I’m a Superman nerd.
Anybody who knows me knows that fact about me, and if they don’t know that fact then they should definitely learn it quickly. I think Superman’s thebomb.com, I think he’s a super-swell guy, and I think that he is without-a-doubt the best superhero ever created, and I would defend his superiority above all other superheroes to the point of heated debate if the situation called for such an argument.
The reason I’m so fond of Superman, as many people know, is because he’s basically a modern-day Jesus. I’ve posted previous blogs about it, I’ve analyzed the most recent movies…I’ve done all that jazz and I think it’s super cool to have a modern-day character that people can look to as a savior-like figure, even if this one is fictional and fighting alien warlords rather than being a real-life Savior who died for the sins of the world.
And this is pretty much what I want to talk about today. I’ve addressed many similarities between Superman and Jesus before, but today I want to talk about something a bit different, a little more grounded in the psychological realms of both respective people/characters. However, I will start this whole sha-bang out by addressing a few of the basic similarities right away in case you haven’t had a chance to read them elsewhere:
- A heavenly father (Jor-El/God the Father) sends his only son (Superman/Jesus) to earth not to destroy it, but instead to save it.
- On earth, that son is raised by two people with the initials J&M (Jonathan/Joseph & Martha/Mary)…(FUN FACTS: Jonathan and Martha were originally going to be named Joseph and Mary in the Superman comics; also, Jesus was born in a stable and Superman was raised on a farm)
- When this guy comes of age, he travels into the wilderness to connect with his father and kick off his “hero’s journey” (Superman goes to the arctic while Jesus goes into the Judean desert; both are roughly 30 around the time of this occurrence, typically)
- This dude can do things that other people simply can’t (these are called “superpowers” with Superman, but “miracles” with Jesus)
- He talks with his real dad all the time, even if that dad isn’t with him on earth (Fortress of Solitude/prayer, which Jesus often did in solitude)
- He is a stand-up, righteous guy, one that many people would call a goody two-shoes purely because they’re straight-up jealous of how awesome he is
- He hides his real identity (Superman in the from of Clark Kent, and Jesus in the form of what people have called the Messianic Secret)
- He is given power by the heavens (Superman gets his power from the sun, whereas Jesus, the Son, get’s his power from actual heaven, where his Father is enthroned)
- He dies for the sake of mankind, in doing so also killing off the worst enemy mankind has ever faced (Doomsday for Superman, sin for Jesus…both are entities that aren’t granted a lot of characterization, but it is clear that they seek nothing but destruction)
- He comes back to life after some time in the grave
If these weren’t enough, the name Kal-El (Superman’s Kryptonian name) literally means “voice of God” in Hebrew, where Jesus is called “the Word” in the Bible (a la John 1).
Okay, so yeah, there’s a few similarities, but today it’s #7 I’m really wanting to latch onto, because it’s something that people give Superman endless grief for. But the truth is, I think Jesus can help us solve the little issue lying therein and, in doing so, give us a little dose of Biblical knowledge and truth that we can take away with us as we head into the New Year.
But first, I want you to watch a short little video:
Now, you can attribute it to Christopher Reeves’ spectacular acting, but I think something phenomenal is going on within the context of this story, something that explains one of the biggest issues surrounding the Superman mythology ever since he was created in 1938:
Yeah, today we are talking about those dat-gum glasses.
NOW LET’S BE HONEST…at some point we’ve looked at Clark Kent and been like, “Oh come on, how can people NOT recognize that he’s Superman?!” But the truth is, I want to argue that if we were to meet Clark Kent face-to-face (and if Superman was a real-life superhero), we wouldn’t recognize him! You wanna know why? Because people have a difficult time recognizing that a person of importance is before them, especially if that person defies their expectations.
Imagine if you were at a restaurant and you saw Robert De Niro sitting all by himself across the room. At first you’d probably be like, “Oh wow, it’s Robert De Niro!” Then, “Nah, that guy just looks a lot like Robert De Niro.” Then, “It probably isn’t him, but’s it’s crazy much how they look alike.” The guy fits the bill and looks the part, but the fact that he isn’t surrounded by a mass a swarming fans confuses you. It’s not what you would expect.
Now multiply this by ten and take it in terms of Superman: he’s a godlike character with supernatural abilities and a totally-chiseled physique, and for all you know he doesn’t have a secret identity! Why would he? Batman and Green Arrow and the Flash all wear masks but Superman doesn’t, so one could assume that he’s just always Superman! So when you see Clark Kent – slouching slightly and wearing over-sized clothes, dealing not-too-greatly with his obvious social awkwardness – you barely even take the time to register, “Wow, he looks a lot like Superman.” Sure, his face meets the part and he’s roughly the same height, but Superman is clear-spoken and suave, broad-shouldered and confident, chin held high with a constant smile on his face and gleam in his eye. Clark Kent is just…a bumbling, goody-two shoes reporter who is well-intentioned but painfully awkward. He’s agonizingly ordinary. He looks the part, but he just doesn’t meet the expectations of how people expect him to be.
Isn’t it the same with Jesus?
Lately I’ve been working on a book about the last days of Christ, and in writing this I came across a particular passage in the Bible that stuck out like a sore thumb to me. It comes from the gospel of Mark, just after Jesus fed 4,000 people:
Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say that I am?” They told Him, saying, “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets.” And He continued by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.” And He warned them to tell no one about Him.
Mark 8:27-30 (NASB, emphasis mine)
If I’m reading that passage correctly, it looks like our good ole buddy Jesus had a secret identity. People over time have come to call this strange enigma the “Messianic Secret,” this idea that Jesus didn’t want to reveal his true identity as the promised messiah until the appointed time (which would come to fruition shortly before he died on the cross).
But the question is…why?
If we want the true answer to this question, I believe it’s necessary to zoom out to God as a whole, and the question that many people over millennia have asked: Why doesn’t He just reveal Himself? If God exists, why doesn’t He just make himself clearly known, rather than making us work purely off of faith?
My answer to this question is short and simple: Love. God has given us the freedom of whether or not to believe in Him, and in doing this displays His love for us. If He made Himself clearly known to all of us, we would have no choice in regards to believing in Him, and we would serve Him out of fear of judgment rather than out of a returned love (kind of how many people work harder when they know their boss is watching, whereas if they truly respected their boss they would work equally as hard whether or not he or she was there to keep watch). By keeping Himself a mystery, God allows us to build a relationship with Him, one grounded in love and not in fear. This is why you often hear that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship.
In the same way, I believe this is why Jesus kept his identity a secret for the majority of his time on earth. If he made it known right off the bat, “Hey guys, I’m definitely the Messiah,” people would have gone crazy! I mean, look at that time Jesus fed the 5,000+ people (a different occurrence than the 4,000 he fed earlier): when Jesus fed these people, they just came back the next day knowing what he was capable of and fully expecting him to do it! (John 6)
When Jesus hears this, he’s like, “Guys, you missed the entire point! I am the bread of life…I don’t want you to follow me because of the benefits you think you will reap and I don’t want you to follow me because what you think I can do for you. I want you to follow me because of what I am going to do for you, and that is something far greater than give you food to eat.” He isn’t looking for people to follow him because they think they will get something in return, in the same way that God doesn’t want people following Him because they think it will spare them from judgment; both the Son and God as a whole want the same thing, and that is a loving relationship with those who choose to follow them (once again reaffirming that the Son’s will is one with the Father’s and the Spirit’s). After a bunch of people storm off angrily, Jesus turns to his disciples: “You do not want to go away also, do you?” (John 6:67)
And then Peter – always killin’ it with his awesome phrasing – looks up at Jesus. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (v68) Peter recognizes Jesus for who he is and says, “Hey, I’m not with you because of what you can give me. I recognize your capabilities and I realize who you are, but I’m with you for you, because I love you bro.” That’s the relationship God wants with us. One grounded not in obligation, but in love.
During his time on earth, people rejected Jesus because he wasn’t the messiah they expected. They expected a conquering warlord arriving to wage war of the flesh, destroying the Romans and bringing about an eternal, worldwide kingdom with Israel as the all-powerful ruler, but Jesus didn’t do that. He showed up and preached about peace, about love, about devotion to both friends and enemies – he waged a war of the spirit, one that victoriously brought about an eternal peace of the soul. Jesus fulfilled prophecy upon prophecy and many people looked at him and were like, “Oh hey, this guy is the Messiah!” but then they were like, “Oh, no, he just looks like the Messiah.” And then they said, “He isn’t the Messiah, but he definitely looks a lot like what the Messiah would look like.”
And then they shouted, “Crucify him.”
You see, the stories of Jesus and Superman aren’t all too different. Superman shows up as the savior of all mankind, but when he puts on those glasses people look right on past him because he doesn’t meet their expectations of what a true savior should look like. When Jesus showed up, he did that same thing! He put on glasses of his own, and when people looked at him, they paused for a second at the stunning resemblance of what they thought the messiah would be like, but then they looked past him and ultimately turned against him because he didn’t meet their expectations.
If Jesus had waited until the present day to arrive, don’t you think we would have done the same thing?
The only reason we know Clark Kent is Superman is because we can step away and look at the big picture. We see his father sending him to earth; we see him being raised by two farmers in Kansas and learning that he has these extraordinary powers; we see him grow into this man with a heart of gold who goes about saving the world, and we wonder how people can’t simply look past his disguise to see the hero hidden within.
And this is how it is with Jesus too. I thank God every day for providing us with the Bible, because how lost would we be without it? We have been graced with the ability to read through the Old Testament and see how every single book, every single chapter points us towards Jesus, so when he finally arrives over two-thirds of the way through the Bible, it makes perfect sense to us! We’re like, “Oh, hey, it’s that dude we’ve been waiting for ever since the garden of Eden!” But for the people during his time, they were skeptical and hard-headed and ultimately killed him because he didn’t meet their expectations of the messiah that God had promised.
I’m not making an excuse for their disbelief, but instead using this to leave you with a question to ponder upon: If Clark Kent was before you, would you recognize him as Superman? If Jesus had arrived today, would you recognize him in the same way that Peter did, as “the Christ,” who was and is the one, true, living Son of God?
Think about it. Pray about it. And thank God for the Bible, for Lord knows we need it.