When we study the biblical narrative in its entirety, we discover just how complimentary both of these images are to the power Jesus Christ, whose purpose is prophesied in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament.
Many may look to Isaiah 11:6 as a passage that points to Jesus as the lion and the lamb, however, this is a common misconception. The author writes, “and the wolf will dwell with the lamb,and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them.” Here Isaiah was prophesying that the coming Messiah and message of his gospel would temper even the wildest hearts and bring peace to those who were formerly enemies, i.e., wolfs and lambs, calves and young lions.
Christ’s connection to the lion and the lamb actually goes back much further and is revealed much more thoroughly in Revelation 5, which we’ll look at in a moment.
Jesus Is the Lion of Judah
The earliest reference to Jesus as a lion, however, can be found in Genesis, where Jacob (Israel) delivers parting words to each of his sons. When he arrives at Judah, his fourth born, Jacob says,
“Judah, your brothers shall praise you;your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down to you. ‘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 from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes” (Genesis 49:8-10).
Significance of the Lion and Judah:
Here the imagery of the lion reflects the powerful, majestic, and kingly nature of the lion, often regarded as the king of beasts. Applied to Judah, this is significant because it heralds the lineage of Judah as that of kings. For out of Judah’s line, King David and his descendants would rule over Israel until the time of the Babylonian captivity (1 Chronicles 2; 2 Kings 24); and generations later, Jesus Christ would come as a descendent of David and Judah to forge a new covenant and usher in a new kingdom of heavenly glory (Matthew 1:1-17).
Furthermore, when Jacob says that “the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,” he was also proclaiming the eventual eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ, who will forever as king, the scepter being a symbol of his kingly authority and lordship.
This is the main reason why Jesus is often referred to as the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
Jesus Is the King of Kings
In the book of Revelation, the apostle John is also given a vision of the heavenly throne room in which the one seated on the throne is handed a scroll sealed with seven seals (Revelation 5:1-3). When no one is found worthy to open the scroll, John begins to “weep” (Revelation 5:4). This is when one of the elders says to him, “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” (Revelation 5:5).
This is clearly referring to Jesus Christ, the Root of David and Lion of the tribe of Judah, who is worthy to open the scroll for being the one to conquer sin and death through his work on the cross (2 Timothy 1:10, Isaiah 25:8, 1 Corinthians 15:25-26, Hosea 13:14).
Jesus Is the Lamb of God
In the later verses of Revelation 5, John then writes, “and I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain…And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne” (Revelation 5:6-7).
With this revelation, John confirmed Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God, for as the Lamb took the book, those witnessing sang, “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” (Revelation 5:9).
Significance of the Lamb:
The Lamb has enormous significance going back to the days of Abraham and Moses. In the Old Testament, prior to the exodus from Egypt, the children of Israel were instructed to take the blood of an unblemished lamb and smear it on the doorposts and lintel of their houses (Exodus 12:1-13). That night, as the angel of the lord passed through Egypt to strike down the firstborn of each household, those with the blood of the lamb on their doorposts would be passed over and sparred. From that day on, the Lord commanded the Israelites to celebrate an annual Passover feast to celebrate and remember their deliverance from Egypt and commemorate God’s provision in their lives (Exodus 12:14).
And in Old Testament law, the unblemished lamb was again used as a sacrifice as a covering for human sin. In those days, an innocent lamb would take the place of the one who had sinned, as the penalty for sin was death.
With Jesus Christ, however, the penalty for sin was paid for once and for all (Romans 6:10). Through his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection, Jesus became the perfect sacrifice, the pure and innocent Passover lamb who took our place, atoning for sin and ushering in a new covenant of eternal salvation for all who believe and call upon his name.
When Jesus began his earthly ministry, it was John the Baptist who proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29), connecting Jesus to the sacrificial lamb who wouldn’t just cover sin but would ultimately take it away.
Jesus Christ, as the Lion, conquered sin and death so that we could share in the glory of his eternal kingdom. This victory was made possible through his work on the cross, in which he stepped in as the innocent Lamb to be sacrificed for our sin once and for all.
Therefore, in the Lion we discover the power of Christ as an eternal king, and in the Lamb we find the grace of Jesus as an eternal savior.
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Cassie Lafferty