There’s something about the powerful story of Jesus’ life that attracts crowds, as evidenced by the popularity of recent TV and film adaptations. Now the long-running live show “The Thorn” is bringing the story to the big screen in a new way.
“The Thorn” is a retelling of the story of the creation to the crucifixion, with the exiled John the Beloved telling a young slave about Jesus.
The live event, which features a professional volunteer cast and crew, tours each Easter season. And March 6 and 7, Fathom Events will show a movie based on the stage production at 850 theaters across the country.
John Bolin, creator and executive producer, describes the live performance as “like watching a Cirque du Soleil show meets ‘The Passion of the Christ’ movie in a way that’s … immersive and beautiful and jaw-dropping and leaves you laughing, crying, deeply moved and wanting to follow Jesus more.”
“The Thorn” toured for a decade, but pandemic-related lockdowns threw a wrench in the 2020 and 2021 seasons, leading to concerns of no longer being able to share the live experience.
Bolin recalled, “I remember packing up the semi-truck, and [my wife] Sarah and I thinking, ‘Is this going to continue? Is this over now?’” By 2021, when events still had no audiences, they wondered if it was time to move on. But they soon realized that God wasn’t finished with “The Thorn” yet.
Hearing about how another Fathom Events-sponsored show “The Chosen” was doing, Bolin had the idea to make a movie based on the live production.
Turning the stage show into a movie was a lesson in humility. Bolin realized that like with the early days of the live show, he had no idea how to pull it off.
He said, “That was all a challenge. All through the process we didn’t know if it would work. We didn’t know if it would represent the live show.”
“People go to it, and every time they walk away from the live show, they say, ‘It was not what I expected.’ It’s what happens every time we do this production. I love that people get to meet Jesus face to face in a way that is unique.”
The show is so emotional and interactive that during one performance an audience member “just about took out Satan — cold-cocked him,” Bolin revealed. “He was so passionately loving Jesus that when the devil was there, he thought, ‘I’m going to take him out.’”
They ended up adding a new character to the movie version — the young slave. The idea was to start with someone who had never heard of Jesus and who had insecurities about who he was. After he heard Jesus’ story, the young man would realize who he was in Christ.
Twenty-five years and over 10,000 volunteers have refined the show. However, it had very humble beginnings.
According to Bolin, it’s an example of “what God did with His story and some ordinary people who said, ‘We’re willing to do what it takes.’”
Years ago, missions-minded Bolin was an interim youth pastor in his church. As a self-proclaimed “not great speaker,” he wanted to share the gospel with the church’s booming youth ministry using an illustrated sermon.
Calling it “The Thorn” (from the crown of thorns) and working with only the skills he learned growing up within a highly creative family and his God-given gifts of creative energy, encouragement and believing in big things, Bolin led his youth group to develop a play that told the story of Jesus.
“The very first ‘Thorn’ performance was horrible. The music was bad. The makeup was bad. The costumes were bad. [However], the youth who were in that performance were amazing,” Bolin remembered.
He continued, “They wouldn’t let us move the grand piano, so that night Jesus rose from under the grand piano. In so many ways, the first ‘Thorn’ show was horrible. … But I think the Holy Spirit had a thumbprint on it.”
Noting that the “enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy,” Bolin has had constant doubts through the years: “Am I good enough? Is this good enough? Does anybody care? Will this work? Will it not work? Will the show survive financially? Would anyone show up? Is this still relevant?”
“But God’s been faithful through it all,” Bolin said. “The reason is because He loves when we tell His story — He shows up. I think every year of ‘The Thorn’ for [the past] 25 years, there’s always been at least one moment where my wife and I look at each other and say, ‘If this works, the only reason it works is because God showed up.’”
“We believe that God did with ‘The Thorn’ what He did with those loaves and the fish and the 5,000. … He turned a little into a bunch. That’s what He does. He took all of our inadequacies and all of our inexperience, and He blessed it. He made it work,” Bolin said.
Whether a person sees the stage production or the movie version, Bolin most wants those who attend to realize who Jesus is and that, “Jesus loves you deeply, and you’re precious and valuable to Him.”
To learn more about “The Thorn” and find dates and locations of the events, go to thethorn.com.
For 25 years, over 1 million people have experienced this live stage experience of movement arts and visual effects portraying Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Now it’s been made into a movie format so those who can’t get to a live show can attend. This Easter is a time to experience the redemption of Jesus in a unique way through the movie version of “The Thorn.”
A family or small group can stream the movie for $19.99 through Virtual Cinema Events March 27–April 30. Go to https://tickets.thethorn.com/how-this-works for more information on this option.
There is also an option for churches, schools and communities to host the movie March 27–April 8. It’s free for the hosting organization but does require selling tickets to those who attend. For more information, go to https://faithcontentnetwork.com/host/the-thorn.