John, the last surviving disciple of Christ, is living in exile as he tells his story.
Jesus was born to a virgin. Three visiting wise men declare him the future King. Thirty years later, an adult Jesus Christ (Diogo Morgado) travels to Galilee and begins recruiting followers, from James, to his brother John, to Peter the fisherman, to Matthew the tax collector. These men and women would become his disciples. Through his teachings and numerous miracles, Jesus builds a huge following, who begin to call him the Messiah. He also draws the attention of the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders. The Pharisees claim Jesus is blaspheming God by forgiving sins, something only God can do. Jesus responds by saying he is the son of God.
Jesus tells the disciples they are to travel to Jerusalem for the upcoming Passover holiday. He enters the city on the back of a donkey and is met by a huge crowd of supporters, who lay palm leaves in his path. Caiaphas, the head of the Pharisees, is afraid Jesus' presence in the city will further agitate the people, who are already in a near state of revolt against the oppressive Romans, led by Pontius Pilate. (Earlier, Pilate had warned Caiaphas that if there were any trouble from the Jews, Pilate would close the temple, thus cancelling Passover.) Upon entering the temple, Jesus sees the money changers and proceeds to upend their tables. This act draws cheers from the people and scorn from the Pharisees. Later, Jesus tells a little girl that every stone of the temple will soon fall. The Pharisees take this as a plan to destroy the temple and decide Jesus must be stopped.
Judas, one of Jesus' disciples, approaches the Pharisees. He also believes Jesus is going too far and wants to help. They give him 30 pieces of silver for his assistance. That night (the night before Passover), Jesus tells the disciples this will be their last supper together and says that one of them will betray him. Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas kisses Jesus' cheek, thereby identifying Jesus to the Pharisees and revealing Judas' betrayal, and Jesus is then arrested for blasphemy. The disciples then flee the garden to save themselves.
Caiaphas orders an immediate trial, even though it's late at night and not in public, which are violations of Jewish law. He is afraid an open trial on Passover will cause trouble, and Pilate will close the temple. Caiaphas asks Jesus if he is the son of God, and he answers "I am". This is all the Pharisees need to hear, and they immediately find Him guilty of blasphemy.
That morning, to a growing crowd, Caiaphas announces Jesus' guilt and reveals the penalty for blasphemy is death. Judas, horrified by what he has done, throws the silver at the Pharisees and runs off; he later hangs himself. Caiaphas believes if the Pharisees killed Jesus on Passover, it would start a riot, so he turns him over to the Romans for the punishment. Pilate tells Caiaphas that Jesus didn't break any Roman laws, but orders him to be lashed 40 times. Since it's Passover, Pilate says he will follow tradition and free a prisoner of the people's choosing, and if they choose Jesus, he will be set free. By this time, Jesus' mother Mary (Roma Downey) has arrived in Jerusalem to see what is happening to her son.
Pilate orders the crowd to enter his courtyard to choose whether to release Jesus or Barabbas, a convicted murderer. Since none of Jesus' followers were allowed into the courtyard, Caiaphas easily sways the vote so that Barabbas is set free. Pilate then asks what he should do with Jesus, and again Caiaphas sways the crowd to have him executed by way of crucifixion. Fearing a riot among the hostile people, Pilate orders the crucifixion, then literally washes his hands of the situation. A battered and bloodied Jesus then carries his cross to Golgotha and is nailed to it by the mocking Roman guards, who earlier had placed a crown of thorns on his head. Before the cross is put into place, Pilate orders a sign attached to it, reading: "The King of the Jews", much to Caiaphas' dismay. With John, Mary, and Mary Magdalene watching in horror, Jesus hangs from the cross for several agonizing hours. After forgiving the Romans, and the Pharisees who condemned him to death, he asks why God has forsaken him, and declares "It is finished." Accomplished, Jesus dies as the temple and earth shake by earthquake. While the lamps are knocked down, the curtains in the temple where God's spirit was supposed to be present, tear apart. He is then lowered from the cross and placed into a tomb, which is sealed off with a large rock.
Three days later, Mary Magdalene goes to visit the tomb, but is shocked to see the rock broken into pieces and the tomb empty. She sees a man by the tomb's entrance and realizes he is Jesus; Jesus has been resurrected. Mary goes to the disciples' hiding place and tells them the good news, but they don't believe her. Jesus then appears to them, and they all now believe, except "Doubting" Thomas. Once Thomas touches Jesus, then he believes. Forty days later, Jesus is speaking to his disciples and tells them to travel the world to spread his message. He then ascends into Heaven, and the disciples go their separate ways.
The movie concludes with an elderly John saying that all of the disciples were eventually killed for their beliefs, except him. He has been exiled to live alone on a deserted island until he dies. John then sees Jesus, who tells him he will not die, but have everlasting life, and Jesus will return one day.
The film features select scenes from the miniseries as well as footage not aired in the telecast. However, the film does not include scenes featuring Satan (played by Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni) due to a controversy from the series that claimed the actor resembled the United States President Barack Obama. The resemblance was first pointed out notably by Glenn Beck ahead of that episode's premiere. The film's casting director Carl Proctor, points out that the resemblance is entirely accidental. The trailer for the film also shows some scenes from the miniseries featuring David (played by Langley Kirkwood), Adam (played by Paul Knops), destruction of the city of Sodom and Moses (played by Will Houston) parting the Red Sea.
On its first night of release, the film brought in $1.2 million in box office revenue in North American theaters, benefiting greatly from advance ticket sales. It was predicted by Box Office Mojo that the film would likely make $27.5 million in North America in its first weekend of release; it ended up making $26.5 million in its first weekend.
As of May 13, 2014, the film has grossed $59,666,589 domestically and an additional $8,100,000 in foreign markets for a total sum of $67,800,064.
The film has received negative reviews from critics. It currently holds a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 66 reviews, with an average rating of 4.7 out of 10. The consensus states: "The faithful may find their spirits raised, but on purely cinematic terms, Son of God is too dull and heavy-handed to spark much fervor." Another review aggregator, Metacritic, which assigns a rating out of 100 top reviews from mainstream critics, calculated a score of 37 based on 25 reviews.
Nell Minow of Beliefnet gave the film a B grade, saying "It tells the story in a westernized, conventional manner that can seem superficial at times, more a cinematic Sunday School lesson than a movie. It is unlikely to persuade anyone, but it is undeniably moving and many believers will find it inspiring." Jim Slotek of the Toronto Sun gave the film 3 stars.
Ben Kenigsberg of The A.V. Club gave the film a mixed review, grading it a C and saying, "Unlike Gibson’s film, with its relentless and gory focus on Christ’s last days, Son Of God finds time for lessons along with its bloodletting. [...] Accompanied by a score that sounds recycled from The Fountain, the most famous scenes are trotted out: “I’ll give my stone to the first man who tells me that he has never sinned”; the loaves and fishes; the resurrection of Lazarus; the last supper. It’s unlikely Paul Verhoeven will ever get to make his historical Christ movie, but to the extent that Son Of God has a measure of dramatic impact, it’s how it illustrates the radicalism of Jesus’ message and the threat it posed to the establishment. At any rate, the core ideas are more compelling than the bad effects shots of Jerusalem, the cheesy CG water-walking, or whatever exchanges require the actors to emit something other than a declarative shout."