In Genesis, as Jacob blesses his children, he promises Judah that his brothers will praise him and that they will bow down to him. Jacob also tells Judah, “You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?” (Genesis 49:9). Jacob says that in the future the scepter and ruler’s staff will not depart from Judah “until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be His” (Genesis 49:10). This messianic prophecy points forward to the second coming of the Lord Jesus, the descendant of Judah who will rule the earth (Revelation 19:11–16).
Based on Jacob’s blessing, the lion is a symbol of the tribe of Judah, which is known as the kingly tribe (King David was of the tribe of Judah). Lions symbolize power, fierceness, and majesty. Lions are the king of the beasts, and the Lion of the tribe of Judah is the king of everything. In the Old Testament, God is sometimes described as being like a lion. In Isaiah 31:4, just “as a lion growls, a great lion over its prey—and though a whole band of shepherds is called together against it, it is not frightened by their shouts . . . so the LORD Almighty will come down to do battle on Mount Zion and on its heights.” The Lord is not afraid of His enemies. He protects His people and does not allow them to be conquered. In Hosea, God is angry at Israel because they became proud and forgot Him. God says, “I will be like a lion to them. . . . like a lion I will devour them. . . . You are destroyed, Israel, because you are against me, against your helper” (Hosea 13:7–8). It is better to experience the help and protection of the Lion than to deny His kingship and face His fierceness.
In Revelation 5, Jesus is the long-awaited Lion of the tribe of Judah. John weeps because no one was found worthy to open the scroll of God’s judgment or even to look inside it. Then one of the elders says to John, “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” (Revelation 5:4–5).
Both of the genealogies in Matthew and Luke record that Jesus is a descendant of the tribe of Judah. When Jesus is revealed as the promised Lion of the tribe of Judah, it reveals His deity. He is the true king and the One to whom belongs the long-awaited obedience of nations. Yet it is not His fierceness or the force of His power that makes Him worthy.
The Lion has triumphed because He became a Lamb (Revelation 5:6–10; cf. John 1:29).
Jesus Christ is worthy because He lived a perfect, sinless life and in shedding His blood defeated sin and death. His death and resurrection have resulted in a protection for His people and an eternal kingdom that will honor and worship God. Ruling this kingdom will be Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.