Tuesday, June 18, 2013

You Sir are No Jesus Christ: 4 Reasons Why the Man of Steel Falls Short of the Son of Man

Last night my wife and I went on a date and watched the new Superman: Man of Steel and enjoyed it for a host of reasons. On our return home I shared with her how the movie was promoted and some of the parallels Superman, both the comics and the movies, has with Jesus of Nazareth.  It is no secret the Man of Steel sought to lure church-goers in hoping to take advantage of the audience that made Passion of the Christ do so well at the box office. The promoters established an entire website full of resources for both pastors and churches (click here).

Related to this, an article entitled, Man of Steel: The top 20 reasons why Superman is Jesus, offers some serious and not-so-serious parallels between the Son and Man and the Man of Steel. The better one's mentioned include:
  1.  His dad has superpowers
  2. His dad sent him to Earth to save humanity
  3. "He'll be a god to them"
  4. His adoptive father is a humble tradesman
  5. He willingly sacrifices himself for the good of mankind
  6. He is exactly 33-years-old at the time
 This is a decent list but other parallels could be drawn. Consider the following:
  • Both he and his father are named El (Hebrew for God).
  • He plays the role of a Savior (Superman Returns makes this explicit)
  • His adoptive father dies.
  • He embodies and represents both humans and his father carrying in himself the genes of his people. In this sense, he serves as a quasi Kryptonion-human.
These parallels are prevalent in an important scene in the movie. Superman must decide whether to turn himself in to the villain or reveal himself as the alien among us. He enters a quite country church and discusses his dilemma with a priest. As he sits in one of the empty pews the camera juxtaposes Superman with a painting of Jesus praying at Gethsemane. The point is clear: At this point in the story, Kal-el is having his Gethsemane moment. Will he risk his life by drinking this cup or not?

Other parallels could be drawn. However as theologians of the cross, it should be stated clearly that such parallels, though fascinating, are far from depicting the real Jesus Christ. Here are just four reasons why.

1. Jesus Came Willingly, not Compulsory

A few years ago a number of postmodern theologians pushed forward the notion that penal substitutionary theory of the atonement was a form of "divine child abuse." If Jesus died "in our place and for our sins," the argument went, in order to appease the wrath of God, then He cannot be loving, but instead a murderer of His son.

What is missing here is the Biblical teaching that Jesus came to earth and died upon the cross as our substitute voluntarily. In John 10:17-18 Jesus says:

17 For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. 18 No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”

Here, and elsewhere, Jesus articulates both his willingness to die and His obedience to His Father. Both statements are true. In obedience He could do nothing else but suffer the cross (see Matthew 16:24). Yet at the same time, He willingly, out of love, laid down His life on our behalf.

The same mistake is being made here. Superman is sent to Earth while an infant unable to make his own decision. He grows up not understanding why he was sent to Earth and struggles to "find himself." It isn't later until later when he meets his real father that Superman embraces his identity as a "savior."

This is not the Christ we have learned. Jesus is Savior and aware of this no later than at age 12. He initiated salvation on our behalf by entering our world on his own initiative. He willingly and freely bore the cross not compulsory, but willingly. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

2. Jesus wars not against flesh and blood, alien or otherwise

In Man of Steel, Superman wars against General Zod from Krypton. Superman's most famous archenemy, Lex Luther, is a human who eventually becomes president of the United States yet to be seen in the latest movie (presumably series of movies). Superman's enemies are always mortal beings either from other worlds or from the Earth.

Jesus' wars against a very different enemy. In Genesis 3:15, God prophesies in the proto-evangelion that the Messiah would crush the head of the serpent. At the cross victory is proclaimed against the Devil, repentant man is declared righteous, and the sting of death is removed.

While Superman is fightly fleshly enemies to defend cities and citizens, Jesus fought against principalities and powers to transform the hearts of men. In the end, then, Jesus is far greater. Superman never defeats the last enemy and is always at war. Christ, on the other hand, through His incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and final consummation He has/will defeat every last enemy especially depravity, death, and the devil.

3. Superman is weak. Jesus is strong

Superman can never declare, "It is finished!"

We all love Superman because he is everything we wish we were and does everything we wish we could. Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. He can jump buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky!

That is not the Jesus we see. Certainly Jesus is portrayed as the healer of lepers with the ability to walk on water, raise the dead, and turn water into wine, but in the end He is a helpless failed Messiah unable to carry his cross to Calvary. Regarding this, the late John Stott wrote in his book The Cross of Christ:

Look at [Christ], there, spread-eagled and skewered on his cross, robbed of all freedom of movement, strung up with nails or ropes or both, pinned there and powerless. It appears to be total defeat. If there is victory, it is the victory pride, prejudice, jealousy, hatred, cowardice and brutality. Yet the Christian claim is that the reality is the opposite of the appearance. What looks like (and indeed was) the defeat of goodness by evil is also, and more certainly, the defeat of evil by goodness. Overcome there, he was himself overcoming. Crushed by the ruthless power of Rome, he was himself crushing the serpents head (Gen. 3:15). The victim was the victor, and the cross is still the throne from which he rules the world. (223)

That is the paradox of the cross. The eyes of the world sees weakness; the eyes of faith sees strength. The eyes of the world sees surrender; the eyes of faith sees victory. He wins without throwing a fists or killing His enemy. He defeats death by finding it wanting at His resurrection. He defeats depravity by becoming our righteousness. He defeats the devil by crushing his skull. Jesus has no kryptonite. Not even death or even Satan is greater.

4. No redemption

Superman, in one sense, offers salvation but in no way offers real redemption. As the previous points argue, Superman delivers the people of Metropolis and Earth for a time from enemies,  but he does not and cannot free them from evil either from within or without. Jesus offers true and lasting redemption.

In Christ Paul can boldly declare "there is now no condemnation to those who are in" Him (Romans 8:1). In Christ, the believer finds hope in the midst of hopelessness, peace in the midst of chaos, joy even in the midst of suffering, contentment in the midst of consumerism, love in a confused world of lust, assurance in the midst of accusation, and hope in the face of death. The Christian, in Christ through the Spirit, is truly free.

In John 8:34-36, Jesus proclaimed, Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Consider briefly the difference between the two men's "powers." The Man of Steel can see through buildings and stop a speeding bullet, but he cannot turn water into wine. Do not miss the significance of that difference. Jesus transforms the leper (a picture of sin) freeing him from his disease. He raises the dead giving him new life. Superman can monitor Louis Lane's heart, but he cannot regenerate it. Superman can protect the blind man, but he will never be able to make him see.

The miracles of Jesus are more than proof of His power and divinity, but are a picture of the gospel. The gospel opens the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, heals the legs of the paralyzed, raises the dead, and cleanses the possessed. Jesus is still doing the same today. The sinner is truly saved. He is redeemed from his slavery to sin. He is free indeed.


Though Superman is a fascinating story, and it truly is, outlasting the test of time quickly approaching one hundred years of saving the world, he cannot and will never actually save the world. The Man of Steel is no Son of Man. Jesus of Nazareth is far greater than Clarke Kent and our hope is more assured in the Son of God than in the son of Jor-El.

Metro UK - Man of Steel: The top 20 reasons why Superman is Jesus
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