“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34).
We have thus far seen what John the Baptist testified of himself. But what did he testify to people regarding the Lord Jesus Christ?
One of the most striking images of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ found in the Scriptures is that of a Shepherd. Additionally, related to this shepherd image is Jesus Christ being the Lamb of God.
John 1:29 says, ““The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” What did John the Baptist mean when he commanded the people to pay attention and to listen to him declare that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?
The phrase “lamb of God” (ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, ho amnos tou theou) appears only twice in the New Testament, both occurring in the Gospel of John (John 1:29, 36). In each case, John the Baptist speaks the phrase when he sees Jesus coming toward him. The title, Lamb of God has four possible meanings.
First, John is making reference to Jesus being the Passover lamb (Exodus 12). This is perhaps the strongest contender, as the Apostle John applies the Passover lamb imagery to Christ at His death (John 19:36; Exodus 12:46). Additionally, John’s Gospel dates Jesus’ death to the time of the slaying of the Passover lambs (John 18:28; 19:14, 31). However, the Passover sacrifice was not specifically about taking away sin.
Second, John the Baptist is comparing Jesus to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. The Suffering Servant of Yahweh bears the sins of the people of Israel (Isaiah 53:6–12) and is described as a lamb (ἀμνός, amnos) led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32; 1 Pet 1:19). John 12:38 cites Isaiah 53:1 in application to Jesus.
Third, the “lamb” sacrificed daily in the temple (Leviticus 1:4; Exodus 29:38–46). The Greek word “lamb” (ἀμνός, amnos, see John 1:29, 36) appears 75 times in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), mostly in reference to the lamb sacrificed daily to make atonement for the sins of the people.
Fourth, the “lamb” Abraham offered in place of Isaac (Genesis 22). One commentator explains, “The account in Genesis clearly uses substitutionary and sacrificial language (Genesis 22:13), and the New Testament authors invoke this account as foreshadowing Christ (Genesis 22:16; Matthew 3:17; Romans 8:32). However, Genesis does not present this sacrifice as taking away sin. In addition, the actual animal that was sacrificed in place of Isaac was a “ram” (κριός, krios; Genesis 22:13).
While John the Baptist’s use of the word lamb as a sacrifice was very familiar to Jews and could include all the previously mentioned meanings, John used this expression as a reference to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to atone for the sins of the fallen world. This theme of sacrifice and substitutionary atonement John the Apostle carries throughout his writings (John 19:36; Revelation 5:1-6; 6:16; 7:9, 10, 14, 17; 12:11; 13:8; 14:1, 4; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7; 21:9, 14, 22, 23, 27; 22:1, 3.) and those of the other New Testament writers.
Paul describes Christ as the Passover lamb that has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7). This reference, however, uses the Greek word πάσχα (pascha) “Passover, Passover lamb,” not ἀμνός (amnos). Luke and Philip identify Jesus with the lamb (ἀμνός, amnos) of Isaiah 53:7 in Acts 8:32. Peter calls Christ the “precious lamb (ἀμνός, amnos) unblemished and spotless” (1 Peter 1:19).
The text of John 1:29 may offer the best explanation of John the Baptist’s intended meaning in calling Jesus the Lamb of God. It is He who will take away the sin of the world. To take away (αἴρω; airo) means to remove, to execute, to carry off and to destroy. What is taken away, removed and eventually destroyed is the sin of the fallen world. Sin (ἁμαρτία; hamartia) means evil and guilt. John is declaring that it is Jesus and Jesus alone who, as the lamb originating from God and only God, will remove the penalty, power and eventual presence of sin which besets fallen sinners.
In reality, Jesus fulfills all four possible explanations of the title “Lamb of God. One commentator explains, “In the OT passages referring to a lamb, nearly all of them speak of sacrifice (85 out of the total of 96). Combined with a reference to the taking away of sin, it is difficult to see how a reference to sacrificial atonement is to be rejected. Characteristically the lamb in Scripture puts away sin by being sacrificed. “God’s Lamb” means that this provision is made by God himself. A reference to sacrifice seems undeniable, but a connection with any one sacrifice is hard to make. All that the OT sacrifices foreshadowed, Christ perfectly fulfilled. God’s Lamb puts sin away finally.”
Your only Son no sin to hide
But You have sent Him from Your side
To walk upon this guilty sod
And to become the Lamb of God
Your gift of love they crucified
They laughed and scorned Him as He died
The humble King they named a fraud
And sacrificed the Lamb of God
Oh Lamb of God, Sweet Lamb of God
I love the Holy Lamb of God
Oh wash me in His precious Blood
My Jesus Christ the Lamb of God
I was so lost I should have died
But You have brought me to Your side
To be led by Your Staff and Rod
And to be call a lamb of God
Oh wash me in His precious Blood
My Jesus Christ the Lamb of God.
– Twila Paris
May we truly say in our behavior and words today, worthy is the Lamb Who was slain.
Soli deo Gloria!