The Return of the King (Reprise)

In light of our recent sermons on Revelation 21-22, you might be interested in this excerpt from The Return of the King — part three of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic masterpiece The Lord of the Rings.

Here the story of the long-awaited return of the king is recounted in splendid detail. As you will see, Tolkien’s fantastic vision of the return of the King seems to allude to and echo St. John’s apocalyptic vision of the return of the King of kings at several points.

Consider the time of the coronation of the returning King of Gondor. It takes place after the defeat of witch kings, dragons, orcs, wicked men, and the spirit of evil that moved them to wreak havoc on Middle Earth. The same is true of the revelation of Jesus the King.

Also, consider the transformative effects the returning King of Gondor has on all the people, lands, culture, and the city. Like the returning King of kings in Revelation who comes to reveal himself, to make all things new, to put things to right, and restore the world, so Gondor’s “ancient of days” brings wisdom, healing, life, and joy to the world. In Tolkien’s words:

‘Now come the days of the King, and may they be blessed while the thrones of the Valar endure!’

But when Aragorn arose all that beheld him gazed in silence, for it seemed to them that he was revealed to them now for the first time. Tall as the sea-kings of old, he stood above all that were near; ancient of days he seemed and yet in the flower of manhood; and wisdom sat upon his brow, and strength and healing were in his hands, and a light was about him. And then Faramir cried:

‘Behold the King!’

And in that moment all the trumpets were blown, and the King Elessar went forth and came to the barrier, and Húrin of the Keys thrust it back; and amid the music of harp and of viol and of flute and the singing of clear voices the King passed through the flower-laden streets, and came to the Citadel, and entered in; and the banner of the Tree and the Stars was unfurled upon the topmost tower, and the reign of King Elessar began, of which many songs have told.

In his time the City was made more fair than it had ever been, even in the days of its first glory; and it was filled with trees and with fountains, and its gates were wrought of mithril and steel, and its streets were paved with white marble; and the Folk of the Mountain laboured in it, and the Folk of the Wood rejoiced to come there; and all was healed and made good, and the houses were filled with men and women and the laughter of children, and no window was blind nor any courtyard empty; and after the ending of the Third Age of the world into the new age it preserved the memory and the glory of the years that were gone.

Finally, consider the mercy and justice of the King of Gondor’s judgments. Like the returning King of kings who comes to judge the living and the dead of all the nations, tribes, and peoples, the King of Gondor comes to judge both his allies and enemies of Middle Earth. All must appear before the judgment seat of the King. Some are punished. Many are pardoned. Others are rewarded. In Tolkien’s words:

In the days that followed his crowning the King sat on his throne in the Hall of the Kings and pronounced his judgements. And embassies came from many lands and peoples, from the East and the South, and from the borders of Mirkwood, and from Dunland in the west. And the King pardoned the Easterlings that had given themselves up, and sent them away free, and he made peace with the peoples of Harad; and the slaves of Mordor he released and gave to them all the lands about Lake Núrnen to be their own. And there were brought before him many to receive his praise and reward for their valour; and last the captain of the Guard brought to him Beregond to be judged.

And the King said to Beregond: ‘Beregond, by your sword blood was spilled in the Hallows, where that is forbidden. Also you left your post without leave of Lord or of Captain. For these things, of old, death was the penalty. Now therefore I must pronounce your doom.

‘All penalty is remitted for your valour in battle, and still more because all that you did was for the love of the Lord Faramir. Nonetheless you must leave the Guard of the Citadel, and you must go forth from the City of Minas Tirith.’

Then the blood left Beregond’s face, and he was stricken to the heart and bowed his head. But the King said:

‘So it must be, for you are appointed to the White Company, the Guard of Faramir, the Prince of Ithilien, and you shall be its captain and dwell in Emyn Arnen in honour and peace, and in the service of him for whom you risked all, to save him from death.’

And then Beregond, perceiving the mercy and justice of the King, was glad, and kneeling kissed his hand, and departed in joy and content.*

As you can see, Tolkien’s vision of the return of Aragorn the King of Gondor resembles of St. John’s apocalyptic vision of the return of Jesus Christ — and even reminds us of the true and better King of kings and Lord of lords.

Now, in the words of the great Eagle who bore tidings beyond hope:

Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you,
all the days of your life.

And the Tree that was withered shall be renewed,
and he shall plant it in the high places,
and the City shall be blessed.

Sing all ye people!

Come, Lord Jesus!

“The sign has been given and the day is not far off.” Let us set watchman on the walls.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

— By JMT for Asher


*Tolkien, The Return of the King, pp 246-247

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