The Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5)


In Greek, the word for gospel is euangelion, meaning good news. It is an announcement of victory in battle. Although the word “gospel” itself is absent from Revelation 5:5, the idea is present throughout: “And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Finally, someone has been found who is worthy and able to open the scroll and break its seals!

So, the elder commands John, “Weep no more!” As I wrote earlier, only those who have understood John’s sorrow can understand the comfort the gospel provides. But we need to understand what such comfort entails. Imagine you are soldier in an army and seem to be losing the fight. Suddenly, a messenger arrives on the battlefield and announces that your general has broken through the enemy line and is sending them into headlong retreat. All you need to do is hold out a while longer. This message of imminent victory renews your flagging fighting spirit. It comforts you, in the Latin sense of that term: confortare, “to strengthen completely.”

John weeps because his sorrow is great. He is suffering. His churches are suffering. The enemy seems to be winning. Just as bad, he stands in the throne room of heaven and sees tremendous power but has no idea how God will deploy it. The battle plan is secret, sealed, and no one has the authority to break it.

Except for one.

John first refers to Jesus in chapters 4–5 using the overtly political terminology of Israel’s monarchy. He describes Jesus as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” and “the Root of David.” Both are kingly terms. Judah is the tribe that produced Israel’s first dynastic monarchy. David is the first king chronologically within that dynasty. He is also the prototypical king—the one all successive kings strive to emulate.

Jesus is more than just the latest dynastic successor, however; he is the last and the greatest of the Davidic kings. He is the Root of David whom the prophet Isaiah foretold (Isa. 11.1, 10). He is the Anointed One, the Messiah, who will rescue God’s people from evil and restore justice to all creation.

No wonder, then, that when Jesus arrived in Galilee preaching the imminent inauguration of the kingdom of God, people flocked to him (Mark 1.14–15, 28). He was the general whose advent strengthened all flagging soldiers. He comforted his people.

We sometimes forget the “political” side of the gospel, that is, its overtly Messianic themes. We forget how important Jesus’ Davidic genealogy was to the first generation of believers (e.g., Rom. 1.3). We forget that Jesus is not a peripatetic philosopher or a democratically elected politician or even a king. He is the King. And that is good news. But Christ is King in an unexpected way.

At this point, though, John only reports what he hears: royal titles. He still he does not see Jesus. And when he does, it revolutionizes his understanding of God’s kingdom. It will do the same for us.

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