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Revelation 5:5-6 (KJV)

5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.

6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.

Why did John not see a lion or lion-like figure? Was the elder essentially just naming out some of Jesus' titles?

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  • I asked a related question, see here: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/26322/11711 Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 4:59
  • -1 as this question has done no homework or basic research to attempt to understand the passage in question. Even simple stuff like reading a few verses before or after the ones in question, or checking a free commentary could have resolved this question.
    – Robert
    Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 13:20

5 Answers 5

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This is an allusion to Jacob's prophecy about Judah in Genesis 49:

8 “Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s children shall bow down before you.
9 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?
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a lawgiver from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes;
And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.”
-Genesis 49:8-10 (NKJV)

This prophecy was understood as foretelling the Messiah, as Adam Clarke points out in his commentary for verse 10:

The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, and the Jerusalem Targum, apply the whole of this prophecy, in a variety of very minute particulars, to the Messiah....

The Lion is also called the Root of David, which is another allusion to a prophecy of the Messiah in Isaiah 11:

1 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight is in the fear of the Lord,
And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes,
Nor decide by the hearing of His ears;
4 But with righteousness He shall judge the poor,
And decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins,
And faithfulness the belt of His waist.
[...]
10 “And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse,
Who shall stand as a banner to the people;
For the Gentiles shall seek Him,
And His resting place shall be glorious.”
-Isaiah 11:1-5, 10 (NKJV)

So to answer your question: yes, the elder is naming out some of Jesus' titles. John does not see an actual lion or a root, but instead sees a lamb looking as if it had been slain. It was only by being slain that He was able to loose the seven seals. To quote Adam Clarke once more:

...so important is the sacrificial offering of Christ in the sight of God that he is still represented as being in the very act of pouring out his blood for the offenses of man.

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From chapters 2-3, we gather that at least some of the churches to whom Revelation was written were facing a good deal of persecution. In addressing their situation, one of the main themes of the book is that perseverance in trial, even to death, is the manner in which the churches will "defeat" their enemies (along with the word of their testimony).

We see this, for example, in the sections addressed to the individual churches. To the church in Smyrna, he writes (v 2:10), "Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor's crown." We see here the paradox: being faithful to death results in the victor's crown that is life. The language is put in antithesis in order to provoke thoughtful response.

Or again we find the theme in the song of chapter twelve. In 12:11, it is said, "And they have conquered him [the accuser] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death." Victory is won over dragon who is cast down from heaven because of the faithfulness of the saints in their witness - faithfulness even to death.

Similarly here with the Lion/Lamb imagery, this theme is reinforced by the exemplar par excellence. The Lion of Judah conquered by becoming the Lamb who was slain. John ties the two images together in order to draw out this theme. The Lamb stands as the chief witness to the pattern being put forward: that one conquers as a saint not by taking a life, but by laying one's own life down.

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  • Extremely helpful answer, thank you!! Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 15:26
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There is a much more parsimonious answer. The word lion is a Hebraism for hero or champion.

Proverbs 30:30 calls out a lion, and then describes it as gibbor, a Hebrew term for a hero or champion, e.g. Goliath of Gath.

Jesus is then, the Hero or Champion from the Tribe of Judah, noting "of" is the Greek preposition ek, meaning, out of or from, especially since the corresponding noun phrase, τῆς φυλῆς Ἰούδα (tes phyles Iouda - the tribe of Judah), is genitive.

As such, there isn't a conundrum between Jesus being a "lion" but John seeing a "lamb". The Lamb of God is the Hero/Champion from the Tribe of Judah. John wasn't supposed to see a "lion", but rather, see the heroic sacrifice the Lamb of God made when He surrendered His life on the cross.

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The elder was not just naming out some of Jesus' unrelated titles. These symbols are used in this chapter because they are appropriate for the context.

Jesus is described as a lamb because Revelation 5 describes [what happens in heaven when Jesus arrives after His ascension][1]. He was declared “worthy” to break the seals and open the book because He “has overcome” (Rev 5:5), meaning that He died without sin. He remained faithful to death (cf. Rev 2:10). He has been given all authority (Matt 28:18). He could appeal to His Father, and His Father will at once put at His disposal more than twelve legions of angels (cf. Matt 26:53). But He allowed evil men to torture Him to death because that was His Father’s will (Luke 22:42). That is the symbol of the slain lamb.

But Revelation 5 also describes Christ’s enthronement at His Father’s right hand. For that reason, the symbol of the Lion of the tribe of Judah is appropriate:

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet” (Gen 49:10)

So, Revelation 5:5-6 refers to Jesus both as a Lion and a Lamb because those verses describe His arrival in heaven after His death, resurrection, and ascension and immediately before His enthronement in 5:7, when He assumed the position at God's right hand when He takes the book. (The article above argues that the book is AT God's right hand and not IN His right hand (see 5:1).) [1]: https://revelationbyjesuschrist.com/revelation-5/

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Jesus is both the lion of the tribe of judah and also the slain lamb. John saw lamb which signifies the humility of our Lord and Saviour Jesus when it comes to his church or his people. But if Jesus was being mentioned in reference to the devil then he would have seen a lion figure. Which signifies strength, authority or power over evil. In short he is a lamb/sacrifice to the believer but a lion/conqueror to the devil.

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