Question: "What is the significance of lions in the Bible?"
Answer: Lions are legendary for their strength, beauty, and fearlessness. The lion has been called the king of the beasts and the king of the jungle, and, in the Bible, Jesus is called the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5). The lion symbolism expands our understanding of baby Jesus in the manger (Luke 2:7) and the suffering Savior on the cross (Isaiah 53:7), revealing Jesus as the conquering King of kings, a roaring lion taking vengeance on His enemies (Revelation 19:16).
Lions are mentioned in several contexts throughout Scripture, sometimes positively to describe God (Hosea 11:10) and sometimes negatively as symbolic of evil and destruction (Proverbs 28:15). Peter compares Satan to a “roaring lion” and warns us to beware of the enemy’s schemes that will destroy us (1 Peter 5:8). A lion’s roar can be heard up to five miles away and is intended to terrify all who hear it. Lions roar to establish their territory and to communicate their power. But a roar can do nothing. It is threatening but powerless unless we give in to fear and allow the lion to overtake us. Our enemy, Satan, roars his threats, doubts, and accusations in an effort to terrify us into giving up so he can defeat us (Ephesians 6:11–16). But even the threat of a roaring lion cannot overcome those who stand firm in the armor of the Lord (Romans 8:37).
Probably the most familiar mention of lions in the Bible is found in the story of the prophet Daniel. This godly man was thrown into a lions’ den for refusing to obey the Persian king’s ban on prayer (Daniel 6:16). A lions’ den was sure destruction for anyone tossed inside. Yet God showed His authority over even the most powerful of beasts by shutting the lions’ mouths. Daniel, rather than come to a gruesome demise, emerged from the den unharmed (Daniel 6:21–22).
Lions are featured in the description of the cherubim surrounding God’s throne. Ezekiel 10:14 says, “Each of the cherubim had four faces: One face was that of a cherub, the second the face of a human being, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.” Some assert that the presence of a lion’s face may symbolize the boldness and strength of God’s character. Other scholars suggest the lion’s face represents God’s rule over the wild beasts.
Isaiah 11 describes the coming era when Jesus reigns on earth. Peace and harmony will dominate even the animal kingdom. Verse 6 paints a picture of this time: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” The image of lions lying peacefully beside baby calves describes a world restored to its original state. Isaiah 65:25 continues this idea: “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but the food of the serpent will be dust” (cf. Genesis 1:30). Ultimate peace has been established when carnivores no longer kill to eat, and, in the millennial kingdom, the king of the beasts is tamed.
The Bible uses hundreds of metaphors and images to describe the indescribable God Almighty. Animals and other forms of nature can help us understand specific aspects of God’s character. Jesus is called the Lamb of God (John 1:36) to illustrate His gentleness and willingness to be the sacrifice for our sins. But He is also called the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5) to display His absolute authority and power over all creation. A lion may be king of the jungle, but the Lion of Judah is the King of kings.