Sacrificial Lamb or “ROARING” lion? Of late, it has become popular to declare Jesus to be the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” Well and good! Amen! Beyond doubt, he is the Messiah of Israel who fulfills that role! However, popular preachers always cite with this declaration a particular passage from the book of Revelation, although the complete passage is almost never quoted, and herein is the problem.
John had just seen the scroll “sealed with seven seals” being held tightly in the right hand of the “One Who sits on the Throne.” A diligent search was made throughout the Cosmos to find just one individual who was “worthy” to open it – In heaven, on the earth, even under the earth – But no one was found. This caused John to weep profusely. If the scroll remained sealed, the redemptive purposes of God could not be revealed and implemented.
Fortunately for him, John HEARD one of the twenty-four “elders” command him to cease weeping; for, “Behold, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, overcame to open the scroll and its seven seals.” However, when he looked, John saw a “slain Lamb,” NOT a lion.
“Slain” translates the Greek verb used commonly for the “slaying” of sacrificial animals – (sphazo). What John SAW interpreted what he HEARD – an interpretive technique used several more times in Revelation. In other words, Jesus IS the “Lion of Judah,” but he fulfills that role as the “slain Lamb.”
From this point, “Lamb” becomes the primary designation for Jesus in the book. He is called “Christ” seven times, “Jesus” fourteen times, but “Lamb” twenty-eight times – (4 x 7). This passage is the one and only time he is called the “Lion of Judah.” It is the “Lamb” who rules over the entire creation from his Father’s Throne whence he implements the contents of the “sealed scroll.”
The rest of the passage confirms this understanding. Immediately upon his appearance, the “Lamb” steps up to the Throne, takes the “sealed scroll,” and begins to open its seals. After the “Lamb” takes the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders prostrate themselves before him and–:
“They sing a new song, declaring, Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were SLAIN and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, and made them a kingdom and priests unto our God; and they are reigning on earth…Worthy is the Lamb that has been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might and honor, and glory, and blessing!”
From the start, Revelation anchors its visions in the past death and resurrection of Jesus. He is the “faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Unto him who loves us and loosed us from our sins BY HIS BLOOD; and made us a kingdom, priests unto his God and Father.” It was in his sacrificial death that he gave his “faithful testimony” and constituted us as “priests” who reign with him. He has all authority – including over “death and Hades” – because he is the one who was dead, and “behold, I am alive for evermore.”
When the book of Revelation describes faithful believers as a “kingdom of priests,” it uses the present tense – This is what they are now on the earth. Already, they are reigning with him as they bear faithful witness to the “inhabitants of the earth.”
The distinction between “lion” and “lamb” is critical for how a believer “overcomes” to stand before the “Lamb” and the “Throne.” At the close of the seven letters to the churches of Asia, Jesus, the “faithful and true witness,” summons all the churches to “conquer” and sit with him on his throne, “JUST AS I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches” – (Revelation 3:14-22).
Likewise, in chapter 12, the victorious saints “overcome the Dragon,” doing so “by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they love not their lives unto death” – (Revelation 12:11).
It is the “Lamb” who is the “Lord of lords and King of kings.” In the final vision, those whose names are “inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life” are found in the “city of New Jerusalem,” not those whose names have been registered in the war scroll of the “lion.” Even though total victory is achieved throughout the Cosmos, it is still the “Lamb,” NOT the “lion,” who is found reigning over the city – (“The city has no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine upon it: for the glory of God illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb”).
Even the vision of the “rider on a white horse” – what is, arguably, the book’s most violent image – is paradoxical. Yes, the “rider” is “judging and making war”; however, his only visible weapon is the great “sword” that he wields from his mouth – the word of God. Moreover, when he first appears, and BEFORE he engages in conflict with the “Beast” and its allies, already his robes are stained with blood. Whose blood is it? From where did it come? How did it get there?
The Apostle Paul described to Corinthians how the proclamation of “Christ crucified” is the very “power and wisdom of God” by which he achieved total victory over sin, death, and the Devil. In its own very pictorial way, Revelation communicates the same truth – (“We speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, which God foreordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this world knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory”).
The image of a mighty warlike lion “roaring” blood-curdling screams while lopping the heads off our “enemies” certainly appeals our carnal side; however, such notions are incompatible with the Christ who “poured himself out and humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” It is THAT Jesus the God highly exalted:
“And gave him the name that is above every name, that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”