When people ask me the best book I have ever read, I do not hesitate to claim Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I am fully aware that this puts me somewhere on the broad spectrum of nerdom, but I am proud to occupy that space if it means that I can tell even a few people about the beautiful array of characters and images to be found in Tolkien’s masterpiece.
The scripture consistently points to Jesus as King. Revelation 19:16 says that when he returns the inscription “King of Kings” will be written on his robe and his thigh. Zechariah 9:9 points to this by prophesying “Behold, your king is coming to you”. Jesus himself admits to his kingship in John 18:37. Revelation 17 says that “the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings”.
Having Jesus as our King means many things. He is most certainly our ruler and ruler of all, and in the last days he will judge and reign as king. But Jesus is not just a judge and a ruler, he is also a warrior. A warrior king is a ruler that leads by example. He is not the kind of ruler who sits back and watches. He is not afraid to die, or to lay down his life for his people.
Jesus is the ultimate warrior king.
Setting the Stage
The other day I felt very compelled to pick up my copy of LOTR (it’s lying on my floor for easy access). I really wanted to find this passage with Théoden, king of Rohan, riding into battle, because I think it wonderfully captures both the fury and splendor of a king leading his people into battle. Tolkien’s ability to truly display the charge of the knights as “fair and terrible” is worth taking in. It is one of my favorite passages in the book. I think I cried when I read it for the first time.
“Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away. Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it. After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them. Éomer rode there, the white horsetail on his helm floating in his speed, and the front of the first éored roared like a breaker foaming to the shore, but Théoden could not be overtaken. Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Oromë the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young. His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and the darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.”
Isn’t that beautiful? Théoden, king of Rohan, captures the very essence of what it means to be a warrior king. This image is striking: the king, the single most important man among his people, leads his men fearlessly into danger. His speed cannot be overtaken, his glorious light cannot be dimmed. No matter the opposition he faces, morning comes and darkness is removed, and his people burst into joyous song in the midst of danger and death.
I think this image can teach us so much about the Kingliness of Jesus Christ, if we will listen closely.
There is a War
If you think that the picture of Jesus as warrior is not pertinent for life today, then you are wrong. If you think that there is no room for warriors today, then you must think that there is no room for war. Once again, you are wrong. There is need for Jesus as warrior king, because there is a war going on in the soul of every man and woman.
Sin is not idle in the world today. In fact it has never been idle. Since the day Adam fell in the garden, sin has been trying to kill you. Christian, sin is out to kill you, and it desperately wants to overcome the light that is in you with darkness and hardness of heart. And not only sin, but death itself means to take you down. Often it is not only your own sin that stabs its dagger in your soul, but also the sin of the world that causes you unnecessary pain. Maybe your own sin causes you to ache, but maybe you actually have physical aches that are outside of your control. Maybe you feel pain and sadness for the hurts of others, for a friend or a family member who is far from Christ or deeply wounded. Maybe you have been deeply wounded yourself, by betrayal or slander. No matter the hurt, you must understand that sin is the reason. Sin is waging war in every soul, and in the world at large, biting and clawing and overshadowing goodness. If sin is not idle, then we cannot sit idly by.
Yes, we have already died with Christ and been made alive again, and so we know that sin has no dominion over us and cannot hurt us in the end. Yet if you think that just because you are in Christ that you do not have to fight, then I have to tell you a third time: you are wrong. The scripture commands us to fight, for the sake of our lives. See Romans 8:13 “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you kill the deeds of the body, you will live”, or Colossians 3:5 “put to death what is earthly in you”. There is a war, and war calls for warriors.
Not only that, but war calls for leaders, for generals, for fearless ones to pave the path into battle. We need someone whose courage and strength propels us forward. We need a king who is unafraid, and who leads by example.
We have one in Jesus Christ.
Jesus: Warrior King
Jesus is the only perfect man, the man who is God, the man whose life means more than any other man who has ever lived or will live. If anyone deserves to be protected, to let others do his dirty work, to sit high upon his throne and command from a safe distance, it is Jesus. Yet Jesus leads the way into battle. He does not just sound the trumpet, he charges with a fierce abandon at our great enemy of sin and death, unafraid to die. In fact, he is so fearless that he did die, on our behalf, at the time of our great need.
At the cross, Jesus rode so fiercely and with so much glorious abandon that death stood no chance. Darkness, which seemed so dark, gave way to his light. Morning came, and a great gust of pure air came with it, a purity flowing from the wounds of Christ right into the hearts of all who trust and believe in him. The hosts of Satan and of death cried and wailed when Jesus broke forth from the tomb, they tried to run and hide but they could not escape their own demise: and so death died.
But still it lingers. Still the battle rages on, and you and I seem caught in the middle of it. So what do we do? We know death will not win, we know we have a savior who is a warrior and fights on our behalf, but what do we do as we wait for the last vestiges of sin to be trampled under his feet? The answer is simple: we fight, joyously, following our warrior king.
The Fair and Terrible Song
What happens to the knights of Rohan after Théoden charges into battle? They sense their own victory. They may not taste it fully yet, but in their minds, with the example of their king, they believe that victory is sure and certain and coming. So what do they do? Do they lay down their arms, thinking that if success is certain then the battle is over? No, of course not. There are still enemies to be slain. And so they joyfully fight, slaying the enemy with a fierce smile of assurance.They know the day will come when they hang up their swords and all is made right and peace flows from the heart of every man, but until that day they do not give up. The assurance of that day propels them, by faith, to sing a fair and terrible song.
Christian, Jesus is not done being a warrior. The cross may seem like his crescendo of combat, but in actuality it is just the first charge. Victory is sure, but the war is not over. Jesus will return, and his return will be even more terrible and more beautiful than before. When he comes back, he will lead the charge for all to see, and the last enemies of God will meet their eternal end. Peace will come at last and last for forever.
If you are hurting today, or if the battle of the Christian life is wearing down on you, Jesus has comfort for you as your warrior king. He hates sin as much as you do, even more so. He hates death and darkness and depression and despair, he hates them so much that he gave his life to abolish them. Jesus fights for you, and in his strength there is a joyful song available to you.
Do not mistake what I am saying: the fight is hard. In this life, you will see pain and death, and there will be days when victory seems far off and the only thing you feel like you can do is lay down and die. If this is you today, fight for hope in the return of Christ. Pray for his return, and pray for the battle that is happening. And most of all, fight well, Christian. Look to the example of Christ, rest in the shadow of his sword, and sing as you slay sin. Sing in worship, because the Warrior King is worthy to be praised. Sing in hope, because you have an unwavering assurance, and sing in joy, because a day is coming when nothing will be able to stop your song.