Throughout the world, a lion is a symbol of power and strength. The lion is called ‘the king of the jungle' and statues of lions, such as those in Trafalgar Square in London, were created to suggest might and dominion.

Samson and the lion

The extraordinary strength of one of the most famous characters from the Old Testament of the Bible, Samson, is exemplified by the fact that he killed a lion with his bare hands (Judges 14:5-6). Later, when he found a swarm of bees producing honey in the dead lion's body, he told a riddle which is still sometimes quoted today. He asked his wedding guests what it meant when he said:

Out of the eater, something to eat;
out of the strong, something sweet.

Eventually, his wife, who came from the country of the Philistines (who were then dominating Israel), persuaded him to reveal the answer privately to her. She then told her relatives, who then appeared to be able to solve the riddle, much to Samson's anger.

The four living creatures

In Revelation, the visionary last book of the New Testament of the Bible, the writer, John, describes seeing four living creatures around the throne of God: a lion, an ox, a man and an eagle (Revelation 4:7). These are now traditionally associated with the writers of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and in many Christian churches there are pictures or sculptures of these creatures. The lion has become the symbol of Mark, which is why visitors to the famous Saint Mark's Square in Venice will see a winged lion on a pillar in the square and over the entrance to Saint Mark's church.

Jesus as the ‘Lion of Judah'

Later in Revelation, Jesus Christ is described as ‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah', because of his power and his triumph over death (Revelation 5:5). However, he is then also described also as a lamb, a symbol of meekness and sacrifice. (See Big ideas: Sheep, shepherd, lamb; Redemption, salvation.) This echoes the vision of Isaiah in the Old Testament, that the Messiah will bring peace and harmony to earth, so that:

the wolf will live with the lamb …
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them' (Isaiah 11:6-7).

(See Big ideas: Peace.)

The lion in the writings of C.S. Lewis

In the children's story by C.S Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, there is a powerful allegory of the death and resurrection of Christ. Aslan, the lion, has all the might and magnificence of such a creature but allows himself to be killed in order to overcome evil. His resurrection is described by C.S. Lewis as a powerful ‘magic', which would be more usually described by Christians as a miracle and mystery. (See Big ideas: Death and resurrection.)

Related topics

Big ideas: Sheep, shepherd, lamb; Redemption, salvation; Peace; Death and resurrection

Other cultural references

Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.