On the 12th August 1988 the film adaptation of “The Last Temptation Of Christ” was released. It was based on the novel by the Cretan born author Nikos Kazantzakis. Kazantzakis was born in 1883. At the time of his birth Crete remained a part of the Ottoman Empire. His parents were observant followers of the Greek Orthodox Church.
However as a young man he struggled with reconciling his faith with his growing interest in political ideologies, particularly the notions that surrounded Greek national and cultural identity in a time of global tumult. The novel reveals the inner struggle of Jesus Christ as a mortal being. The Christian story is subverted in the narrative to emphasise the paradox of Christ`s life.
Kazantzakis shows the human side of a Jewish man living under Roman occupation but called by a vague divine destiny to save His people. In Kazantzakis version of the story Christ is forced to collaborate with His oppressors. He is working as a carpenter constructing crosses for the crucifixions. Judas Iscariot is His closest friend but seeks to destroy Him for his role in the torture of Jewish rebels.
However Iscariot soon suspects that Jesus is the Messiah sent by God to release the Jewish people from the yoke of the Romans. He tries to persuade Jesus to lead an armed struggle against the occupiers, but Jesus is reluctant as His life is motivated by love for all of mankind. Jesus Himself is conscious of his calling, but is consumed by mortal desires. He acquires disciples and admirers, including Mary Magdalene. He fears the consequences of succumbing to earthly temptation and ventures out into the desert to pray.
While fasting and abstaining from all human contact He experiences visions. He encounters the figure of Satan for the first time, but is unaware that this is a shape shifting being. When He emerges out of his prolonged absence He is conscious that His life on Earth is uncertain. Judas betrays Him and He is crucified but in Kazantzakis story Jesus has a vision on the cross that He is saved by an angel, is allowed to live and marry Mary Magdalene.
The twist emerges in the closing scenes when Jesus realises that the “angel” that visits Him on the cross is in fact Satan. He prays to God to release Him from this final temptation and pleads for His mortal self to return. He dies and accomplishes His Father`s wishes.
This version of the story resonates and shocks for good reason. If Jesus had succumbed to His desires as a Man He would have become just another Jewish philosopher, but instead He fulfilled His divine purpose to be resurrected as the Son of God.
Kazantzakis was misunderstood by both the Greek Orthodox and Catholic Church authorities, who considered his novel to be a work of blasphemy. His response to the criticism was thoughtful and considered, as he wrote,
“You have given me a curse, Holy Fathers, I respond to you with a wish: I wish you that your conscience is as pure as mine and you to be as moral and religious as I am.”
However the controversy and notoriety persisted throughout his lifetime.
Kazantzakis died in 1957. He was 74 years old. He died with a pure conscience and the knowledge that it was only God that had chosen his ultimate path through life, and that God would guide him in the life that awaited him. The inscription on his gravestone reveals the wisdom that he acquired in life, it says,
“I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”
Four years after his death the Greek Orthodox authorities rehabilitated his reputation as a great theological thinker and the “curse” was lifted. He is now considered one of the greatest Greek writers and his ideas are now a central part of Christian theology.