Yes. Jesus is the quintessential embodiment of love, kindness, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. However, I feel that we are altogether too quick to chalk him up as a Hallmark card, forgetting that he is also the wielder of strength unfathomable, a conqueror and a king.
It is in the light of those aspects, that I have chosen to embark on a personal quest to discover how the qualities of Jesus compare to the most iconic action heroes in the movies – whose exploits and courageous feats ignited fires of inspiration across multiple generations.
A couple of notes here. Firstly, I ruled out superheroes off the bat to make a “person to person” comparison more applicable (Jesus: fully God; fully man). Secondly, I recognize that there are many worthy candidates missing – John McClane in Die Hard, William Wallace in Braveheart, Chuck Norris in…well, everything (although he blurs the line between person and superhero).
The list runs long and the well is deep. Knowing that I had to draw the line somewhere and preferring not to ramble on indefinitely, I chose to limit myself to three heroes that I think best embody the most imperative qualities of any good action hero. Now, without further ado, let’s get on to the competition:
1. Moral Fortitude – Luke Skywalker
An action hero may waver and falter in the realm of moral decision making (which often makes for a good plotline), but when it comes down to it at the most critical moment, he always plants his flag firmly in the soil of the “good side”. Case in point – Luke Skywalker.
Reluctantly trust into a galactic war when the Empire murders his uncle and aunt, Luke is taken under the wing of Obi-Wan Kenobi and taught the ways of the Jedi. While blowing up Death Stars and fighting Darth Vader – whom he believed killed his father – Luke learns the horrifying truth: Darth Vader is his father. Now Luke must not only choose to fight against his own father (in a conflict he wanted no part of in the first place), but he must rebuff Darth Vader’s repeated attempts to lure him to the “dark side.”
“Join me, and together, we can rule the galaxy as father and son!” (Darth Vader, The Empire Strikes Back)
The temptation must have been enormous. Through two movies, Darth Vader and the evil Emperor Palpatine compel Luke to change sides. At the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke, filled with rage, cuts of Darth Vader’s hand and seems to be on the verge of capitulation.
Palpatine: [laughing] “Good! Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father’s place at my side.”
Luke: [looks at Vader’s severed hand, then turns to face the Emperor, throwing away his lightsaber] “Never. I’ll never turn to the Dark Side. You have failed, Your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”
What about Jesus?
Fresh off his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus commits himself to 40 days of fasting in the wilderness. Let me repeat that. 40 days.
In this critically weakened state, he is approached and tempted directly three times by the “father of lies” – Satan himself. He first attempts to get Jesus to break his fast by telling stones to become bread, then to prove he is the son of God by jumping off the temple, and then finally tries to offer him all the kingdoms of the world if he will just bow down and worship him. Each time Jesus rebuffs him with Scripture, remaining without blemish.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.” Hebrews 4:15 NIV
As convincing as Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine may have been, they’re child play compared to lies of Satan – which Jesus resisted, without faltering, even after a 40 day fast. Jesus takes this category by storm.
Jesus: 1; Action Heroes: 0.
2. Heart – Rocky Balboa
Talking about heart here, I am not referring to lovey-dovey hugs and kisses. I’m talking about the ability to get knocked down and get back up off canvas, time after time, even when the odds look insurmountable and everything inside you is screaming at you to quit.
An obscure club fighter without a significant victory to his name, nobody expected Rocky to get the call when heavyweight champion of the word, Apollo Creed, scrambled to find a last-minute replacement for his injured opponent. Yet, by being essentially the only option available, Rocky gets the nod – and puts on a show. Through 15 rounds, Rocky goes the distance and puts the champ through the wringer, tossing all expectations carelessly into the wind (although ultimately losing by close split decision). Thus, a movie dynasty is born.
Through 8 Rocky movies and counting, Rocky shuffles around the ring, blocking punches with his face and battling back to some implausible victory. Perhaps no finer example exists than in Rocky IV, where Rocky is knocked down almost every round by the steroid-riddled Russian juggernaut, Ivan Drago – and still manages to persevere for the knockout victory (why the referee didn’t stop the fight is another question that we’ll conveniently ignore). One thing is certain – “quit” is not in Rocky’s vocabulary.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is faced with his own test of the heart. Now mere hours from the crucifixion, Jesus is literally sweating blood. As if the coming physical punishment weren’t enough, the wrath of the Father for the sins of the world looms in the horizon. Jesus turns to prayer:
“My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39 NLT)
Despite his “soul [being] crushed with grief to the point of death,” Jesus presses onwards, enduring a beating Rocky never came close to. Flogged, scourged, and dying on the cross, Jesus still has the selfless audacity to look down and ask John to care for his mother. That’s heart and heart (the love kind).
Jesus: 2; Action Heroes: 0
3. Fighting Prowess – Maximus Decimus Meridius
A firm grasp of physical fighting ability, leadership, and/or tactics is a necessity for the action hero. Maximus of Gladiator excels in all three.
Commanding a legion in one of the most dominant military forces in history, Maximus is a military genius, as he quickly proves when routing a barbarian horde in the opening battlefield scene of Gladiator. His leadership ability is also apparent as the emperor’s son, Commodus, perceives him to be a threat to take over the throne when his father passes away. As such, he orders Maximus and his family to be killed. Maximus escapes but ends up in slavery, vowing to fight through the gladiator ring to until he gets the opportunity to kill Commodus and avenge his family’s death – and does so quite adeptly, even when the odds are unfairly stacked against him.
So how does Jesus compare to this legendary soldier? In Revelations chapter 19, we get the clearest picture of Jesus the warrior:
“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns…The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” (Revelations 19:11-15 NIV)
Maximus may have lead a mighty army in human terms, but that’s got nothing on the armies of heaven. And for all of Maximus’s brilliant wielding of the sword, I never caught a glimpse of him in the movie swinging it from his mouth with the power to strike down entire nations.
What about genius military tactics? How about slipping behind enemy lines and using the enemy’s own hate and propensity to persecute and kill you to accomplish your own conquering victory over sin? That’s like Trojan Horse stuff right there.
Jesus: 3; Action Heroes: 0
Well folks, it appears to be a landslide victory. Jesus trumps the action heroes in all the important metrics. Not only is he Lord and King, but he is also a certified stud.
In the wise words of Mr. Beaver,
“Safe?…who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
 John 8:44
 Matthew 4:1-11
 Luke 22:44
 Matthew 26:38 NLT
 John 19:26-27