the lion and the lamb

The Lion and the Lamb

The Bible describes Jesus as both the Lion and the Lamb. But what does this mysterious dual identity actually mean?

The following is an excerpt from Kurt Mahlburg and Warwick Marsh’s latest book, Jesus: The Centre of It All. Buy the book here.

Understanding the Book of Revelation

Domino toppling first became a craze in the 1970s, when people the world over began competing to create the biggest domino chain reactions imaginable. The world record, set in 2009, saw almost 4.5 million pieces tumble in an amazing display that lasted for an hour and a half.

The book of Revelation is structured similarly to a domino toppling spectacle. There are seven seals on a scroll, each of which open successively once the first seal has been broken. The opening of the last seal triggers seven trumpets that are blown in sequence. And the sounding of the final trumpet prompts seven bowls of judgment to be poured out. To see this great domino display, you will need to read Revelation for yourself. Our interest here is how the domino toppling begins—or more precisely, who triggers it.

John describes the tense scene in heaven as the show is set to begin:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. (Revelation 5:1-4).

The Scroll: The Title Deed to Planet Earth

Just about anyone could trigger the start of a domino toppling presentation. But not so with this scroll. Only the person with the authority to open it could break the first of the scroll’s seven seals and set in motion the wondrous spectacle to follow. John wept because he knew of no one who was worthy or had the authority to open it.

John understood that this scroll was no ordinary document. It was nothing less than the title deed to Planet Earth. In Genesis, the whole world came under the curse and was subjected to the power of Satan. The book of Revelation is all about God reversing the curse, retaking complete dominion of all that was lost, and establishing His kingdom reign once and for all. John wept because that glorious future now seemed like an impossibility.

But all hope was not lost. There was one who had earned the right to open the scroll. Writes John, “Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’” (Revelation 5:5). Who is this mysterious character—this Lion of the tribe of Judah, this Root of David, who was found worthy to open the scroll? It is Jesus! These are messianic titles. Jesus alone fulfils every Old Testament promise, and as a result, became the one person worthy of breaking open earth’s title deed and triggering the climactic events that are to come.

The Lion and the Lamb

John describes what happened next: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain… He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.” (Revelation 5:6, 7). Did you notice the switch? One moment we are told a Lion will open the scroll, but the next moment it is a Lamb who steps forward. What is happening here? The Lion is the Lamb. The Lamb is the Lion. These are complementary images of Jesus. Jesus is strong, royal, ferocious and majestic—and at the same time, He is humble, pure, gentle and sacrificial.

Here in this vision, the Lamb is not slain, but looks “as if it had been slain”. In other words, Jesus’ death on the cross was never the final word. God had a greater plan all along in the resurrection of Christ. Jesus now stands, having risen and won the victory over sin, death, suffering and evil. Pondering this great mystery, C. S. Lewis expressed:

The New Testament writers speak as if Christ’s achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He is the “first fruits”, the “pioneer of life”. He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so.

The Second Coming of Christ

It is by beholding the Lamb in Revelation that we finally understand all that Jesus’ death and resurrection truly achieved. Yes, He died and rose again for our salvation—to forgive us and bring us back to God. But Jesus achieved far more than just that.

By submitting Himself to death and then conquering the grave, Jesus became the ‘Last Adam’—the one person able to undo the curse and set the entire universe right again. (1 Corinthians 15:45). As Paul writes in Colossians, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20).

It is a glorious reality that began at the cross and will be completed when, as Revelation declares, “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah”. (Revelation 11:15).

Billy Graham summarised what that triumphal day will look like:

The second coming of Christ will be so revolutionary that it will change every aspect of life on this planet. Christ will reign in righteousness. Disease will be arrested. Death will be modified. War will be abolished. Nature will be changed. Man will live as it was originally intended he should live.

Worthy is the Lamb Who Was Slain

The significance of this scene was not missed by the audience present in heaven. John tells us that the elders and angelic beings who were gathered around the throne broke out into full-throated worship:

You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9-10).

Immediately, millions upon millions of angels joined in the chorus, declaring, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12). Finally, John tells us that every creature in heaven and on earth also joined their voices together in worship: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13).

There is something truly timeless about this picture in heaven. It could be captured in a single image, yet it depicts thousands of years of redemptive history. It is an eternal scene that invites all of heaven to worship Jesus. We cannot help but worship too as we gaze at the glory of the Lamb and ponder all that He has accomplished.

Buy Jesus: The Centre of It All here.


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