After three trilogies of movies as well as multiple spin-off cinematic adventures, animated series, video games, comics, and novelizations, you would THINK that the story of the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker has been told as thoroughly as any story in the history of time. You would THINK that, but it seems we would be incorrect… because we NEEDED this Obi-Wan Kenobi series to connect a few more dots much more than we may have realized. A word of warning, SPOILERS ARE AHEAD for those who have not watched the new Obi-Wan Kenobi series through to completion. Additionally, I suppose if you still have not gotten around to watching or reading any of the Star Wars stories that are out there, we will spoil ALL of that as well. We are going to go DEEP into the fall of Anakin Skywalker and his emergence as Darth Vader, the iconic villain of the Star Wars franchise… because some very critical information from the Kenobi series that I didn’t even know I needed has finally helped me understand how the heroic Jedi Knight Anakin and the horrific monster that we know as Darth Vader could both somehow inhabit the same body. So, lock your S-foils in attack position, because we are coming in hot.
While the entire Star Wars cinematic universe is essentially the “Skywalker Saga”, the bulk of the exposition on Anakin Skywalker is explored across episodes II and III, detailing his service to the Republic during the Clone Wars as a Jedi. While Anakin was often brash, arrogant, impatient, stubborn, and downright insufferable at times, the reality is this was a boy who had been essentially conscripted into military service because he possessed valuable capabilities that could be beneficial to the Republic’s cause. His “force” powers notwithstanding, he was still an immature teenager who spent his formative years being indoctrinated into a pseudo-religious system that restricted his normal and healthy appetites for love and relationships so he could be the most effective version of a Jedi… exploiting him for his gifts while restricting his personal development. And within the growing pains of Anakin’s struggle to find his identity within the complicated world around him, he was seduced by a wolf in sheep’s clothing… the true villain of the war between the Republic and the Separatists, Emperor Palpatine.
Anakin was far from perfect, but his fall from grace was NOT merely the result of his inner turmoil and selfish tendencies… it was due to an external presence manifested in the form of a friend, a mentor, and a trusted confidante. Palpatine, the dark lord of the Sith, had patiently infiltrated the Senate, maneuvered himself into a position of authority, and skillfully orchestrated the downfall of the Jedi Order by disguising his true nature and exploiting their flawed ideology. But the corruptive influence of Palpatine was not content with merely taking down the Jedi Order by force… he wanted to turn one of their very own heroes into the very thing they were built to destroy. And it is on this stage that the war would be waged for the impressionable soul of Anakin Skywalker… and the sad story of his seduction by the worldly wise Palpatine and transformation into the dark scourge of the galaxy would have consequences that nobody could have predicted.
The question I have always struggled with is this… how do I reconcile the previously heroic Anakin, who just days before was in the middle of saving the galaxy, with the lethal enforcer of Order 66 who heartlessly took down his friends, trusting padawans, and fellow Jedi Knights? And to answer that question we must look past Anakin’s soulless eyes and into the heart of the predator who manipulated his fears and insecurities into these horrific actions… the one who empathized with Anakin’s frustration, justified his faulty logic, and exposed him to the darkness that would eventually consume him. And the most ironic part of this scenario is that it was the Jedi Order who was responsible for placing Anakin in this vulnerable position with Palpatine… and as Obi-Wan Kenobi made his way to Mustafar to engage in battle with his former friend and brother, he found someone there who he didn’t recognize. Anakin Skywalker wasn’t there anymore… and in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series we learned that it wasn’t Obi-Wan who “killed” Anakin Skywalker during their epic duel. Anakin was ALREADY dead… the first casualty of Darth Vader. And lurking in the shadows with blood all over his hands was the puppet master himself, Palpatine. Anakin’s tragic fall and his disconnect from the heroic Jedi we knew is a cautionary tale about a danger that is present for all of us… the danger of being disconnected from the truth and plugged into a lie without ever realizing it.
Over the last five weeks we have been digging into the messages given to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, and if you have not yet joined us for our series the previous articles are below for you to get caught up:
In each of the previous messages we looked at the dangers of becoming disconnected… but the church at Thyatira is a very unique situation. This church had ALL the appearances of being connected… and in many of our traditional means of measuring such things, they SURE looked like they were. But similar to the gifted and well-meaning Anakin, they were being deceived and disconnected from their original purpose and plugged into a counterfeit crusade by a “sinister minister”… a self-proclaimed prophetess identified as “Jezebel”.
Revelation 2:18-23 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass: “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first. Nevertheless, I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed, I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.
If we could have stopped after the first sentence, this would have been a pretty stellar report card… this church had it all. They had the faith AND the works, they had the love AND the service, and they were growing in each of those areas. Compared to the previous churches, this group was checking all the most important boxes… well, except for one. One VERY large one. They had their hearts and minds in the right places, but they had permitted a corruptive force to exist within their ranks that would result in fatal consequences. This disingenuous leader went by the name of “Jezebel”, and if that name sounds familiar, it should. It is a legacy name from arguably the most treacherous and wicked woman in the entire Old Testament, Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 16-19). The passage is not clear if this is a person who was truly (and unfortunately) named Jezebel, had intentionally taken the moniker Jezebel, or was simply being identified by the Lord as someone who was like the original Jezebel in spirit and demeanor… but in all three of these possible interpretations of her name there is one thing that is crystal clear. She was using her position of leadership to seduce the Lord’s followers into a place of compromise and immorality, with fatal consequences looming for all who were guilty of partaking.
This is a very challenging concept to reconcile… as believers we understand that the presence of sin in our lives has a corrupting influence on us and introduces consequences that Christ died to save us from. But the ability of this living, thriving, well-intentioned church to fully love the Lord, do His work, and STILL permit a pocket of sinful practices to exist is highly problematic and to be honest seems to be contradictory in nature. So, let’s double down on reviewing challenging Biblical texts by introducing another one to the equation as we try to make sense of this…
Matthew 7:15-23 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!‘”
Christ’s warning to “beware of false prophets in sheep’s clothing” is the key to unlocking this doctrinal dilemma… these leaders were producing “fruit” that looked good on the surface and was nearly undetectable as fraudulent fruit. As a matter of fact, when they stand before Jesus at the end of days they are pointing to the miracles, wonders, and prophesies that they have done in His name with pride and confidence, fully expecting admission into His kingdom. On the surface their fruits look like they would take the top prize at any local county fair… but there is one BIG problem that resulted in their rejection. They did not actually “know Him” and were in fact practicing a “lawless” version of Christianity that had introduced a false and fatal doctrine… disguising their disconnect from a life lived in submission to Christ with their fruit production in a way that would make Palpatine proud.
Palpatine didn’t seduce Anakin to the dark side by convincing him to quit the Jedi Order…that would have been too obvious. Instead, like a clever sleight-of-hand magician he slowly and methodically redirected Anakin by keeping him busy fighting a meaningless war that was ultimately all one massive misdirection… all while privately encouraging his young apprentice to indulge in self-serving practices to get what he truly desired. As the trap slowly prepared to snap shut on Anakin, Palpatine took advantage of the areas of compromise in Anakin’s life that should have been confronted and corrected… a false shepherd promising that “the force” was designed and intended to be used by Anakin for the satisfaction of his self-gratifying desires, no matter how misguided or “unnatural” they would turn out to be. And in the climax of this seductive dance, Palpatine manipulated Anakin one final time… disconnecting the young Jedi from his intended path as a servant to others and resurrecting him as a dark and selfish being, intent on having his cake and eating it, too.
Anakin Skywalker did indeed die that day… but it was not at the hand of Palpatine on Coruscant or by the blade of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the fires of Mustafar. It was the moment Anakin willingly chose to kneel at the feet of an evil false shepherd spreading a counterfeit doctrine of good works without obedience. And as Anakin Skywalker’s knees hit the ground in his pledge to serve Palpatine, this Shakespearean tragedy was now complete. When Skywalker fell, Darth Vader rose… the inevitable outcome of following this false doctrine to its’ logical conclusion. As Vader revealed to Obi-Wan during their climactic duel in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, Kenobi didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker. Darth Vader did. Like an electrical cord moved from one source of power to another, the slow descent of Anakin Skywalker finally reached the point of fatal disconnect and the dark presence that had been allowed to co-exist within him finally took over… all because he was slowly hypnotized by Palpatine’s siren song that rationalized, excused, and even subtly encouraged these dark desires. Palpatine didn’t need to “turn” Anakin to the dark side… he simply nourished the darkness that was already present within Anakin and kept him too busy to ever confront it and defeat the demons that would soon define and control him. And this is the message of Christ to the church of Thyatira as well… the “Jezebel” leadership that had infiltrated the church was spreading a false message of self-gratification and endorsing a lifestyle that not only permitted but enabled sinful choices. Jesus did not come to save us from our sins, only to watch them continue to consume us and ruin our lives… he came to deliver us from their consequences as well as their control.
Romans 6:1-4 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
The message to the church is as relevant then as it is today… we must be INCREDIBLY cautious with who we allow to minister into our lives and what messages we choose to absorb. No matter how good the fruit looks, the intent of the leader influences the content they create. On the surface, Palpatine appeared to be a kind, sympathetic leader who brokered peace in a challenging time and took control with the best of intentions… but it was actually all a self-serving scheme that destroyed countless lives in his quest for ultimate power. Similarly, Jezebel brought a message that mixed Christian faith, love and works with a continual enslavement to sin that would only lead to doom and destruction for her and her misguided followers. Both of these false shepherds were wolves in disguise… parasites gorging themselves on their unsuspecting victims, fattening them up with false doctrinal promises, and using them to suit their selfish purposes for fame, power, money and control.
Acts 20:29-30 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.
2 Timothy 3:2-5 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!
Are spiritual leaders perfect? Of course not… not even the Apostle Paul claimed to have attained the fully victorious spiritual life he aspired to (Philippians 3:12-14). But his message refused to compromise on an essential spiritual truth… while our walk with Christ is built on a foundation of faith, love and works, it is a submissive and symbiotic relationship with our Master that aligns His power and purpose with our obedience to His will. And while His power is absolutely present for the completion of doing His work here on this earth, the most critically important demonstration of His power is in His ability to not only free us from sin, but to deliver us from its’ bondage and control. As Anakin learned far too late, fruit can be deceptive when we lack the discernment to judge beyond the outer appearance. And while Palpatine was absolutely the evil mastermind behind Anakin’s downfall, he only exploited what Anakin WANTED to hear… countering the messages of self-control and discipline from Obi-Wan with false promises of power to be abused without consequences. And Vader DID gain power… but he lost everything that ever mattered to him (including himself) in the exchange.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
Fruit should not merely be judged by the beauty and attractiveness on the outside, but its’ actual impact on those who consume it. The counterfeit fruit offered by Palpatine and Jezebel concealed the poison that was contained on the inside… a poison designed to feed their victim’s darkest desires and encourage their sinful impulses. As followers of Christ, we must be incredibly cautious and mindful of the leadership we submit to (1 John 4:1) and the messages we ingest from them (Acts 17:10-11). Not everyone who speaks on His behalf, performs work in His name, or even demonstrates a commitment to our spiritual growth has our best interests in mind. And if we blindly accept what is being poured into our spirits, we may consume things that are not only harmful to our growth but encourage our participation in the very things Christ came to deliver us from in the first place. Let’s reject the comfortable and alluring deception from the “Jezebel” spirit that is just as alive and well today as it was two thousand years ago… Jesus came to deliver us FROM our demons and BREAK our chains of bondage, not teach us how to comfortably live with them.
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