Just a little while ago, I did an internet search of the term “Lion of Judah,” and I searched images to see what sort of pictures my web browser would turn up. After looking through something over 250 images, I still hadn’t come across a single one that was biblically accurate. And the reason they were wrong is because every single one of them showed a literal lion—teeth, claws, and mane, and that is biblically incorrect. In the Bible, the “Lion of Judah” is not a lion.
I know that sounds weird to say, but that’s the fact. In the Bible, the term “Lion of Judah” does not actually refer to a lion. The phrase, “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” appears only once in the entire Bible, and that’s in Revelation 5:5. In the book of Revelation, the apostle John describes a vision that he has from God. In Revelation 5:5, John is told to look at the “Lion of the tribe of Judah.” But what he sees is not a lion. It’s something very, very different.
Here’s what Revelation 5:5 & 6 says: “Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. . . . . Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered.” [NLT] The “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” as I said, is not a lion, is he? “The Lion of the tribe of Judah” is a lamb bloody and wounded from having been slaughtered. That the “Lion of Judah” in the Bible.
So, why is it, do you suppose, that when we do a web search for the “Lion of Judah,” what we get is not a lamb bloodied but a lion, powerful, dominating, often snarling and roaring? Why is that do you suppose? Why do you suppose that we Christians love to picture Jesus as a powerful, roaring, snarling Lion, even though the Bible never describes him that way? We love our Bible, but I think we love some other things more.
“But what are you saying, Gary? That Jesus isn’t powerful?” Oh, no, I’m not saying that at all. Jesus is very powerful. Jesus is all powerful. He is Almighty God. He is omnipotent. But Jesus’ way of power is really different from this world’s way of power. All too often, we Christians really prefer the world’s way of power instead of Jesus’ way of power. That is, I think, why we love those pictures of the “Lion of Judah” with fangs and claws, roaring and snarling. We buy them on poster for our walls and to wear on tee shirts and to put on our Bible covers.
We want this world to think of us as powerful, and so we adopt this world’s images of power—the snarling lion. And we adopt this world’s ways of exercising power. We look for ways to be powerful in this world’s eyes. But the more we do this the farther we get away from Jesus and the farther we get away from the source of real power.
Jesus and the whole Bible really have a very different notion of what it means to be powerful from what this world thinks of as power. One of the classic statements of this is found in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:5—“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” [NRSV] That is the traditional translation of the verse. But the problem with that translation is that the English word “meek” is not really a very good translation of the Greek word that we find in Matthew 5:5.
That Greek word there is actually pretty common throughout the New Testament. Jesus uses it in Matthew 11:29 to describe himself. It also figures prominently in the writings of both Paul and James. A lot of the more recent translations of the Bible don’t use the word “meek” to translate this Greek word but translate it instead as “humble” or “gentle” or “lowly”.
What is certainly true is that here in the Beatitudes when Jesus talks about “meekness” or “humility” or “gentleness,” he is contrasting his way of power, his way of inheriting the earth, with this world’s way of power and conquering through aggressiveness and self-assertion. That’s the world’s way.
In order to understand a bit better what Jesus is getting at, let’s look at the Old Testament passage that Jesus is pretty much quoting—Psalm 37. Here’s how the New International Version translates Psalm 37:10 & 11:
A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy peace and prosperity.
You can see how this verse parallels Jesus’ beatitude. Here’s how the New Living Translation of Psalm 37 reads:
Soon the wicked will disappear.
Though you look for them, they will be gone.
The lowly will possess the land
and will live in peace and prosperity.
This psalm contrasts God’s way with the world’s way. The way that God’s people are to live is described as “lowliness,” “humility,” “gentleness,” – “meekness.” The world’s way is called “wicked” in this psalm.
If we go back to the verses right before this in Psalm 37, we get help in understanding the difference between the world’s way of power and the way of God’s people. Here are verses 8 and 9:
Stop being angry!
Turn from your rage!
Do not lose your temper—
it only leads to harm.
For the wicked will be destroyed,
but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.
The psalm warns God’s people away from anger and rage. Why? Because they are the opposite of gentleness, kindness, humility—meekness. That is, anger and rage are the way of the wicked who are seeking to aggressively dominate anyone who stands in their way, the wicked who want to coercively force their will on others. Jesus says, “That way will lead to destruction because that is not my way.”
Aggressiveness, the desire to dominate other people, seeking to coerce or force other people to do what we want them to do—these are the world’s way of being powerful. But that isn’t Jesus’ way. And Jesus doesn’t want it to be our way. Aggression, domination, coercion—that isn’t how God treats us, and it isn’t how we should treat others. Jesus’ way to be powerful involves gentleness, kindness, patience, forbearance. Of course, the world around us thinks that’s crazy. But maybe that’s a sign that we’re on the right track. We are, after all, called to be counter-cultural.
Let’s all search our own hearts this week and make sure that we are not being seduced by the world’s way of power. Let’s follow Jesus who says: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29 ESV)
© 2022 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.