Joel Smallbone: ‘Journey to Bethlehem’ Introduces Jesus to a ‘Younger Generation’: ‘It’s So Pivotal’

One of the lead actors in the new faith-based musical Journey to Bethlehem says he was attracted to the project because he wants to present the gospel story to a new generation in a fresh, unique way.

Joel Smallbone of For King & Country portrays King Herod’s son Antipater in the PG-rated film, which is entering its second weekend in theaters and finished in the Top 10 in its opening. It was made by the same company — Affirm — that previously released War Room, Miracles from Heaven, and Soul Surfer. Smallbone’s wife, the singer Moriah, portrays Mary’s sister Deborah. 

“There’s been a lot of great depictions on the last portion of Jesus’s life, which obviously, is a very key moment — The Passion of the Christ, The Chosen is now doing a really good job,” Smallbone told Christian Headlines. “[But] there’s not been many depictions of the beginning, which is this radical moment of, like, B.C. to A.D. and everything changing. [The Nativity story is] dramatic. It’s got all these highs and lows woven through the story.”

Adam Anders, who made music for Glee and Rock of Ages and such faith-based projects as The Passion and Son of God, directed it and co-wrote the screenplay and music. His wife, Nikki Anders, co-wrote the music. 

“The heart behind this film was to go, ‘Hey, let’s give it color. Let’s give it flair,’” Smallbone said.

Smallbone described the film as a “portrait” instead of a “picture.”

“Someone said to me [that] filmmaking is a portrait, documentaries are a picture. So in a portrait, you fill in things, and they’ve done that with the music.”

Smallbone also addressed the debate over one of the scenes that has sparked discussion on social media. In that scene, Antipater enters the stable of Mary and Joseph.  

“My character — spoiler alert — he kind of is on the hunt for Mary and Joseph and meets baby Jesus at the end of the film, which obviously, there’s no historical evidence that this happened. But what was so beautiful about Adam and Nikki’s concept behind it was like, that the son of a king became the first convert to recognize the true King. So the portrait that they painted does paint outside some of the lines, for sure. But I think for a younger generation, it’s so pivotal to be introduced to Jesus in a magical, you know, musical way.”

His wife, Moriah Smallbone, helped recruit him for the role. She had already been cast as Deborah when the filmmakers decided he would be a good fit for Herod’s son. 

“She came back, and she said, ‘I really feel like this is a really important film,” he said. “… It’s funny because her role is really in the front end of the film, [while mine is] the beginning and sort of at the back, and we’re never in the same scene. So it was just a mind bender for sure as to how it all came together.”

Photo Courtesy: ©Affirm. Used with permission.

Video Courtesy: Journey to Bethlehem via YouTube

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

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