Christians watching DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Tuesday night got a pleasant surprise: a mention of the crucifixion on television. In describing a new historical relic which gives power to characters on the show, the heroes at the center of the story inadvertently mentioned Jesus’ death on the cross.
“Longinus is the name generally associated with the Roman Centurion who pierced the side of Christ during the crucifixion,” Nate Heywood, played by Nick Zano (Final Destination, 2009) declares.
“Yeah, he was blind and got the blood of Jesus in his eyes and then he could see again,” recalls Jefferson Jackson, played by Franz Drameh (Edge of Tomorrow, 2014). When Heywood is surprised Jackson knows the story, Jackson responds, “What? I went to Sunday School.”
Heywood also explains that Jesus’ “blood allegedly got on the medallion, and empowered it and the spear with magical powers.”
This story comes from a medieval legend, based on the Bible’s account of a historical Roman centurion. In the Bible, the centurion is unnamed, but tradition later gave him the name “Longinus,” as Heywood suggested. He appears in two different Gospel accounts:
When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” — Matthew 27:54, NIV
And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” — Mark 15:39
For a Roman centurion to declare anyone besides the Emperor — who was by public decree considered “divi filius,” or the “son of the divine Julius” Caesar — the “Son of God” or a “son of god” would be tantamount to treason. It would also be blasphemy according to the Jews at the time. This statement, therefore, is extremely striking, and is one of the reasons Longinus was so fondly remembered in medieval legend.
In the TV show, Heywood also explains that the spear of Longinus “is also known as the ‘Holy Lance’ or the ‘spear of destiny.'” The lance — or more likely a purported lance — had a key role in the history of the Crusades.
During the First Crusade, the crusaders were besieged and starving in the city of Antioch. On July 15, 1098, a French peasant named Peter Bartholomew claimed to have discovered the lance, and the relic he presented inspired the crusaders to break the siege against terrible odds and win a pivotal victory. It is arguable that without the Holy Lance, the crusaders would never have reached Jerusalem and never have created a peaceful path to protect pilgrims on their way to that holy city (which was the cause of the First Crusade).
Many European cities claim to have the Holy Lance. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome reportedly has a lance beneath its stunning statue of Longinus (whom Catholics consider a saint based on his alleged conversion to Christianity). The Imperial Treasury in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria also presents what it claims to be the head of the Holy Lance. A third Holy Lance rests in Vagharshapat (previously known as Echmiadzin), the religious capital of Armenia, the oldest Christian country in the world.
In Legends of Tomorrow, the lance has the power to “rewrite reality” in ways that are more permanent than time travel. It seems, in the DC Comics universe, Jesus’ blood has magical powers (something awfully reverent for a fictional superhero universe), and the spear which pierced his side can control reality. Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” although I’m not sure this is exactly what he meant…
The lance also made an appearance in the 2004 film The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, which incorporates Adolf Hitler’s alleged obsession with the relic.
In DC Comics, the lance was used by Hitler to summon actual Valkyries to fight for Germany in World War II. He attempted to use it to end the world, but the Justice Society of America prevented him. In one comic, Superman himself gains the lance, but takes on the personality of the previous wielder — none other than Adolf Hitler.
As Sara Lance, played by Caity Lotz (The Machine, 2013), declares, “this all sounds like an Indiana Jones movie.” Indeed it does — but the lance was first introduced into the DC Comics universe in 1977, and the first Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, did not come out until 1981.
Whatever the reason DC Comics chose to include the Holy Lance, and Legends of Tomorrow chose to bring it up in the show, it is a pleasant surprise for Christians to hear a reference to the crucifixion on television.