There’s a moment in season 4 of The Chosen—coming to a theater near you on Thursday, February 1—in which Jesus (Jonathan Roumie) steps outside for a moment. Some of the disciples are bickering over some trivial matter or other, and Jesus finds himself alone with Little James (Jordan Walker Ross) and Thaddaeus (Giavani Cairo), the first two men who followed him.

By this point in the story, Jesus has been dealing with all sorts of issues. He has received some very bad news about his cousin John the Baptizer (David Amito); his disciples are competing for status within his movement; the movement itself has attracted thousands of followers, critics, and onlookers thanks to the sermons and miracles that Jesus has performed; and now, his opponents are turning into outright enemies as verbal arguments start shifting into physical violence.

In the midst of all that, Jesus quietly sits down with James and Thaddaeus and asks if they can remember what it used to be like when it was just the three of them, hanging out together. “Do you ever miss those days?” he asks.

It’s hard not to see an element of autobiography from series creator Dallas Jenkins and his collaborators. Like the nascent Christianity it depicts, The Chosen has grown by leaps and bounds since the first four episodes were released online just in time for Easter 2019.

The first big leap came in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the producers made the series available for free. It was supposed to be a temporary measure to help people get through lockdowns and self-isolation, but the showrunners found that the “pay it forward” donations from the show’s fans surged so quickly they could keep the show free indefinitely. (It is now funded through charitable donations made to the Come and See Foundation.)

After finishing the second season in 2021, the producers began experimenting with theatrical releases, starting with a Christmas special that year and continuing with the season 3 premiere in 2022 and the season 3 finale in February 2023. Altogether, including another Christmas special that came out this past December, The Chosen’s theatrical releases have grossed about $38 million so far. Some episodes have done better in North America than would-be blockbusters and Oscar contenders that came out at the same time.

Along the way, the show became a big hit on Netflix, Amazon Prime, The CW Network, and other platforms that licensed it, and the show’s lead actors lent their stardom—niche though it may be—to faith-based hits like Jesus Revolution and The Shift.

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Season 4 will be the show’s boldest experiment yet. Every episode will premiere in theaters: the first three on February 1, three more on February 15, and the last two on February 29. (The first installment will run for about 3 hours and 20 minutes—longer than Oppenheimer, but shorter than Killers of the Flower Moon.) It’s the first time an entire season of a television show has ever debuted on the big screen.

But along with that success and support from the show’s fans, The Chosen has had growing pains too. Some plot twists, like Mary Magdalene (Elizabeth Tabish) suffering a relapse of sorts in season 2, have been controversial. A “reverse psychology” ad campaign—in which billboards depicting Jesus and the disciples were “vandalized”—backfired. And every trailer and behind-the-scenes video has been scrutinized for questionable elements, from an LGBTQ pride flag used on-set by one of the camera operators to the theology behind some extrabiblical lines of dialogue.

So as The Chosen’s Jesus and others look back and marvel at how big and unwieldy their movement has become since its humble beginnings, it’s tempting to think that the filmmakers are writing some of their own experiences into the show.

But Jenkins, who has talked in the past about the real-life influences on his show, says any similarities on this front are purely unintentional. Speaking to Christianity Today on the eve of the show’s “teal carpet” premiere in Los Angeles, he says the story is shaping the Chosen phenomenon and its stewards more than they are shaping it.

“I think it’s less us imbuing some of that into the show, and it’s more the show imbuing some of that into us,” he told CT. “I think we actually end up trying to live out some of the lessons we learn from the show as we tell the story. My wife always says, ‘We’re not free from the lessons of each season,’ and so I do think that what’s happening in the season is impacting us.”

“There could be some subconscious stuff coming in,” he added, “but we’re not intentionally going, ‘Ooh, as Jesus’ ministry exploded; the show’s growing as well; so let’s talk about it in that way.’ I think it’s kind of come via happenstance.”

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Noah James, who plays the disciple Andrew, seemed more open to the idea that art might be reflecting life in this case. “We really had no idea where this show was headed,” he told CT. “We hoped, but even in our wildest imagination, we did not think that we would be here, speaking to you today, about releasing season 4 in theatres. That was not even on the radar.”

“And I think similarly, in the show, we as the disciples are doing the best we can to, you know, keep the roof on the house. We don’t know how it all is going, but it gets very, very scary, especially in this season, because as the movement becomes bigger, it attracts attention—sometimes perhaps unwanted attention—and you see the disciples struggle to deal with it.”

Season 4 marks a significant turning point for the series. Jenkins has said for a while that the show will run for seven seasons, so season 4 is the middle point, the part where all the emotional highs of the previous seasons—the feeding of the 5,000 and the walking on water—give way to a growing sense that things could go very badly for Jesus and his followers.

With that darker, more ominous turn in the story, the show takes a deeper dive into the emotions of its characters—emotions that resonate all the more because viewers have now spent almost five years getting to know these people. And one of the most deeply affected characters, of course, is Jesus himself.

One of The Chosen’s most daring choices is how it has leaned into Jesus’ humanity, inventing page after page of dialogue for him that has no clear source in the Gospels, while also affirming his divinity.

On the one hand, the Jesus of this series has casually talked about how the creation of the world is “a favorite memory” of his. But the show also treats him as a regular person with an ordinary interior life. He gets quite vulnerable at times and occasionally feels the need to process what he’s going through.

One episode in this season begins with Jesus waking from a dream, and for a moment, it’s like we’ve been given a glimpse inside his mind. At another point, while contemplating the suffering that is to come, Jesus leans on someone for emotional support—and the person he turns to is not whom you might expect. And when The Chosen gets to Lazarus’s tomb and the famously short verse that says Jesus wept (John 11:35), the Jesus of this series doesn’t just shed a dignified tear or two. He falls to his knees and practically sobs.

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Jenkins admitted he’s getting into “dangerous waters” by putting the audience “inside Jesus’ head,” “because how can you ever fully do that?”

But he insisted it’s all part of a healthy exploration of what it meant for the divine to become human, and for the Creator to become Immanuel, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). “It’s not God above us while he was here,” said Jenkins. “He was with us. He dwelt among us. He danced with his friends at weddings, and he had dreams, no doubt, and he got sad. We see him sad in Scripture, and so I think it’s interesting to explore why.”

Roumie—who first played Jesus in short films made by Jenkins before they worked together on The Chosentold CT it’s important to show Jesus experiencing all of these things because it is the full humanity of Jesus that connects us to him and allows us to relate to him and his ability to empathize (Heb. 4:14–16).

“He knows exactly what it’s like to be human, because he was fully human,” Roumie said. “So he would go through all the things that humans go through: dreams, laughter, crying, and feeling pain, frustration, anger—righteous anger, in his case, obviously—but, you know, frustration with people not taking him at his word and believing him and hearing him. He must have dreamt. He must have done all those things that we do.”

There’s a long-standing debate on how much Jesus knew about the future during his time on earth, and that question takes on new urgency in The Chosen as certain plot twists put new strains on the relationships within the Jesus movement. Does the Jesus of this series know that those twists are coming?

“There’s going to be a lot of questions about that,” admitted Jenkins, who added that he and Roumie have tended to “mix and match” when deciding how often God the Father “granted Jesus knowledge of certain things.”

“In fact,” Jenkins told CT, referencing Matthew 24:36, “Jesus said, There are some things the Father knows that I don’t know. So we’re comfortable in that tension.”

Still, as serious as the story turns this season, there’s also a lot of joy to be had—at times, you can feel the fun the actors are having. Nowhere is this more evident, perhaps, than in a scene where some of the disciples play actors themselves, putting on a skit for the other disciples that re-enacts the events celebrated every year at Hanukkah.

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Jenkins said the levity in scenes like this, which might not seem central to the show’s purpose, help lay the groundwork for the show’s more serious parts.

“We love to show these personal moments, these human moments, these fun moments, that in many ways are the calm before the storm,” he explained. “And we feel like when you know Jesus more—and you know these people more, and you spend time with them even in their fun moments that have little to do with their ministry—then when they do experience the big things, it makes it that much more impactful.”

So, what comes next?

Three more seasons, for starters. The Gospels don’t say exactly how long the earthly ministry of Jesus lasted, but it’s traditionally thought to have been about three years, and The Chosen has already been airing two years more than that. “We’re racing against time to make sure our actors don’t look like they’ve aged a decade!” joked producer Chris Juen.

Jenkins has floated the possibility of making a theatrical movie during one of The Chosen’s future seasons instead of simply repackaging existing episodes for the big screen. And both Jenkins and The Chosen’s president of production, Mark Sourian, have talked about telling more stories set in “the Chosen universe.”

For now, those are just ideas, and it’s too early to say where any of them might lead. But the series’ open future is itself reminiscent of another scene in season 4, in which Little James ponders all that has happened.

“None of us could have dreamed where all this was headed,” he says to Mary Magdalene.

“We still can’t,” she replies.

Peter T. Chattaway is a film critic with a special interest in Bible movies. He lives with his family in Abbotsford, BC, Canada.

[ This article is also available in Français. ]