This article on John 1:29 is about Jesus Christ as the lamb of God.

Source: Clarion, 2007. 2 pages.

John 1:29 - The Lamb of God

Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

John 1:29

The above text contains a title of our Lord Jesus which is used for the first time in the New Testament and which has become prominent in many Christian hymns: Jesus Christ – the Lamb of God. John the Baptist publicly identifies Jesus to the people of Israel. We can assume that Jesus, who had already been baptized, was returning from the wilderness, where He had been tempted by the devil. His ministry of suffering and reconciliation, then, had begun. He had yet to be pointed out to the Jews, who He was and what He had come to do. When John sees Him coming he does just that. John directs the attention of the crowds to the promised Messiah, to the One for whom they had waited so long. John is in line with all the Old Testament prophets that preceded him and who foretold the coming of Christ. John is so privileged that he does not merely foretell of Him, no, he can say, “Look, there He is!”

This title for Christ underlines how important it is to maintain the unity between the Old and New testaments. Without the Old Testament, you would not have a clue what John means by the “Lamb of God.” Perhaps John was thinking of the prophecy of Isaiah where the suffering servant is compared to a lamb. In 53:7 we read,

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth like a lamb that is led to the slaughter...

In his suffering, Christ remained as humble and as meek as a lamb. That’s what a lamb does: it follows the leader, the shepherd. And yet the element of submissiveness and humiliation is not the only one in the title “Lamb of God.” You have to remember that John came from a priestly family. He would have known how often the law required a lamb for a sacrifice. Every day two male lambs were slaughtered in the temple – one in the morning and one in the evening as a continual burnt offering before the Lord (Exodus 29). The lamb was used for a peace offering, for a sin offering, and for a guilt offering. In the whole Old Testament sacrificial system the lamb was the central offering. And every Jew knew the purpose of the sacrifices. They all required the shedding of blood, for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

The law stipulated that the lamb had to be without blemish. It had to be perfect. Only a perfect life could make atonement for the imperfect. Only a life without blemish could take away the blemishes and the scars of sin. All these perfect lambs foreshadowed the coming of the great and final sacrifice. That’s why John the Baptist says, “Behold, the lamb of God.”

Within the context of the whole gospel, these words have special reference to the Passover lamb. The Apostle John, who wrote this gospel, structured his work around the Passover feasts held in Jerusalem. At least four times at key moments in this gospel you find the words: “The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” It is also of profound significance that John records for us that on the night of his betrayal, when the Lamb of God was about to be sacrificed, the Passover feast was being celebrated. And on that night Christ instituted the holy supper that we still celebrate today.

The Passover commemorated the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. The blood of a male lamb – without blemish! – had to be smeared on the doorposts of their houses and then the angel of death would pass over their houses. But for all those without the blood, he slew the firstborn child. Without the shedding of blood there is no deliverance from death. The symbolism this had for Christ can hardly be overlooked. John includes that in the second part of the text, “Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

This lamb is “of God.” God takes the initiative in our salvation. He sends the lamb that will take away the sin of the world. None of the lambs that Israel offered, which over the years must have amounted to hundreds of thousands, not one of them could satisfy God’s holy justice. No animal could redeem man. Israel knew that. For that reason she had to keep on sacrificing until God presented the perfect sacrifice. Was that also not foreshadowed in the offering of Isaac? Recall the words of Abraham to Isaac: “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” God provided. That’s what the title “Lamb of God” loudly and joyfully proclaims.

Only a man without spot or blemish, that is, without sin, could make atonement. Therefore God gave his only Son as a sacrifice who became man for us. He is “of God” in the sense that He and the Father are one. John uses the present tense, “Who takes away the sin of the world;” not will take away, but who is busy now already taking upon Himself and so removing from you your sin.

At the table of the Lord, we commemorate this gracious work of redemption. We look to the past: at the wonderful salvation, we have in Christ. When we eat the bread and drink the wine in faith then our souls are nourished and refreshed to everlasting life. That makes us also look in joy towards the future: when we will celebrate the marriage Feast of the Lamb. We will stand before the throne of God and of the Lamb purified in his blood ... and we will follow the Lamb to springs of living water.

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