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The Depiction of Jesus in Art, Film, and TV (Exploring The Chosen Season 1 Episode 3 with Youth)

Updated: Jun 1

If you're going to view The Chosen with your youth group, it's a good opportunity to discuss the diverse ways each of us imagines Jesus. Episode 3 of The Chosen is the first time Jesus is featured throughout an entire episode and it gives us a clearer window into the way The Chosen is adapting Jesus. This makes it a great jumping off point for talking about the depiction of Jesus in art, film, and TV - our topic for today! (Episode 3 could as a standalone lesson - it doesn't require viewing of the rest of the show, but I recommend watching Episode 1 and Episode 2 with your group as well).

The Chosen Episode 3 Intro Questions: Imagining Jesus

To get things started, ask your youth to discuss a few simple questions:

  • What do you think Jesus looked like? (hair length/color, beard, etc.)

  • What type of personality do you think he had? (If your kids know Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, etc., you could ask them to try to pinpoint what they think he was.)

  • What influences have shaped how the way you imagine Jesus in your head? (If they say "the Bible" then ask them to be more specific - what stories or passages? If they say "art" or "movies" then ask them if they remember which ones specifically.)

  • Do you think the way you picture Jesus in your head influences how you pray or interact with God?

There's a lot of potential for rich discussions embedded in these questions, so don't rush through them. Ask follow up questions to clarify what your students are thinking and to challenge their assumptions.

Some students may try to brush aside the question about Jesus' personality by asserting that Jesus was everything - all personality types. Point out that this isn't how personalities work. A person can't simultaneously be an extreme introvert and an extreme extravert. A person could be somewhere in between the two extremes, with a few qualities of each, but that itself is a distinct personality type that experiences life very differently from someone at an extreme end of the spectrum. As an analogy, you might want to draw attention to Jesus' appearance. Was he tall, average, or short? What color was his hair? Was he male or female? Concrete questions like these will force students to choose a single answer. From there you might want to point out:

  • Even though Jesus represents all humans before God, he himself was a.distinct individual. He had (and still has) his own unique and specific physical appearance and personality, just like any of us.

  • While we can (and one day will) all resemble Jesus equally in holiness and love, we cannot (and will not) all resemble him equally in our physical features and personality. Someone of Middle Eastern descent probably looks closer to Jesus' skin color or hair than someone from Sweden. Likewise, some people may have personality features that are closer to Jesus' than others. That doesn't mean any particular physical appearance or personality is better than any other.

  • The Bible gives us very little description of what Jesus looked like - and obviously no photographs. As a result, artists and storytellers throughout history have tried to imagine and depict what Jesus looked like.

From here, try looking at some images of Jesus created by artists and film-makers in various times and cultures. If possible, point to images that reflect the way your youth described Jesus. I'll share a few below that you might want to use:

Christ Pantocrator (Christ the Almighty)

Christ Pantocrator is a popular type of image depicting Christ, found particularly in Orthodox Churches. In order to emphasize the divine authority Jesus wields as the Son of God, this iconographic tradition depicts Jesus with a stern and perceptive face, regal blue robes, and hand gestures reminiscent of the emperors. Before sharing this info with your youth, you might want to ask them:

  • Who resonates with this depiction of Jesus? Who doesn't? Why?

  • What do you think this depiction of Jesus is emphasizing about him?

  • Is there anything that you think this depiction of Jesus is missing or gets wrong?

  • If this was how you viewed Jesus, how would it affect your prayer life?

The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ

In stark contrast to Christ Pantocrator, many depictions of Jesus in the West tend to emphasize his human vulnerability and mortality. Mantegna goes to great lengths to draw our attention to Jesus' wounds and the lifeless state of his dull flesh. If you show this image after Christ Pantocrator, I would ask:

  • Do you all resonate with this depiction of Jesus more or less? Why?

  • How does this depiction of Jesus compare to the last one? What is it emphasizing about Jesus?

  • Do you think there's anything this depiction of Jesus is missing or gets wrong?

  • If this was how you viewed Jesus, how would it affect your prayer life?

Jesus and Nicodemus

This painting of Jesus by Henry Ossawa Tanner gives us a Jesus that seems quite human, without drawing attention to his mortality. In contrast to Mantegna's depiction, Jesus looks much less European in his features and appears to be in a more historically accurate setting. And yet, although the depiction is much more earthy than Christ Pantocrator, there's a degree of mystery and transcendence that Tanner captures in his depiction of Jesus encountering Nicodemus. Again, I would ask the same questions:

  • Do you all resonate with this depiction of Jesus more or less? Why?

  • How does this depiction of Jesus compare to the earlier ones? What is it emphasizing about Jesus?

  • Do you think there's anything this depiction of Jesus is missing or gets wrong?

  • If this was how you viewed Jesus, how would it affect your prayer life?

The Good Shepherd

This depiction of a shepherd, found on the tomb of an early Christian, is one of the earliest artistic depictions of Jesus that we have. As you can see, the painting is not attempting a literal depiction but rather is communicating a more abstract concept about Jesus, based on his famous "I am the good shepherd" speech in John 10. It may be that this was done in order to avoid detection by pagan Roman authorities, who would have mistaken the image for a depiction of Hermes. Again, same questions:

  • Do you all resonate with this image of Jesus more or less? Why?

  • How does this depiction of Jesus compare to the earlier ones? What is it emphasizing about Jesus?

  • Do you think there's anything this depiction of Jesus is missing or gets wrong?

  • If this was how you viewed Jesus, how would it affect your prayer life?

Having looked at all of these depictions of Jesus in art, I would draw this introduction time to a close by pointing out:

  • Depicting Jesus is difficult. The Gospels give us very few physical details about him. More importantly, Jesus has a very complex identity: he is fully God and fully human, a teacher and a king, a representative of all humans and yet a member of a particular culture who lived in a specific historical time period.

  • Depictions of Jesus in art, story, and film inevitably emphasize certain qualities of his identity while not emphasizing others.

  • Just like the depictions of Jesus in art, story, and film emphasize certain qualities and deemphasize others, our own mental images of Jesus can emphasize some of his qualities and deemphasize others. We can expand our understanding by viewing biblical adaptations and Bible art that emphasize qualities of Jesus that we don't usually include in our own mental image.

Viewing The Chosen Episode 3

Due to COVID restrictions, my youth group watched The Chosen online using Zoom. You can find episode 3 on YouTube here. If you want to avoid the ads (there's a lot!) or the need to stream it, you can find the Blu Ray here on Amazon.

While watching The Chosen, I made occasional comments through the chat but I tried to not do too much teaching. I wanted the youth to enjoy it and not just see The Chosen as an elaborate preaching illustration. For the most part, I just clarified who characters were (although this episode is less complicated than episodes 1 & 2) and occasionally I briefly explained a reference or allusion that was confusing to my youth.

The Chosen Season 1 Episode 3 Discussion Questions

To begin your discussion of The Chosen Episode 3, I would share this passage from the Gospel of Mark:

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:13-14 ESV)

After this, I would explain:

  • In the time of Jesus, children were mostly seen as a burden and not worth the time of an important teacher. The amount of care and attention that Jesus gave to them was considered surprising.

  • The Chosen wasn't directly depicting this scene, but it was trying to capture the idea that Jesus took a surprising interest in children and children were especially receptive to his message.

  • By making children (who usually came last in society) into Jesus' the first disciples, The Chosen illustrates one of Jesus' favorite principles: "many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:31)

Now return back to the questions from the introduction:

  • Who resonates with the way that The Chosen depicted Jesus? Who doesn't? Why?

  • What do you think The Chosen's depiction of Jesus is emphasizing? How does the depiction of Jesus in The Chosen compare to the images of Jesus we viewed earlier?

  • Is there anything that you think The Chosen's depiction of Jesus is missing or gets wrong?

  • If this was how you viewed Jesus, how would it affect your prayer life?

To conclude, I would point out:

  • All of the depictions of Jesus that we've looked at today capture truths that are recorded in the Gospels. But there are also be aspects of these depictions that have been invented by the Bible artists and adaptors that produced these images.

  • If a depiction of Jesus in art or in film or a TV series like The Chosen helps us imagine and appreciate what the Gospels tell us, that's great! In this way, art can play a valuable role in our spiritual formation.

  • Because every depiction of Jesus also has aspects that were invented, we need to be careful. It's okay to imagine details about Jesus that aren't given to us in the Bible, but we should hold onto those things with a loose grip. If an invented depiction of Jesus ever conflicts with how the Gospels depict him, we obviously should hold to the Gospels.

  • The Chosen does a remarkable job at trying to give us a balanced depiction of the complex and multifaceted nature of Jesus. We should be grateful for the work of Bible Artists and creatives who make great work like this. Maybe some day our group will be watching something made by one of you!

There you go! Hopefully these questions will prove helpful as you watch episode 3 of The Chosen with your youth group. I've condensed the lesson into an easily printable pdf below. If you try it out, please let me know how it goes and if you have any feedback!

The Chosen Group Discussion Guide S1E3
Download PDF • 2.04MB


A New Resource for Engaging Scripture Creatively

Have you ever felt inspired to create your own work of Bible Art or biblical adaptation? Read Scripture Like an Artist is a Bible journal that will help you engage with Scripture through your imagination and respond to what you are reading through art and/or creative writing. For each passage that you read, you will still take notes on important literary features like plot and theme, but you will also have space to respond by sketching, doodling, or writing something inspired by the passage. There's also a separate area for you to draw and take notes on your favorite biblical characters. By engaging with Scripture creatively, you'll allow your imagination to be unconsciously shaped and formed by the images, metaphors, and patterns of the biblical story. And, who knows? Perhaps your quiet time will generate an idea that you can turn into something beautiful!

FYI: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Click here for my affiliation policy.




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