find him in the temple where he says you should have known I’d be in my Father’s house (Luke 2.43-49). Or any other scene that affirms that knowledge from early on. 
  • If they don’t believe the claims of Jesus they felt  free to change them, deny them, or attribute them to someone else. Which is what you see here. 


  • Jesus’ famous claim which he made before raising Lazarus (John 11.23-26) “Your  brother will rise again”…(because)… “I am the resurrection and the  life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever  lives and believes in me will never die.” – a clear statement of his  power over life and death which he demonstrated by raising Lazarus from the dead, is changed to “To bring the message of God’s love, I am the resurrection…”, and this is stated while having a meal with Lazarus – who is (clearly) not dead. So obviously Jesus won’t be raising him from the dead, and thus he won’t be making a statement about his power over death nor demonstrating power over anything. Instead he focuses on O’Reilly’s recurrent theme of God’s love to all.

  • At the confession of Peter that Jesus is the Christ, I have no issue that  O’Reilly (who’s Catholic) presents the Catholic interpretation of it: that Jesus’ statement “upon this rock” (Matt 16.18) refers to Jesus building his church on Peter (the justification of having a pope) rather than the protestant and evangelical interpretation that “the rock” Jesus refers to is Peter’s confession – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16.16) No, the issue I have is Jesus – being just a man is unsure where Peter got his inspiration from. O’Reilly has this Jesus saying, “I think this was revealed to you by my father” instead of the firm declaration of the Jesus of scripture, “Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.’ ” (Matt 16.17)

  • Apparently the producers don’t like talk thrones, crowns and authority, because they have the Jesus of this production denying such things will exist in the kingdom of God; while Jesus makes it plain these things will most certainly be a part of his kingdom. (Matt 19.28; Luke 22.30, Rev 20.4;  Rev 2.10, 3.11)

  • Passion Predictions – where Jesus tells his disciples what will happen to him (mocked, flogged, crucified, and raised to life) are a prominent features in the Gospels, appearing in the gospel of Matthew at least 5 times. (Matt 16.21; 17.9-12; 17.22-23; 20.18-19; 26.2 ) (More if you include predictions of just his resurrection and/or suffering) This Jesus, being a mere man, cannot be sure he will be raised to life so he makes no prediction of it; and while he’s not quite clueless over what will happen, he makes no definitive statement about it – that comes from one his disciples, not Jesus.

Clearly the Jesus of “Killing Jesus” is not the Jesus of the scripture – the Word who was with God in the beginning and was God (John 1.1) who became flesh (John 1.14); who knew from the beginning who he was and what his mission was – he didn’t need to go out into the wilderness to figure it out as this movie depicts. (In this version, the temptation of Jesus – where Jesus is led by the spirit to be tempted (Matt 4.1ff)  – is turned into John the Baptizer inspiring Jesus to go into the wilderness to find his mission.)

Ironically, the changes and glaring omissions the writers and producers made such as:

  • removing the supernatural (miracles, angelical visits, visions, the devil, etc.)
  • removing any hint that Jesus controlled his own destiny, much less the events around him

…in an effort to make the story more believable actually makes it less believable because with their changes, motivations and reasons for doing things disappear; or new motivations are made up which are less plausible. For example:

  • The Magi visit Herod the Great in search of the baby Jesus. Herod instructs them to let him know where the baby is so he can also venerate him. It is clear to the viewer Herod wants to kill the baby; but Herod hides that from the wise men. So there is no reason given in this story why they don’t  return to Herod. The Bible records they don’t return because they were warned in a dream not to. (Matt 2.12)
  • Joseph, the husband of Mary becomes very wise. He takes family – Mary and Jesus and flees to Egypt – not because he was warned in a dream by an angel of God as the bible says, but because he reasons no
    king allows a rival.
  • And Joseph returns not because of a vision from an angel of the Lord as scripture says, but  because he gets word (incorrectly5) that no sons of the murderous, deceased Herod the Great are ruling in Judea, and he’s tired of living in pagan Egypt, and wants his son to grow up in the land given the Jews by God and thus decides it’s time to return. – While all that’s probably true, was that Joseph’s primary reason for returning having been told by God to flee Israel?

Obviously I can’t cover all the instances where O’Reilly and company make changes to suit their liberal, anti-supernatural sensibilities, so here’s the bottom line: Devout Christians worship Jesus because they believe the God of the universe, the God of the souls of all mankind, became human, was made flesh and manifested himself as Jesus of Nazareth.  The problem with all those seeking the “historical Jesus” is they cannot see “the glory of God in the face of Christ”. (2 Cor 4.6) All they can see, is a man. And the only way they can figure out why anyone would worship a man is if other men made him out to be God.  And since such a man obviously knew he was not God, he himself would have to be convinced, and he himself would not have the assurance, authority and masterful control over all things that Jesus, the Word made flesh had. That is the man you see here.

That’s why this portrayal of Jesus is a weak one,  a distorted one, a mere shadow of the reality. C.S. Lewis has described well the trap that O’Reilly has fallen into searching for the “historical Jesus”.  In his instruction for Christians given from the point of view of demons called “The Screwtape Letters”, senior tempter Screwtape instructs his junior charge on the benefits of leading people away from the faith by using the “historical Jesus”:

Wormwood: “How do you create new versions of the historic Jesus?”
Screwtape: “By suppressing one point of Jesus’ teaching and exaggerating another. That single emphasis takes what he taught completely out of context and distorts the rest. What is left but subjective guess work that inevitably caters to the human’s own predispositions and political views.
… we thus distract men’s minds from who he truly is, and what he actually did.6

O’Reilly and his emphasis on Jesus’ teaching about love and social justice has fallen for this tactic of the temper hook line and sinker. So don’t be surprised when this Jesus is as surprised as anyone else at the miraculous catch of fish. And don’t be surprised that after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, that this Jesus can only say “I think this was revealed to you by my father.”  The historical Jesus, a mere man, has little or no access to the supernatural, and thus things related to the supernatural elude him.

It is only the true Jesus, as portrayed in the unedited pages of scripture, is Jesus more than a man; he is God the son who is in direct communion with God the father. He speaks directly to God the father, and God answers him directly. Such communion is impossible by the historical Jesus, a man made out to be Messiah by other men. Such a mere man doesn’t have such communion with God, nor the power, authority and control over all things that the unique, only begotten Son of God has.

Duane Caldwell | posted 4/1/2015 | printer friendly version


1 John is typically known as “John the Baptist”, but to avoid confusion with the church  denomination, which obviously didn’t exist at the time, John the Baptizer is a more appropriate, less confusing
description than John the Baptist.


2 O’Reilly has stated in an interview that he feels that God inspired him to write the book “Killing Jesus”. What is less clear is whether God instructed him to follow the Biblical account, or to feel free to take the many liberties with the story that he did.



3 The people behind  “Son of God” : Roma Downey, Mark Burnett and Richard Bedser; producers.



4 Liberal scholars such as Dominic Crossan and others who participated in the Jesus Seminar  and like endeavors are representative of the effort to remove from the bible whatever they decide is not authentic, which was primarily the supernatural (miracles, angels, etc.), and references that demonstrate Jesus viewed himself as the Son of God (God incarnate) from the beginning; without needing to find himself or his mission first.



5 Scripture records Joseph heard “… that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee,” (Matt 2.22) Archelaus was a son of Herod the Great. It is possible the first report Joseph received indicated that a son of Herod was not ruling in Judea, but of greater interest is the need O’Reilly and this production felt to remove the source of the correct information: a warning from God in a dream.



6 CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Letter 23 the “Historical Jesus”



1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
8 years ago

I would’ve been surprised if O’Reilly had presented the real Jesus.