More Christian Critters
We’ve recently talked about a number of animals mentioned either in Scripture or by the Christian Church. Because of some follow-up questions, we’ll run through a few more of the creatures which take on symbolic natures.
Three of the four evangelists, St. Mark (winged lion), St. Luke (winged ox) and St. John (eagle) are often symbolized by animals in Christian art and theology. St. Matthew, meanwhile, is usually represented by a winged man. At times the pairings of animals and evangelists vary, but these four representations are most common. The images seem to draw their origins from the four living creatures seen surrounding the throne of God in Ezekiel 1:5-14 and in several places in Revelation, including 4:6-11.
We previously saw a comparison of Satan with a dragon. I pointed to Scriptures noting “the awesome strength, unending hatred, and vile resentment possessed by the dragon.” Another creature symbolizing terrible might is the lion. At times it represents Satan, as 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” No one in his right mind would deliberately provoke either a lion or a dragon. Neither should the Christian taunt or challenge Satan, seeking to stand up to him by human might. Instead, we seek aid from Him who has entered the lion’s den, proclaiming his victory over sin, death, and devil.
But the lion isn’t always the sign of Satan. Just as one of the forms of the four living creatures is a lion, so also it is used to show one gifted by God with strength, courage, and a kingly reign. Thus Jacob blessed Judah (Genesis 49:9-10) with rule over his brothers, the soon-to-be tribes of Israel. The true “Lion of Judah” was born many years later, in a stable in Bethlehem. He fought the fiercest fight; He defeated the most evil of foes; He was given everlasting rule and dominion by His Father. As such, He is able to open the book of life (Revelation 5:1-5) and to redeem those whose names are recorded in it.
Yet in the midst of this early climax of the Apocalypse, the image shifts. The elder says, “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. (5:5)” But as John looks, he sees “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. (5:6)” And thus we encounter again, as we do throughout Scripture, the fairest of all God’s creatures, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)”
This is many people’s favorite representation of the Savior: He was the unblemished, perfect sacrificial creature whose blood sets us free to be people of God. Quietly and without complaint He went to the slaughter, seemingly destroyed and devoured by the evil dragon. Yet neither the belly of the grave nor the bonds of Satan could hold Him. Rising, He showed the Devil that the meek and mild Lamb was stronger, tougher, and more powerful than even the greatest of dragons.
Thus, as Lion and Lamb, as kingly Warrior and innocent Victim, Christ rightfully rules the Church purchased by His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. As His gift to us, He now calls us the lambs of God, as dear to Him as He is to His Father.
If you’ve been enjoying this series, you might like to try your hand with the Beliefnet quiz Animals as Christian Symbols.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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