And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain,
I See Something Different
Have you ever seen those picture illusions which show a different picture depending on the way you look at them? Like the one where some see an old hag and others see a young lady?
Something along those lines happens in this scene in Revelation 5.
Just to set the context for the scene, in Revelation 4, John’s spirit is taken up into the heavenly realms, right into the throne room of God. There he beholds the splendour and majesty of God the Father, and the worship that is offered to Him day and night. It is an unashamed proclamation of the holiness of the eternal God, who created the heavens and the earth, and to whom all glory and honour and power rightly belong.
Right after this, we enter into the scene in Revelation 5, and John notices a scroll in the right hand of the Father. We get the inkling that this is no ordinary scroll, given that John would notice such a thing amidst the splendour of God on His throne. And if it is significant enough to notice, we would very much like to see what is written on it. But when the angel calls forth for someone worthy enough to open the scroll and break its seals, no one is able to answer the challenge. And John weeps.
At this point, his grief is cut short by one of the elders. He is told to weep no more and gaze upon the Lion, who has conquered and is worthy to open the scroll.
Yet when John looks up at the Lion, he sees a Lamb instead, looking as though it had been slain.
I love this scene. While everyone in heaven sees a Lion, John sees a Lamb who was slain. Realising why this is the case is crucial to the core of the Christian’s identity and his relationship with Christ.
Jesus is the Victorious Lion
The image of the lion is drawn from Isaiah 31:4-5. Here the Lord Almighty is compared to a lion, who battles his enemies without fear and wins the day. It is the image of the conquering King, whose rule cannot be opposed and who safeguards all who live within His kingdom, crushing all their enemies as if they were insects.
Thus when Jesus is called the Lion, it is this image of the conquering King which comes to mind. This is reinforced by the fact that this Lion is said to have conquered and proven Himself worthy. It is a wonderful truth for all who live under this Lion, to know that they live in peace and security, in bliss and rest. But it is a fearful thing for His enemies.
Jesus is the Incarnate Lion
Yet Jesus is no ordinary Lion – He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
He is from the tribe of Judah. Jesus has taken on our human nature so completely (without diminishing His divine nature in the slightest) that He is not ashamed to call us brothers. He is the Lion who descends from heaven to live amongst His people as one of them. Therefore He understands our struggles and temptations fully, having experienced them as we do. And because he never sinned, He is able to help all of us who are struggling with temptation.
Just to make this point even clearer, He is called the Root of David. He is a descendant of David, a man, and it would be foolish to try to interpret this in any way but its literal sense.
Jesus is the Sacrificial Lamb
John knows he is a sinner who is in need of mercy. Therefore he is looking for one who can take away his sin.
He is not alone in his need. All of humanity shares the same need. We are born sinners and our only hope is to look to God for mercy. But justice must be done and sin must be punished, or God will become unrighteous, which is impossible. So knowing that the demands of justice must be met, Jesus loved us and became our Lamb, taking away our sins and the sins of the world by dying in our place. This image is clearly brought across in the Old Testament, in the Passover feast.
This is why John and all Christians will recognise Jesus as a Lamb, because it is this we need most from Him, and it is this He is freely gives us. He is our sacrificial Lamb, and will always be. When we stand with Him in glory, we will be eternally grateful to the Lamb who purchased our standing with His blood.
Jesus is the Reigning Lamb
If a lamb looks like it has been slain, 10 out of 10 times it will be dead. But this slain Lamb confounds us, because He is very much alive. In fact, He is the one who is worthy enough to take the scroll from God.
This is glorious news, because as the rest of Revelation unfolds, we see that the Lamb who was slain will establish His reign, crushing all His enemies and bringing His people home to Him.
It is this fact that finally lays out the whole picture for us. While Jesus could have reign as a Lion, He chose to reign as a Lamb instead. If Jesus had reigned only as a Lion, we would be in despair. As natural enemies of God, we would have been crushed by the reigning Lion.
But because Jesus reigns as our Lamb, we can rejoice! Despite our treachery and rebellion, He has paid the price to bring us back into His kingdom, and there we shall reign with Him forever and ever.