The Lion and the Lamb

A sermon on Revelation 5 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 4/24/2005

What is your favorite picture of Jesus? I don’t mean a painting or illustration, but your favorite image.

Other than the Italian features in the painting, these are all biblical images. God communicates the nature of Jesus to us through such images.

But our favorite images of Jesus lead to a danger:We may choose to think of Jesus in those terms – and NOT in others. There is always a danger of our focusing on one true aspect of Jesus’ character and, by overemphasizing that, misunderstanding and thus misrepresenting the person Jesus.

We must remember a basic principle of biblical interpretation: Use Scripture to understand Scripture. Look at the entirety of Scripture to keep our theological understanding in balance.

Thus Paul says to Ephesian elders:

I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Acts 20:26-27 

The whole counsel of God. That is what we are to preach – and that should form the background for every theological position we hold.

What is heresy? Heresy is not complete falsehood. Heresy always has a basis in truth. Heresy is picking up on one truth and running with it, at the expense of other truths. Heresy is getting your theology out of biblical balance. We want to avoid heresy! So we look to the whole counsel of God, and we are committed through expository preaching to teach through the whole counsel of God.

In today’s text, Revelation 5, John himself is confronted with two very different images of Jesus back to back. The vision God gives him juxtaposes, puts right next to each other, two views of Jesus: Jesus as the Lion of Judah; Jesus as the slain yet living Lamb.

This is a puzzle: How can it be accurate to describe anyone as both Lion and Lamb? I pray that God would use this text to open our eyes to both these truths, so that you might give glory to Jesus, as you see the contrasting aspects of His character and delight in Him for Who He is.

We’ll proceed by first reminding you of the setting of this chapter, then look in turn at:

The Setting

Recall that in Revelation 4, John sees a vision of throne room of God (see sermon). In this room, God is right at the center. Around Him, praising Him, are four living creatures, representing everything that has breath. Around them are 24 more thrones, with 24 elders seated on them. These elders seem to represent all the redeemed of all time. They acknowledge that everything they have, all their rewards, all their accomplishments come from God. So they praise Him as the source of all, the creator, the One who freely chose to create.

Last week we looked ahead into chapter five to see that there are a series of concentric circles going out from the throne: The creatures, the elders, and then thousands and thousands of angels praising God. Then around the angels, every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth praising Him. The point? God is supreme, God is central.

Yet John hardly describes God at all. Out of reverence He does not even name Him, referring to Him as the “one seated on the throne.” God is bright, beautiful, like shining precious stones; God is mighty, indeed, frightening as lightning and thunder come out from Him. But it seems He is hard to see. There is only brightness at the center of the circles.

The Scroll

But then, something at the center becomes clear:

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. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?" Revelation 5:1

What is this scroll or book that is in the hand of God? Similar images are used several times in the Old Testament, and several more times in the rest of Revelation. In these biblical references, a book is often a record of judgment. Other times – and occasionally at the same time – a book is a record of God’s mercies on His people.

Daniel 7 seems to be closest Old Testament image to what we find in Revelation 5. Consider Daniel 7:9-11:

As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire.  10 A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.  11 I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 

Like Revelation 5 and 6, this is a throne room scene, featuring books that are opened, followed by God’s judgment of His enemies. The opening of the book seems to lead to the judgments.

But keep reading in Daniel 7, beginning in verse 13:

13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.  14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

This too follows the opening of the book: The reigning of one like a Son of Man, who will be served by all peoples, nations, and languages. His kingdom shall not be destroyed.

There are striking similarities here to Revelation 5, where the Lamb receives something from the one seated on the throne, and is praised by al peoples, languages, and nations.

While the other Old Testament images are not as closely in parallel, they nevertheless give us insight into the nature of the book. For example, in Malachi 3 and 4, when some of the people claim that it doesn’t pay to follow God, He tells them that a “book of remembrance” is written, featuring those who “feared the Lord and esteemed His Name.” This book leads to a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, with the righteous rewarded and the wicked punished. So the book, once again, is about justice and mercy.

We could look at other references to books, such as Isaiah 30, 34, and 65. But all seem to point in the same direction: The scroll or book in Revelation 5 is of God’s plan of redemption, His plan finally to right all wrongs, to implement justice, to administer mercy to His own, to create a people for His own possession.

With that in mind, let’s read verses 2 to 4:

And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?" 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.

Three obvious questions: Why is opening so important? Why does John weep loudly when no worthy person comes to open it? And why is no one worthy to open it?

The book of Daniel again helps us understand this issue. In chapter 12, Daniel is told to seal his book:

But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Daniel 12:4

Then I said, "O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?"  9 He said, "Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Daniel 12:8-9 

Daniel’s book is sealed, not to be opened during his lifetime. But it will be opened! When? At “the time of the end”. When is that?

Do you remember what Peter says on the day of Pentecost? In Acts 2:16, he says that what the people see happening on that day is a fulfillment of a prophecy from the book of Joel. But that prophecy is prefaced with the words, “in the last days”. Thus, “the last days”, “the time of the end”, began at Pentecost and continues on up to today. Peter was living in the last days – and so are we. So the opening of the seals is emphasizing to John that the “time of the end” is here.

Indeed, the book is not only a record of God’s work in the last days, it also plays an important part in bringing God’s plan to completion. The opening of the book vindicates God, as it leads to His final judgment of His enemies and final perfection of His people.

In setting these processes in motion, the opening of the book eventually leads to the end of creation as we know it. Indeed, it brings to an end the day of salvation. Jesus says something similar at the end of His earthly ministry:

The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. John 12:35 

Jesus has been in the world, as light coming into darkness. He, the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, has been shining the light of truth in all the dark places of the world. Yet He is about to leave. So He says, “The Light is with you! Yet the Light is leaving! So see who I am! Respond today! Don’t put it off!”

Then, remember Noah (see sermon)? He is another example of this. Scripture calls him a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). Surely he called the people of his day to repentance. He told them the flood was coming. He pleaded with them to believe in God, to join him in building the ark, and to escape from the coming destruction. But the final day came, and God told him to enter the ark with his family. The opportunity for salvation came to an end. Who ended that opportunity? Not Noah. God. According to Genesis 7:16, God closed the door of the ark, protecting Noah and his family, and shutting out all the others. Once the waters rose, all those were now desperate to escape – but the day of salvation had passed.

Just so in Revelation: The opening of the book sets in motion activities that will eventually bring to an end the day of salvation. Thus, the one to open the seals must be worthy to bring about that judgment. But who is worthy?

Do you remember the story of the woman caught in adultery? The Pharisees drag this woman before Jesus, and ask Him what should be done to her. The penalty for adultery, according to the Law, is death by stoning. Jesus agrees with the penalty, but says:

Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her. John 8:7

No one is worthy to judge. No one worthy is worthy to wreak vengeance, to do justice. For ultimate justice to hold, only a sinless one can effect that justice.

This is what we find in Revelation 5. The book must  be opened if every wrong is to be righted, if justice is to be done. Yet there is no one without sin. No one is worthy to judge. So John weeps and weeps: for his own sinfulness, for the sinfulness of the human species, for the lack of justice.

The Lion

But that’s not the end of the story!

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

There is one who is worthy! There is one member of the human race who has not sinned: The Lion of the tribe of Judah!

Why is Jesus called a lion? Lions are powerful and dangerous. Lions are majestic - even in Jesus’ day, the lion was a symbol of royalty.

This is a specific reference to the prophecy that Jacob gave about the descendants of Judah in Genesis 49:

9 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?  10 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. Genesis 49:9-10  

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah” – and thus his kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom. “To him shall be the obedience of the peoples” – and thus every tribe and tongue and people and language will serve Him. Since Jesus is a descendant of Judah, all this is fulfilled in the images of Revelation 5.

The angel also refers to Jesus as the “Root of David”. This term comes from Isaiah 11 (although there He is called the “Root of Jesse”, David’s father):

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.  2 And 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 the fear of the LORD.  3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear,  4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.  5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. . . .  the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.  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. Isaiah 11:1-5, 9b-10 

This passage pictures a perfect king, a king who will bring justice to the poor and the weak, a king who will punish the wicked by killing them with the breath of his lips, and striking the earth with the rod of his mouth.

So John expects to see a mighty, powerful, majestic Lion. He expects to see one who is able to overcome all opposition! This is the person he expects to take the scroll.

But that is not what he sees at all:

The Lamb

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders 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. Revelation 5:6

John hears a description of the Lion – then looks, and sees something completely different. This happens several times in Revelation. The contrast sheds light on the character of what is heard and seen.

Imagine John’s surprise: He sees not a Lion but a Lamb! And even the Lamb is not mighty and powerful, but one who is “as slain.” (There is no need to translate this “as though it had been slain”. That translation makes it look as if the Lamb only appeared to be slain. But the Lamb is really slain! So “as slain” or “as one who was slain” is a better translation.)

What is the image of the lamb in Scripture? There are almost 200 references in Scripture to lambs; the vast majority of these refer to lambs killed as sacrifices. The most important of these references for us is in Isaiah 53, the passage about the suffering servant, dying for His people. He is said to be “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (v7). Why? Because “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (v6).

Sin requires judgment. God told Adam in the Garden that he would die the day he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Every sinner is subject to that death sentence. Justice must be done. But God provides a substitute, God provides a lamb on whom He can put the sin of those He saves. So God exercises justice, seeing that every sin is punished; and God exercises mercy, forgiving those who believe by putting their sins on the Lamb of God.

The Lamb must be spotless. Otherwise, the Lamb would have to die for His own sins. But since Jesus was sinless, He was the perfect sacrifice. As the book of Hebrews says:

in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15 

He did not have to die for His sins. So He was able to take on the sins of all those who believe in Him.

As we pointed out last week, the Lamb is literally “in the midst of the throne.” We should have remembered this from Revelation 3:21, since Jesus said there,

                “I sat down with my Father on His throne.”

So He gets up from the throne, and takes the scroll from the right hand of God the Father Almighty. So the four living creatures and 24 elders – everything that has breath – worship Him.

Now slow down: Is this right? Is it right for these creatures and elders to worship the Lamb? Twice in Revelation John begins to worship angels, and they rebuke him, telling him to worship God alone (See, for example, 19:10). But there is no rebuke here! The Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah, is God Himself! He is worthy of worship! He is the second person in the Trinity!

As saw four weeks ago (see sermon), in the rest of the chapter, all creation praises him for being worthy to take the book and open its seals. For by His death He ransomed people. And He ransomed them for a purpose: For God! To bring glory to God! Thus He is worthy of all praise, all glory, all honor – and He will receive it in full.

Lion and Lamb

So to see Jesus fully, to see Him in all His complexity, we need to see Him as both Lion and Lamb. He is a Lamb, truly. He is a Lion, truly.

Why do we need this balanced view of Jesus as Lion and Lamb? Why is this important? What are the dangers of overemphasizing Jesus as Lion, or overemphasizing Him as Lamb? How can the biblical truth concerning the character of Jesus be distorted by not keeping in balance the whole counsel of God?

We’ll look at three unbalanced views of Jesus: One that overemphasizes His being a Lion, and two that overemphasize His being a Lamb.

Unbalanced View 1: The Avenging Lion

The first false view will say about Jesus:

“He will come to judge my enemies. He will protect me, and wreak vengeance on those who have harmed me. So you enemies, watch out! The Lion is going to get you!”

Is there truth here? By all means! Jesus is the Lion! Jesus will wreak vengeance on all His enemies. He will destroy those who trample His Name. He will watch over His people and protect them. We need not fear; We cannot be killed while His purpose for us remains.

Yet this is a false view. This particular view was characteristic of first century Jews. They were expecting a political Messiah, a Messiah who would come and free them from the oppressive Romans. They hated the Romans, and saw their political liberation as vitally important. Thus, when Jesus came as a Lamb, they did not recognize Him.

Consider also the Crusaders in the Middle Ages. They looked to Jesus to defeat the infidels who had control of Jerusalem. And no matter how horrible their behavior, no matter how vilely they treated people, they looked to Jesus to be their avenging Lion on all their enemies.

But do we see this false view today? Very often. Consider those who claim that God is on the side of one political party or another, one candidate for public office or another.

This false view creeps in whenever we think, “I’m a believer, so God is against MY enemies.” Thus, God becomes a tool, an instrument in your hand used to wield your power and to effect your purposes. You think of your human enemies as THE enemy – and you expect Jesus, the Lion, to fight against them.

But we must remember that Jesus is the Lion and the Lamb! He can be the Lamb who was slain for YOUR enemies! He may intend to conquer your enemies with love, and not with might; He may intend to bring your enemies to Himself through your witnessing of His grace. He may bring your enemies to Himself through your death! So “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). For you can be the means by which your enemies see the Lamb!

Unbalanced View 2: The Gentle Lamb

Those with this view say, “Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He died to give life to His enemies! He is so gracious, so kind, so forgiving! He is the perfect revelation of God’s love!

“So will this Lamb hurt anyone? How could He be the perfect lamb if He did? He may discipline people, He may correct them – but He must not send anyone to hell for all eternity! That’s horrible! That’s just a carryover from an earlier, outdated view of God. This is the true revelation: The dying Lamb! Forgiveness in God, available to all!”

Is there truth in that view? By all means! Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is gracious and forgiving. He is the servant of all, who died willingly to be a substitute for sinful man. He is the Redeemer of all who come to Him in faith.

But we must remember that Jesus is the Lamb and the Lion! How we need this image of Jesus as lion!

Already in Revelation we’ve seen powerful images of an avenging Jesus: In 2:16 He wages war against His enemies with the sword of His mouth; in 2:23, He promises to strike dead the children of the Jezebel-like woman in Thyatira. We will see much more graphic pictures of the wrath of the Lamb in the weeks ahead.

Jesus is loving, kind, forgiving, and merciful – Jesus is the Lamb. Praise God!

But Jesus also executes perfect justice; He slaughters His enemies; He defends the honor of God – Jesus is the Lion.

Hold on to both truths.

Unbalanced View 3: Jesus, MY Lamb

Those who hold to this view say, “Jesus is the Lamb of God who died for me. He paid the penalty for my sins. He loves me with an everlasting love. Therefore, I must be really special! I must be wonderful! God doesn’t love trash! How great I am!”

This false view is exemplified in the lyrics to a recent song by Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche, entitled “Above All.” This song starts with wonderful lyrics, but then ends with these words:

Like a Rose trampled on the ground
You took the fall and thought of me above all.

Is there truth here? Precious truth! Jesus died to redeem a people for Himself! He died not for mankind in general, not for a class of people, but for each of His people in particular. We sang earlier today, “My name is graven on His hands, My name is written on His heart.” Love that truth! Take great joy in that truth!

But man is not at the center! God is at the center! And this false view puts man at the center.

Why did Jesus suffer on the cross? What was He thinking of? What does Jesus Himself tell us?

27 "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.  28 Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." John 12:27-28 

The glory of God! That is what Jesus thought of above all! The glory of God, as fulfilled in Revelation 5:13, when every creature - all those who weren’t worthy to open the scroll in verse 3 - give glory to God and the Lamb forever and ever.

Jesus is the Lamb who aims to glorify God for His mercy. Jesus is the Lion who aims to glorify God for His justice. We must hold on to both!

So instead of singing of this truth in a man-centered way, “You took the fall and thought of me above all,” we can express this precious truth in a God-centered way, “Amazing love! How can it be that thou my God shouldst die for me.”


Jesus is the Lion and the Lamb. He is the King, coming to wreak vengeance on His enemies; He is the gentle lamb, dying for His people. As Isaiah writes:

Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:10-11

He comes to rule, He comes to pay back His enemies; He comes to gently carry His lambs.

See Him in His entirety! See Him in ALL His glory! Don’t try to tame Him, to limit Him, to box Him in!

Love the complete Christ – and rejoice that He is king.

This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 4/24/05. Greg Beale’s The Book of Revelation (Eerdmans, 1999) was helpful, particular on the Old Testament parallels. The song “Above All” by Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche is copyright 1999 by  Integrity’s Hosanna! Music. I also quote the songs, “Before the Throne of God Above” by Charitie Lee Bancroft and “And Can it Be” by Charles Wesley.

Copyright © 2005, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, posted on the internet, copied for resale or incorporated in any products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney, (send email), c/o Desiring God Community Church, PO Box 620099, Charlotte, NC 28262.

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