THE LION AND THE LAMB
Written by Doug Ponder on December 7, 2015
The Crushing God of Peace
The God of peace is a God who crushes. Perhaps those are not images that you would expect to be joined together, but that’s precisely how the apostle Paul concludes his largest letter in the New Testament (Rom. 16:20).
The God of peace is a God who crushes! The clue to understanding what this means is found in Jesus. He is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), the radiance of his glory and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb. 1:3). If you want to know what God is like, you have to look to Jesus. That’s why Jesus is called “the Word” (John 1:14). Jesus perfectly shows us who God is (John 14:9), because he is the Son of God who makes his Father known (John 1:18).
Which means that Jesus himself is the God of peace who crushes. That’s even more surprising, isn’t it? We don’t often think of Jesus crushing anything, yet that is exactly how he is introduced in the Bible.
Jesus the Lion
When our first parents gave in to the temptations of the serpent and followed the devil into death and rebellion, God dished out several well-deserved punishments (Gen. 3:14-19). But in the middle of those punishments was a promise packed with saving power. God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity [hostility] between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).
You might not pick up on the significance of this promise your first time through the Bible, but seasoned readers will realize that this is the first of God’s many promises to send his Son to do battle with the devil. This is the protoevangelium—the first gospel—for Jesus is the “offspring” of the woman that God had promised (Gal. 3:16).
I suppose you could have picked many things to symbolize the sin-crushing power of Jesus, but biblical authors picked a lion. Lions symbolize strength, victory, and kingship. They are intimidating and wild. Lions strike fear into the hearts of their enemies, as they are capable of devouring them without trouble.
In Joseph’s prophecy of what will come to pass “in the latter days” (a special phrase used to describe the days of the Messiah), Jesus is introduced as the Lion of Judah (Gen. 49:9-10). Like a lion returning fresh from his prey, Jesus crouches, ready to pounce. No one dares to rouse him.
Then in Balaam’s prophecy about what will happen when the Messiah comes, we are told that “water shall flow from his buckets,” “his kingdom will be exalted,” and “he shall eat up the nations, his adversaries, and shall break their bones in pieces and pierce them through with his arrows. He crouched, he lay down like a lion…who dares to rouse him?” (Num. 24:7-9).
The lion-like Jesus is described again in the second psalm. The nations rage and the rulers of the earth plot together in vain. “But I have installed my king on Zion,” God says. “You are my Son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalm. 2:7-9).
The God of peace is a God who crushes.
Jesus the Lamb
Animals don’t have true “opposites,” but the image of the lamb comes pretty close. Lambs are unlike lions. Lions are strong; lambs are weak. Lions are regal; lambs are lowly. Lions devour; lambs are sacrificed. Lions are kings; lambs are servants. Amazingly, Jesus is both a lion and a lamb.
Remember the first gospel, the protoevangelium? There God promised that Jesus would crush the serpent’s head, but he also said the serpent would “bruise” or “pierce” Jesus’ heel (Gen. 3:15). This is sacrificial language. It is a solemn prediction of the wounds that Jesus would endure, the price he would pay as he was crushing our enemy.
The entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament was a picture of this reality, symbolizing the costly price of sin. “The wages of sin is death,” as the Scriptures say (Rom. 6:23), and everyone who saw a spotless lamb killed in their place got the message.
The prophet Isaiah knew this well, and he connects the dots for us beautifully when he predicting the coming of Christ:
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. For we all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isa. 53:3-6).
To rescue his wayward people, the lion became the lamb. Standing in our place, he bore the judgment of God on all our sins: “He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, and the punishment that brought us peace was on him.”
The God of peace is a God who crushes.
The Lion-Lamb Gospel
The gospel is the good news that Jesus is the Lion and the Lamb. If he were not the all-powerful Lion, Jesus would not be strong enough to defeat his enemies. But if Jesus were not the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), then we would be crushed along with all God’s enemies. As Jesus said, “Those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them before me” (Luke 19:27).
Yet because Jesus is both the conquering Lion and the atoning Lamb, he can “crush” our sins without crushing us. For the God of peace truly is a God who crushes, but he allowed himself to be crushed so that we don’t have to be: “For while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). That is the good news of the gospel, and if you lose any part, it ceases to be the gospel (Gal. 1:6-7).
And this story of the Lion who became the Lamb is the good news that we will rejoice in for all eternity, as the apostle John’s vision reveals. “Weep no more,” a voice in heaven declares. “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered… And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain…” (Rev. 5:5-6)
John heard about the conquering Lion, but he saw the sacrificed Lamb. Is anything more beautiful than that?
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder