Jesus & Gandalf

Today Christians celebrated our Lord’s Transfiguration. (If you attend a church that doesn’t follow the historic “Church Year,” ask your pastor about it. It can be a healthy and educational spiritual discipline.)

The Transfiguration took place on a mountaintop where God the Father brought Moses and Elijah to speak with Jesus. During this encounter, Jesus and his garments shined with a pure, clear light that dazzled the eyes.

It was quite likely the Transfiguration that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to include one powerful image in his Lord of the Rings tale. (The Lord of the Rings is often referred to as a trilogy, although it is actually a single intricate novel which consists of six “books” plus appendices.)

In the Middle Earth myth, the heroic Gandalf dies in battle with a champion of evil . . . only to be resurrected with even greater power and focus. In this point, the two events differ, since Jesus’ nature never changed. He was incarnate and born as both God and human being. The Transfiguration merely revealed momentarily a portion of his divine identity which was masked, in a sense, by his human flesh.

The aspect in which the accounts are similar comes in the appearance of the glorified Savior and the resurrected Wizard . . . they exude a holy radiance so powerful it even affects their garb.

Thus, Tolkien’s beloved Gandalf the Grey is transformed into the triumphant Gandalf the White.

The Transfiguration of Jesus was one small piece of evidence that he was who he claimed to be. It wasn’t given to the disciples to persuade them of his divinity; in fact, those who witnessed it were enjoined not to share the miracle with others until much later.

Ultimately, what one believes about Jesus does not come down to adding up his miracles and weighing them against the claims of other faiths. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and humanity’s Savior. If he wasn’t exactly that, he should be condemned and his memory forgotten. As the brilliant C.S. Lewis wrote:

Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God because He said so. The other evidence about Him has convinced them that He was neither a lunatic nor a quack. (C.S. Lewis, “The Language of Religion”)

Those familiar with Lewis’ writings may recognize how this quotation echoes others where he discusses his divine trilemma.

The world is full of hypocrites who want to force Jesus into their warped pantheons as a “prophet” or “teacher.” Jesus doesn’t allow himself to be embraced as anything other than who he is—God’s Son. Since he made that claim so clearly, he is either precisely that, or he is a liar. Or, it’s possible as Lewis points out, that he may have been insane. In which case he also falls short of being someone who should be followed.

For those who do not presently know Christ, simply pray in humility that God would open your eyes in a personal epiphany. God desires that no one would remain separated from him. And then, one day we can all look forward to seeing our Lord in the fullness of his glory.

10 thoughts on “Jesus & Gandalf

  1. I fell in love with Tolkien in college, and ended up giving each of my three sons a Tolkien middle name- Mithrandir, Aragorn, and Bombadil! They are very proud of these meaningful names.

    1. I love that! We did something unusual with our children’s middle names as well. We used Dominic/Dominique, which were not family names, but references, of course, to belonging to the Lord. Thus their names meant “Light of the Lord” and “Anointed of the Lord.”

  2. dinoanderson

    The comparison of Jesus to Gandalf, Gandalf’s duel with the Balrog and his resurrection as Gandalf the White, compared alongside the resurrection of Jesus (And his overcoming death), is one I had not previously thought of. Where as the resurrection of Aslan in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is a little easier to recognize and compare to the death of Jesus.
    Very Interesting!

  3. Hello again Rob,

    Thanks for the response to my recent lenten reflection. I’m learning a bit at a time what it means to become part of this blogging universe. Thanks for the kind notice.

    Your comparison of Gandalf and Jesus in this post reminds me of Lewis’s and Tolkein’s early discussions about the importance of myth (despite what Rudolf Bultmann would soon be saying about the divorce between myth and history), and how Tolkein helped Lewis over the hurdle of doubt into faith by pointing out that he (Lewis) would love a story about a dying god were it given anywhere but in the Christian gospel. (!)

    As Tolkein went on to say, the gospel is a case where the myth actually happened; but that doesn’t diminish at their own level the value of other myths as preparatio evangelica.

    Thanks for your good and encouraging work. I look forward to staying in touch.


    1. Technical note: I tried to reblog this post to my blog in English but because my account is linked to the Romanian blog, I had to delete it and appeal to the ‘Link’ function. Said this to prevent any confusion (I would ask you not accent the initial reblog). Wish you a good day.

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