During Bible times, the Holy Land was still occupied by lions. These majestic animals, then as now, do not typically prey on humans, though older or disabled lions sometimes see people as easy food to capture. Observable lion behavior lies behind the comparisons that we find in the Scriptures. Their roaring tends to provoke fear (Amos 3:8), so Peter can write, “Keep your mind clear, and be alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling
around like a roaring lion as he looks for someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). Lions tend to be fearless, so Proverbs 28:1 uses them as a comparison to righteous living: “A wicked person flees when no one is chasing him, but righteous people are as bold as lions.” Courageous behavior is seen as lionlike: “Even the bravest man with a heart like a lion would lose his courage, because all Israel knows that your father is a warrior and the men with him are brave” (2 Sam 17:10).
In the writings of the prophets (Hosea 5:14; Mic 5:8), lions symbolize the destructive results when God and his people act to dispense judgment. In Daniels’s vision of four strange creatures, the first is part lion: “The first animal was like a lion, but it had wings like an eagle. I watched until its wings were plucked off and it was lifted off the ground. It was made to stand on two feet like a human and was given a human mind” (Dan 7:4). This animal represented one of the kingdoms that would rule the world after Daniel’s time.
Lions appear directly in two Bible stories. The first involves Samson (Judg 14:5-20) and a lion who dared to roar in the strong man’s path. Samson killed it and later used the animal as part of a riddle to entertain his wedding guests. Much later, in the best known lion encounter in Scripture, Daniel is lowered into a den of hungry lions in an effort to eliminate his godly influence in Persia (Dan 6:1-28).
Not only did Daniel survive, but those who had conspired to kill him ended up being the substitute meal for the lions and God was given even greater glory in the Medo-Persian Empire.
LION OF JUDAH
The phrase “Lion of Judah,” referring to Jesus Christ, appears once in Scripture. Revelation 5:5 says, “Then one of the leaders said to me, ‘Stop crying! The Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has won the victory. He can open the scroll and the seven seals on it.’ ”
This is the ultimate fulfillment of Jacob’s blessing/description in Genesis 49:9-10: “Judah, you are a lion cub. You have come back from the kill, my son. He lies down and rests like a lion. He is like a lioness. Who dares to disturb him? A scepter will never depart from Judah nor a ruler’s staff from between his feet until Shiloh comes and the people obey him.” As noted above, the lion was often a symbol of royal power in the Old Testament (Job 10:16; Ps 10:9; Prov 20:2; Ezek 32:2; Dan 7:1-4). David was from the lineage of Judah, and his eminence as king gave rise to the messianic hope that God would send a political ruler to finally set Israel as chief among the nations, Jesus’ fulfillment of Jacob’s prophecy was far greater than settling the immediate turmoil that Israel was experiencing under the Romans, but for the most part those around him could not see it.
The source of this Lion of Judah title is almost an aside in Revelation 5, which focuses on describing the place and ministry of the Lamb who is God and who alone can open the scroll that determines the final chapters of history. Jesus was the Lion who did his work as the Lamb. The reign of Christ at the end of time will fulfill the prophecy about lions and lambs that says, “Calves, young lions, and year-old lambs will be together, and little children will lead them” (Isa 11:6).