The Messiah trope is one of the most popular tropes in today’s fiction. From Paul Atreides in Dune to Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, most fiction stories utilize this trope in one way or another.
Some do it better than others, of course. Luke Skywalker’s position as the Messiah is blatantly obvious, even openly stated in several places through the movies. Paul Atreides’ Messianic destiny is better hidden by the sheer weight of storytelling, while Katniss Everdeen openly resists the idea of being chosen.
Three of the most popular elements of the Messiah trope I’ve seen in today’s fiction are prophecy/prediction, miscommunication, and salvation (totally shocking).
In every story, it seems that the protagonist is born as a nobody into a world that needs saving, grows up without a true understanding of this (whether previously aware of her “destiny” or not), eventually is told the truth, misunderstands said truth/prophecy, but in the end accomplishes the goal and saves the world anyway. The Hunger Games, The Matrix, Star Wars, and even shows like Manifest and Avatar: The Last Airbender all portray variations of this story.
As I considered these stories, I couldn’t help but wonder about the original Messiah, probably the origin of this trope. My curiosity about the story of Jesus Christ led me to the book of Matthew in the Bible.
Let’s see if ancient history follows the pattern.
Jesus was born to a woman named Mary during the Roman occupation of Israel. He and his family were Jews, severely oppressed by their rulers.
There were many prophecies about his birth in the holy scriptures of Judaism, including the one detailing his escape from a local tyrant as an infant. Another told of his mother’s virginity despite conceiving and giving birth (Anakin Skywalker, anyone?), and another even told of the exact location where he would be born (Micah 5:2 and Matthew 2:3-6).
The most important prophecies, however, spoke of his life, death, and resurrection hundreds of years before he was born. (See Isaiah 53:2-6) These were made even more shocking by their startling accuracy, and by the fact that that the religious leaders of the day did not actually understand them.
Usually, miscommunication and misunderstanding lies with the protagonist. Neo didn’t understand the words of the Oracle in The Matrix. Aang misunderstand his position as the Avatar in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Lies and miscommunication nearly caused Katniss to turn her back on the rebellion in The Hunger Games.
Not so in the case of Jesus. From a young age, he clearly understood his mission as the self-sacrificial Messiah. No one told him what he had to do, and few recognized him as the Messiah. Instead, the miscommunication and misunderstanding lay with everyone around him. He declared himself to be the Messiah and even prophesied his own death, but most either refused his words to the point of hatred or simply didn’t understand him. His ministry did not expand globally until after his death and resurrection. To this day, his followers still debate on many subjects he taught.
Saving the world is usually straightforward: stop the detonator. Find the cure. Kill the tyrant. It’s a do or die situation in most cases, easy to follow.
But with Jesus, saving the world wasn’t so simple. His mission wasn’t about eradicating the Roman Empire, which had basically enslaved his people. Instead, his mission had everything to do with the heart, the very reason why Romans would act with such cruelty toward fellow human beings. This caused a great deal of misunderstanding amongst the people of his day, because they were expecting the prophesied Messiah to be a warrior, a fighter, a man who would stand up to the Romans and defeat them.
But Jesus died of a Roman crucifixion before them all, descending to hell to defeat the real cause of the problem: the fallen angel Satan.
In the end, he accomplished his own goal without meeting the expectations of his people. His salvation was a different kind, reserved only for those who would accept it. It’s certainly backwards when compared to today’s most popular fiction.
In the End
So what do you think?
Does the story of Jesus follow the pattern of the Messiah trope in literature? Would a story like his be acceptable in today’s market?
I personally think it’s a clever twist on the typical Messiah trope. Everyone thought he was crazy, but he did accomplish his purpose, so we’re left to wonder: what is the true cause of evil in this world? Can that cause truly be defeated? Is humanity even worth saving?
In my opinion, it’s questions like these that make a story worth remembering. What other stories besides the ones mentioned here portray the Messiah trope in a unique way? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email at email@example.com. I’d love to hear from you!
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