“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, NKJV)
John’s first words of witness about Jesus at the Jordan River were not, “Behold, the promised Messiah” or “Here is the one I spoke about when I said I was not worthy to even untie His sandals.” No, when John saw Jesus coming to him he said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
What an odd introduction, to identify Jesus as an animal! Unless, of course, we are versed in the Old Testament and understand the role of John in preparing the way of the Lord (Isa. 40:3; John 1:23).
John represents the Old Testament witness to Jesus. That Old Testament witness involves lambs, as part of the sacrificial system of the ceremonial law. But the most prominent sacrifice of a lamb was associated with the Passover.
Immediately prior to the Exodus from Egypt the people of Israel were told to sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on the doorframe of their homes. When the judgment of God would come in the form of a destroying angel that household would be spared death because the blood indicated a life had already been given.
A sacrificed lamb referred to the provision of God for escaping His wrath. But those lambs were placeholders. They could not take away the sin of human beings. They were animals. They pointed to the day that God would provide the true Lamb who was able to take away sin by His death. That’s the lamb John testified to when he identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who could actually take away the sin of the world.
Isaiah describes how the Lamb of God would manage to take away sin. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). When Philip explained this passage from Isaiah to a traveler in the book of Acts (Acts 8:26-35), he would have explained the good news about Jesus as that lamb given by God as a sacrifice for sin in the place of others.
A Jewish friend of mine asked me why Christians are interested in the Passover. It was around Easter and he had seen a connection between the Passover and Easter. I basically pulled a Philip. I told him of the teaching of Isaiah 53 and pointed him to Jesus. I said that the New Testament made the connection and cited 1 Corinthians 5:7: “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.”
As the true Lamb of God Jesus took on full and real humanity and died in our place to take away our sin and take on the punishment we deserve. Peter explains that our redemption came by “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet, 1:19).
So when John bears witness to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, he is bringing to bear all the Old Testament teaching and previews about the person and work of Jesus. In addition, Jesus’s sacrifice as a substitute for sinners would be for the world, that is, for Jews and non-Jews alike, for all who will believe. There is no other way provided by God.
1. How does seeing Jesus as the Lamb of God help us to understand His saving work?
2. What does it mean for Jesus to be a lamb without blemish and without spot?
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.