Season 1 | Episode 5 | “The First Martyr” | Aired May 3, 2015
A.D. The Bible Continues hit hard this week, asking questions of morality, justice, and sacrifice. The zealot Boaz is hiding at the disciples’ camp. Peter’s daughter is feeling increasingly more afraid. Pontius Pilate’s thirst for blood and vengeance continues to grow. Jews are being crucified daily.
This week’s episode continues to prove that we are not learning Sunday-school lessons on this show, but real lessons—both about how to stand for peace without placating to dictators and live with conviction without losing your soul or your life.
Producer Mark Burnett has compared A.D. to a Biblical Game of Thrones and he is absolutely right to say so. The Roman and Jewish leaders may not be competing for a literal throne, but they each have chess pieces on the board, vying for control of Jerusalem. The only people not playing this wicked game are the disciples. The disciples are concerned not with power in the natural realm, but rather truth in the spiritual realm.
Peter continues to choose love and mercy, despite brutal opposition. The disciples don’t want a literal king in Israel, but a spiritual king, who rules hearts, not nations. Unfortunately, despite not wanting to play these political games, the disciples are caught up in the middle of everything, especially since they are unknowingly harboring a criminal.
Harboring a fugitive
In last week’s episode “The Wrath” Boaz took refuge in the disciples camp. Peter allows Boaz to stay, unaware Boaz killed a Roman guard. Because of Boaz’s disappearance, Pilot continues to crucify 10 Jewish people every day until Boaz is found. Growing more desperate, Pilot even orders his main guard Cornelius to find 10 women at a wedding and kill them (thankfully the women are warned and no harm comes to them). Pilot’s wife, Claudia, disgusted by her husband’s increasing thirst for blood, meets with Caiaphas’ wife Leah. They too are looking for Boaz as neither of them want to see the bloodshed continue. Leah finds Boaz’s wife, Eva, who tells Leah he is in a place where his sins will be forgiven. Caiaphas instantly knows that means Boaz is with the disciples.
Confronting Peter, Caiaphas accuses him of harboring a fugitive. Peter refuses to give Boaz up, despite Caiaphas’ threats of alerting Pilot to Boaz’s whereabouts. Even though Peter won’t force Boaz to surrender, he gives him a choice. Peter tells Boaz he is forgiven and loved, but that he must turn himself in because it is the right thing to do. Peter’s words make a profound impact on Boaz and he goes to see Pilot. Pilot kills him instantly, and in one of the episode’s best scenes, Peter and Caiaphas sing together a psalm of David, mourning the loss of Boaz and the violence that has overtaken their beloved city Jerusalem.
Sharing in Christ’s suffering
Despite the sweet moment Caiaphas and Peter share together, they are not friends. In fact, soon after, Caiaphas catches Peter, Simon, and Matthew preaching the message of a resurrected Christ and immediately brings them before the Jewish high council. Caiaphas declares that since they are blaspheming God and his law, they must be put to death. Thankfully a wise man, the president of the Jewish counsel, intervenes and saves them from this sentence of death. Unfortunately he cannot save them from punishment, and they are flogged. This flogging is public and brutal. Peter’s daughter Maya washes out his wounds later that evening. Coming face to face with the very real danger that her father is in forces her to leave him and return home. She loves him and believes in his cause, but she cannot stay if she is to remain safe.
Lead and Claudia have somewhat formed an alliance, and they both seem happy to have stopped the killings. They are peaceful toward one another for a second, before Leah lashes out at Claudia for being a part of the system of Roman oppression.
I found it fascinating that Leah couldn’t hold her tongue, not for a second, before she dissolved her alliance with Claudia. Leah’s husband, Caiaphas, believes fully in placating to Roman rule, as he told Boaz before turning him over to Pilot. Leah, however, could not do it, and Claudia, insulted by Leah’s outburst, slaps her. Two women that were clearly on each others sides at first are now intensely opposed to one another, which could become even more problematic if Claudia tells her husband Pilot.
Stephen, the first martyr
When someone is killed not for their crimes but for their beliefs, these brave souls are called martyrs. Technically Jesus was the first Christian martyr, but Stephen is the first person to officially die for Christ. The disciples were able to escape death because they were brought before a counsel of leaders. Stephen (Reece Ritchie) is caught preaching in Jerusalem and is overtaken by a mob. This mob drags him to the outskirts of the city and binds him to a tree. I must admit, this scene was intensely difficult to watch. Stephen is a young man, full of zeal and promise. He is an educated young man, whose excitement to preach the good news about Christ has brought him to this moment. Unfortunately his life is cut short. The mob begins to stone him, throwing rocks at his head and chest. The mob continues to throw stones, and as he breathes his last breath, he asks God to forgive them. An unidentified well-dressed man throws the last stone and then checks to see if Stephen is dead. This man is later to be revealed as Saul, or Paul, as he will be called in later episodes.
This episode showcased the fortitude of the disciples, the very real danger Rome presents to Judaism, and the real danger Judaism shows to the burgeoning Christianity. Boaz was killed by the Romans for his faith in the Jewish people. Stephen was felled by a Jewish crowd for his faith in Christ. Boaz’s wife is so distraught she asks Levi the Zealot to train her be a killer. Despite Claudia’s compassion, she is still a Roman, and perceived as a threat by Leah. Caiaphas remains determined to kill Peter, but he cannot do so without just cause. Peter is learning how to lead, and each week he is tested more and more. Saying goodbye to his precious daughter was painful, but he knows God is on his side, especially since he and disciples witnessed the Angel of the Lord freeing them from the prison cell. Miracles and martyrdom. Two common things in the early days of the Christian church. Now that we have seen a glimpse of Saul, it’s only a matter of time before we see his incredible “Road to Damascus” experience. Perhaps next week!
A.D. The Bible Continues airs Sundays at 9/8C on NBC.