What would you do if a religious leader arrived on earth claiming to the The Word? Someone who could potentially unite religions and whose miracles are leading many to believe he might just be the second coming of the messiah?
That’s the fascinating scenario at the heart of a new Netflix drama simply entitled Messiah. (The show is not to be confused with another Netflix show The First Temptation of Christ, which has generated a huge amount of controversy after depicting Jesus as gay).
Al-Masih is played with convincing and enigmatic divinity by Mehdi Dehbi. It is also refreshing to have an authentic Middle Eastern actor playing the messiah – there's no Westernised ‘white Jesus’ here.
In the first episode he defeats ISIS with a freak sandstorm and leads a keen group of initially Muslim followers across the desert to the border with Israel. As his actions begin to cause civil unrest, he becomes an international sensation attracting the attention of world leaders and the CIA who are keen to find out if his presence poses a security threat.
But is this Al-Masih a credible divine presence or a dangerous lunatic who has come to deceive people and cause chaos? There's a third possibility, of course. What if he's the Antichrist? Arabic speakers have noted that the character's name may be a reference to ‘Al-Masih ad-Dajjal’, who is an Islamic Antichrist figure.
The production team has played fast and loose with biblical and Koranic end time prophecies. Messiah is no Left Behind. It doesn't provide viewers with a literal interpretation of Revelation – but it makes for fascinating viewing, for Christians and non-Christians alike. This series could generate brilliant discussions in church small groups which study the end times - although be aware there is strong language, sexual scenes and violence throughout.
The series is set in our modern, media-saturated age, and so it takes no time at all for the iPhone footage of Al-Masih's apparently miraculous acts to spread like wildfire across Instagram feeds. If this is the end of days, the public will witness it being live-streamed in real time. But as more information about Al-Masih’s background is unearthed, the chances of it all being an elaborate hoax grow.
It doesn't provide viewers with a literal interpretation of Revelation – but it makes for fascinating viewing, for Christians and non-Christians alike
The story is told from multiple perspectives. All of the following characters are flawed, and are looking for salvation in their own way: Eva (Michelle Monaghan) is a hard-bitten and world-weary CIA Agent assigned to find out if this miracle maker is actually some new form of terrorist. Palestinian refugee Jibril (Sayyed el Alami) is one of Al-Masih’s earliest followers, who becomes a spiritual emblem in his own right. There's also a US preacher who is on the brink of losing his faith. His sullen teenage daughter is saved from a very Wizard of Oz like tornado – just one of many pop culture references that populate the show. Another major protagonist is ex-Mossad agent Aviram Dahan (Tomer Sisley) whose sins are many. He is challenged in his personal interrogation interview with Al-Masih and becomes obsessed with following him – but to what end? Also introduced is cyber-anarchist Oscar Wallace (Christopher Heyerdahl) – could he be behind Al-Masih’s appearance? They both studied at the same college and seem to share some key ideologies.
This first season doesn’t answer all our questions and leaves much doubt regarding the key ‘is he / isn’t he’ question. If Al-Masih really is the Messiah, then why does he leave his followers in such negative situations and where is his master plan of salvation? But if he isn’t – and if his miraculous powers are real - might he actually be a more dangerous deceiver?
It will be certainly be interesting to see where the series goes next. I found it all the more compelling for the fact that it does not preach or tell you what to believe.
Because of the worldwide availability of Messiah, Netflix has created one of the best religious discussion starters for years. This series will no doubt prove to be a helpful way of generating religious-themed discussions with friends who might never foot step in a church, or who would balk at an Alpha invite.
As the advertising line goes: “will he CONvert you?”
Matt Adcock is the author of Complete Darkness
Premier Christianity is committed to publishing a variety of opinion pieces from across the UK Church. The views expressed on our blog do not necessarily represent those of the publisher.