Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. (Revelation 5:5)
For years I considered the suffering of Christ at the cross as something not to make eye contact with. What I mean is that it remained a sad — yet purposeful — defeat of Jesus in order to bring us salvation. It brought me sorrow, like watching the really sad part of the movie before coming to the brilliant triumph and happily-ever-after to follow somewhat later. I did not know to sing lyrics like these:
The sacrifice that changed history
The nails in your hands, the hands that saved me
The grave was sealed, death lost its sting
As the Lion roared in victory.
I did not know that in Christ’s great suffering, in his great humiliation, was great triumph. That a lion roared in victory as he groaned in anguish.
The Conquering Lion
How does heaven see the cross? When the apostle John receives actual entrance into heaven, he hears a mighty angel inviting with a loud voice any and all to come and open this great seal of God. No one in heaven or on earth is found worthy to do it, and John begins to weep loudly.
But one of the elders approaches John and says to him, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5). The heavenly beings then sing,
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9–10)
Jesus was not the pitied sufferer, the hapless victim. He was the Lamb who was taking away the sins of the world, but he was also the mighty Lion who conquered in his suffering. In his being slain and spilling his precious blood for our iniquities, he was buying back a people for his Father, building a kingdom of priests, and dressing himself in glory — glory that would make him alone worthy to open the scroll and break its seals. The Son of God conquered at the cross as a general does on a battlefield.
A Victory Foretold
The early church, in the earliest portrayals of Christ on the cross, often had his eyes open, depicted his face serene, and crowned his head with a halo. This is not impressionist art, nor was the early church ignorant of Christ’s immense suffering. Instead, what they depicted was theological rather than realistic. Christus Victor dominated early theology: the dead yet alive, crucified yet placid King of Psalm 2.
Yet there is a much earlier depiction of this Christus Victor. In one of the great prophesies of Christ’s sufferings, Isaiah describes in detail how nails would go through Christ’s flesh, how he would pour out his soul to death, how he would die a notorious death and be crushed by the Father on behalf of his people.
After describing his atoning death in prophetic specificity, Isaiah writes of the Father saying of his Son,
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12)
His death was a victory, a triumph, a conquest that led to the sharing of his plunders with his people. Christ’s pouring out of himself was his decisive victory. The resurrection simply placed its grand punctuation at the end. The cross is the place where our Savior dealt a death blow to death, Satan, and the world. His pierced feet stomped the head of the serpent, and in his active obedience through the cross, we have salvation.