“Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah… has prevailed… And I looked, and behold… stood a Lamb as though it has just been slain.” Revelation 5:5-6
In Revelation 5:5, John describes a vision of Jesus as a powerful, fearful, yet majestic Lion. As his knocking knees buckled, verse 6 says he lifted his eyes and Jesus had been mystically transformed into a gentle, irresistibly approachable Lamb.
So which is Jesus, a Lion or a Lamb? How we answer this question is much more than a theological matter. Our perception of Who Jesus is and how He interacts with us has far-reaching implications for how we live. It can also directly impact our ability to stand firm in our faith as the darkness around us increases in this hour.
In truth, our finite, natural minds tend to latch on to Jesus as either a Lamb, or a Lion. Understandably, we struggle to comprehend how He could be both; and in our ambivalence, we gravitate towards Him — joining others to form camps — around one depiction or the other.
Though we may give mental assent that Scripture describes God both as an extravagant, open-armed Father as well as a fire-eyed Warrior who exacts vengeance, like a magnet we tend to be strongly pulled towards one image and repelled by the other.
Throughout Church history, trends have varied. Whole generations passed when the roar of the Lion is what echoed from pulpits. People were brought under conviction and vigilant to obey. They had a keen sense of Christian duty and an intolerance of sin. Believers raised in these times spoke of the fear of the Lord not as some ancient, inferior understanding.
The posture of the worshipper was reverence, of bowing before One Who is holy. This is the way many Christians around the world still approach their God and King. Messages in many churches today have shifted to a clear preference for the ‘Lamb Camp’. They tend to paint God as a Father (or ‘Dad’) who is ever-accepting, non-condemning, and full of ‘grace’.
They don’t talk much about God as Judge, or as holy. They avoid topics about the wrath of God, or the fear of the Lord. Some even cringe at the suggestion God is to be feared, they have a list of scriptures to prove that such belief is very old-fashioned!
The irony of this contradiction can be seen in our chatter about revival. While it’s true that some revivals have been characterised by healing and laughter — a reflection of the Lamb’s character — it’s also true that many outpourings have been very Lion-like. People in these moves of God spoke of being ‘undone’, of coming under deep conviction of sin, even to the point of confessing their transgressions publicly.
Those coming out of the great revival of China in the 1980’s wrote songs of war, of radical obedience, even dying for the cause of Christ. If we’re oriented around a lopsided Lamb perspective, we may miss, reject, even criticise what we see when God pours out His Spirit in answer to our prayers.
Consequences of clinging to our preferred concept of Jesus as Lion or Lamb can be as ‘harmless’ as a missed opportunity and as grave as our faith being shipwrecked. A total buy-in of Jesus as a Lamb, or embracing His comforting, advocating qualities, can leave believers storm-tossed and confused when end-time tribulations such as outbreaks of disease and wars, or persecution, pummel us.
People who are singularly bent on viewing Jesus through a Lion prism also face dangers. They tend towards expressions of faith that are rigid, critical, law-bound, and lifeless. They can fall short in accessing the grace of God to heal, refresh, and live with contentment. This too may lead to a falling away when times get really tough.
Frankly, sometimes we need to fall at His feet as though dead. At others, with childlike simplicity, we ought to run as fast as we can — and jump as high as we can — only to be caught in His pillowed and liberating embrace. Jesus is not EITHER a Lion or Lamb. He is BOTH. To truly know Him is to grow to appreciate and worship these two incredible complementary aspects of His nature.
My prayer is that each one of us presses on to know God exactly as He is, not tinged nor tainted by the prevailing, culture- and time-bound images of our Saviour.