The image of the Lion of Judah is often depicted in media and church buildings as representing the regal power of Jesus in contrast to the lowly slain Lamb of God, but the more I’ve prayed and studied this, the more I’ve come to believe that this is a fusion of imagery, not a contrast of imagery; the Lion and Lamb are integrated, not separated into dual natures.
“Judah is a lion’s cub”
“…behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof…”
Who is the lion’s cub? Judah.
Who is the Lion? Jesus.
Jesus is the father of the tribe of Judah, just as He is the “Root of David” (Isaiah 11), not just the Branch, the Son of David.
Why is this important? The tribe of Judah and the line of David is where the Messiah came from–the King of Israel who would rule the world.
This means that Jesus came from the tribe of Judah and David, but they also came from Him. The Messiah is not merely a Jewish king in a line of succession among the kings of Judah and the house of David, although it does mean that, He’s the creator of Judah and the beginning of the house of David.
More broadly: He was Jewish but, more importantly, He was the maker of the Jews. He took on humanity after He made humanity.
The Lamb before He was slain
“The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and *said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Sins are only atoned for with blood, and Jesus, by His death and resurrection, took away the sins of the world, so the initial imagery of the Lamb of God is a pure, innocent sacrifice for all of mankind (Isaiah 53).
Of course, He’s not literally a Lamb, but the image represents the nature of the Messiah as pure, innocent, and sacrificial to the point of death.
This is the picture of Jesus’ kingship that we see throughout the New Testament, which constantly messes with our ideas of what a king and lord should be. A king that washes feet? A king that hangs out with the bottom barrels of society? A king that dies as a criminal?
Lion and the Slain Lamb
“…behold, the Lion…And I saw…a Lamb standing, as if slain”
If someone told you there was a lion behind you, you would in no way expect to see a slain lamb with 7 eyes and 7 horns, but this is the scene John sees played out before him in the Spirit. He hears Lion, but He sees Lamb.
The key to the imagery here is that the Lamb of God, which John the Baptist saw, is now the Slain Lamb of God, who is resurrected, omnipresent, authoritative, and the only one worthy to open the scrolls in order to bring justice on Earth.
The image of the Lamb, not the Lion, dominates the Book of Revelation, as He is, ironically, the Shepherd who guides the redeemed to life (7:17), administers God’s justice in wrath (ch. 5-6), stands on Mount Zion, as opposed to Golgotha (14:1), marries His bride (19:9), emanates the glory of God to His people (21:23), celebrates with and shares the throne of God (22:1).
When you put the lion and lamb images together, it looks something like this:
- The lion is the image of the beginning and fullness of the Messiah, who has, as prophesied, all rule, authority and power over the nations.
- The image of the lamb is also the Messiah, but provides a fuller meaning and detail to what that looks like: The victory of death and resurrection.
We see a prophetic picture in the Lion all His ability to rule as Messiah through military might, but the way the lion overcomes to open to break the seals is fully realized in the sacrifice of the risen Lamb.
So, we can see an amazing picture of what Jesus is able to do, but He demonstrates that very power through His death and resurrection, which not only brings a victory over the nations, but death and hell itself, and ushers in a new kingdom and a whole new world.
This is His victory, and ours too: “They overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony!”