Martin Scorcese’s film, “The Last Temptation of Christ,” recently marked its 25th anniversary. My, how time flies! When it comes to anniversaries, I must admit that’s not one I’d marked on my calendar.
As a journalist, I viewed "The Last Temptation of Christ" when it was released in 1988. My reasoning was simple: It's hard to comment accurately and fairly when you don't know what you're writing about. There was a great furor over the film, based on a 1953 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. Churches picketed, religious leaders called it “blasphemous.” And, as expected, the Hollywood elite gushed with praise. Scorsese even received an Academy Award nomination for best director.
The film concentrated on the humanity of Jesus, virtually ignoring His divinity. It depicted Him dealing with all manner of temptations, including fear, doubt, depression, and lust.
In one respect, the film was accurate. Hebrews 4:15 declares, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” Both the author and Scorsese seemed to equate temptation and sin as one and the same. Clearly, as this verse states, they are not.
Temptation, as I’ve explained to men I’ve mentored, is being presented with the opportunity to sin. Sin is considering the temptation and moving into action. For instance, an alcoholic may be tempted if someone offers him a drink. The sin occurs if he drinks it, taking the first step in a downward spiral. We might become angry at someone and feel tempted to strike them. If we decide that seems like a good idea and take a swing, temptation has turned into sin.
So yes, Jesus could have been tempted “in every way, just as we are,” yet without sinning if He resisted the temptations. Which is what the Bible teaches.
My observations of “The Last Temptation” at the time – and still today – were twofold:
1) The film was boring and extremely slow-moving, hardly worthy of any cinematic commendation – except perhaps from the sleep-deprived. It was a box office flop as much for that reason as it was for the protests.
2) If Jesus did in fact deal with a "last temptation," it would not have been to experience some human failing. Rather, it would have been to forgo the cross, decreeing that we're not deserving of His once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins. Because we’re not.
Instead of paying the price Himself, suffering as excruciating and humiliating a death as anyone possibly could, Jesus as God could have avoided the cross. He could have elected instead for us to suffer the consequences and receive the eternal penalty for our sins that we truly deserve.
Thankfully, the Lord did not yield to such a temptation and today, 2,000 years later, the free gift of salvation remains available to all that will receive it. As Romans 5:8 asserts, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Yes, I do believe there was a “last temptation of Christ.” It just wasn’t what Kazantzakis or Scorsese imagined.
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, a former newspaper editor and magazine editor. He is presently vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit focused on mentoring and coaching business and professional leaders. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and has authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” “Business at Its Best,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. He also posts regularly on two blogs, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, and www.bobtamasy.wordpress.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.