Jesus as Superman? The Sinless Son of God and Temptation

Our House Group is studying the book of Hebrews and this week, we were on chapter two. One of the author’s major themes throughout the book is that Jesus became what we are and experienced what we did. Hebrews 2 closes with ‘Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested,’ (Heb. 2:17-18, NRSV).

The conversation turned, as it usually does with this verse, how much can Jesus be like if he didn’t sin? We focused on v. 18, what did it mean to be ‘tested’ or ‘tempted’? One person in our group said he didn’t have a problem with thoughts that Jesus was sinless, but thought that the temptations be attractive. In other words, for him to be truly like us then there must have been a part of him that wanted to sin (he admitted that this may not be the best possible way of saying it).

With the First Sunday in Lent just over a month away with the Lectionary reading giving us Jesus’ temptation in the desert, it might be good to think about what Jesus experienced. To be truly human, the temptations must have presented two true alternatives to Jesus. There must have been a moment when Jesus had to decide which way to go (whether in the desert or in Gethsemane) and he could have chosen either way, but chose to follow the plan God set out for him. If there was never a true choice, then Jesus would have been a superman who deflected temptations like Superman deflects bullets.

I remember watching a movie in which grandpa was encouraging his grandson and he said, ‘[Superman] isn’t brave… Superman is indestructible, and you can’t be brave if you’re indestructible.’ Superman, as the story tells us, isn’t human. I think in the same way, for Jesus to truly be human, he had to experience the choice given him and make a decision. 

So, how do you express this paradox without going toward a too high christology or too low christology?

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6 thoughts on “Jesus as Superman? The Sinless Son of God and Temptation

  1. to err is human, to forgive divine, so says the bard, but Jesus proved that it is possible not to err AND be human.
    The mistake is setting the bar too low.

    My grandma would call this tarring someone with your own brush, judging a person by our own lacklustre standards.

    God is un-temptable, it’s possible to tempt God in the same way it’s possible shoot bullets at Superman, they just bounce off… or to use a more biblical analogy Jesus quenches the fiery darts of the wicked one, he just says no when asked to do the wrong thing.
    Is that easy?
    No.
    Sometimes it means sweating blood.
    Did he prove it is possible. Well that’s the crux of the matter; that’s what makes him the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

    No one is suggesting that doing the right thing is easy, after all that is another comic book truism – do the right thing and not the easy thing, but as Jesus demonstrated when tempted by the devil, that it is possible.

    If you defintion of human excludes the supranatural then Jesus is not the super-hero for you, from changing water into wine, to disappearing in a cloud, and reappearing as tongues of fire, that definition of human is going to exclude the fulness of the Godhead made flesh in any case. To be Christian means accepting that being human includes the miraculous super powers.

    It means believing that there is in humanity as yet untapped potential, abilities as yet undiscovered, that we are indeed made in the image of God, then Jesus super-human humanity remains a mark to aspire too.

    As He said, greater things you will do.

  2. Hello, Charles, and thanks for stopping by!

    Jesus quenches the fiery darts of the wicked one, he just says no when asked to do the wrong thing.
    Is that easy?
    No.
    Sometimes it means sweating blood.

    Which is my point… there must have been some reason for the anguish, even if he eventually said no. There must have been the opportunity for him to say no to the cross.

    If you defintion of human excludes the supranatural then Jesus is not the super-hero for you, from changing water into wine, to disappearing in a cloud, and reappearing as tongues of fire, that definition of human is going to exclude the fulness of the Godhead made flesh in any case.

    Your one paragraph has a lot to respond to. Jesus is not a superhero – for me or anyone. The gospels portray power through weakness, and Paul continually affirms this. Jesus emptied himself and came down to be human. The works of God were not a superpower, as if God is distant and comes in striking in from time to time (as C.S. Lewis has said, God was always turning water into wine, he just sped up the process this once). God is working in and among people through God’s power in the human Jesus – not as if Jesus was some ‘superman’.

    As far as the ascension, it depends on your doctrine of the resurrection. In his resurrected body, Jesus is still truly human but transformed, so one can’t compare the post-resurrected Jesus with a definition of humanity.

    As far as your comment about ‘reappearing as tongues of fire’, we would have to understand each others doctrine of the Trinity. That was the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, not Jesus and certainly not ‘human’. (If you are interested in Trinitarian theology, I am not as well read as others. I would suggest Nick Norelli’s blog.)

  3. presenting the paradox means entering a liminal space, I love the way Hebrews 10 expresses this. We enter the holy of holies because of what Christ has done. He walked the tightrope that connects humanity and divinity, the miracle is that he has made it possible for us to enter….

    sorry for the ambiguities…

  4. The words of God are sweeter than honey and can
    My soul and heart have accepted every bit these words. My desire from the Lord is to help me to become the spreader and the giver of his word one day.

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