Collection: Lion of Judah

ARTIST: Lewis Williams, OFS


In Genesis 49, Jacob, near death gives a testament to all his sons. Judah, though not the oldest, was given his fathers’ preference. In Gen. 49:8, Jacob states that his brothers will praise him and “the sons of your father shall bow down to you.” Judah is referred to as a “lion’s whelp” (young lion), like “the king of the beasts-who would dare rouse him? The scepter shall never depart from Judah…” (Gen.49:9-10). This foretells the supremacy of the tribe of Judah and the lineage that leads through King David to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The lion is a symbol of royalty, wisdom and strength. This reference joins with the New Testament Book of Revelation 5:5 where no one could be found worthy to open the scroll, but an elder said “Do not weep. The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has won the right to open the scroll with the seven seals.” Jesus is “The Lion of Judah.” The seals are all broken; the Kingdom now open to us.

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I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, "˜Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.' Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders..." —Revelation 5:4-6a

One of the many rules in writing is to never mix metaphors. A metaphor is, according to Webster: “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them" Thus, a rich person is described as "˜drowning in money'.

John obviously hadn't read the writing rule book. Of course, as he writes the Revelation, he is a prisoner on Patmos because he's broken a lot of much more important rules than the one on mixing metaphors. When we look at Revelation 5:4-6 at least two questions rise to the surface. Why is Christ described as a lion? And then, why is Christ described as a lion and then immediately pictured as a lamb?

Let's begin with Genesis 49:8-12.

What does chapter 49 describe to us?

Jacob confronts his sons just prior to his death with a prophetic utterance. It was the custom to "˜bless' each son of the household (see Genesis 27 and 48), but this blessing was much more than an “I wish you well" statement. It was obviously given under the influence of the Spirit of God as an indication of the future of Jacob's boys.

But here in Genesis 49:8-12 we also have a reference to the coming Messiah who would be borne as one of Judah's descendants.

What characteristics of a lion might be applied to Christ, the Messiah?

A lion is known as the "˜king of beasts', or more popularly, "˜the king of the jungle'. He is majestic and strong. These two characteristics in themselves can be applied to the Lord. The passage in Genesis suggests that you don't mess with lions (vs. 9) and that is something anyone who has anything to do with even the smallest of the cat family knows. All the animals of the jungle maintain a healthy respect for the lion. A lion can be very dangerous. And that characteristic can also be applied to Christ in His role as judge, which is part of the vision of Revelation as the Judge of all the earth opens the scroll.

Read the results of the opening of the scroll and the seventh seal in Revelation 6 to 8. The conclusion: you don't want to mess with the Lion from the tribe of Judah.

But here John "˜mixes his metaphors'. In verse 5 he describes Christ as the Lion of Judah, and in verse 6, John describes Him as the Lamb.

Can you think of any reason why John would break one of the major rules of writing here?

How would you characterize a lamb?

A lamb is gentle, incapable to hurting anything, humble, unable to defend itself - in fact the very antithesis of a lion. If Christ as Lion is a symbol of majesty and strength and is someone we should fear because of the power He has over us as described in the opening of the scroll, what does Christ as Lamb symbolize for us? (Revelation 5:9, 10)

Though these two symbols seem to be opposites, they are in fact (to mix a metaphor) two sides of the same coin. The actions of the Lamb on our behalf provide for us the only way that we can be unafraid of the actions of the Lion.

Explain this last statement in your own words.

The verses from Revelation also mention “the Root of David" a phrase which takes us back to Isaiah 11, and hooks up again with the image of the Lion. In the prophecy of Isaiah, which parallels the one in Revelation, what is the relationship between lion and lamb as seen in verses 6 to 9?

In nature, the lion eats the lamb. In the restored world after Christ returns, the lion and lamb will exist side by side, neither doing harm to the other. In terms of its symbolism in reference to Christ here in Revelation, the Lion and the Lamb exist as two parts of one whole.

Lord, I praise you for what the Lion represents to the believer - strength and majesty. I thank you that you are also the Lamb who paid in blood for my salvation. I recognize your power of life and death over me, and acknowledge that I deserve death, but I thank you that you exchanged that death for life when I put my faith in Christ as my Savior. Amen.

When the Lord returns, and when judgment day comes, which part of the whole will you face on the throne: the Lion ready to devour you in judgment or the Lamb who bought your pardon and who has covered you with His blood?

If the above is not yet your prayer and you have never acknowledged Christ as Lion or accepted Him as Lamb, the choice is ultimately yours. Read the promise given to those who follow the Lamb in Revelation 7:14-17. This too can be yours if you choose.

—Excerpts from “And He Shall Be Called The Lion of Judah" by Lynda Schultz