Yesterday, a few of us met together to continue reading John 1, this time focusing on verses 19 through 34 focusing on John the Baptist and what he said both about himself and about Jesus.
At one point, we read verses 35 and 36 which say:
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
So we talked for quite a while about what this means, that John called Jesus the Lamb of God. We were reading the scripture in a few different languages, so our first problem was that we had some translation issues between the languages to understand the meaning of this term, but then we had a few different ideas about what this meant, so I thought it would be useful to follow up this discussion to understand further this idea that Jesus is the lamb.
A lamb as a sacrifice
Looking back into the Old Testament, the lamb was frequently considered an animal that would be used as a sacrifice before God. If we look at the story of Abraham going to sacrifice his son Isaac, we can see that Isaac asks his father a question, directly implicating the use of a lamb for sacrifice:
Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”Genesis 22:7
God called his people to present offerings to him as a sacrifice. There were several different types of sacrifices, including a fellowship offering, a sin offering, a guilt offering, and others.
Regardless of the type of sacrificial offering, we can see that the lamb was frequently an animal that was offered as part of those sacrifices. In fact, each day started and ended for the Levites, those that carried out the sacrifices before God in the tabernacle and in the temple, with a sacrifice of a lamb:
“This is what you are to offer on the altar regularly each day: two lambs a year old. Offer one in the morning and the other at twilight. With the first lamb offer a tenth of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil from pressed olives, and a quarter of a hin of wine as a drink offering. Sacrifice the other lamb at twilight with the same grain offering and its drink offering as in the morning—a pleasing aroma, a food offering presented to the LORD.
“For the generations to come this burnt offering is to be made regularly at the entrance to the tent of meeting, before the LORD. There I will meet you and speak to you; there also I will meet with the Israelites, and the place will be consecrated by my glory.Exodus 29:38-43
The blood of the lamb for protection
We can also see in the scriptures that God uses a lamb, and most specifically it’s blood, for protection of his people.
God commanded Moses to return to Egypt, the land where he had grown up, and return to the palace of Pharaoh to tell him that God says that he must let the Israelites go out from Egypt and be freed from their slavery. Through nine different plagues, God demonstrates his power to Pharaoh and punishes him and the Egyptian people for the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart as he does not allow the Israelites to go free from Egypt.
On the tenth and final time, God unleashes the worst plague with the worst consequences. In the night, God goes throughout Egypt and kills all firstborn males, whether of Pharaoh, of the people, or even among the animals. However, God had commanded Moses to have the Israelites slaughter a lamb and place the blood of the lamb on the doorframes of their houses.
Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.Exodus 12:7
By doing this, God would “pass over” their homes and not enter the homes of the Israelites to kill their firstborn sons. In this way, then, the blood of the lamb became a protection for the Israelite people.
“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.Exodus 12:12
The blood of the lamb for forgiveness
For the Israelites and the levitical sacrificial system, there were several different types of animals that were used for sacrifice. These included bulls, goats, lambs, and birds, depending on who was sacrificing and for what the sacrifice was being given.
If we look at the establishment of the sacrificial system for the forgiveness of sins in Leviticus 4, we can see that a lamb could be offered by common people for the forgiveness of their sins.
“‘If someone brings a lamb as their sin offering, they are to bring a female without defect. They are to lay their hand on its head and slaughter it for a sin offering at the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered. Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. They shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the lamb of the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar on top of the food offerings presented to the LORD. In this way the priest will make atonement for them for the sin they have committed, and they will be forgiven.Leviticus 4:32-35
God presents a lamb
So, given all of this background from the Israelite people, I think it is now important to focus on the fact that John says that Jesus is the lamb of God. Up to now, we have seen that people have sacrificed these lambs, presenting them to God for their sacrifices, for their protection, and for forgiveness of their sins.
But now, we see that John says that Jesus is God’s lamb. The people aren’t bringing a lamb to God. God is bringing a lamb to the people! That is a completely different thing to what has happened up to this point. So what is God doing?
We can begin to get a picture of what God is doing by reading from the prophet Isaiah. He talks about a man who would be killed – maybe we could say sacrificed? – for the sins of others.
He was oppressed and afflicted,Isaiah 53:7
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
This man’s life is made to be an offering for sin and he is compared to a lamb who is being led before the slaughter. While this man isn’t specifically identified within the prophecy here in Isaiah 53, we can see that it is fulfilled in Jesus.
At the end of his life, Jesus is led by the Jews to the Romans but does not defend himself. He lived a perfect life and was without sin. He was even pronounced innocent by Pilate, his judge, and yet he remains silent when Pilate asks him if the charges that the Jews have brought are true. Jesus is the man described in Isaiah 53 who would be taken like a lamb to the slaughter to be killed as a sacrifice for the sins of the people.
The lamb is worthy
Finally, we see Jesus presented as a wounded lamb through the prophetic revelation that John received and the we read in the book of Revelation. The time of judgment has come and the members of God’s throne room are looking for the one who is worthy and able to open the scrolls that would read out the plans of God’s judgment. The only one that was worthy was the lamb of God.
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.Revelation 5:6-8
Again, we see a picture of a lamb who has been killed, consistent with the picture of the lamb throughout the scriptures and consistent with the prophecy in Isaiah 53.
In this case, though, we see a picture of the lamb as one who is worshipped. He is the lamb of God who has purchased, with his blood, people from every tribe, language, and nation. This means that God has rescued and saved these people from their sins and from a final judgment that would send those that are dead in their sin to a terrible death apart from God.
And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.Revelation 5:9-14
Jesus is the Lamb of God
John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God, demonstrating that Jesus would be a sacrifice presented by God to the world. This lamb would be given as a sacrifice for our sins to offer forgiveness for the people for their sins, if only they would believe in him and have faith that his blood and sacrifice will be a sufficient payment for their sins.