Jesus Christ is a better Messiah than Superman, Harry Potter, and Duncan McLeod the Highlander. That may seem like a strange claim, but it is true. So, I want us to think through some of the messiah figures who are presented as options in our culture and the literature that ensues. I am using literature here very loosely – it includes movies, television, internet blogs, and books.
So, before we begin, why I am I qualified to speak on such figures as Superman, Harry Potter, and Duncan McLeod of the clan McLeod? Currently, I am 6 episodes from the end of season 3 of Smallville, the story of Superman as a high school student. I have seen (at least parts of) every Superman movie. Though I am not well versed in the comic books, I am familiar with the different iterations of the storyline thanks to the great worldwide research network called Wikipedia. As far as Harry Potter goes, I have read all seven of the books. I have seen all of the movies to date, some multiple times. I have spent several hours in debate over the various subtleties (if there are any) in the storyline with some likeminded friends. And as for the Highlander, I have seen all of the movies, watched all of the TV episodes (I think) and have even read some of the fan fiction online. (I can hear my brother laughing at me right now.)
The goal of this essay is to understand how each of these fictional characters are presented as messiah figures in their various worlds for the purpose of providing solutions to universal human problems of sin, death, war, and general evil of every kind. DISCLAIMER!!! I will be discussing the ending of the Harry Potter series. If you do not want to know how that story ends, (if you are only a movie watcher) then don’t read this post.
Superman is the messiah figure in the world of Smallville and Metropolis. It is a reality that looks just like our reality. So, the fictional aspect of this storyline has to do with the existence of the characters only, everything else could very well be a description of real life. Clark Kent is actually an alien sent by his father from Krypton to Earth. Humanity is described as a flawed race. Kal-el (Superman, Clark Kent) is sent here to save us – as the Smallville theme song so ably declares. Superman is put forward as a moral example. Even though he does make some mistakes in judgment as a teenager, he is genuinely remorseful of his mistakes. And as an adult, Superman is presented as a moral exemplar. Some describe Superman as a god. He does have a weakness, but it is not from this world. Kryptonite is the only thing that can stop Superman. His purpose in life is to stop disasters, save people’s lives and generally promote peace.
Jesus is a better Messiah than Superman. Superman is not human. Jesus Christ is fully human. Superman is not divine. Jesus Christ is fully God. Why is this significant? If Jesus is to provide salvation for fallen human beings, He must be fully human Himself. If Jesus is to provide salvation for an innumerable multitude of fallen human beings, His sacrifice must be of infinite worth. Therefore, Jesus Christ must also be fully God. If Jesus is not fully God and fully Man, then we have no salvation in Christ. So, despite the most recent Superman Movie’s attempt to show Superman die while saving humanity from destruction and then have a kind of resurrection, any actual accomplishment of substitutionary atonement is impossible. Superman simply is not equipped to pay for the sins of the world. Only Jesus Christ is. Therefore, the Superman messiah figure reduces to a moral example form of salvation where humanity is asked to simply act like this “greater” person. And if we all succeed in that, the world will be a better place. It is a gross underestimation of the total depravity that comes from sin. Jesus is not simply our example; Jesus takes our place as the perfect Human Being and the Infinite God. Also, notice that Jesus does not come in the incarnation grasping for all the glory that is His as the Second Member of the Trinity. Jesus willingly humbles Himself as a servant even unto death on the cross. There is no spectacular show of power, at least, in the sense of flying or super strength. Jesus comes in meekness and displays His glory and power in His death on the cross.
Harry Potter is the messiah figure in his world of Hogwarts and England. Here, reality is presented as something different from the real world. If you know the way, you can find Diagon Ally and Hogwarts, and the Ministry of Magic. They are places veiled by magic and typically inaccessible to normal human beings. Well, Harry is not presented as a moral example in all aspects. He has some good qualities about him: loyalty, bravery, good work ethic, a desire to save life. But, he is not above breaking the rules to get by. Harry is filled with and shielded by a very old and strong magic (love) that allows him to survive the attempt on his life by Lord Voldemort (the bad guy). At the end of the story, Harry absorbs the full attack of Lord V and apparently dies. It is actually unclear in the text whether Harry dies or not. But, there is an apparent death and resurrection of Harry Potter. And then he is able to fight Lord V and ultimately destroy him. There is a very clear attempt in the storyline to present Harry as absorbing evil and overcoming it with a sacrificial death. Then of course, in the “resurrection” he is about to go back and fully put down the enemies of good.
Well, Jesus is a better Messiah than Harry Potter. Number one, Jesus is sinless. Harry was clearly presented as committing sins. Number two, Harry is only able to defeat evil that is “out there” in his supposed death and resurrection. The evil is in Lord V and his wicked followers. Jesus does not merely have enemies who are “out there.” Jesus must search out and kill all the sin that is within His own people. Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin upon the cross. The point of the Gospel is that your sin and my sin are nailed to the cross in Jesus Christ and, by grace through faith in Him, His righteousness is imputed to us as a result of our union with Him. So, Jesus is sinless, morally perfect, but does not simply fight against some external enemy of God – He fights and conquers the sin that dwells within us in accomplishing our salvation.
Duncan McLeod. Now, some of you might not see Mac as a messiah figure. But, I think he is. He is always fighting bad guys. He is always trying to protect the life of others in danger from the bad guys. And, he is immortal. In fact, on the TV show, McLeod actually is able to absorb evil from the wicked immortals he defeats and then has something called a dark quickening. This is where the evil within him overpowers him, and he turns into a bad guy. His victory only comes about when the good inside of him battles against the evil inside him and overcomes. Also, there is an eschatological aspect of Highlander. If an evil immortal wins in the end, then the world will be ushered into a reign of darkness. If McLeod (or presumably another good immortal) wins, then the world will be ushered into a reign of peace.
And so, Jesus is a better Messiah than Duncan McLeod. For starters, McLeod is clearly sinful. They don’t even try to hide that. Secondly, like Superman, McLeod is only able to serve as an example for other people. He is not actually able to transform anyone into a better person. As far as the eschatology goes, there may be a question as to who will win in the end in the world of Highlander, but there is no question in the real world. Jesus’ victory over the Kingdom of Darkness is not only assured, it is already in process. At His death and resurrection, Jesus defeated Satan, death, hell, sin, and the grave. We rightly now ask, “Death, where is your sting?” The culmination of the victory will be at the Second Coming of Christ. And the amazing news of the Gospel is that Jesus is not only going to finally defeat Satan, but He is going to bring us into the joy of that victory. That is why the Apostle Paul is able to tell believers that the God of all peace is going to crush Satan under your feet (Romans 16:20). And that brings us to our last point. McLeod is immortal, but he cannot grant eternal life to anyone. Jesus Christ, the Author of Life, promises eternal life to all who simply turn from their sins and trust Him for salvation in faith.
Now, what is the point of this mega-exciting post? Much of our beliefs are shaped by popular culture. There is a reason why people enjoy watching and reading about characters like these. For most, it is not because they want to learn how to block an avada kedavra curse, or understand the political inner-workings of the Kryptonian government. Rather, it is because these messiah figures, and the storylines they come with, attempt to answer a longing that every human being has. We all need to be saved. We all recognize, when we are honest, that there is an enemy that we cannot defeat and we need someone to fight for us. The danger with these counterfeit messiahs is that they cannot save, not only because they are not real, but because even if they were real they would not be able to offer true salvation. Jesus Christ alone offers the hope and life and salvation that we desperately need.
Now, is it a sin to read and watch these kinds of stories, or should we only read the True Story in our Bibles? Of course, if we are only watching and reading these fictional works with subpar messiahs in lieu of the True Story, then we had better pick up our Bibles and get to reading. But, apart from the neglect of the study of the Word of God, I do not believe reading and watching these things is necessarily sinful. Some individual episodes or portions of the story may be sinful – and you need to watch and read with wisdom and discernment. Also, it is possible to get sucked into a fictional world and neglect the real world where you have real responsibilities to family, work, and Church. But that applies to any number of things that we enjoy doing in our lives.
In conclusion, read and watch and listen to the fruit of our popular culture with discernment. An alternative salvation story is presented over and over again. If we do not have the discernment to recognize those alternative stories and the Scriptural chops to show ourselves and our friends how Jesus is superior, then we will find ourselves as confused as the lost world. The confusion arises because we are indoctrinated on how to respond to a messiah by the storylines that we are constantly exposed to. As Christians, we need to be aware of what our neighbors and family members are taking in so that we can discuss it and speak truth grounded in the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because it is only in Christ that we find a storyline that explains reality and proclaims a salvation that is more real than anything else.