The Most Biblical Scene In Lord Of The Rings

I’m currently working my way through the Lord of the Rings books, and have also found myself watching the movies several times since the beginning of the year. Tolkien’s story is simply a masterpiece, and I believe the movies do a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of the books (if somehow you have never watched the movies, you absolutely should). One of the most appealing aspects of the story to me is that it captures something that seems to have been lost in the modern world. Not that there is a single factor, so much as a gestalt of modern disenchanted society in comparison to the enchanted society of history. When I go through the story, it reminds me of deep truths that now seem diluted. Beautiful stories are often better than sermons at expressing such things.

There are many powerful reminders in Lord of the Rings of lost or fading virtues that are thoroughly in line with the Biblical narrative: bravery, deep friendship, sacrifice, loyalty, and so on. The story is filled with scenes that emphasize these values, or else denounce the correlated vices. Yet, in my opinion, no scene resonates with the Biblical narrative as well as a scene that appears at the end of the final movie, Return of the King.

After Aragorn is finally crowned king, he is reunited with Arwen. Following this reunion, he then finds himself facing the four hobbits who were part of the fellowship of the ring – Frodo, Samwise, Merry, and Pippin. Standing before the newly crowned king, the hobbits begin to bow in respect. It is then that Aragorn says his famous line: “my friends, you bow to no one,” after which he and the entire host of people around them bow their knees in honor of the hobbits. Although this is different from how it happens in the books, the hobbits are certainly honored there as well, and it seems to me this scene is faithful to the idea Tolkien intended to portray – an idea thoroughly in line with Jesus’ own teaching about his kingdom.

In Matthew 20, Jesus twice teaches about one of the most upside-down aspects of his kingdom: what greatness looks like. In verse 16, at the end of the parable of the vineyard workers, Jesus famously says, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” This is followed a few verses later with James and John’s mother requesting that her sons be given places of special honor in his kingdom. Jesus responds by telling his disciples, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” Jesus makes it clear all throughout his teaching that “greatness” in his kingdom is judged by a totally different standard from that of the world. In the world, greatness means having power and influence over others, being honored and respected by men. In Jesus’ kingdom, greatness means serving others sacrificially out of love.

This is why this scene in the Lord of the Rings movies is so special. It is not just that the hobbits are honored, but more importantly when they are honored. Aragorn has just been crowned king. By all accounts, Aragorn is exactly the kind of king any person would want. He is brave, loyal, and repeatedly proves that he is willing to lay down his life for the sake of others. Perhaps most important of all, he does not desire power. He only takes the throne after he is convinced he is called to this task for the sake of mankind. It would be natural to look at Aragorn’s coronation as the height of greatness in the story. And certainly Aragorn is a display of greatness. But then, the newly crowned Aragorn refuses the honor of the hobbits, and instead leads everyone in showing honor to them. True greatness lies with the hobbits.

Out of all the races in the Lord of the Rings storyline, the hobbits are the most feeble and helpless. They are mostly protected by their obscurity, living in small communities far away from anywhere of particular importance. Their physical weakness is emphasized in the story multiple times, for example when Merry seeks to ride out to battle with Théoden, but is denied due to his size. Hobbits are not physically prepared for battles with orcs, even if they have big hearts. Yet, in the end, it is the hobbits that are the the most important characters in the entire story, for it is only because of them – most notably Frodo and Sam –  that the ring is destroyed. While their part in the destruction of the ring involves heroic acts of bravery, the most important virtue they display is the willingness to lay down their lives in utter obscurity. Despite coming to believe their journey would be a one-way trip, they continued on for the sake of others.

I think most of us would rather dream of being Aragorn – the brave king who everyone respects. And certainly Aragorn is worthy of respect in the story. But few of us would long to be the ring bearers, sent on a journey of suffering with certain doom as the result. Indeed, most of us probably find ourselves doing anything we can to avoid that path. Yet, after the enemy is destroyed and the new day dawns, it is the “least of these” who are honored by the king, and everyone else.

To be honest, the scene brings tears to my eyes when I watch it. I imagine what it may be like in Jesus’ kingdom, seeing the King of kings honor the least of these. I imagine it will be an incredible sight. But this scene also provides an opportunity for reflection for those of us in the church.

We spend a lot of time fighting and bickering over power. We long for roles of authority and influence even in the church, just like James, John, and their mother. We see Jesus’ kingdom through the lens of worldly kingdoms, and easily seek to make our own little kingdoms within his. But Jesus calls us to a different way of thinking, a different lens. The preeminent display of greatness in God’s kingdom is the cross, where the King of kings suffered and died entirely for the sake of others. It is therefore this display which must define greatness for us.

Certainly we need Aragorns and Galadriels and Gimlis and Éowyns. But the greatest in God’s kingdom will be the Frodos and Sams – the seemingly small and insignificant characters of no special stature who deny the pull of power and instead walk the path of suffering for the sake of serving others. That is not only what greatness looks like in God’s kingdom, it is the way evil will ultimately be defeated.

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