The Kingdom of the Lion/Lamb

In his book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe [1] the Christian author, C. S. Lewis creates the figure of Aslan. [2] Aslan is a Christ Figure, the “Great Lion,” “Son of the Emperor Beyond the Sea.” Near the beginning as the name “Aslan” is mentioned, Peter, Susan, and Lucy are strangely attracted to the name. But, when they learn that he is a lion, they begin to wonder just what it will be like to meet a great and powerful beast, the Great Lion himself. So, during a conversation in Beaver’s House, Lucy asks the question, “Is he safe?” “Safe?” Mr. Beaver replies, “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about Safe? Course he isn’t. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” [3]

Lewis took his image of Aslan as a Christ figure from texts in Old and New Testaments that speak of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in Messianic terms. As early as Genesis the Bible prophesies;

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? 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).

Over and over in Scripture references are made to the lion-like character of the Messianic King, and often to the lion-like character of Israel’s king. David symbolized the hopes of Israel. It is one of the staples of Old Testament and New Testament prophesy. [4] However, unless we look at all of Scripture, we may be misled concerning the nature of the King and of his kingdom. In looking at the notion of the Messianic King, we will also look at the New Testament for a look at Revelation and the figure of the Messiah it embodies.

What Kind of King Is This/What Kind of Kingdom?

One important continuing theme in political theology is the notion of the “Kingdom of God.” In this blog, we look at the assumptions of Israel concerning the figure of the Messianic King and the Kingdom he was going to institute. We, like the ancient Jews, begin by receiving the revelation of Christ as the Lion of Judah and Son of David, one who saves us and brings us into the Kingdom of God. However, that great revelation blinded Israel (and often blinds Christians today) to another side of the revelation of Christ—the fact that the “Lion of Judah” is also the “Lamb of God” and the kingdom of the Lion/Lamb King is unlike any earthly kingdom we can imagine. As we shall see next week, the vision of the Kingdom of God is a vision that transcends any earthly Kingdom we could possibly create.

Although our focus this week is on the expected King, these passages give us an understanding of the expected Kingdom. Every king has a kingdom. Every leader and every king, has an influence on the kind of kingdom he or she rules, for the laws, customs and expectations of a leader influences the nature of the kingdom. Therefore, unless we properly understand the nature of the Messianic King, we cannot understand the Messianic Kingdom, and when we understand the nature of the Messianic Kingdom, we understand the Messianic King.

The Lion of Judah

One of the most familiar of all Christmas texts comes from the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 11 it is recorded:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:1-10).

The first part of Isaiah is filled with descriptions of an anticipated Son of David, who will restore David’s Kingdom and the land of Israel and who will reign over God’s people with unusual, even supernatural wisdom and insight. In one of the most quoted Christmas verses in Isaiah the author writes:

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 Counselor, 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 forever (Isaiah 9:6-7).

In Isaiah 11, we see an even more dramatic vision of the Messiah and of his kingdom. This king will act like no king or ruler in the history of the world past or present: there will be justice for the poor and needy unlike anything the ancient Jews or modern Americans experience. There will be a time of extraordinary justice, and the wicked, who so often get away with their crimes, will finally be punished. In Isaiah’s vision, even nature will be impacted by the coming of the Messianic King: lions will lie down with lambs and leopards will lie down with goats. Instead of meat, carnivores will eat straw. Little children will be able to hold cobras and play with them, and little boys will be able to hold vipers.  It is like saying that out in West Texas we can stop worrying about Rattlesnakes!

I believe that the author knew exactly what he was saying and was giving us an image of a world of perfect shalom, which we translate “peace”. He was giving us a transcendental vision of a world in which everything is in perfect order, and the struggles, dangers, accidents, and injustice of our world are a thing of the past. In my view, Isaiah is not so much given a concrete, earthly vision of the future as he is given a universal vision to guide Israel and the church as it acts in history.

For example, ancient Israel was familiar with lions and poisonous snakes. David, when he killed Goliath made reference to the fact that he had faced lions, and even today periodically one reads of someone dying of the bit of a snake in Israel. These were realities that the Jews faced. We need not take the vision of Isaiah too literally. Instead, we might understand the writer as informing his readers that the Messianic Kingdom is going to be different, very different, than anything we can imagine. This kingdom can be partially achieved by God’s people know, but will only be fully realized at the end of human history, The vision is a guide to action in a fallen and imperfect world.

A Revelation of Love

I am not sure that any of the great prophets of the Old Testament would have expected Self-Sacrificial Love, Cruciform Love, even the love of a pacifist who endures suffering without response, to be a primary characteristic, even “the characteristic” of the Messiah. [5] Throughout the first part of Isaiah the figure of the Messianic King to come is described in increasingly God-like ways. He is the son of a virgin, a hidden king from the line of David, a child of the Galilee, a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father. The Spirit of God, like a sword, springs from his mouth (See Isaiah 9:1-12; 11:1-5; 31:4; Hosea 5:14; Amos 3:8). But, that image suddenly changes after Isaiah 42.

In the second part of Isaiah, perhaps due to the prophet’s meditation on the years of suffering surrounding the Babylonian Captivity of the people of God, another figure emerges. [6] This is not the figure of a military commander, a king, or a governmental leader. This is the figure of a Suffering Servant. Isaiah portrays this Messianic figure as a person of sorrows, not as a conquering hero. (Isaiah 53:1-12).

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:2b-5).

This is a figure of a sacrificial leader. He is to be gentle person, one who will not even break a damaged, bruised reed (Isaiah 42:1-4). In successive visions, This Messianic figure bears the sufferings of others, and his suffering works a healing of their lives. This isnot the military hero and earthly kingdom builder that the Jews anticipated. Just like us, the Jews preferred a Messiah who was a victorious lion to one who embodied the life of a suffering servant.

The Lion is the Lamb

The disciples, almost immediately after the death and resurrection of Jesus, understood that some of the most obscure prophesies of the Old Testament—and especially those of Isaiah—pointed to and were fulfilled by the Jesus the Christ (See for example, Acts 2). It is as if the Cross and resurrection made sense of a great amount of the Bible and of teaching of Jesus that to which the disciples had misunderstood or barely understood. [7] The most important place where the Crucifixion made sense of the Bible and of life for the Church, then and now, involves the “suffering servant” prophesies of Isaiah.

John, in his gospel, has John the Baptist, having seen the Christ, say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In Revelation, John returns to this image of Jesus as the “Lamb of God” (Revelation 5:6-14). The Messiah, the Lion of Judah, the true successor of David, is also a Lamb—a gentle creature who suffers and is sacrificed for others. John is the one who says, “God is Love” for he has seen what love is—love is God taking human form and suffering rejection and even death for his fallen, alienated, human race.

At the very end of C.S. Lewis’, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, there is a scene in which the children are at the end of the world of Narnia. The movie tells the story a bit differently from the book. The children are walking along a great wall of water which marks the end of the world of Narnia. Suddenly, far away, the children see a wide plain and green grass, and a white speck.

But between them and the foot of the sky there was something so white on the green grass that even with their eagles eyes they could hardly look at it. They came on and saw that it was a Lamb. “Come and have breakfast,” said the Lamb in its sweet milky voice. Then they noticed for the first time that there was a fire lit on the grass and fish roasting on it. They sat down and ate the fish, hungry now for the first time for many days. And it as the most delicious food that they had ever tasted.

“Please Lamb,” said Lucy, “is this the way to Aslan’s country?”

“Not for you,” said the Lamb, “for you, the door into Aslan’s country is from your own world.”

“What!” said Edmund. “Is there a way into Aslan’s country from our world too?”

“There is a way into my country from all the worlds,” said the Lamb; but as he spoke his snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane. [8]

Lewis, in this scene, perfectly portrays the deepest insight of the disciples—that Jesus was love incarnate—the Lion of Judah, who is also the Lamb of God who whispers to us by the power of the Holy Spirit, encouraging us to be born anew in his love. In Narnia, we know him by the name of Aslan; here we know him by the name of Christ. The Lion is a Lamb and the Kingdom of the Lion/Lamb is a kingdom of love.

If we are to understand what God’s Kingdom means and the characteristics of that Kingdom and its citizens, we too must go from seeing Jesus as merely a lion but also as the lion that has become a lamb to take away the sins of the world. In Revelation 5, John brings together the two images of the Lion and of the Lamb in order to teach us that the Lion of which the Old Testament spoke is the same as Jesus, the Lamb of God, who came to suffer and die for our sake:

In Revelation John returns to the theme of the Messiah as Lamb/Lamb when he writes:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 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.”

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. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:1-10, emphasis added).

What does this mean for us? It means that we are children of the Lion/Lamb. It means that we need both the strength and courage of the Lion of Judah as well as the suffering, sacrificial, servant life of the Lamb of God. It means that the entry of the Kingdom of God into the world in our day will be no less painful and difficult for us than it was for Jesus, or for John, or for the countless other Christians who have worked for the Kingdom in ages past. It means that in our homes, families, businesses, communities, churches, and in the sphere of politics, we too must work just as Christ worked for the slow entry of his kingdom into the world.

Many people are concerned about our nation in exactly the same way that the prophets were concerned about Israel. We should be worried. On the other hand, we should have that confident faith that enables us to show love to all and to work for the great values of Truth, Freedom, Justice, and Fairness, just as many others have who, like us, never saw the fulness of the Kingdom. They saw the Kingdom as a vision and a source of hope, for the Lion of Judah will in the end win the battle, and  the Lamb of God is the key to unlocking to our role in history, hidden in the scroll of God’s providence.

Copyright 2022, G Christopher Scruggs, all rights reserved.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Collier ed. (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1950). This blog appeared in a different form as the transcript of a sermon several years ago. I have expended and rewritten that sermon as this blog.

[2] C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Harper Trophy ed. (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1952):189ff.

[3] Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, at 74.

[4] The kingly character of Judah mentioned in verse 10 is symbolized by the lion, often called the “king of beasts.” This theme is expressed over and over in Scripture, even into the New Testament. Revelation 5:5, for example, describes a scene in the throne room of Heaven in which the lion of the tribe of Judah is the main character.

[5] The Suffering Servant hymns of Isaiah were read by the Jews as reflective of their national experience.

[6] I am not unaware of the fact that some scholars feel that the second part of Isaiah was written by other hands than that of the original prophet, who would have been very old at the time of the return of the captives from Babylon.

[7] There is little question that there is a “progressive” aspect to revelation. Throughout the Old Testament, and then in the revelation of Christ, God gradually reveals more and more of his self to Israel and to us through the Biblical authors. God, of course, has not changed, but the depth of our understanding of God has changed and deepened.

[8] Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 268-270. This scene, which is taken from John 21 is one of those situations in which Lewis specifically adapts a scene from Scripture to his purposes in the novel. This scene is one where Lewis makes explicit his pre-evangelistic motives. He is trying to introduce Christian teaching in formerly Christian context in such a way that contemporary people can understand the message.