Lion and Root - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Jesus - the Lion of Judah and the Root of David


"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."

The Lion and the Root.

When we turn to the Book of Revelation we must remind ourselves that we are reading a book that is full of visions and images. We are presented with many different and colourful descriptions.  We are not meant to read this book as we would a straightforward history or a book of laws.

The language is chosen to be deliberately striking – it is symbolic after all – and we must understand that. In a vision the details, the order, and the timing of those details are not subject to the same rules as other writings. And yet the book does have a clear message to convey. At least it was clear to those who were used to this type of apocalyptic literature. We may be less familiar with such a style and we in danger of going astray by trying to read the text in a literalistic manner.

The basic theme of the entire book is really quite simple and straightforward and our text this evening touches upon it.  That overarching theme is the victory that has been won by our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. And victory is what makes Jesus the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Judah in God’s Plan of Salvation
We know that man’s fall in the Garden of Eden did not catch God by surprise. As soon as man fell into sin God began to announce his plan and purpose to secure salvation for his wayward creatures. As the years passed more and more detail was revealed concerning this plan – who would carry it out and how. Before the Book of Genesis was brought to a close the patriarch Jacob would, in blessing his sons while on his death bed, speak prophetically indicating that a saving ruler would come from the household of his son Judah:

Gen.49:9-10 "Judah is a lion’s cub; 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 sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him;"

It is to this prophecy that John refers in the words of our text:

Rev.5:5 "behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah."

Judah was specially singled out by his father Jacob for this blessing though he was not at that time the outstanding candidate. Judah was not the first-born – that privilege belonged to Reuben. He was not even given that honour when Reuben disgraced himself and so was stripped of his privileges. No, it was not Judah who replaced him but his much younger brother Joseph. Indeed with Joseph playing such an important role in preserving the family line when sold into slavery in Egypt we might have expected him to have been the recipient of his father’s prophetic blessing. But the blessing was granted to Judah a fact which probably explains why we read so much more about the tribe of Judah than we do about the other 11 tribes.

Although the nation was successively led by Moses, Joshua and King Saul, none of whom came from the tribe of Judah, Judah was gaining in importance. When finally Saul failed the kingship passed to David. At last royal authority had come to the tribe of Judah and from then on it would settle permanently there.

King David was a great King and his son Solomon was too. Many of his descendants who sat on the throne were also godly and good leaders. None however was quite good enough. None was up to the tak of delivering and ruling God’s people. The prophecy of Gen.49:9 remained unfulfilled.

In time David came to be viewed as the archetypal king. The expectation was that the coming Messiah-King would be a "Son of David", the king. Isaiah using slightly different language painted a similar picture:

Is.11:1 "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit."

What Isaiah meant by this was that the Messiah would belong to the same family as David – he would indeed be physically descended from David.

But Isaiah had yet more to say concerning the identity of the future king. In the same 11 th chapter Isaiah not only described the Messiah in terms of being a "branch from the roots" but he also described him as being the very root itself:

Is.11:10 "In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious."

It must have been difficult for believers in OT times to see how this might all fit together, the information they had seemed to be somewhat contradictory. How could the Messiah be both a branch from the roots and the roots themselves?

It was rather similar question to the one Jesus put to his detractors concerning Ps.110. Do you remember the incident? It is found in Mt.22:41-45:

"Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, "What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?" They said to him, "The son of David." He said to them, "How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, "‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?""

Just because we might have trouble understanding quite how all the information we’re given fits together that is no reason for rejecting what God in his word says. When his word is clear then we are wise to believe expecting a fuller understanding to come later. It is a foolish man or woman who will say he or she knows better than God.

How could the Messiah be both the root and branch of David? With our NT understanding we can supply an answer:

  • As God, our Saviour is at the origin of all things and thus the root/origin of King David

  • As man, our Saviour was a real man with a real ancestry – a true offspring of David

In the words of our text:

Rev.5:5 "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,"

This exceptional Messiah had come!

Why a Lion?
The apostle John refers to Jesus as a Lamb nearly thirty times in Revelation but only once as a lion: what is the point he is making?

Remember this is a vision! The language is symbolic and John has no intention of teaching us that Jesus is a literal lamb or a literal lion.

When John described Jesus as a lamb he was referring to the fact that Jesus had come to lay down his life as a sacrifice to deal with the problem of human sin – that was how the lamb functioned in Jewish religious practice.

Now in describing Jesus as a lion John is drawing our attention firstly to the fulfilment of OT prophecy, specifically that prophecy back in Gen.49:9. Secondly, John wants us to know that Jesus is strong and regal in the exercise of all his ministry.

Christ may be compared to a lion:

Because he has great strength.

  • he is the mighty God

  • the able Saviour

  • the strong Redeemer

  • the protector of his church and people

  • the avenger of their enemies

Because he has great courage

  • he engaged with Satan and his principalities and powers

  • he bore the sins of his people sustaining his Father’s wrath

  • he defeated the terrors of death that were set against him

On the cross this Lion of Judah, this Root of David, conquered and thereby earned the right to open the book and to break the seals as are described in Rev.5.  This signified not simply an opening in order to see what was inside but an opening in order to rule the universe in accordance with God’s plan as laid out therein.

John however insists in ch.5 that there was no-one else who could possibly do what was necessary.

When an invitation was issued by a strong angel for a worthy one to come forward and put in motion God’s plan of salvation nobody stirred. No-one was worthy or capable enough – not the strongest of all the angels not the most adept of all the men – no-one anywhere!

The wait went on and on and John seems to have been on the verge of despair – it is a vision, remember, and many strange things are permissible in visions. John already knew that Jesus had been successful in his ministry, he knew he had conquered death and that he had ascended to heaven but the vision plays out as though uncertainty existed in John’s mind.

And so John begins to weep. And with good cause for if none was able to come forward break and the seals and so set God’s plan of salvation into motion then mankind would be lost, forever lost. The stakes couldn’t have been higher!

The whole picture emphasises to us the utter folly of thinking that salvation is an easy thing. How foolish to imagine we’ll get by because we’ve done our best when not a single one of the best and the strongest dared to step forward! Not a single one except...

John is comforted by one of the elders... there is one after all and it is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. Don’t despair for salvation is a certainty – for this Lion has already conquered!

But who was he and how had he done so?

John looked around – where was the lion? And do you know what he saw? He saw a Lamb looking as though it had been slain. There was a reason for that – this Lamb had been slain; his blood had been shed for sins; but because this was the pure and spotless Lamb of God he had not stayed dead! Raised to newness of life the Lamb approached and took the scroll!

As he did so the scene becomes one of indescribable praise and worship with joyous song!

Everyone joined in declaring the worthiness of this One who had triumphed by giving his life to ransom people for God. And how extensive were the effects of his death! People from all over, from every background imaginable were transformed by what this One had achieved on their behalf!

The angel hosts who were so used to the magnificent presence and glorious deeds of the Almighty simply cannot contain themselves either such is the wonder of the salvation wrought by the Lion-Lamb.

All ascribe honour and praise to Jehovah Jesus upon the throne with his Father!

Surely our hearts must be at least slightly warmed as we try to imagine the scene and as we try to take it all in! Our Saviour caused such a rejoicing and celebration in heaven and it was done in the successful pursuit of exactly the salvation we need.

If you feel nothing is it because you still haven’t understood how great your need is of such a Saviour? Is it because you fail to realise just how magnificent he and his achievements are?

If you do feel just a little then praise him and seek to praise and extol him more.

And to God be the glory.


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