While the filmmakers treat the Messiah with utmost reverence, he offers only a mix of platitudes about peace and forgiveness. This watered-down Christianity mirrors the sentiments of today’s fearful-to-offend evangelicalism, which often seems more concerned with wooing new followers than offering a complete understanding of Christianity’s demands and rewards.
“Love your enemies,” Jesus tells a young Judah. Later, he pacifies an angry mob of Jewish-nationalist Zealots with more boilerplate, telling them that violence against the oppressive Roman regime won’t solve anything. A few scenes later, an impressively costumed Morgan Freeman, playing the wealthy Sheikh Ilderim, who becomes Judah’s chariot-racing patron, also points out that violence isn’t the answer. If you’ve got Morgan Freeman, who needs Jesus?
Christ’s specifically salvific role, which made him the center of Christian theology for the past 2,000 years, goes missing in the film. As portrayed in “Ben-Hur,” he is neither the Messiah, nor the king whose kingdom is not of this world. Jesus’ death on the cross has no particular religious significance here. The Passion is depicted as almost accidental, as Jesus is swept up in Pontius Pilate’s broader purge of Zealots. Jesus’ death serves as nothing more than an opportunity to set a good example by forgiving his enemies.
Read it all (my emphasis).