Prophet, priest, and king.
These are the three signature offices attributed to Jesus Christ our Lord. It is a fitting end to such a journey into Tolkien’s Middle-Earth and theology to find the end in Christ. First, we will discuss the movement that exists in Tolkien’s world in all of his writing. Then, we will discuss the roles of prophet, priest, and king as they arise in The Lord of the Rings specifically.
There is a movement, or rather a progression in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth that moves the story along even in the midst of seeming chaos and hardship, tragedy and war. The movement in Middle-Earth in akin to that found within a great symphony by a master composer. When a composer writes a masterful symphony there are various pieces, instruments, notes, bars, scales, keys, movements; however, they are all a part of the whole. Among those things I just mentioned within a major symphony, there is a primary theme which typically is revealed in the beginning, but fades away for a time. As the symphony nears the end the primary theme of the whole movement makes a resounding appearance yet again with great pomp (at least, I have Beethoven specifically in mind here, but others can serve as an example also).
In Middle-Earth there are horrible things which occur, but despite the horrible things there is always hope of something beyond the present circumstance for those creatures which are good which moves the story toward an unforeseeable, yet, awesome finale. Samwise tells Frodo in the midst of hardship to continue to press on and that there is good in the world and that it is worth fighting for. Galadriel picks Frodo up during a time when he is too exhausted to go further and gives him hope to move on. Gandalf’s reappearance as Gandalf the White alone is evidence of something greater, a new horizon to look to which lies beyond the present dire circumstance Middle-Earth is in.
Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path… One that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass… And then you see it.
Pippin: What? Gandalf?… See what?
Gandalf: White shores… and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: [smiling] Well, that isn’t so bad.
Gandalf: [softly] No… No it isn’t.
It is in Romans 5 where the Apostle Paul states that suffering produces endurance and endurance – character and character – hope and hope will not put us to shame, but is a gift from God.
This is quite the opposite of that pithy proverbial saying of Yoda in Star Wars in reference to that which leads to the dark side, lol.
Hope is what is clung to in Middle-Earth, and it isn’t merely hope for a better tomorrow, but a hope in a greater life and goodness and purpose for creation which has in some way been marred by the evil Melkor and has to be made right. Tolkien’s purpose for creating humanity was in fact to thwart Melkor’s purposes and eventually end the evil that had been planted in Middle-Earth. Therefore, the movement in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth is not merely a good thought about how things can be as many in the Western world today think of “progress,” etc., but it is far greater and is nothing less of a pen stroke by the divine creator of Middle-Earth, the master composer who has written his divine movement into his world. Sound familiar?
Aragorn: I do not fear death.
Aragorn the King. The one who lived in exile and wandered the forests only to return at the appointed time to fight against the evil forces of Middle-Earth, leading all in battle, defeating Sauron once and for all, and then being crowned king of Gondor. Aragorn was not merely the leading representative figurehead of Gondor being Isildur’s heir to the throne, but was the representative of all humanity in Middle-Earth and the head of humanity, or at least those committed to fighting against the dark forces of Sauron. Aragorn leads Rohan and Gondor into battle before being crowned king, and is the key figure in defeating Sauron. There are many figures who came into play here, but Aragorn is the one who suggested to ride out to meet the Uruk-hai at Helm’s Deep and the one who suggested to callout Sauron’s armies to provide safe passage for Frodo and Sam. He also is the only one who could summon an immaterial army to defeat the evil armies laying siege to Gondor. Aragorn is willing to lay down his life for the Fellowship, leads the Fellowship after Gandalf’s passing, and does not fear death. Aragorn is a Christ figure in that he is the long-awaited king which is to return and bring peace to the world.
Gandalf the Priest. He was the leader of the Fellowship who interceded on behalf of others in seeking council with his superior and then he fell, as it seemed, to his death when chasing the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. However, though while others thought him dead he fought the evil ‘demon of the ancient world’ and killed him. Shortly after Gandalf the Grey fell asleep, then returned as Gandalf the White. Ages passed during his sleep as he became Gandalf the White, though it was only a short time in Middle-Earth because it was outside of time. Gandalf sacrificed himself to the point that he gave his own life to save a few. Then, Gandalf was sent back for a greater purpose to be accomplished and this time Gandalf possessed much greater power than he did before. This is comparable to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross which was done out of love and is written that he poured himself out. Then, on the third day he arose from the dead and was walking through walls, disappearing, and ascending. The seeming limits of humanity were gone upon the return our Lord from the dead and the fullness of God was more clearly seen as the bonds of death were broken for him and for us.
Elrond/Galadriel/Legolas the Prophet. It is apparent in The Lord of the Rings that the only overtly religious creatures are the good elves. Elrond, Galadriel, and Legolas are the primary figures of elvenkind in The Lord of the Rings, so they will be the primary focus here. The prophecy of the Shards of Narsil, the remaking of the sword, the heir of Isildur, the age of men to come, the encouragement to the Fellowship, and the divine light all have an origin in one way or another with the good elves of Middle-Earth. I say good elves because not all elves in Middle-Earth are good. The elves point the way to the one who is to come to defeat Sauron and the way to the new age that is come where men reign in Middle-Earth along with relative peace. The prophets of the Old Testament testify to the Messiah who comes in the New Testament and fulfills all the Law and the Prophets. It is John the Baptist who prepares the way for the Lord as the new Elijah pointing to Christ by readying hearts, testifying to one who is greater who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. The good elves serve as the prophet figures of Middle-Earth, but they are comparable to Christ as well for Christ is the true prophet and it is in him that all the promises of God find fulfillment.
Prophet, priest, king… These are the roles of Christ. Gandalf sacrificed himself as the priest and defeated death, and Christ is our high priest who defeated death in himself and for us. Aragorn defeated the dark forces of Sauron and returned to be crowned the king as the representative head of the good of humanity, Christ defeated death and will return to deal evil it’s last crippling defeat where we will join him in celebration of the return of our King and his victory which is also our victory and he is the representative head of the good of humanity, i.e. The Church. The elves prophesied from of old and kept the prophecies while promoting their fulfillment in the final defeat of Sauron and the return of the king and the new age to dawn while in Christ Jesus our Lord all the Law and Prophets have found their fulfillment and evil will meet it’s complete end upon his return.
The white tree of Gondor which was dead blooms with white flower petals upon the return of the king which represents life. As the ring is destroyed by Frodo, the world is wakened to new life. The ring, as was mentioned in the past, represents sin. The god of Middle-Earth, and there is but one, Illuvatar (Eru) has ordered all things to promote the purpose for which he intended despite the interference by Melkor (The Evil One). The ring was destroyed and the burden was removed from Frodo and others once and for all. In the same manner, sin has been defeated in Christ through his death and resurrection. We have been justified by faith that we might too be glorified with him in the end. This is not to say we take the glory of God for ourselves and this is our hope, no, but we imitate Christ in all we do being agents of grace, hope, love, and reconciliation while pointing to the one saving faith that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is in him by faith that we become partakers of the divine, members of the family of God and reap the benefits of the promises of God and the intercessory work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
It is in Christ that our true humanity and true purpose is found, and thus, we are called by the grace of God to seek to imitate Him by faith in all we say, think, and do. For J.R.R. Tolkien, true humanity was found in Christ and it was only as the result of all of the variety of figures including Hobbits for that matter that the true purpose in Middle-Earth could be attained after the great deceiver had led so many astray into evil and darkness. It was only through this that the purpose for creation could be reestablished and the movement of that great symphony could resound for one grand finale. So it is with the life of a lowly human, much as a Hobbit, small and seemingly insignificant, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us to defeat sin and death by his perfect sacrifice. It is with this lowly suffering servant who defeated the undefeateable that we eagerly await the return of our King so that we may join in that great and brilliant and wonderful final theme to end the great symphony with all the pomp to warmly embrace the New Kingdom in it’s fullness upon that consummate hope as we live in the presence of God as it was and is supposed to be.