The Bible is full of rich metaphors, word-parables so to speak. One of my favorites is Christ depicted as the Lion of Judah. We get our first hint of the connection at the end of Genesis when Jacob-now-Israel blesses his twelve sons before he dies. These sons represent the twelve tribes of Israel, and none is more significant than the tribe of Judah. In Genesis 49:9-10 we read:
Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
The scepter shall not depart form Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Numbers 24:9 records the prophet Balaam repeating part of Jacob’s prophecy, and it is generally recognized as an early proclamation of the coming Messiah, Christ. The expanded and fulfilled prophecy is proclaimed in Revelation 5:5:
…and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the
book and its seven seals.”
But Christ is not always depicted as a lion, as a fierce ruler. The prophet Isaiah describes the Messiah as a lamb that is led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). This imagery is potent and powerful. When the Lord used Moses to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt, He gave instructions for each household (or group of households) to sacrifice a lamb—the Passover Lamb—and paint their door lintels with its blood in order to escape the imminent judgment that was coming upon Egypt. The sacrifice of lambs for sin was an integral part of the Old Testament Law.
When John the Baptist proclaimed to two of his disciples that Jesus was the Lamb of God, there were a few dots to connect. Many and probably most Jews anticipating the coming of the Messiah were looking for a king, for the Lion of Judah. And here was a lamb, blameless to be sure, but not even particularly attractive. The concept of the Christ suffering and dying was abhorrent to the Apostle Peter (Matthew 16: 21-23), and we can be sure Peter was not alone in his perspective.
And so we come to the point of Easter. Jesus was not sometimes the lion and sometimes the lamb. He was not merely both the lion and the lamb. He is the Lion who became the Lamb. He died for us that we might rule with Him. Again, the fifth chapter of Revelation gives us a glimpse of what this will look like:
And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
Evangelical Christians often claim Christ as their Lord and Savior. It is the Lion-Lamb who we celebrate at Easter. May we appreciate both elements of His character and celebrate with joy and gratitude.