The lion of the tribe of Judah is one of the more unusual names for Jesus, but it is also an important one. It is a title that says so much and reveals the faithfulness of God in fulfilling His word. In this name of Jesus there is symbolism and the fulfilment of a promise. It is also a title with great significance and one that brings hope for the future for those who love the Lord.
Jesus The Lion of The Tribe of Judah
Where is this unusual name of Jesus as the lion of the tribe of Judah found in Scripture? This image of Jesus, the Messiah, as a lion is found in both the Old and the New Testament writings. It is hinted at in the Old Testament and openly proclaimed as a title of Messiah in the New Testament.
On both occasions it is part of prophecy, a proclamation or foretelling of future events. This style of speaking or writing often uses poetic imagery to convey the message. The image created here is one of victory!
The Apostle John shares his vision of the eternal throne in heaven, and a seven sealed scroll in the hand of the one who sat on the throne. An angel proclaims, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But there was no-one worthy to read the scroll:
“I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 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 5:4-5 NIV
All prophecy is intended to be understood. It is given to provide insight into future events. The vision that the apostle John received points to a victorious, triumphant, Messiah. This is an image of future hope.
The title that is given to Jesus here is rooted in the Old Testament Scriptures. It is significant as the fulfilment of God’s promises to His people.
What Is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah?
To understand this victory title of Jesus as the lion of the tribe of Judah we need to grasp the symbolism of the lion in Scripture. The image of a lion is as the most powerful of all the wild animals – the king of the jungle. The lion is regarded as majestic and fierce with an intimidating roar to those who stand in its path.
In Scripture the lion is sometimes used as a symbol of evil, for the devil, and for the enemies of God’s people. But more often the lion is a symbol of Christ, the triumphant ruler. And of God, and of His protecting power over His people.
“As a lion growls, a great lion over its prey — and though a whole band of shepherds is called together against it, it is not frightened by their shouts or disturbed by their clamor—Isaiah 31:4-5
so the Lord Almighty will come down to do battle on Mount Zion and on its heights.
Like birds hovering overhead, the Lord Almighty will shield Jerusalem; he will shield it and deliver it, he will ‘pass over’ it and will rescue it.”
Why Is the Tribe of Judah So Important?
Jesus is specifically the lion of the tribe of Judah – why then is the tribe of Judah so important? This title of Jesus is linked to the tribe of Judah for two main reasons, the fulfilment of a prophesy and the keeping of a promise.
A Prophetic Blessing
At his death bed, Jacob (Israel) blessed each one of his twelve sons (Genesis 49). These were taken to be prophetic words, not only for his sons but also for their descendants. Although Judah was Jacob’s fourth son, he speaks words of leadership and authority over Judah which would normally have been given to the eldest son.
“Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.Genesis 49:8-10
At the time that Jacob spoke these words of blessing over his sons, they were still sheltering from famine in Egypt. They were a ‘family’ or at the most a tribe. They were not yet numerous enough to be regarded as a nation, or in their own land, or with a king.
Judah was described as a lion’s cub, symbolising the potential of rulership and strength. These words of a ruler coming from the tribe of Judah to whom the nations would be obedient, were powerful indeed. The prophesy was that the right to rule would pass through Judah’s family line until the One true King comes!
An Eternal Promise
The first king of Israel was Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, but because of his disobedience in failing to carry out the Lord’s instructions, God rejected him as king. Instead, David, son of Jesse of the tribe of Judah was anointed as king to succeed him. This prophecy, of a ruler from Judah, was initially fulfilled in David, but traditionally understood to be Messianic. In addition, God promised David through a word from Nathan the prophet that his royal line would continue even after his death.
“The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: when your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom”.2 Samuel 7:11b-12
God would establish David’s throne, and his kingdom would become an everlasting kingdom. This was not fulfilled in the immediate. But became the basis of many later prophecies, and the hope of Israel. One day Messiah will rule and reign on the throne of David – this will ultimately be fulfilled in Christ Jesus.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”Isaiah 9:6-7
Why Was Judah Chosen?
Judah was the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. Traditionally leadership of a family would go to the eldest son, but Reuben, Simeon, and Levi had forefeited their right of leadership.
Reuben had dishonored his father by sleeping with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah. While Simeon and Levi had slaughtered the men of Shechem, their violence and cruelty going beyond what was required. But Judah, after a shaky start, had demonstrated the qualities and characteristics of a leader.
Jacob’s family of twelve sons, by four different mothers, was beset with rivalry. One of the most well-known stories is about his son Joseph, and the jealousy of the other brothers. Their hatred of Joseph meant that he narrowly escaped a plot by his brothers to kill him.
Judah intervened and Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. At this point Judah’s actions were not based on love for his brother, but as an easy way to make some money! He was only thinking of himself…
Events, however, took an unexpected turn. Years later Joseph had become a powerful man in Egypt. Due to a severe famine in the whole region, his brothers came down to Egypt looking to buy grain. They did not recognize that the man in charge was Joseph, but he knew them!
To cut a long story short, Joseph plotted to see if his brothers had changed. He set a trap that meant Benjamin, the youngest brother and Jacob’s favorite son, would have to stay in Egypt as Joseph’s slave.
But Judah was no longer thinking about himself, he had promised Jacob that he would bring Benjamin home safely. Judah steps up into leadership, and speaks out:
“Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers.”Genesis 44:33
Judah was willing to give up his freedom, and family life, for Benjamin to be released and reconciled to their father Jacob.
Tribe of Judah Characteristics
Jesus is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the complete fulfilment of prophesy and all of God’s promises. He is the True King, who will one day rule and reign with justice and in righteousness.
Judah showed leadership by demonstrating sacrificial love for his brother. But this was only a foreshadowing of the love that Jesus shows for us. He was willing to give up everything for our freedom and to restore our relationship with God.
To celebrate this victory title of Jesus as our Sovereign Lord then we need to know Him as our Savior – the two are inextricably linked. First Jesus became the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Then He became the Victor defeating death and hell forever, with the gift of eternal life to all who believe in Him.
In the Apostle John’s vision of the throne room of heaven the Lamb and the Lion are both present:
“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. Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…” Revelation 5:5-6
What tribe of Judah characteristics can we look to apply to our lives? The leadership characteristics showed in part by Judah are fully demonstrated for us by Christ Jesus – a servant heart and sacrificial love.
You may also like to read how Jesus described His ministry and purpose: The Seven I AM Statements of Jesus.