3.2.7 Lion: The Voice of Authority
Volume 3: Living Symbols—Chapter 2.7
Lion: The Voice of Authority
Considering its current endangered status, I was surprised to learn that the lion used to be the most wide ranging large land mammal on earth, after humans. Lions were once common over most of Africa, across Eurasia from western Europe to India, and even in the western hemisphere, from the Yukon to Peru. Their presence in the Levant is frequently attested to in scripture, which is not to imply that they were any less capable of killing you back then than they are today. If a hungry five hundred pound bundle of feline fury wants what you’ve got, there isn’t a lot you can do about it. So the lion’s fearsome roar became a natural metaphor for “speaking with authority,” for that roar was backed with teeth and claws, and the lion wasn’t squeamish about using them.
This animal we refer to as “the king of beasts” is recruited as often in scripture to describe the “bad” permutations of its attributes as it does the “good” ones. The lion metaphor is used to describe both Yahweh and Satan, both ruthless men and triumphant Israel. This particular symbol has nothing to do with moral values, holiness, or issues of good and evil. It has only to do with power. The emphasis here is on the lion’s intrinsic ability to do what it wants, when it wants, with no regard for the opinions or efforts of lesser creatures.
So just as the lion is undaunted by puny human presence, Yahweh is unconcerned about His enemies: “For thus Yahweh said to me, ‘As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey, and when a band of shepherds is called out against him is not terrified by their shouting or daunted at their noise, so Yahweh of hosts will come down to fight on Mount Zion and on its hill. Like birds hovering, so Yahweh of hosts will protect Jerusalem. He will protect and deliver it; He will spare and rescue it.’” (Isaiah 31:4-5) In context, Yahweh is admonishing Israel not to rely upon Egypt for aid against the Assyrians, but rather to trust in Him alone. In history, He proved His point in the events of Isaiah 37. But this thought also carries profound last-days ramifications, for Egypt represents the world, while Assyria symbolizes militant evil. In terms germane to our present predicament, Yahweh is warning Israel not to rely on the United Nations (which, unless I miss my guess, will be the tool the Antichrist will use to control the world), or even on America, to help her against the irrational antagonism of the Muslim hordes bent on destroying her. God Himself will rescue Israel, and He will do so with impunity and authority. (The prophetic evidence can be found in Ezekiel 38 and 39—the description of a war yet to be fought.)
But Yahweh isn’t the only “lion” on the scene. Human despots can also exert their will over their hapless subjects—albeit temporarily. Solomon reminds us, “Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people. A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days.” (Proverbs 28:15) Authority (like some other things I could name) rolls downhill. In the end, it all emanates from Yahweh Himself. If you’ll recall, God gave Adam dominion over the animals—but not over other men. That means that any form of human government that does not acknowledge Yahweh as its supreme ruler is by definition idolatrous and insubordinate. Furthermore, ever since the resurrection, the issue of who’s actually in charge has been brought into even sharper focus, for Yahshua announced, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” (Matthew 28:18) The risen Christ—the coming King—is the only one who rightfully wields the scepter. Presidents and potentates in this world are merely placeholders. Human rule is a temp job.
Although we aren’t to covet power (which is God’s alone to wield and His to delegate) it doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do. The “lions” in our life, whether literal or figurative, aren’t to prevent us from using our “six allotted days” to mankind’s advantage and God’s glory. In my experience, Americans (in recent years) have been trained to dread risk. In Ben Franklin’s day, it was “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Later, it was, “You win some, you lose some.” But in these last days, the entrepreneurial spirit is under siege. Now (apparently) it’s as Solomon observed: “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!’” (Proverbs 22:13, cf. 26:13) Sloth masquerading as caution is another subtle form of idolatry. It’s tantamount to saying, “Yahweh isn’t smart enough or strong enough to bless my sincere and godly efforts—either through success or through surviving painful lessons that will guide my steps in the future.” What ever happened to Job’s attitude: “Though [God] slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15)
The roar of the lion—the voice of authority—must be heeded, which is not to say it must be obeyed. That is, when we hear it, we have no option but to pay attention, to take notice. But choice comes into play when we evaluate who it is wielding the authority—God or some lesser entity. Both eventualities are described in scripture. Amos, for example, informs us why prophets prophesy: “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless Yahweh has done it? For the Lord Yahweh does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets. The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord Yahweh has spoken; who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:6-8) Whatever happens, he suggests, is known by Yahweh. Events in our world come about either through His volition or His permission. But when Yahweh reveals what will happen before it does, His prophets are compelled to report what they’ve seen. Why? Because He speaks with authority: the Lion has roared.
This authority is often delegated by God to others, like the lawful authority of a city government being wielded through a police officer. In one extreme example, we witness (in John’s prophetic vision) the very forces of nature responding to the roar of God’s designated “lion,” an angel—a spirit messenger: “Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded.” (Revelation 10:1-2) His heavenly origin and accoutrements—like the rainbow and the shining countenance—tell us that this angel is speaking with the authority of Yahweh Himself. And although we’re left to ponder the precise nature of the message and creation’s response to it, it is clear that “business as usual” is no longer going to be the paradigm: God is preparing something big—something unusual, climactic, and literally earth-shaking. So John the Revelator, like Amos, asks “Who can but prophesy” in the light of such momentous events?
I hasten to add, however, that Yahweh and His angels are not the only ones wielding authority on this planet. Satan is called “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:2) The ultimate expression of Satanic authority on earth, however, is still in the future—found in the one commonly known as “the Antichrist.” John describes him like this: “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.” (Revelation 13:1-2) That sounds grim, and it is—or at least will be for the hapless inhabitants of earth who’ll have to deal with him, most of whom will choose to submit to his “great authority.” Those who don’t will die—if he can catch them.
Two things must be kept firmly in mind. First, the Antichrist’s authority—a voice like a lion’s—is derived solely from power usurped from God by Satan—identified here as “the dragon.” And second, like any human despot, his authority is temporary: he will rule for only three and a half years. “And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months.” Of course, that will seem like the longest three and a half years in history for those who find themselves living through it. “It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming His name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. Authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.” (Revelation 13:5-8) After the Antichrist’s allotted time is up, ultimate authority on earth will revert to Yahweh through His Christ. This, I suspect, is why we were taught to pray to our heavenly Father, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)
The Antichrist’s agenda, once unmasked, will be to deceive Yahweh’s chosen people, Israel, into believing he’s their Messiah; and if that doesn’t work (it won’t, by the way) to simply slaughter them. Either way, Satan could claim victory, for it would prove Yahweh’s prophecies to have been in error. But what will actually happen is Satan’s worst nightmare: Israel will, after all this time—millennia of apostasy and error—be restored and regathered. In a process that has already begun (but is by no means complete) Israel will return in blessing and forgiveness. Even more amazing, the passage is focused on “Ephraim,” the ten tribes of the supposedly “lost” northern kingdom: “They shall go after Yahweh; He will roar like a lion; when He roars, His children shall come trembling from the west; they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares Yahweh.” (Hosea 11:10-11) It’s a fascinating picture. Earlier in the chapter, Yahweh is seen “drawing them gently, with bands of love.” That didn’t work as well as it should have. But now, at the end of the Tribulation, Yahweh is seen raising His voice, roaring with the irresistible authority of a Lion. And finally, they’ll get the message. Note, by the way, where the “ten lost tribes” have been “hiding out” all this time: in Egypt, Assyria—modern Iraq and Syria—and “the west,” America, unless I miss my guess.
It shouldn’t come as a particular shock that the majority of “lion” references in the Bible refer not to Yahweh or His Messiah, but as a warning against usurpers—dangerous and deadly forces operating in our world. As I said, this particular symbol has nothing to do with one’s worthiness or the right to rule, but only with the exercise of power—authority that can be derived as easily (in the short run) from brute force and intimidation as it can from inherent merit. Scripture’s negative presentations of the lion’s roar should serve as a warning that not everyone who wields temporal power in this world is worthy of the scepter, nor is he necessarily operating as a beneficent surrogate for God. We are to be discerning: our reverence (and ultimately our obedience) belongs to Yahweh alone. Submitting to one another in love and living in peace with our fellow man (insofar as it’s possible without betraying our God) may keep us off the radar screens of the “lions” of this world, but we should always keep firmly in mind whose authority we’re really heeding when we “obey those who rule over us” (Hebrews 13:17). There’s more than one lion in this zoo.
The most formidable of these beasts is Satan himself. Peter admonishes us to “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (I Peter 5:8-10) It’s a jungle out there, he says, and we need to remain vigilant. The core component of our resistance against Satan is our faith—that is, the sure knowledge that the God who has redeemed us through the sacrifice of Christ is also able to restore and protect us against the devil’s schemes. We aren’t alone in this struggle.
Paul said roughly the same thing, this time from personal experience: “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever.” (II Timothy 4:17-18) We need to ponder what Paul and Peter meant with their descriptions of God’s deliverance. Does being “rescued from every evil deed” mean Paul expected to live forever? Does Christ’s promise to “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” us imply that Peter expected to escape the vagaries of Roman injustice? No, on both counts. Shortly after writing this, Paul would be beheaded for his testimony, and Peter would be crucified upside down (according to legend). Is suffering a cruel death what Peter called “suffering a little while,” or what Paul characterized as being “brought safely into His heavenly kingdom”?
Actually, it is, or at least, it can be. We need to realize that the “lions” of this world can only terrorize these mortal bodies. Believers, however, possess life that extends infinitely beyond the pale reflection that our mortal lives represent. All the growling, roaring, clawing, and biting the world can inflict on us won’t have the slightest effect on the real life every child of Yahweh experiences by virtue of the Holy Spirit dwelling within him. So when Paul or Daniel (see Daniel 6:16-24) speak of having been delivered out of the lions’ mouth, we should understand that these literal, historical events are—as far as God is concerned—only dress rehearsals for the deliverance that awaits all of us who rest in Him.
We tend to assume that these lives we live in bodies of flesh upon the earth are the “real” ones, since it is here that we feel pain and pleasure, make our choices before God and man, and ultimately face our common enemy—physical death. David, however, knew that the only real life is that found in the safety of Yahweh’s eternal arms—where the lions of this life can’t reach us: “O Yahweh my God, in You do I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and deliver me, lest like a lion they tear my soul apart, rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.” (Psalm 7:1-2) This is where the shadow and the reality that casts it come together: if we do not take refuge in Yahweh in this life, the “lions” we encounter can “tear our souls apart.” Our “pursuers” can come in many guises: not only overt enemies, but also worldly philosophies, silly distractions, or the cares of this world—attractive heresy or slothful apathy. Yahweh is our refuge from all of this and more—if we’ll avail ourselves of the shelter He has provided.
Of course, sometimes the lions of human adversity come because we’ve turned our back on Yahweh. At least, that was Israel’s experience: “Declare in Judah, and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say, ‘Blow the trumpet through the land.’ Cry aloud and say, ‘Assemble, and let us go into the fortified cities!’ Raise a standard toward Zion, flee for safety, stay not, for I bring disaster from the north, and great destruction. A lion has gone up from his thicket, a destroyer of nations has set out; he has gone out from his place to make your land a waste; your cities will be ruins without inhabitant. For this put on sackcloth, lament, and wail, for the fierce anger of Yahweh has not turned back from us.” (Jeremiah 4:5-8) The “lion” in this case was Babylon, described here as “the destroyer of nations.” Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t merely allowed to sack Jerusalem; he was (though he doubtless didn’t know it) purposely sent by Yahweh to chastise His people.
The Babylonian lion of judgment had been called to Judah in response to Yahweh’s anger—just as Assyria had been summoned to Israel’s northern kingdom a century and a half previously. In reference to Assyria, however, we’re given more information about the nature of being the lion of Yahweh’s judgment: if you exceed your mandate—if you attack your assigned prey too viciously—you will become prey yourself: “Desolate! Desolation and ruin! Hearts melt and knees tremble; anguish is in all loins; all faces grow pale! Where is the lions’ den, the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and lioness went, where his cubs were, with none to disturb? The lion tore enough for his cubs and strangled prey for his lionesses; he filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh. Behold, I am against you [Nineveh—the capital of Assyria], declares Yahweh of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.” (Nahum 2:10-13)
Jeremiah specifically compares Assyria with Babylon, tarring them both with the same brush: “Israel is a hunted sheep driven away by lions. First the king of Assyria devoured him, and now at last Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has gnawed his bones. Therefore, thus says Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing punishment on the king of Babylon and his land, as I punished the king of Assyria.” (Jeremiah 50:17-18) It was a one-two punch: Assyria’s king Sargon II had carried Israel off into captivity in 722 B.C. Who, then, broke into the lair of Assyria’s young lions? It was Babylon (in 612 B.C.), who would later treat Judah just as harshly as Nineveh had Israel (Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in 586). Thus Babylon would suffer the same fate as had Assyria, at the hands of Medo-Persia, in 539. Do the math: kingdoms who are overly aggressive in punishing God’s people—even when they’re functioning as the rod of Yahweh’s anger—don’t last very long.
The world hasn’t seen the last of aggressive beasts being unleashed upon the world in retribution for the mistreatment of Yahweh’s beloved. Under the heading of the fifth trumpet judgment (putting it, by my reckoning, a bit past the halfway point of the Tribulation, after the Antichrist has assumed dictatorial control of the whole earth) we read this terrifying description of a demonic plague being unleashed upon the earth: “In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.” (Revelation 9:7-11) It remains to be seen where, on the scale of literal vs. figurative, the description of these nasty critters will fall, but several things are clear: they’re hard to kill, have the ability to fly in great swarms, can sting with scorpion-like tails causing agonizing pain, and they can also bite, since they’re equipped with “teeth like those of lions.” Oh, and they’re finicky: they attack “only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” (verse 4) If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be now: being under the protection of Yahweh is essential. Forewarned is forearmed.
Israel in scripture isn’t always on the “receiving end” of the lions’ attentions. Sometimes, they are the lions, whether in a positive or negative light—that is, they are the ones seen flexing their muscles and pouncing upon prey. Moses prophesied that two tribes in particular would share this trait: “Of Gad he said, ‘Blessed be he who enlarges Gad! Gad crouches like a lion; he tears off arm and scalp. He chose the best of the land for himself, for there a commander’s portion was reserved; and he came with the heads of the people, with Israel he executed the justice of Yahweh, and his judgments for Israel.’” (Deuteronomy 33:20-21) As Moses intimated, Gad had a “me first” attitude, opting to seize some prime Ammonite grazing land east of the Jordan for their tribal territory (something that Yahweh had specifically forbidden—see Deuteronomy 2:19). Although they helped their brothers secure the promised land west of the Jordan, their own “commander’s portion” was never really theirs. Thus we read, “In those days [during Jehu’s reign, 842-815 BC] Yahweh began to cut off parts of Israel; and Hazael [King of Syria] conquered them in all the territory of Israel from the Jordan eastward: all the land of Gilead—Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh—from Aroer, which is by the River Arnon, including Gilead and Bashan.” (II Kings 10:32-33) Within 130 years of Solomon’s death, God had removed from Israel’s control all those territories east of the Jordan that should never have been theirs in the first place—having made permanent enemies of Moab and Ammon.
The other “lion-like” tribe was Dan, of which Moses said, “Dan is a lion’s cub that leaps from Bashan.” (Deuteronomy 33: 22) Dan’s assigned tribal territory had been in Amorite hands, located along the coast near present day Tel Aviv. But the Amorites proved too tough for the faithless Danites, who eventually pulled up stakes and moved to the far north of Israel (near Bashan, which lies to the east), seized a poorly defended city named Leshem, renamed it Dan, and promptly adopted a pagan culture lascivious enough to make an Amorite blush. Dan, it appears, cultivated the lionesque trait of attacking the weakest individual in the herd. Sometimes, you are what you eat.
On a more positive note, the prophet Balaam (working in traitorous collusion with the pagan Moabite king Balak) noted that it was impossible to successfully curse what Yahweh had blessed: “For there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel; now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel, ‘What has God wrought!’ Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up and as a lion it lifts itself; it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey and drunk the blood of the slain.” (Numbers 23:23-24) “He [Israel] crouched, he lay down like a lion and like a lioness; who will rouse him up? Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.” (Numbers 24:9) As long as Israel was faithful to Yahweh, they would be unassailable. Balaam knew it, and he told his employer as much. King Balak was not amused. So in order to earn his paycheck (one he didn’t live long enough to spend, by the way), Balaam devised a way to get the men Israel to betray their God, using as his weapon of choice the seductive wiles of Moabite women (roughly the same tactic used by Hugh Hefner in the 1950s). Unfortunately , the ploy worked: twenty-four thousand Israelites perished in the ensuing plague, sent by God to punish them for their idolatry. Variations on this theme have been one of the biggest hammers in the devil’s toolbox ever since: if you can’t get God to curse His people, get His people to forsake their God.
Although so many of the lions of Israel got “spayed or neutered” (so to speak) that day, the nation is prophesied to once again rise to be a formidable force in the world. This time, however, the lions of Israel are seen as Diaspora—scattered among the nations, yet remaining distinct, separate, and a force with which to be reckoned: “Then the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples like dew from Yahweh, like showers on the grass, which delay not for a man nor wait for the children of man. And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among the flocks of sheep, which, when it goes through, treads down and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.” (Micah 5:7-8) It never cease to amaze me that although Israel has been scattered, living “in the midst of many nations” for the past two millennia—the result of their disastrous rejection of Yahshua the Messiah—they have not been absorbed or dissolved into the cultures among whom they sojourn. And perhaps even more remarkably, the nations who have welcomed the Jews have been blessed by their presence—“like dew from Yahweh.” (The converse is also true: nations who persecute their Jewish populations eventually—and inevitably—suffer dire consequences.) The second half of Micah’s prophecy (the part about Israel’s lion-like character being displayed among the nations) is yet to be fulfilled, which is not to say it won’t be. That is, I think we’ve seen the last of “the Jew as victim” in this world. Never again will we see them compliantly boarding boxcars headed for Auschwitz. The last great wave of anti-Semitism our sick world will see (if my reading of prophetic scripture is at all accurate) will result in Jews emigrating to eretz Israel—but on their own terms and on their own schedule, well armed and well financed.
One more prophecy connecting “lion” imagery to a tribe of Israel focuses (we can see in retrospect) upon one person who was to be born into that tribe. Jacob, when giving the traditional “deathbed blessing” to his sons, singled out Judah for an amazing legacy: “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience [or the gathering] of the people.” (Genesis 49:9-10) Remember, symbolically, the lion “does what he wants, when he wants.” This gives him peace through power, thus the rhetorical question, “Who shall rouse him?” It is a well known fact that after the death of its first king, Saul, every legitimate king over Israel (represented after the post-Solomon revolt by the two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin) was a descendant of King David, who was (as prophesied here in Genesis) of the tribe of Judah. So the “scepter” didn’t ever depart from Judah to be wielded by some other tribe. Even though later “kings” ruled Judea, none of them were descendants of Jacob. (For example, Antiochus was a Seleucid Greek; The Hasmonean dynasty—the Maccabees—of the tribe of Levi led Israel not as kings but as priests under Seleucid hegemony; Herod was an Idumean, not a Jew.)
So far, so good. But then we encounter that little word, “until.” That indicates the end of the line, the culmination of Judah’s promise. This is where that mysterious word “Shiloh” comes into play. Most translations simply transliterate the word from the Hebrew (which doesn’t help much). But (according to Strong’s, Baker & Carpenter, and others) Shiloh is a noun meaning “he whose it is,” or “that which belongs to him.” The word also denotes “tranquility,” being derived (it is presumed) from the verb shalah: “to be at rest, to prosper, be quiet or at ease.” It is the imagery of the lion, therefore, that makes sense of all this: the lion (i.e., Judah’s ultimate offspring) is tranquil and at rest because of the authority he wields by virtue of his power—nobody can make him do what he doesn’t want to do. “That which belongs” to the lion is the proverbial scepter—the right to rule backed by unassailable strength.
Everybody “knows” (or ought to) that this king—the Lion of Judah—is ultimately Yahshua the Messiah. Isaiah predicted His reign: “The government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace [there’s the tranquility enjoyed by “Shiloh”] there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom.” (Isaiah 9:6-7) But let’s face it: the last time anybody actually saw Yahshua, He had not done anything to exercise temporal authority upon the earth. Yes, He had proved His anointing—and indeed, His deity—by the life He lived, up to and including rising from the dead under His own power, but He didn’t physically rule over anything prior to His ascension.
That is all about to change. John saw the prophetic vision revealing the return of the royal Lion of the tribe of Judah—He to whom the scepter belongs: “Then I saw in the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 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.’” (Revelation 5:1-5) A few factors bear mention. (1) Although the angel announced “the Lion of the tribe of Judah,” the one whom John subsequently saw (v.6) looked like a lamb. The two symbols—representing authority and innocence—are thus manifested in one person, Christ. Both attributes are required in order to open the seals. (2) The Lion of Judah is said to be the root of David, though we know He was also (humanly speaking) David’s descendant. We can draw but one conclusion: the personage in question is Yahweh—the source and origin of all life. (3) The Lion is said to have conquered, making Him worthy to break the seals and open the scroll of destiny. But at this point in John’s narrative, we’ve seen nothing of the Tribulation events that will dominate the next dozen chapters; in other words, Armageddon, the final battle, is still a long way off. So what has the Lion of Judah “conquered?” He has defeated death itself, demonstrating that fact by rising from the dead under his own authority. All of the rest of it then, the battles, the plagues, the pitiful power grabs by Satan and his minions, are a bit anticlimactic (though they certainly won’t feel like it to those trying to survive the times). The story is, in fact, over before it begins: the Lion has conquered.
So the “Lion of Judah” is actually God incarnate. After all, the lion is one of the four symbolic creatures Yahweh has recruited to reveal His character as He interacts with man—in both Revelation and the book of Ezekiel. We’ve already seen two of them, the ox (the powerful servant) and man (the maker of choices). We’ll explore the symbol of the eagle shortly. But for now let us review the salient visions to determine where the Lion fits in. John saw it this way: “And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature [better translated “being”] like a lion, the second living [being] like an ox, the third living [being] with the face of a man, and the fourth living [being] like an eagle in flight. And the four living [beings], each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Revelation 4:6-8) It’s a remarkable scene. The picture we’re being shown in Revelation 4 and 5 is that of God appearing before God in the presence of God. Count ’em up. We’re seeing seven manifestations of Yahweh together in the same room: the four Living Ones, the Lion of Judah, and the Lamb of God—all appearing and interacting in the presence of the One seated upon the throne.
It’s hard to be dogmatic, but the order in which the Living Ones are introduced may be significant. The Lion is listed first, for His authority (by virtue of His identity) is that of Yahweh Himself, hence His to wield from eternity past. The Ox is listed second, telling us that the ultimate act of service that Yahshua performed was not so much what He did as a man, but the initial act of becoming one. It demanded a degree of empathy and self-sacrifice that’s incomprehensible to mortal man. That said, what Yahshua achieved as a Man—the third symbol—is what got us to where we are now: redeemed, restored, and reconciled with our Creator, if only we’ll trust His finished work to be efficacious. Yahshua’s true identity as the “lord of the heavens,” symbolized by the fourth living being, the eagle, is something we haven’t been privileged to see with our waking eyes—yet. To this day, we must perceive Yahshua’s deity through the eyes of faith. But the day is coming when faith will be replaced with sight, though only for those who exercised faith when it was the only game in town. For God to have arranged it any other way would be tantamount to abridging our free will: He will not force us to accept or embrace the deity of the Messiah.
Ezekiel’s parallel vision stresses the human form of the coming Messiah (the face of a Man), but the other three components are there as well, though presented in a slightly different way than John saw them: “As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures [i.e., beings]. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings…. As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle.” (Ezekiel 1:4-6, 10) From what appears to be a “Shekinah” manifestation—in other words, a view of God as spectacular and impressive as He can present without killing us (though this was seen in a vision)—four living beings emerge. (Again, “creatures” is a most unfortunate translation: there is nothing about them to suggest that these are created or derivative beings. They represent Yahweh’s Messiah.)
As we saw previously, each of the four living beings had four faces—symbolizing the same four aspects of the Messiah’s character that John was shown. They moved together as a unit, wingtip to wingtip, the direction being determined by which Messianic characteristic (if any) was being stressed at the moment. The position of the faces seems to point out the inherent “contradictions” of the Messiah’s persona. The opposite sides depict what we might otherwise assume were mutually exclusive traits: the human countenance and the eagle’s (representing deity) are facing opposite directions, as are the ox (the servant) and the lion (the king, the one wielding authority). If I’m seeing this correctly, Yahweh is telling us that as puzzling a conundrum as this may seem, all of these things are accurate portraits of Yahshua the Messiah. We can surmise that the Jews who crucified the Christ were looking for the Lion and the Eagle—the reigning Messiah. They were totally unprepared for the Man and the Ox.
When the time comes at last for the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” to receive his earthly throne (and I’m convinced that we don’t have too much longer to wait) the literal lions of the earth will be happy to assume a subservient role in His presence. This amazing prophecy from the pen of Isaiah predicts an unprecedented paradigm shift toward perfect peace as Yahshua the Messiah reigns: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9, cf. Isaiah 65:25) As the man said, “Things ain’t what they used to be.” This may be a restoration of the Edenic state, but I sort of doubt it: I’m not sure this paradigm of peace ever existed upon the earth before.