Pulling Jesus’ teeth: do we try to tame the Lion of Judah?

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A recent poll in our Adventist Record e-newsletter asked the question, “How do you perceive Jesus most strongly: Meek and mild or Lion of Judah?” I was interested in seeing how people most related to Jesus. Surprisingly we received an 85 per cent result in favour of Lion of Judah (from a small sample).

So is Jesus meek and mild, gentle and lowly, or was He the Lion of Judah? The answer is yes. In our attempts to sanitise Jesus or to fit Him into our agenda, we often make Him one-dimensional. We do this with much of Scripture. We simplify it, draw out the most obvious lesson or the safest moral. Yet the Bible is a rich tapestry of interlocking threads; themes woven through it trace rich and complex ideas, revealing a picture of God and His hope for us.

If we can’t reconcile Christ’s different roles or if we over emphasise one aspect, we negatively impact ourselves and others.

For many of us, Jesus is either soft and safe or flipping over tables. We struggle to hold the two in tension.

Yet the biblical imagery is clear. Even the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament have two seemingly distinct fulfilments: conquering king and suffering servant. To deal with this, we often place Him into these separate categories, playing different roles in different moments—when He deals with the Pharisees He is Judge and King, while in His encounters with children and the sick and disabled He embodies compassion and care.

The truth is that He is both and one at the same time—always will be and always has been.

Jesus holds many roles and titles and is fully embodied in all of them—the Word at creation (John 1), High Priest in heaven (Hebrews), seed of David, Son of Man (Daniel), second Adam (1 Corinthians), suffering Servant (Isaiah), King on a white horse (Revelation)—the list could go on and on. There are so many hyperlinks throughout the Bible that foretell, connect to or describe Jesus.

If we deny Jesus’ compassion and, at times, gentleness then we turn Jesus into some macho, callous, truth-slinging revolutionary and we model our behaviour similarly, offending people at will, pushing the onus onto them to deal with our straight up delivery. This picture of Jesus particularly emboldens the online trolls who criticise without relationship or credibility to do so.

There has been a push in evangelical circles to make Jesus the poster-child for “biblical masculinity”. Provocative, deliberately brash and intentionally offensive, these authors and pastors believe they are following Jesus’ footsteps by confronting and offending with the “truth”. I’ve seen some in Adventist circles caught up in this revised image of Jesus, glorifying His masculinity at the expense of His humanity.

Neither do we want a soft, weak Jesus. Laying His life down with ultimate power at His disposal, was the epitome of strength. His challenges to love our enemies and to carry our crosses are hard. This Jesus is anything but weak.

If we can’t reconcile Christ’s different roles or if we over emphasise one aspect, we negatively impact ourselves and others.

Revelation 5 is a beautiful picture of these two natures held in one. One of the elders proclaims to John that the Lion of Judah has triumphed. John looks and sees “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain”.

A lion is a kingly symbol. There is a reason the lion is known as the king of the animals. Jacob blessed his son Judah using the metaphor of a lion and the kingly line of Judah through David right down to Jesus progresses along this.

However, Jesus as the slain lamb is a priestly symbol. Jesus was the ultimate Priest King. He was willing to sacrifice Himself and it is His blood that has the power to open the seals on the scroll.

As humans, we tend to emphasise the aspect of Jesus that we most relate to, that we are most comfortable with. This is natural but it can also lead us to making “God in our own image”. If Jesus doesn’t challenge me and my beliefs and practice, then I’m not giving Him the sovereignty to speak into my life.

Part of developing a faith with depth and substance is learning all we can about our Saviour, Jesus. The rich witness of the biblical story means we can be lifelong students of the Messiah.