In the Bible, there is a writing style often called “apocalyptic.” Apocalyptic writers use signs, symbols, numbers, and patterns to teach on different levels. The book of Revelation is a classic example of apocalyptic writing.
Many prophets write with images, signs, and symbols. These passages often have multiple meanings. For example, Isaiah 7.14 says a virgin will conceive and call her son’s name Immanuel. Judah was in the middle of violent warfare and needed reassurance God would keep his promises. The sign would be powerless if nothing happened until 730 years later when Jesus was born. Isaiah intended for this prophecy and sign to happen sometime soon, probably within a few years.
The aim of apocalyptic writing is the “fulfillment level.” Words take on heightened meanings and show even more of God’s power and care. In our example, Isaiah also looked forward to when Mary, a virgin, gives birth to Jesus of Nazareth, who is Christ the Lord and truly Immanuel, God with us.
Revelation 5: The Lion of the Tribe of Judah
In Revelation 5.5, we meet Jesus as “the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” He has entered the throne room of God. Previously, John was weeping because no one was found worthy to open seals, which kept a scroll hidden from everyone. Upon seeing the Lion, an angel announces that one worthy of opening the seals has arrived.
Lions are terrifying creatures. They have amazing strength, can leap unbelievable heights, and can go from laying down to sprinting faster than we can blink. Historically, kings and nations have used the lion as a symbol of power and authority. The Bible uses lions in much the same way.
In this apocalyptic book, Jesus will fulfill many ideas about lions found throughout the rest of the Bible. Let’s look at how he does that.
The Lion is Worthy to Open the Seals
Proverbs 28.1 shows us that lions can represent those who are righteous. Because of their good conduct, they can have boldness. They have no retribution to fear from the Lord and can expect his blessings. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of this image: he did all things well (Mark 7.37). Jesus was sinless and, therefore, worthy of standing in the presence of God.
From the beginning, God has been seeking for faithful people. Hebrews 11 highlights some faithful people, but none were perfectly faithful. Jesus is the first person to give God what he desires: perfect faith in all things. He alone worthy of honor and able to open the seals.
The Lion is Powerful to Open the Seals
The Lion is also powerful to break the seals. Being worthy isn’t enough; he also has to be strong enough. Sin does more than make us unworthy. Sin makes us weak.
We’re still learning how sin changes us. The more we learn about the human brain, the more we see how deep-seated and powerfully sin takes control of our lives. Every time we sin, we create and strengthen neural pathways that will cause us to prefer sin in the future. In effect, our past choices have a powerful influence on our future choices. If we consistently choose sin, we are weakening our desire to choose righteousness later. Jesus, though he lived in the same sin-scarred world as us, never personally chose sin himself. He never weakened himself as we have.
Additionally, when God glorified Christ, he restored all that Jesus didn’t hold onto (cf Philippians 2.5-11). Jesus’s perfect obedience resulted in God “highly exalting him,” and it is from this powerful position that Jesus is now able to open the seals. We have a Savior who is not only worthy but also strong as a lion. That gives us hope.
The Lion is Conqueror
The picture of Jesus as a lion is more than a cool symbol. It gives us hope because Jesus is the conquering king. He is more powerful than sin and able to defeat death. If Jesus is our friend, then we don’t have to fear either of those things.
In the open plains, the only better than a lion is a bigger lion. Satan is a devouring lion in 1 Peter 5.8. We should have a healthy fear of him. However, we don’t have to be terrified of him because we have a bigger lion on our side, Jesus. He is the reason for our hope, and one day he will return to take us all home in glory!
Let’s all be grateful for Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and the great salvation we can have in him alone.