A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. The Bible is full of metaphors. It tells us that the Lord is a rock (Ps 18:2, 31), which clearly is not literally true (especially since making idols from rocks is strongly denounced!) Jesus used metaphors all the time, saying He was both a shepherd (John 10:11) and the gate for the sheep (John 10:7), the true vine (John 15:1) and the bread of life (John 6:35). In each metaphor, we see a new aspect of God; metaphors link our experience in the natural world with eternal, spiritual truths.
In Revelation 5, we see metaphors used to describe Jesus. He is described as ‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David’ (Rev 5:5), with clear allusions to Genesis 49:9-10, where it is predicted that the future ruler of the earth shall come from the tribe of Judah, the lion tribe, and Isaiah 11:1, 10, where the Messiah is portrayed as being from Jesse and David’s lineage. He is also described as ‘a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.’ (Rev 5:6) The two metaphors of lion and lamb are combined to help us see something of the whole nature of Jesus.
The lion – the majestic animal known as the king of the jungle – reminds us of the majesty and authority of Christ. The lamb – the animal offered in sacrifices in the Old Testament – reminds us of the humility and humiliation of Christ and how our salvation was purchased through His sacrificial death. Both aspects of Christ are true. As lion He is sovereign; as lion He is Judge. The lion speaks of the government of God. The lamb character refers to His first coming, for the lamb speaks of His meekness. As lamb He is Saviour; as lamb He is judged. Both these aspects of Christ’s character are woven together in this chapter, and we see how the Lamb is represented as one sovereign in His own authority, omnipotent in power, and worthy as the Redeemer who died. There’s no wonder He is the centre of worship!