Aragorn, the king, has returned. Let the rejoicing begin! Victory is here!
But, suppose that the story unfolded a little differently. Rewind the tape a little. Go back to the part of the movie where Aragorn jumps off the ship—black cloak flapping in the wind, dark eyes fixed intently on the orc army, grim face promising death to all who stand in his way. The promises of the kingdom in his hands. The hope of all humanity on his shoulders.
And an arrow hits him right between the eyes.
Knocked back against the side of the ship, he slowly collapses to the ground in a bloody heap at the feet of his shocked companions.
The king is dead!
Without Aragorn, the ghost army has no reason remain. So, the ghosts all head back to their home under the mountain. There is no dramatic rescue of the humans trapped inside the city. The orcs win and the humans are all massacred.
No kingdom, no blessings, no shalom. Only shoah. The king is dead and all hope is lost.
Now, suppose that you’re the orc who shot the arrow.
I’m sure you really didn’t understand what you were doing. You’re an orc. So it’s not like you’re all that smart. You saw some dingy-looking guy dressed in black and holding a pretty wicked looking sword. He scared you a little. You’d heard that he was supposed to be some great king who would restore peace and order throughout the land, but you didn’t buy it. You thought he was the enemy. So, you killed him.
You killed the king.
You killed the only hope for the world.
And, that’s exactly what happened in our story. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter had to stand up in front of an entire crowd of people and deliver some bad news. The Promised One returned. He came with all of the blessings of the kingdom: life, Spirit, peace, forgiveness, purity, new creation, healing—shalom. After so many long centuries of waiting, after all the uncertainty and doubt, after so many false hopes and broken dreams, the King came to restore the kingdom.
And you killed him.
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Acts 2:36)
The King came, and you killed him. The hope of the world, nailed to a cross.
Now what do we do?
[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel book page.]
I’m a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. But, one thing always confused me. Why did he call the last book The Return of the King? If you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you know that the title refers to the fact that the kingdom of Gondor has been without its rightful king for a very long time. And, the true king of Gondor, Aragorn, has not yet returned to claim the kingdom as his inheritance. So, from the title, you presume that the heart of the book will be the return of Aragorn to reestablish the kingdom of Gondor.
And, in one of the story’s climactic scenes, that’s exactly what happens. A huge army of vicious, ugly orcs has invaded Gondor and looks certain to destroy its capital city, slaughtering all of the Gondorians (Gondorites? Gondorans? Gondor-people?) along the way. At the last possible second, Aragorn and his companions arrive on a fleet of black-sailed ships. Leaping from the side of the ship, Aragorn stares down the waiting orcs before unleashing his own army of ghost-soldiers (it’s complicated) to destroy the opposing army and save the besieged humans.
The king has returned.
The story isn’t even close to being over. Indeed, there’s an even larger orc-army just waiting to be unleashed on the humans. And, they haven’t faced the evil overlord, Sauron, who is behind all of this in the first place.
So, the good news is…the king is back. The bad news is…you’re about to be eaten by an orc anyway.
The story doesn’t seem to find its true resolution until the Ring of Power, which Sauron needs to sustain his awesome evilness, is destroyed by being tossed into the depths of a powerful volcano. Actually, it doesn’t really get tossed into the volcano. Technically, one of the more interesting characters in the story, Gollum, steals the ring and while triumphantly dancing around with glee, he falls into the fiery volcano with the ring clutched in his greedy little hands. (The moral of the story, of course, is that one should never dance near open volcanoes.) And, once the ring is destroyed, Sauron dies and his orc armies are finally vanquished.
So, the real hero of the story is…Gollum. After all, he’s the one who destroys the ring and defeats Sauron. The evil one is defeated. Victory is won. Let’s go home.
So, why does Tolkien call this book The Return of the King? Why not Gollum Saves the Day? Wouldn’t that be a more fitting description of the book’s real climax? Not for Tolkien. Killing Sauron isn’t really the point. Sauron needs to be defeated, of course. But, that’s just one part of a much larger story—the restoration of the kingdom. That’s why Tolkien continues the story even after Sauron dies, telling us about Aragorn getting married, establishing his kingdom, and ruling for a nice, long time. That’s the good news. Killing bad guys is one thing. But unless the king returns and establishes the kingdom, things still won’t be the way they’re supposed to be. It’s only when the kingdom comes that you have all the blessings of the kingdom: peace, justice, prosperity, pretty elf-wife—shalom.
The good news is about the return of the king.