I was asked to write an article by the leader of my prayer group about the Lion of Judah, in the Old Testament, and the Lamb of God in the New.
First of all, who was Judah? Judah was one of the twelve sons of the Patriarch Jacob who was later renamed Israel by God. He thus gave his name to the Tribe of Judah.
Interestingly enough, when King Solomon died in the 10th century BC, the Kingdom split in two: the southern Kingdom of Judah, with three tribes: Judah, Benjamin and Levi, and the northern Kingdom of Israel with the remaining tribes.
Note that the sons of Levi, who were priests and Levites in the Temple in Jerusalem, had no right to land, but lived off the sacrificial offerings of the Temple: the meat and skins of sheep, goats and bulls, as well as wheat and wine.
Unfortunately, when the Assyrians under King Shalmaneser V invaded the northern Kingdom of Israel, they deported the ten tribes during the first quarter of the 8th century BC, to other parts of the vast Assyrian Empire, hence they were called the “lost tribes” of Israel.
However, like all great empires, the Assyrian one did not last. It came to an abrupt end in 612 BC, thanks to the Medes and the Babylonians.
Now in the southern kingdom, the Tribe of Benjamin was relatively small, the largest proportion of the Kingdom of Judah were Judeans who gave their name to the English word “Jew” now used to describe all those who were culturally and religiously descendants of King Solomon and King David.
Now where does the expression “the Lion of Judah” come from? We must recall that each of the twelve tribes had their own totem (just like tribes in the contemporary world, eg Papua New Guinea). The Lion was the totem of the Tribe of Judah.
As Jacob lay on his death-bed, he summoned his 12 sons to gather around him so that “I may declare to you what lies before you in the time to come” (Genesis 49:1), and he spoke in prophetic terms.
He said to Judah: “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; you grip your enemies by the neck; your father’s sons shall do you homage; Judah is the lion cub; you climb back, my son, from your kill; like a lion he crouches or lies down: who dare rouse him? The sceptre shall not pass from Judah until he come to whom he belongs, to whom the people shall render obedience.” (Genesis 49; 8-10)
We note two things: first, it’s obvious why the lion is the totemic symbol of the Tribe of Judah (as per verse 8), and more importantly, verse 19 alludes to kingly power as symbolised by the sceptre, while the mace is a symbol of a warrior.
But secondly – and this is the most important allusion in verse 10 – Jacob is in fact prophesying that Judah’s kingly power will ultimately pass “to whom it belongs, to whom the peoples shall render obedience.”
Christians have always understood this to refer to the Messiah-King whom we believe to be our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father, who together with the Holy Spirit, make up the three divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity, one God.
But who is the “Lamb of God”?
In St John’s Gospel, we read about John the Baptist and Jesus: “The next day, seeing Jesus coming towards him, John said, ‘Look, there is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world’.” (1:29)
Then in verses 35 to 37, the Baptist again meets Jesus: “On the following day, as John stood there again with two of his disciples, Jesus passed, and John stared hard at him and said, ‘Look! There is the Lamb of God!’”
Now we know that on Good Friday, as Jesus was dying on the Cross at about 3pm, not far away, in a court of the Temple, the priests and Levites were sacrificing thousands of Passover lambs “between the two evenings”, to be used by families at their Passover meal that very evening.
It is thus most appropriate that St John the Baptist should have called Jesus “the Lamb of God”, as against the thousands of Passover lambs whose blood could not save any sinner, whereas Jesus “the Lamb of God”, died for all mankind: Jew and Gentile alike.
And since all men and women are sinners, He is the only one whose spilled blood on the Cross was able to take away the sins of all mankind: past, present and future, to the end of the world.
Furthermore, we Catholics (together with all the Eastern Orthodox Christians) are witness to this by daily re-presenting the Eucharistic Sacrifice (the Mass), through the power given by Christ to every ordained priest, Catholic or Orthodox, at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of Me.”
At the Last Supper, the night before he died, where he said these words, the evangelists record Jesus saying: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which will be poured out for you.” (Luke 20:22)
So Jesus, the Lion of Judah, saves us from our sins by his sacrifice on Calvary, when be becomes the Lamb of God; the only lamb who was able to take away our sins.
No wonder then that Isaiah already prophesied in the 8th century BC that through the coming of the “virtuous king”, “shoot springs up from the stock of Jesse, a scion thrusts from his roots, n him the spirit of Yahweh rests.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)
And further on, “The wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid, calf and lion cut feed together with a little boy to lead them … The lion eats straw like the ox.” (Isaiah 11:6-7)
Now we know that Jesus is descended from Jesse through his son, King David, and it is no great feat of imagination to thus link the Lion with the Lamb: hence the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God are one and the same Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour. Hallelujah!
(Andrew Sholl is the co-founder of the Association of Hebrew Christians, an international association which works to bring together Jewish Christians, and encourage Gentile Christians to understand the Jewish origins of their faith. He lives in Townsville, Australia.)