The Lion of the Tribe of Judah

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 5:5

Chapter 5 of Revelation is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible because it gives us a figurative look into God’s throne room to see how Heaven reacted when Christ beat Satan and redeemed us from our sins.  In the vision John sees God seated on His throne, holding in His right hand a scroll sealed with seven seals (5:1).  The number seven symbolized completeness and purity in biblical times (cf. Psalm 12:6), showing that this scroll was very important.  Its importance is further seen when we read of a strong angel searching for someone worthy to open its seals, but not being able to find anyone in heaven, on earth or under the earth (5:2-3).  This causes John to weep for reasons we will soon see.

One of the twenty-four elders from chapter 4 encourages John to stop crying because “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” is able to open the seals of the scroll because He has conquered or overcome.  The prophet Jacob had prophesied of a descendant of his son Judah by making the comparison to lions and saying the scepter would never depart until tribute comes, “and to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:9-10).  Likewise, Isaiah had prophesied about “a branch” from the roots of Jesse, David’s father, bearing fruit and that the Spirit of the Lord would rest upon Him (Isaiah 11:1-2).  Jesus, a descendant of David and Judah, applied this prophecy to Himself (Luke 4:16-21).

Upon hearing this John sees a Lamb, another symbolic reference to Christ (John 1:29), having seven horns with seven eyes, which we are told symbolize the seven Spirits of God (5:6).  Remember that the number seven symbolizes completeness, horns symbolized power and strength during biblical times and God sees everything (Hebrews 4:12-13), we conclude that the seven Spirits of God represent the complete Holy Spirit and that He and Christ the Lamb have all power and see everything.  The Lamb takes the scroll from God’s right hand (5:7), showing that God gave Christ all authority (Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:22-23).  This took place after Christ died on the cross and was resurrected from the dead (Romans 1:4).

Immediately the four living creatures and twenty-four elders fall down and worship the Lamb just as they had worshiped the One sitting on the throne in chapter 4 (5:8-10; cf. 4:8-11).  They are holding harps and golden bowls full of incense, the latter we are told symbolizing the prayers of the saints; the harps therefore likely symbolize the songs Christians lift up in praise to God (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).  They sing what John calls “a new song,” a song which praises Christ for being worthy to open the scroll because He had been slain and had ransomed people for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation,” making them “a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

This song is called “new” because it could not have been sung before Christ died on the cross.  The animal sacrifices of the Old Testament could not provide forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 10:1-4); only Christ’s death which ushered in the New Testament could do that (Hebrews 9:15).  That’s what the opening of the scroll represents: the dawn of the age of the gospel, the age in which complete forgiveness is offered to us all because of the cross!  No wonder John had cried earlier when it had seemed that the scroll could not be opened!  Thank God Jesus did conquer and overcome, because now all who obey the gospel through faithful, penitent baptism can sing this new song, be part of God’s kingdom which is His church (Colossians 1:13; Revelation 1:4, 6, 9), be part of God’s priesthood of which all Christians are a part (1 Peter 2:5, 9) and reign with Christ through the judgment of God’s Word (Revelation 20:4; John 12:48).

Whenever I study this chapter, I am filled with gratitude and a sense of just how much I owe the Lion Who is also a Lamb.  Praise His holy name!

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