There are almost 30 years of Jesus' life of which we know very little, with that long hiatus beginning shortly after Herod ordered all the first born males of Bethehem to be slain, so insecure was he . . . to prevent any predicted Messiah from laying claim to his earthly throne. Joseph, Mary, warned by an angel, took infant Jesus and fled to Egypt, and then returned to Judea after Herod's death . . . even though Herod's son, Herod Antipas was now on the throne, and like-father, like-son, no friend to any Messiah.
This story line parallels what we saw in King of Kings (1962), a decent film which benefitted from choosing Jeffrey Hunter to portray Jesus (shown here),
who was startlingly handsome and a morally upright young man, although eight centuries before Jesus was born, Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would have ". . . no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nor anything in his appearance that we should desire him . . ." (Isaiah 53:2)
King of Kings presented us with the most elaborately produced Sermon on the Mount ever filmed; but the full impact of the production was diminished by the choice of 53-year old Robert Ryan to portray the 30-year old John the Baptist, miscasting at best . . . plus the cheesy closing scene, which gives the impression that the producer, after spending too much on the impressive larger scale crowd scenes, literally ran out of money and couldn't quite afford to come up with a believable ascent of Jesus into heaven - - making it look like he borrowed Zozobra before it was torched for the closing scene, an effect which, to this day, still casts a long phoney shadow over the incredibly hokey attempt to depict the ascension. In the final analysis, however, King of Kings does have much to offer. The early scenes were far more redemptive, and used a plot device to show how Rome encounted Jesus as a boy several times in his early years, with the same centurion baffled by the seeing the same boy, years apart.
The Young Messiah amplifies on this theme and runs with it. It opens with the family squarely situated in Alexandria on the northern shore of Egypt. A large contingent of ex-pat Jews reside there, having fled Herod's tyranny as well. Then, when Herod died, the family returns to Nazareth, only to be sought out once again by Herod' son, who orders a Roman centurion to locate the boy Jesus, and kill him. The hard-bitten centurion is played to convincing indifference by Sean Bean. There is another character as well, who lurks in the background, constantly whispering doubt into the hearts of Jesus, and egging on those who would kill him. It's the same old adversary whose mission it is to sow doubt and unbelief in our own hearts -- so that no one would never be able to lay claim to his throne as well -- he being the Prince of this World, still very much at work. where now, we have megachurches run by millionaire preachers touting a prosperity gospel promising riches, with them at the receiving end of the overflowing collection plates, or political candidates invoking their "faith" to achieve the power of high office -- or, wide disregard for Jesus' own words, "Call no man on earth 'Father', for you have only one Father, who is in heaven."
The screenplay is totally inventive as to what the young Jesus might have said and done, and that said, it is not only credible, but surprisingly, it is quite plausible. More importantly, it is highly reverent. It freely depicts the corruption of government and rulers, and also shows the joy and hope of the people and their rabbis, who saw the New Star and know that the Messiah was born. It lends insight as to what problems Mary and Joseph might have come up against parenting this chosen child, and how his brother, James might have regarded him. It also presents a marvelous look into how Mary might have explained to the young child who he really is, and who his father really is. I find it especially serendipitous, if not providential, that the young lad chosen to portray the child Jesus is named Adam. Those who know their Scripture well will understand why.
All in all, this is a remarkable motion picture, rich in production value, art direction and set design, with a truly gifted cast and is blemished only slightly by one unscriptural flaw. Flashbacks show us the arrival of three magi from the East to worship at the infant's feet. But both Matthew and Luke do not name how many magi actually followed the star to the stable in Bethlehem. Try as you may, you will not see any mention of three wise men in the Bible. No number of them is given. Otherwise, The Young Messiah is a wonderful story with a very solid basis in genuine holiness.
-- Thomas Ormsby