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Lion of the Tribe of Judah

Written by Nancy Leigh DeMoss on . Posted in Nancy Leigh DeMoss

The Wonder of His NameLion of the Tribe of Judah

Leslie Basham: God is described as a lion. That can bring you comfort or discomfort. Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss. 

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Do you ever feel like God is being a lion in your life? Sometimes protecting you but sometimes devastating you? If He’s devastating you, it’s because He loves you. He wants you to return to Him. He doesn’t want you to be full of yourself. He doesn’t want you to forget Him. He wants you to lean on Him, to find Him to be your helper.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, April 9.

What does it mean that Jesus is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah? We’ll explore that as Nancy Leigh DeMoss continues in the series “The Wonder of His Name: 32 Life-Changing Names of Jesus.”

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Well, yesterday we looked at a name for the Lord Jesus found in the book of Revelation. We talked about Him being the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Today we want to turn again to the book of Revelation and see another name of Jesus that appears only one time in the Scripture, and it’s here in Revelation 5.

So if you have your Bible, let me encourage you to turn to Revelation 5. I’m going to begin reading in verse 1:

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.

Now, as the story unfolds, we see that this scroll contains a record of the future decrees and purposes of God. It tells what’s going to take place, and how history is going to be consummated. For the moment, those plans have been concealed in that scroll. But they’re about to be revealed to God’s servant, John. And John’s going to reveal it to those who read the Scripture. There was a problem—that scroll is sealed. And so verse 2 tells us:

I saw a mighty 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 (vv. 2–3).

How many were able to open it? None. Not one.

So John is distressed by this because he sees that no one has the ability, no one has the authority to open the scroll to find out what’s in it, and no one has the authority to execute or carry out God’s plan. And he says:

I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it (v. 4).

This becomes a great heaviness, a great concern to John. He wants to see the unfolding of God’s plans. He wants to see someone who is able to carry out God’s plans for all of creation. Well, verse 5:

O ne of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, [and here’s the name] the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

There was one who was worthy. No one the earth or under the earth but seated in heaven, there is one who is worthy. It is Jesus, the risen Savior that John is seeing in this scene, and He is described here as a Lion—a Lion descended from the royal tribe of Judah.

Now, when you think about a lion, you think about a beast, a creature that is majestic. It’s awe-inspiring. A lion is a symbol of strength, of power, of fierceness, of the ability to subdue its enemies. We talk about the lion being the king of beasts, the monarch of the forest.

The lion is a symbol of royal authority and power. If you talk about somebody being “lion-hearted” you’re talking about somebody who is courageous. They’re bold. They’re fearless. Or the dictionary tells us the term “lion” or “lion-hearted” can refer to a person of great importance, a person of great influence.” He’s a lion of a man. So, the word “lion” stirs up in our minds a picture of what John is hearing about here at the throne room of heaven.

Now, when Jesus is referred to as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” this is an allusion to a  Messianic promise that was given all the way back in the first book of the Bible, Genesis 49. And in that situation, Isaac is blessing each of his twelve sons before he dies. And when he comes to Judah he says in verse 8, Genesis 49:

Judah, your brothers shall praise you; [You’re going to be respected; you’re going to be looked up to. He says] your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; [you’re going to be victorious] your father's sons [he says] shall bow down before you. [You will have authority. And then he says]
Judah [the tribe of Judah] is a lion's cub; [or a Hebrew word there that means a “young lion”] from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples [or of the nations] (vv. 8–10).

Now, up until this point, Joseph had been the son of the twelve sons who had been associated with royalty. But from this point on, the focus is moved to Judah, the tribe of Judah, and his father tells him with this blessing that his brothers will bow down before him and nations will pay tribute to him. They will obey him.

This is the first prediction of the royal line of David who came from the tribe of Judah. And this prophecy sets the course for a whole series of Messianic prophecies that the Jews who were in the period of the Old Testament had these amazing expectations of what the Messiah would be. They saw Him as a conquering hero. He would deliver His people from all tyranny and from all evil.

And we know that those promises will ultimately be fulfilled and culminated in Christ who is David’s ultimate Son who will reign forever and ever and His empire will extend throughout all the world to all nations.

The first prophecy of that was speaking of Judah being as a lion. And, in fact, the lion has become the symbol of tribe of Judah. Judah is known as the “kingly tribe.” And we don’t have time for this here, but if you go back and study the people who were in Judah and the origins of that tribe you’d say, “This is crazy grace that Judah would become picked out by God to be the kingly tribe!” A lot of unsavory characters in that tribe. But that’s what God’s grace does.

And in fact, the Lion of Judah is pictured on the coat of arms of the city of Jerusalem which is the capital city found in Judah. This is the kingly tribe—the lion tribe.

Now when Jesus is called in Revelation 5 the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah” that is, as with many of these other names we’ve been studying, it’s a statement of His deity. The fact that He is God. Throughout the Old Testament we see God portrayed as having characteristics of a lion.

In Isaiah 31, for example, God is seen as a lion who protects His people. Listen to this paragraph:

For thus the Lord 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 he is not terrified by their shouting or daunted at their noise, [they don’t scare that lion] so the Lord of hosts will come down to fight on Mount Zion and on its hill. Like birds hovering, so the Lord of hosts will protect Jerusalem; he will protect it and deliver it; he will spare and rescue it” (vv. 4–5).

So here God is depicted as a lion who fights on behalf of His people. He fiercely protects them.

But then there are other situations in the Old Testament where God is seen not as a protector but as a destroyer. God fights against the enemies of His people. He fights on behalf of His people. He protects His people. But those who oppose His people, God becomes their enemy. There are times when God even fights against His own people as He chastens and disciplines them because of their sin.

Listen for example to these verses in Hosea. (5:14-15) God said:

I will be like a lion to Ephraim [one of the tribes of Israel], and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I will tear and go away; I will carry off, and no one shall rescue. I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me (5:14–15).

God will be as a lion to His people chastening them until they repent and return to Him. He goes on in Hosea 13 to say:

I am the Lord your God . . . It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion . . . I will destroy you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper (vv. 4–9).

God says, “You won’t let Me help you? Then I will destroy you so you see how desperately you need Me.”

Do you ever feel like God is being a lion in your life? Sometimes protecting you but sometimes devastating you? If He’s devastating you, it’s because He loves you. He wants you to return to Him. He doesn’t want you to be full of yourself. He doesn’t want you to forget Him. He wants you to lean on Him, to find Him to be your Helper.

Well, coming back to Revelation 5 now, we see that Jesus is depicted as a lion—tying Him to God who was the Lion in the Old Testament. “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.’”

Jesus alone is worthy. Jesus alone is able. Jesus alone has the authority to open the scroll that contains God’s eternal purposes. He is able to prevail where others have failed. He is omnipotent where others are impotent. He is essential to the unfolding of God’s eternal purposes.

People talk to day about liking God, loving God, worshiping God. But they don’t want Jesus. No, you can’t have God and not have Jesus. Jesus is essential to the eternal decrees and purposes of God for He is God and God’s eternal purposes for this world will not and cannot happen apart from Jesus.

The lion is the king of beasts that rules in the forest. Jesus is the Lion who rules over this universe and every event that takes place on this planet or in all of the universe is under His control.

Now John has told that a Lion has conquered and has prevailed to open the scroll. But he hasn’t seen the Lion. He’s just heard about the Lion. So what do you think John would expect to see next in his vision? A lion, right?! But what John sees is something entirely different. Let’s go on with verse 6 in Revelation 5:

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb . . . [He’d just heard that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah has prevailed and then what does he see? A Lamb, not a Lion but a Lamb.]
I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb (vv. 6–8). 

So here is the risen Christ, the ascended Christ in the throne room of heaven who was announced and described to John as a conquering Lion, but He actually appears as a slain Lamb. So, which is He? Is He a Lion, or is He a Lamb? Those seem contradictory to me. Don’t they to you? I mean, two animals could hardly be more opposite of each other than a lion and a lamb, right?

A lion is strong; a lamb is weak. A lion is dangerous; a lamb is harmless. A lion devours and preys on other animals, and lambs get devoured they’re easily preyed upon. The truth is the Lion is also a Lamb. John Piper says it this way. I love this sentence. He says, “Jesus is . . . a Lion-like Lamb and a Lamb-like Lion.” He is both.

Many years ago, back in the 1700s, Jonathan Edwards preached a message on these verses, Revelation 5:5–6. And listen to the title of his sermon. It was called “The Admirable Conjunction of Diverse Excellencies in Christ Jesus.” Now we wouldn’t talk that way today, but I love how he describes that: "The Admirable [this is beautiful] Conjunction [the coming together] of Diverse [different] Excellencies [and they come together] in Christ Jesus."

He says in that message:

The lion and the lamb, though very diverse kinds of creatures, yet have each their peculiar excellencies. The lion excels in strength, and in the majesty of his appearance and voice: the lamb excels in meekness and patience . . . But we see that Christ is in the text compared to both, because the diverse excellencies of both wonderfully meet in him [in Christ].

And so Jonathan Edwards goes on in that sermon to talk about the diverse, the paradoxical excellencies that are found together in Christ and only in Christ. For example, Christ is both infinite highness and infinite condescension. He stoops to minister to our needs. He is infinite justice, and He is infinite grace. He is infinite glory, and He is lowest humility. He is infinite majesty, and He is transcendent meekness. 

He has supreme dominion and sovereignty over all of heaven and earth, and yet we see Him as a Lamb with a spirit of submission and resignation and obedience as He goes to the cross to lay down His life. The supreme Sovereign of the universe lets men impale Him on a cross. The supreme, paradoxical, diverse excellencies of Christ coming together. The triumphant, conquering Lion is also the slain Lamb.

And the Lion is worthy to open the scroll that has been sealed because He has conquered. Now, you think of lions as conquerors, as strong and powerful. But how has the Lion conquered? Well, we find this in verse 9, and we see that He has conquered not by His final judgment on the wicked, not by His fierce voice and powers, but He has conquered through His atoning death on the cross. 

We see in verse 9:

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you [the Lion, the Lamb] to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation." 

The Lion’s victory, the Lion’s overcoming, the Lion’s triumph was accomplished by His death as a Lamb. He conquered by His suffering. And as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Jesus is both the Protector of His people, and He is the Prosecutor or the Avenger of His enemies. You will meet Him as one of the other. He will either be your Protector if you are one of His people, or He will one day be your Prosecutor if you are one of His enemies.

If you belong to Him, He will be as a Lion to defend and protect you. And anyone who tries to harm or destroy you will have to deal with the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. It would be like stirring up a lion’s anger if someone wants to mess with one of God’s children.

In that sermon, Jonathan Edwards says:

Unless your enemies can conquer this Lion, they shall not be able to destroy or hurt you; unless they are stronger than he, they shall not be able to hinder your happiness.

Now, think about that. It’s easy to sit here in this room and say “Amen” to all of that. But, are there some enemies in your life? Are there some people who give you trouble? Maybe they’re in your own house. Maybe they’re in your workplace. Maybe it’s somebody you go to school with. Maybe it’s a boss, maybe it’s a neighbor, somebody who’s difficult to deal with, somebody who keeps coming up against you. And you think, This person is destroying my happiness.

Now that person cannot destroy your happiness. That person has to deal with the Lion of the tribe of Judah. And let me repeat what Jonathan Edwards says, “Unless your enemies can conquer this Lion, they shall not be able to destroy or hurt you; unless they are stronger than he, [Is your enemy any stronger than Jesus? Unless they are any stronger than He] they shall not be able to hinder your happiness.”

Now, they can make your life uncomfortable, but it’s only for a while. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has conquered, and He is the Protector of His people. But He is also the Prosecutor, the Avenger of His enemies. And at the final judgment, He will appear as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah to conquer all of His enemies.

He will execute the judgment and the wrath of God against those who have rejected Him, and all the world will tremble before Him. All the world has to face the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. You will either face Him as your Protector, or you will face Him as your Prosecutor.

And so we see that Jesus Christ, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, has conquered. And here’s the good news. If you’re one of the children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, you share in His victory. His victory is your victory. We triumph in and through Him—not through our own strength. But we triumph through Him. And remember how He triumphed? He triumphed by laying down His life as a slain Lamb.

And so how do we conquer? How do we triumph? By the blood of the Lamb, by taking our place with Him, by being willing for the world to misunderstand us, to mistreat us, to think less of us, to think nothing of us, to be that humble, lowly lamb that we’ll talk about before we get to the end of this series on the names of Jesus. We conquer with Him by being willing to bear the cross, take up our cross to follow Him, the slain Lamb.

But as we do, remember that He is the conquering Lion. I think that sometimes in our thinking we have reduced the Lion of the Tribe of Judah to a kitten in our minds? We think, He’s not very powerful. We forget how powerful He is. And as you go about your daily life, your daily responsibilities, remember that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah watches over you. He attends you; He cares for us; He protects us. And oh, that we would see Him as the strong, powerful, courageous Lion that He is.

Now, it’s true, we have an adversary who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:7). That’s another lion, right? That lion, Satan, was defeated by the Lion of the Tribe of Judah at the cross. And yet he is still active. Now how is that?

Well, we know that he’s putting up a last ditch effort to gain possession of the creation that rightly belongs to God. But as one writer has said it, and we need to remember that “The roaring lion of hell is no match for the conquering Lion of Judah.” 

 Will you remember that as you’re feeling attacked and besieged and ambushed sometimes by that roaring lion who seeks to devour you? Remember that the roaring lion of hell is no match for the conquering Lion of Judah.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss isn’t finished. She’ll be right back, quoting from a well-loved children’s book.

She’s been showing us Jesus as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Nancy writes about this topic in the book, The Wonder of His Name. The book will walk you through thirty-two names of Jesus—and really, there’s nothing more important than knowing Him. This book will help you know Him better through these meaningful names. I think you’ll find the additional quotes, hymn stanzas, and illustrations intriguing as well. 

We’ll send you The Wonder of His Name when you support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. Ask for the book when you call 1–800–569–5959, or visit

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