On Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018, NBC Network will present their live televised version of the famous Broadway show, Jesus Christ Superstar (from this point forward referred to simply as Superstar). But before you get too excited about seeing Jesus on TV, there are some things you should know about this mega-hit musical. They are calling it “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, but this isn’t the story you know from the Bible.

When comparing Superstar to the New Testament writings, particularly the four Gospels, Christians who are not familiar with the musical may be surprised to find that there is a significant amount of not-so-subtle messages in Superstar that are completely unbiblical. The purpose of this article is to examine some of these less-than-discrete messages and compare the assertions of Superstar with that of the Bible in order to help identify exactly where the differences lie.

Before we do that, though, you might be wondering why this even matters. There are many who believe that Christians should not be involved in or address the entertainment field at all, while others find no harm in supposedly Christian-based stories being in the public square (no matter their content) for various reasons, often based on the belief that “God can use anything”.

While it is true that God can work through even the most unlikely means to further His purposes and reach people, that does not necessarily mean that Christians should support projects that seem to be Christian without seriously considering the message they are portraying, especially if that message is found to be a false representation of the Christian faith.

For any Christian who truly desires to respect the Lord and His Word, diligent and thoughtful consideration as well as an appropriate amount of caution should be taken when dealing with any story or idea that passes itself off as Christian yet appears to contain concerning, misleading, or even false messages. Even the subtlest and seemingly harmless issues can lead others astray and give them the wrong idea about God, the Bible, and salvation. This, then, along with respecting God, is why such issues should matter to Christians, and it is also why hours have been put into researching this particular show for the purpose of this review.

The Story of Jesus Christ Superstar

According to Broadway.com, “Jesus Christ Superstar will be familiar, in basic fact, to anyone with knowledge of western religion. Borrowing from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the musical tells the story of the last seven days of Jesus Christ’s life.”[1]

This description might sound fine on the surface, but a further investigation into its claims is needed.

Knowledge of Western Religion – We should first question what is meant by “knowledge of western religion”. Christianity, after all, cannot be defined as a “western religion” – it is a faith available to people of all nations that has its roots in Judaism. Whether the creators of Superstar are meaning to imply that Christianity is solely a “western thing” or they are implying that their “version” of this story is a westernized version of Christianity is unclear. Regardless, a closer examination of the synopsis will display that this performance can more accurately be defined by the later of these two options.

Borrowing from the Gospels – Secondly, “borrowing” should perhaps say “taking small bits of information and greatly changing” the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. As you will soon see, very little of the content beyond basic references is actually based on the Gospels, and nearly all of what is incorporated into the story is vastly different.

Familiar in Basic Fact – Thirdly, the “basic fact(s)” that are familiar are succinctly summed up by GotQuestions.org as such:

“Jesus has disciples, and He teaches. The priests Caiaphas and Annas, out of jealousy and fear, foment a plot to destroy Jesus. Mary Magdalene and other women serve Him. Judas plans to betray Him. Jesus enters Jerusalem amid celebration, cleanses the temple, and eats a meal with His disciples. After He prays in a garden, He is arrested, taken before several officials, and beaten. Peter denies knowing the Lord, and Judas hangs himself. Jesus is crucified.”[2]

That is essentially all that agrees with the New Testament in Superstar, though even many of those points are significantly “adjusted” in this story.

 

The Jesus in Superstar Is Not the Jesus You Know

As with most all musicals, the majority of the story is told through song, so the lyrics can tell us much about the thoughts behind those lyrics. While most all of the “main roles” in Superstar have undergone major personality and character changes, by far the most drastic change in Superstar belongs to Jesus Himself. This is not the Jesus Christ of the Bible. 

According to this story, Jesus is no more than a mere man who cannot handle being thrust into fame. He is not God, and he appears to struggle repeatedly with pride and anxiety. He consistently wavers in his beliefs and “mission”, which he appears to be quite uncertain about. There are times in which familiar biblical events appear to be present in the story, but it does not take long to figure out that these events have some odd and questionable moments that may have Christians scratching their heads at some points and picking their jaws up off the floor at others.

 1. Superstar’s Indifferent Jesus

Take the well known story of Mary anointing Jesus with perfume in John 12:1–8 for example:

(1) Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead. (2) So they gave a dinner for Him there; Martha was serving them, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. (3) Then Mary took a pound of fragrant oil—pure and expensive nard—anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped His feet with her hair. So the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
(4) Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot (who was about to betray Him), said, (5) “Why wasn’t this fragrant oil sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” (6) He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it.
(7) Jesus answered, “Leave her alone; she has kept it for the day of My burial. (8) For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” (HCSB)

In the Jesus Christ Superstar version of this story portrayed through the song “Everything’s Alright”, Mary Magdalene is said to be the one who anoints Jesus. While the Bible is not clear on who Mary the sister of Martha is, there is no indication that this Mary is Mary Magdalene as Superstar claims. The Mary in John 12:1–8 is referred to as Mary of Bethany (Matthew 26; John 12), and she is never referred to as Mary Magdalene. Setting this detail aside, however, the more concerning change to the story is how this musical version of Jesus responds to Judas’ objection:

Surely you’re not saying we have the resources
To save the poor from their lot?
There will be poor always, pathetically struggling.
Look at the good things you’ve got.
Think while you still have me!
Move while you still see me!
You’ll be lost, and you’ll be sorry when I’m gone.

Comparing these lyrics to what Jesus states in John 12, it is clear to see that the lyricist has “expounded” a bit on the text. In the Gospel of John, Jesus basically tells Judas that he should not be so concerned with money (Judas clearly had an unhealthy outlook on money and had some issues with greed considering John’s comment in 12:6). It would seem that Judas viewed money as more important than the Lord Himself since he later betrays Jesus for money (Matthew 27:3), and Jesus, being omnicient (see Matthew 26:21–25), would have know this about Judas.

So Jesus’ answer to Judas in John 12:7–8 is not indifferent to the poor as it would seem in Superstar, but rather He is telling Judas to open His eyes and see that God Himself is standing right before Him for this moment in time; a God who can give Him something much more fulfilling than money. In the Bible, Mary knew this, but Judas was either too caught up in his own desires to recognize this or chose to ignore it for his own selfish pursuits.

One thing is certain, though – the Jesus of the Bible did not view the poor as “pathetically struggling” nor think that He did not have (or want) to help them with the resources they needed. In adding to Jesus’ words for these lyrics, the creators of Superstar have changed Jesus’ attitude and character completely.

2. Superstar’s Arrogant and Unstable Jesus

Jesus’ triumphant entry also gets a reboot in this musical. In the song “Hosanna”, Jesus joins in with the crowd’s praise for him, chanting “Hey Sanna Sanna Sanna Hosanna” in a way that comes across in a way of nearly arrogant self-praise. While a Christian hearing this song alone outside of the entire production might get the impression that Jesus is just joyfully singing along because He is God and is humbly admiring the praise of the people, there is one thing they should know:

In this show, Jesus isn’t God and doesn’t even believe he is God until the praise of the crowd starts to go to his head. 

That’s one the of the problems that Judas, who could perhaps be called the “hero” of this story, has with Jesus. In the song “Heaven on Their Minds”, Judas states that his “mind is clearer now” and he believes that Jesus has begun to think a little too highly of himself. As Judas tells Jesus through song,

You’ve started to believe
The things they say of you
You really do believe
This talk of God is true
And all the good you’ve done
Will soon get swept away
You’ve begun to matter more
Than the things you say

Judas proceeds to plead with Jesus to listen to him as his “right hand man” who is afraid Jesus’ followers will attack if they find out the truth that he is not really the Messiah. Judas continues,

I remember when this whole thing began
No talk of God then, we called you a man…
Nazareth, your famous son should have stayed a great unknown
Like his father carving wood He’d have made good
Tables, chairs, and oaken chests would have suited Jesus best
He’d have caused nobody harm; no one alarmed…
All your followers are blind
Too much heaven on their minds

So if we are to believe that Judas is right, which is heavily implied throughout the entire production, Jesus has no right to accept praise from anyone because he is just a man. In this context, the “Hosanna” chants are misguided at best, and Superstar Jesus is merely enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame much to the wise Judas’ disapproval and despite his well-intended warning.

The aptly named “Temple” song also twists the story of Jesus clearing out the temple courts. The original biblical version, found in John 2, will also help give some insight on how different this Superstar version of Jesus is. According to John 2:13–22:

(13) The Jewish Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem. (14) In the temple complex He found people selling oxen, sheep, and doves, and He also found the money changers sitting there. (15) After making a whip out of cords, He drove everyone out of the temple complex with their sheep and oxen. He also poured out the money changers’ coins and overturned the tables. (16) He told those who were selling doves, “Get these things out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a marketplace!”

While the lyrics of “Temple” include a brief section in which Jesus is upset that the temple has become “a den of thieves”, most of Jesus’ portion of the song revolves around him complaining that there too many people asking for healing and too little of him to go around. This version of Jesus seems to be on the verge of a panic attack as he exasperatedly screams in a heavy-metal rock-like manner, “Oh, heal yourselves!”

This is a far cry from the Jesus we see in the Bible. The Gospels speak of Jesus compassionately healing all who came to Him (e.g. Mark 2; John 9). Luke specifically comments on Jesus’ attitude and demeanor toward a man with leprosy who asks for Jesus to heal him, to which Jesus responds “I am willing… Be clean!” (5:12–13). Not only do these instances, and many more, portray Jesus as having loving concern for the sick and lame, but also they also show that He was completely able to heal them. While Jesus Christ Superstar’s version of Jesus is a mere man who is bothered by the people he can’t help, the Jesus of Scripture expresses no disdain or distress at all.

 3. Superstar’s Reluctant and Uncertain Jesus

The ultimate example of just how different this Jesus is from the Jesus Christ of the Bible, though, is in the song “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)”. It is safe to say that these lyrics speak for themselves, as well as for the message of the entire musical:

Could you ask as much
From any other man?…
If I die what will be my reward?…
Oh, why should I die?…
Show me just a little
Of your omnipresent brain…
You’re far too keen on where and how
But not so hot on why

In this song, we witness Jesus whining and yelling (literally) at God in an angry way that sounds much like taunting. This is not the picture of a humble Savior Whose desire is to do the will of the Father despite the agony and pain of death. Compare these lyrics to Jesus’ actual words in the garden of Gethsemane from Matthew 26:

(39) Going a little farther, He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”…
(42) Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done.”…
(44) After leaving them, He went away again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.

Jesus doesn’t get mad with God the Father and demand to know why He should die or what His reward will be. Jesus knew exactly why He must die and what would come of it (e.g. Luke 9:22; 24:7). See these very clear words from Luke 18:

(31) Then He took the Twelve aside and told them, “Listen! We are going up to Jerusalem. Everything that is written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. (32) For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and He will be mocked, insulted, spit on; (33) and after they flog Him, they will kill Him, and He will rise on the third day.”

Jesus not only knew these things, but He also actively took part in His own resurrection (John 2:19–22). He didn’t have the problem of not knowing what purpose His death was for or what would happen to Him afterward like the Superstar version of Jesus does. Though the human nature side of Christ was understandably struggling with the thought of His upcoming crucifixion, His knowledge and desire as God was what triumphed. On the other hand, Superstar’s Jesus ends his lament with an exasperated and hopeless cry:

Alright I’ll die!…
Kill me, take me now
Before I change my mind

Once more, there is a world of difference between Superstar Jesus and the real Jesus of the Bible.

Jesus Christ Superstar Super-Imposter

There are many other elements of the biblical text that are “tweaked with” (to put it mildly). Is Jesus Christ Superstar the Greatest Story Ever Told?

For one, much of this story is actually about Judas as a sort of hero-type, which is a major contrast to the Judas spoken of in the New Testament. In the song, “Damned For All Time / Blood Money”, Judas goes to the high priest and tells them “I don’t want your blood money” when they offer him payment for his help in betraying Jesus. Compare this to the way the Gospels and Acts speak of Judas and the issues with Superstar’s Judas should be obvious.

Another problem is Mary Magdalene’s unsettling relationship with Jesus. The song “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” finds Mary contemplating her feeling about Jesus, in which she states that, though he is “just a man”, she has started to feel something for him. What those feeling exactly are the lyrics don’t say, but it seems to be romantic in nature. The song goes on:

I’ve had so many men before
In very many ways he’s just one more…
Should I speak of love? Let my feelings out?…
I’m the one who’s always been
So calm, so cool, no lover’s fool…
Yet if he said he loved me, I’d be lost, I’d be frightened…
He scares me so, I want him so

This Mary Magdalene is not in the Bible. There are several ancient and contemporary fictional writings and stories that have played around with the idea that Jesus and Mary were romantically involved and perhaps even married, which may be what this play bases this concept on, but it is certainly not biblical. Aside from the theological implications this sort of relationship would have on Jesus, there’s no reason to add something to the historically reliable and verifiable New Testament texts that isn’t there or even implied.

And then there’s this from the apostles in “The Last Supper”:

Always hoped that I’d be an apostle
Knew that I would make it if I tried
Then when we retire we can write the gospels
So they’ll still talk about us when we’ve died

The apostles of Superstar sound more like a group of narcissistic men hatching a plan to use Jesus so that they can become famous. These men are not at all similar to the men of the Bible who were willing to experience public embarrassment, shame, and even death for the sake of Christ.

 

How Does It All End?

Is Jesus Christ Superstar the Greatest Story Ever Told?There are too many examples to list regarding how Jesus Christ Superstar and the Bible differ, yet these perhaps are the most concerning. Overall, Superstar presents Jesus as a mere man who becomes a confused lunatic that cannot seem to control his temper or keep his own pride in check. The entire musical ends with the crucifixion – there is no resurrection because Jesus is not God, but rather just a poor, sad man that Judas tried ever so hard to save from self-destruction. There is no hope because, as Paul said,

and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is without foundation, and so is your faith… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. – 1 Corinthians 15:14, 17

 

Why Do They Want You to Believe that Jesus Christ Superstar Is “The Greatest Story Ever Told”?

The title track, “Superstar”, perhaps gives the clearest picture of the purpose for this production, as the lyricist fires consecutive questions at Jesus:

Why’d you choose such a backward time in such a strange land?
If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation…
Tell me what you think about your friends at the top.
Who’d you think besides yourself is the pick of the crop?
Buddha, was he where it’s at? Is he where you are?
Could Mohammed move a mountain, or was that just PR?
Did you mean to die like that? Was that a mistake, or
Did you know your messy death would be a record breaker?…
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ Superstar,
Do you think you’re what they say you are?

They want you to see Jesus the way they see Him. To them, Jesus isn’t God. At best, He was a good teacher like Buddha and Mohammed. He didn’t raise from the dead. He’s not Savior or Lord of all. He isn’t worthy of you worship or devotion. What has He sacrificed? Nothing according to them.

They know what they are doing putting this show on Easter Sunday and some churches are even supporting and promoting their version of Jesus. They know how much influence entertainment has on the world. It is time that all Christians recognize how powerful media and entertainment can be as well. If it is in the wrong hands, such as this case, incredible damage can be done. But, think of how much good could be done through these mediums if more people used them to tell the real truth of God and bring Him glory.

We may not all have the ability to step into the entertainment world and be a voice for God from the inside, but we do have some power as consumers of the entertainment and ideas that they feed us. We can’t change it all and God hasn’t asked us all to do so, but we can have a voice and speak up whenever our faith and our God is blatantly lied about and mocked. Let us not be silent, but let us speak up in the right ways when we know it is the right time to do so.

 

Who Do You Say Jesus Is?Is Jesus Christ Superstar the Greatest Story Ever Told?

The creators of Jesus Christ Superstar have clearly told us who they think Jesus is. But now it’s our turn to answer Jesus’ question in in Matthew 16:15 – “Who do you say that I am?”

What we believe and say about Jesus Christ matters, and as Christians we need to make sure that the world knows that Jesus is not a mere man or a superstar. Let us not be like the crowd of Jesus’ followers in Superstar, practically asking for selfies and chanting “Hey Sanna Sanna Sanna Hosanna / Hey JC won’t you smile at me? / Hey Superstar!” These followers of Jesus don’t sit in reverence and awe of Jesus, the Lord and Savior of the world. They don’t give Him the respect and true worship the real Jesus deserves.

This hurting world desperately needs the real Jesus. Let us as Christians not be afraid to boldly exclaim as Peter did,

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”

For that is Who Jesus truly is.

 

 

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[1] Broadway.com, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Broadway.com, n.d., accessed March 29, 2018,  https://www.broadway.com/shows/jesus-christ-superstar/story/.

[2] Got Questions, “Is the Rock Opera Jesus Christ Superstar Biblical?,” GotQuestions.org, n.d., accessed March 29, 2018, https://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-Christ-Superstar.html.

 

All lyrics from Jesus Christ Superstar taken from the soundtrack by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice (which can be found here) and are ℗ 2012 Decca Label Group a division of UMG Recordings, Inc., 1755 Broadway, New York, NY 10019