Dune 2 – Reflections on a Secular Messiah

Dune 2

I went to see Dune 2 this past weekend. I went to enjoy, not take notes for a review, so I don’t consider this a formal movie review. Rather, it’s an informal reflection on themes in this and other movies that deal with control of the world and those who vie for that control, whether those who would control it are presented as a messiah (as in Dune) or a megalomaniac (as in most other Sci-Fi and Fantasy thrillers).

While megalomaniacs (like Loki and Thanos in The Avengers series, Sauron and Saruman in The Lord of the Rings, The Emperor and Darth Vader in Star Wars for a few examples) are easy to spot and the reason they are evil are equally easy to see, it is more difficult to see why secular messiahs, being false messiahs, can only be considered evil. Unless cast as the villain (as the megalomaniacs typically are) it’s difficult to view the “messiahs” as evil because like the Antichrist, they are typically cast as the hero, the rescuer of a downtrodden people or savior of the world and typically have powerful ability to draw you to themselves, whether through charisma or power. That type of savior, along with the appearance of being a hero, tends to make you like them and root for them. But, ultimately, being secular messiahs, they have severely limited abilities to manipulate the secular world and thus leave you empty since they can provide you with no ultimate, eternal salvation and thus no hope.

That being said, for those who want a review type summary:
Dune 2 is entertaining as an action movie
– but its messianic aspirations are entirely from a secular point of view.  So if you’re like me, it will leave you a bit sad when  you realize that many will find the appeal of this “messiah” to be compelling.

Sad because the uninitiated—those ignorant of the truth of the real messiah Jesus—will miss the appeal and reality of the true messiah. Their biblical ignorance will blind them to who that messiah is and to what both real power and real salvation are. The deceptive appeal of a secular messiah will open them to the lies and appeal of the Antichrist and the many antichrists , who the apostle John tells us have already come. (1 John 2.18)

So I write this partly as a warning, partly to “redeem the time” (as the KJV puts it) I spent viewing what I knew (having read the Dune trilogy decades ago) what would be a presentation of a secular messiah, closer to the Islamic messiah (who John MacArthur identifies as the Anti-christ—see below) than the Christian one. A I reflected on the qualities of this secular Dune Messiah, it struck me how similar all the secular concepts of a messiah are. Let me point out the most common ones, hoping it will help you recognize the true Messiah and immunize you against false ones.

Typical Qualities of Secular (and thus false) Messiahs and Would-be World Rulers

First, let me clarify. Not all that are presented as would-be world rulers also present themselves as messiahs, but they are all trying to either bring about their own vision of a perfect world (which of course requires them to be ruler) or save the world from what they perceive will cause certain destruction. Literally all the megalomaniac villains mentioned above have these motivations and thus fit the category. So, while they are not presented as a “messiah”, they are in fact in the role of a secular messiah, one who would, according to their beliefs, save the world and remake it in their image.

Perhaps a better broad category would be those vying to be “King of the World” or “King of the Universe”, which of course the true messiah is, being King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev 17.14, 19.16) For simplicity and in keeping with the theme from Dune, I will refer to the broad category of these megalomaniacs and false messiahs simply as “secular messiahs.”

8 Signs of a Secular (Non-Biblical) Messiah

1. The quest for power
First and foremost they seek, or are given, power, and the power they have is always used to control or destroy (the goal of Satan John 10.10a). In contrast, the goal and mission of the real Messiah is to give life (John 10.10b) and freedom (John 8.32, 36, Gal 5.1). The power of a false messiah is always used to control or destroy. The power of the true Messiah is used to give freedom and life.

2. The power is in an object that can be controlled and manipulated

Since secular people either can’t imagine, or have a hard time conceiving of, spiritual power, the powers of a secular messiah typically involve manipulation of material objects.

  • Loki seeks the power of the tesseract.
  • Thanos seeks the power of the infinity stones.
  • Sauron seeks the power of the One ring.
  • In Star Wars, both the Sith and the Jedi manipulate the power of the Force. This is an exception since the force is non-material, but still, it is something they can manipulate with training.
  • Paul Atreides, the Dune Messiah gains power through the spice created by the “Makers” (giant desert worms) and by gaining the powers of the Bene Gesserit “witches” (also from a ritual involving the worms—a ritual which I won’t go into here since it’s somewhat disgusting).
  • The Antichrist gains power through the mark he imposes via the false prophet (Rev 13.17) and the image of the Antichrist that the false prophet erects (Rev 13.14) and uses against all who resist the beast (the Antichrist).

In contrast, the power of the true Messiah is not in any object—it is in being the Son of God (Matt 16.16-17), God in the flesh (1 John 4.2) and having all authority in heaven and on earth invested in him. (Matt 28.18) Jesus does not need objects to do the will of God. Just as God spoke the creation into existence (Gen 1.1), Jesus speaks and the creation obeys him. (Mark 4.39, Mark 5.41-42, John 11.43-44)

3. They fulfill Prophecy, but there’s never a mention of who the prophecy is from

This is another sure sign of secular, false messiahs. They fulfill what is regarded as prophecy, but there is no acknowledgement or recognition of who the prophecy is from or what the point of prophecy is. The main point of true prophecy is to demonstrate that God is beyond time, knows all things, that what he says will always certainly happen, and thus you can know he alone is God. You can trust both him and the prophet who proclaims the prophecies on God’s behalf.

Since secular people tend not to acknowledge God, they also ignore many of the reasons that prophecy is given: first and foremost that it’s from God, meaning there is a God whom you should obey, and thus you should be about the business of finding out what his will is.

Secular messiahs fulfill prophecy but there’s a general ignorance of where it’s from or why it was given. Typically, the only point to secular prophecy is to identify a person as a long-foretold messiah and to get people to believe. All other aspects are ignored. In Dune 2 it’s even worse. It’s stated that the “prophecies” are just a machination, of either the Bene Gesserit or the Harkonnens, to manipulate the Fremen. Either way, it’s suggested they’re not even from God.

  • Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Anakin Skywalker that he is the “the chosen one” who would destroy the Sith and bring balance to the force—clearly referencing some prophecy.
  • Morpheus spends most of  “The Matrix” trying to convince Neo (and the others) that he’s “the One”—clearly based on some prediction of what the “One” would be and do.
  • In Dune, Paul Atreides fulfills prophecies for both the Fremen and the Bene Gesserit. Fremen leader Stilgar quotes prophecy after prophecy that he sees being fulfilled by Paul Atreides, deepening his faith that Paul is the Lisan al Gaib (a type of restorer) and Muad’Dib (teacher)—a name Paul takes for himself. For the Bene Gesserit, he is the Kwisatz Haderach, a male who can acquire all the powers of the Bene Gesserit and access powers and information that the all-female order cannot, since he has a Y-Chromosome.

Of course their are dozens of prophecies concerning Jesus, the true Messiah, that indicate how he can be identified. They are specific enough that only one person, in one place, at one time in history, can be the messiah. To name a few, they foretell his birthplace in Bethlehem (Micah 5.2), from the tribe of Judah (Gen 49.10), heir to the throne of David, (Is 9.7), his time in Egypt as a child (Hos 11.1),his suffering and crucifixion (Is 53.1-10), the exact time when he will be presented to Israel, (Dan 9.25) , his Death (Is 53.10, Dan 9.26) and his resurrection (Is 53.11, Ps 16.10-11). Like a fingerprint or a strand of DNA that uniquely identifies a person, the prophecies of the true Messiah together paint a picture so clear and precise that only one person in all history fulfills them all: Jesus of Nazareth. Since the time he will appear is also prophesied (and that time has passed), it is clear that no one appearing today and claiming to be the promised messiah (“today” as in this current age, like what happens in the Netflix mini-series “Messiah“) can be the long-foretold and prophesied Messiah. Further, when Jesus returns he will return as he left—on the clouds of heaven (Acts 1.11, Rev 1.7). Anyone who appears now in any other way and claims to be the Messiah is a false, secular messiah.

4. Their followers want them to overthrow Earthly Oppressors

This is true of the Jews of Jesus’ day, who didn’t understand the mission of the Messiah in his first coming and wondered when he would overthrow the rule of the Romans. (Acts 1.6-7)
It is true of the Fremen and their desires for their messiah to overcome the oppression of the Harkonnens and to stop the Spacing Guild and Noble Houses from greedily taking advantage of the spice, melange, a commodity as precious as oil is today, which can only be made on Arrakis (aka Dune, home of the Fremen) by the makers.

5. If they have visions, they typically don’t know what they mean

Visions of secular messiahs are usually used as opportunities for them to attempt to change the future, not to confirm they know the future and thus validate their identity.

  • Paul Atreides has visions but doesn’t understand what he’s seeing or what they mean. He’s told they’re visions of the past but their meaning remains clouded. Eventually he can also see the future, and uses the ability to try to map a path to the outcome he wants.
  • Anakin Skywalker has dream-visions of the pain of his mother and the death of his wife Senator Padmé Amidala, who he had married secretly. He believes his visions give him an opportunity to change the future for them, but he fails in both attempts which just lead him further down the dark side.

In contrast, Jesus, the Messiah, does not have visions. He has memories of what he saw in heaven (John 3.12, 6.46), has conversations with God the Father (John 10.18, 14.31) and confidently makes prophesies of the future to further cement the truth of his claims. When his prophesies are fulfilled, it is a confirmation of all he had said. He predicted his “passion” as theologians call it, which is his painful death that brought us salvation. Along with his passion, he predicted his resurrection (Matt 16.21, 17.9-12, 20:18-19, Luke 18.31, John 16.16-20). He predicted the destruction of the temple (Mark 13.1-2). And, of course, he predicted his return in glory (Matt 24.27,30), which Christians are still waiting for.

6.  Since they are mere humans with limited power, their goals and aspirations are in question, whether they succeed or not.

Neither Neo (The Matrix), Paul Atreides (Dune 2) nor even Aragorn (The Lord of the Rings) are assured of a victory. Indeed, that’s the entire point of the movies—to see if they win and, if so, how.

But, for the real Messiah, there is never any question about whether he will succeed, because it is the zeal of the Lord Almighty, who sees to it that what must be done is, in fact, accomplished. (Is 9.7) There is never any question if the Messiah and his God have sufficient power to overcome those in rebellion against him. At the darkest hour, when all the enemies of God surround his people, the tiny nation of Israel, it looks like they are done for. How will God rescue them? Does he have to gather a powerful army or collect various artifacts to give his Messiah power? Of course not. He merely speaks the word and fire falls from heaven to devour all the enemies of God. (Rev 20.9) For God and his Messiah the outcome of  the battle is never in question.

7. If they die and rise again, it’s only to prove they’re the chosen one; their resurrections do not convey the same benefits to others.

Like the Antichrist who appears to be fatally wounded, but survives[1], both Neo and Muad’Dib appear to die and then be revived. (I say “appear” because it’s unclear if they really died. Indeed the “death” of Muad’Dib is only apparent, since we’re told his life signs are undetectable to all but the Bene Gesserit. The fact that he still has life signs— however faint—means he’s not really dead. In contrast, the real Messiah is dead for days from the crucifixion on Friday (Luke 23.54) to the resurrection early Sunday morning (Mark 16.9, John 20.1-17)

The revival of the false messiahs is not the earth-shattering victory over death that Jesus achieves. The secular messiahs barely escape death by the skin of their teeth. Their return from death only proves to their followers that they are “the chosen one.” Since they barely survived, they do not display mastery over death as Jesus did when he raised Lazarus (dead four days), from the dead (John 11.43-44) and himself, as well (John 10.18).

In contrast, the victory of Jesus not only proves he’s the Messiah and chosen one, it also allows him to give life to all who believe in him. (John 5.21, 14.19)

8. Secular messiahs often have to be convinced, or convince themselves, they are the “chosen one”

  • Neo spends most of the movie believing he’s not the chosen one.
  • Paul Atreides must likewise convince himself—a process that starts in Dune and is completed in Dune 2.
  • Even Aragorn, a messianic figure in The Lord of the Rings, spends a good portion of his life as Strider, a mere Ranger, feeling himself unworthy to be the heir of the King, Arathorn, and the rightful King of Gondor.
  • The whole premise of the Netflix mini-series “Messiah” is the investigation into whether the lead character Al-Masi, is the return of the messiah or not. He will not unambiguously say who he is. (But you now have the information to confidently state he’s not and give reasons why he cannot be the messiah.)

In contrast Jesus knows from his youth that he is the Son of God (Luke 2.49) and had no problem telling people if it would not hinder his ministry (John 4.26).  The so called “messianic secret” motifs in the Gospels, where Jesus tells his disciples not to tell anyone he’s the messiah (example: Matt 17.9), are typically because he doesn’t want the people taking their false assumptions of what the messiah will do (as noted above) and hinder his ministry. (As they did in John 6.15, where they wanted to make Jesus their king by force, so he had to hide himself since that was not his mission.)

Jesus is so confident in his identity as Messiah and Son of God that he swears by God to the Jewish elders and High Priest that he is, in fact, the Son of God and Messiah (Matt 26.63-64 NKJV, Mark 14.61-62, Luke 22.67-70). He likewise confirms it to the governor Pilate that he is the King of the Jews. (Matt 27.11 NKJV) You won’t find such bold declarations from secular messiahs. In fact, the prophecy of the Dune messiah states that the messiah is “too humble” to claim he is the messiah.

What do these qualities have in common?

What these qualities have in common is the thing that defines secular people in general: a studied ignorance and ignoring of the true God. There is no recognition of God’s existence, his almighty power, his complete omniscience and omnipresence (i.e. he misses nothing), his complete control of history and his well developed and announced plan for his messiah and the redemption of people. Since the secular are not interested or do not believe in such things, the secular messiah does not and cannot benefit from the all-inclusive power, knowledge and might of the almighty God.

Clearly, there is a world of difference between secular messiahs and the true Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, who rose from the dead. Unlike secular messiahs, by believing in Jesus you can have eternal life in his name. (John 20.31) I mentioned above that I would provide John MacArthur’s teaching that demonstrates that the Mahdi of Islam,  the muslim messiah, is in fact the Antichrist of the Bible. (In passing, clearly the name of the Dune Messiah, Muad’Dib, is intended to evoke the muslim Mahdi.) Here is MacArthur’s teaching. Now you know.


Duane Caldwell  |  March 17, 2024 | Printer Friendly Version


1. The Antichrist “seems” to have a fatal wound, but survives and thus he is the archetype for all the false and secular messiahs who likewise appear to survive or rise from the dead. Here is the scripture:

One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast. (Rev 13:3)

(I felt remiss for not including this originally so it has been added post publication.)
For more on the Antichrist see Don StewartThe Final Antichrist

Early Dune 2 promo photo when release was scheduled for November 2023. Changes were made to the cast since then.

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