Rev. 5:5 – Then one of the elders said to me, “Stop crying. Look! The Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has been victorious so that He may open the scroll and its seven seals.”
The Lion from the tribe of Judah
The lion from the tribe of Judah echoes Jacob’s blessing on his son Judah, conferring leadership over his brothers (Gen. 49:8-10). Jacob prophetically gives the scepter to Judah and makes it the tribe of kings – and the tribe from which the King of kings will come. It is interesting to note that God never intended Saul to establish a dynasty; he came from the tribe of Benjamin. When the people rejected God as their King and clamored for a human ruler, the Lord disciplined them by giving them Saul. But He established the eternal dynasty through David, who was from the tribe of Judah.
Some commentators associate this title for Jesus with the lion-headed living creature near the throne of God – an expression of His power, majesty, courage and victory. Some also connect this title with the Book of Matthew, in which Jesus is strongly depicted as the promised Messiah. (Those who hold this view tend to see the four living creatures as representatives of the four Gospels.) In any case, Jesus of Nazareth is the greatest king to come out of the tribe of Judah – greater even than David, who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, calls Him Lord (Ps. 110:1; Matt. 22:44). There can be little doubt that this exalted Savior is the fulfillment of Jacob’s ancient prophecy. But that’s not all.
The Root of David
The elder also describes Jesus as “the Root of David” (v. 5). In the Old Testament, the coming Messiah is called both the “shoot” and “branch” that will spring from Jesse’s root to restore David’s dynasty. Here’s what the prophet Isaiah records: “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit” (Isa. 11:1). But then Isaiah calls this coming Redeemer the root of Jesse: “On that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples. The nations will seek Him, and His resting place will be glorious” (Isa. 11:10). If the Messiah is the root of Jesse, as Isaiah declares, He also is the root of Jesse’s son David, as the elder makes clear in Rev. 5:5. But how can a single person be both a “shoot” and a “root?” The ESV Study Bible explains: “Jesus is not only the royal descendant (Rev. 22:16) but also the source of David’s rule (Mark 12:35-37).”
Let’s look at these two New Testament passages. In Rev. 22:16, Jesus identifies Himself as “the Root and the Offspring of David,” confirming what Isaiah and the elder in heaven have claimed about Him. As the Son of God, Jesus is the eternal Creator and sovereign Lord of the universe, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit; any earthly rule, including King David’s, is under His divine authority. As the Son of Man, Jesus is God in human flesh, adding to His deity sinless humanity; He is, in other words, the God-Man. In Mark 12, Jesus is teaching in the temple complex and He asks, “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the Son of David? David himself says by the Holy Spirit: The Lord declared to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet.’ David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how then can the Messiah be his Son” (vv. 35-37)? Quoting from Ps. 118:22-23, Jesus ties together the deity and humanity of the Messiah and emphasizes the important truth that He is not one or the other, but both.
“He who is a middle person, God and man, and bears the office of Mediator between God and man, is fit and worthy to open and execute all the counsels of God towards men,” writes Matthew Henry. “And this he does in his mediatorial state and capacity, as the root of David and the offspring of Judah, and as the King and head of the Israel of God; and he will do it, to the consolation and joy of all his people” (Re 5:1-5)
Before we leave this section, we should note that the elder in Rev. 5:5 not only tells John who Jesus is, but what He has done. The Lion of Judah and the Root of David is worthy to take the scroll, loose its seals and look inside because He “has been victorious.” As the sinless Son of Man who died on the cross and rose from the dead, Jesus is the qualified Kinsman-Redeemer who will reclaim fallen humanity and a cursed creation. He has defeated Satan – the usurper, the accuser of mankind, the father of liars – and destroyed his works (1 John 3:8). No offspring of Adam can retake what Adam lost because no human is sinless. But now the Lion of Judah and the Root of David steps forward – the “last Adam” who is a “life-giving Spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). He is worthy to take the scroll because He has been victorious.
Next: The slaughtered Lamb – Rev. 5:6
In Jesus’ letter to the church at Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22) He identifies Himself as “the Beginning of God’s creation” (ESV). Does this mean that Jesus is the first being God created, as Jehovah’s Witnesses claim? Of course not. This self-description in no way implies that Jesus is a created being or came into existence at any time. He is the eternal Son of God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word translated “Beginning” is arche, which carries the idea of “originator” or “active cause.” Paul instructed the Colossian church to share his letter with the church at Laodicea (Col. 4:16). If his instructions were obeyed, then believers in Laodicea would have been familiar with Paul’s description of Christ as Creator: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn [Greek prototokos, pre-eminent; not protoktisis, first-created] over all creation; because by Him everything was created … all things have been created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:15-16). Further, in Col. 2:9, Paul says of Christ, “For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature [or the deity] dwells bodily.”
John records in his Gospel, “All things were created through [or by] Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created” (John 1:3). Jesus existed before Abraham and referred to Himself as “I AM,” the unique designation for Yahweh, the one true, living, and eternal God (John 8:58). The Jews sought to kill Him because, they said, He claimed equality with God (John 5:17; see also John 10:30-33). In His high priestly prayer, Jesus tells the Father He desires to partake once again of the glory that He shared with the Father before the world existed — a glory reserved for God alone (John 17:5; Isa. 42:8, 48:11).
There is no doubt Jesus is clear about who He is. As He stands before Caiaphas the high priest, He is asked point blank, “By the living God I place You under oath: tell us if You are the Messiah, the Son of God!” Jesus answers with a Jewish idiom: “You have said it … But I tell you, in the future you will see the Son of Man [a reference to Dan. 7:13 and a clear claim of deity] seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:63-64). In the closing verses of Revelation, He calls Himself “the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13).
The bottom line: Jesus never came into existence; He has always existed. He was never created; He is the Creator.