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
Previously: A mighty angel – Rev. 5:2-4
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.” 6Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb standing between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth. 7He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of the One seated on the throne (HCSB).
John’s cries of anguish are about to end. Just when he despairs that the hidden plans of God are about to remain hidden, one of the 24 elders – probably representatives of redeemed people throughout the ages – steps forward and simply says, “Stop crying.” Literally, John has described himself as one who “kept on shedding many tears.” Warren Wiersbe writes, “No wonder John wept, for he realized that God’s glorious redemption plan for mankind could never be completed until the scroll was opened. The redeemer had to be near of kin, willing to redeem, and able to redeem. Jesus Christ meets all of the qualifications. He became flesh, so He is our Kinsman. He loves us and is willing to redeem; and He paid the price, so He is able to redeem” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Re 5:1).
But what tone does the elder take in addressing John? Is he annoyed, as if the apostle is a sniveling crybaby? Is he grieved because John lacks faith that a worthy kinsman will step forward? Or is he an over-excited observer who happens to be the first to catch a glimpse of the glorified Messiah? Probably neither of these explanations will do. It’s more likely that the elder, understanding John’s desperate sorrow, seeks to comfort and encourage him. “The elders in heaven round God’s throne know better than John, still in the flesh, the far-reaching power of Christ” (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Re 5:5).
We might imagine the elder’s voice as firm but gentle. We can almost see him lay a warm and steady hand on John’s convulsing shoulder. His rebuke – if there even is one – is mild, followed quickly by the imperative to “look!” What follows quickly turns John’s sense of foreboding into unspeakable joy. The elder identifies the Redeemer as the lion from the tribe of Judah and the Root of David. John then describes Him as one like a slaughtered lamb. In our next post, we will look more closely at these three descriptive titles for Jesus.
Next: The lion from the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5)