Christ the Lamb of God
© C. O. Bishop 2011 (revised 2021)
(THCF 2/19/12) Revised 2021
John 1:29 “…Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the World!”
John has already introduced us to Jesus, as the Word of God; the Creator; the Light; the Life; the Source of Grace and Truth. And we have seen him in His incarnation, as the Word made Flesh. Now John (the Apostle) introduces another concept…”Christ, the Lamb of God”.
When I was young (and an unbeliever, by the way), I had no idea what this phrase meant. I knew what a lamb looked like, acted like, and smelled like…and heard people refer to lambs as gentle, or harmless, or cute and cuddly, but I didn’t see how any of those things applied to Jesus, and honestly found the idea somewhat repugnant—silly and sentimental at best.
What I did not understand was that to the Hebrew culture, a Lamb was primarily a sacrificial offering, and that they understood perfectly what kind of Lamb was meant when John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” They probably did not understand how it could apply to a Man, but they definitely knew what a Lamb was all about.
Further, they probably doubted the second clause: “…which taketh away the sin….” They knew that the blood of the lambs they sacrificed only temporarily covered their sins: so the idea that sins would be permanently removed was somewhat foreign, although we will see that the Old Testament scriptures predicted just that.
Finally, I am sure they completely balked at the idea that the blood of the Lamb could take away “the sins of the World”. It was their idea that the Messiah was to come and save Israel—not the world. And yet, the Prophets had predicted that he would be the savior of the Gentiles as well, and that the Gentiles would be given to Him as His inheritance.
So, John the Baptist really said a mouthful:
- He said that a Man would be the sacrificial Lamb.
- He stated that that Lamb would take away sin; and
- Finally, that He would take away the sins of the World.
Let’s see how that holds up in the light of God’s Word.
Jesus in Genesis
In the Beginning, we saw the creation (and Christ was the Creator), and we saw the Fall of Man into sin. The curse that fell as a result of sin included the prediction of the destruction of the Serpent—not the snake specifically; the Serpent— later identified as Satan. (Genesis 3:15, cp. Revelation 20:2) The One who would fulfill that promise was someone called the “Seed of Woman.” And the only one in History who could qualify as being specifically the Seed of Woman was Jesus, in the virgin birth.
Adam trusted God’s promise of a coming Savior, and God sacrificed animals to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve. This was the first blood sacrifice: it was conducted by God, not Man. The first recorded blood sacrifice brought by a human was by Abel, in Genesis chapter 4. God accepted that sacrifice, and told Cain that if he, too, would do right, then He (God) would also accept his offering. But, Cain refused, and was lost.
Later, in Genesis 23, Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac. Abraham had no way to know that this was “only a test.” But he passed the test: he built the altar, laid the firewood, bound Isaac, and lifted him onto the wood. When he picked up the knife, to actually kill Isaac, God stopped him, and provided a substitute…a ram, which had been there all along, but unseen by Abraham or Isaac until the proper time.
Isaac had earlier asked Abraham, “where is the Lamb?” Abraham had answered with a statement of faith: “God will provide Himself a lamb”. God certainly did provide the Lamb, and He has done so once for all time, at the Cross. But, in Genesis, in the cases of Adam, Eve, Abel and Isaac, there was one lamb for one individual.
Jesus in Old Testament History
In Exodus 12, Israel was in bondage in Egypt. God was about to take them out of that bondage and remove them to another land. Pharaoh had refused permission for them to leave, so God sent ten plagues on Egypt—the last being the death of the firstborn of every household. But He offered an escape from that judgment, through the blood of a lamb.
Every family, house by house, was to choose a flawless lamb from their flock: they were to kill that lamb. They were to catch his blood in a basin, and then dip a bundle of hyssop in the blood and strike that blood onto the lintel and the two doorposts of the house. (try these motions—you are making a cross in the air.) They were to stay inside their houses that night, under the protection of that blood. When the destroying angel went through Egypt, He would pass over that house, sparing all who were under that blood. One lamb died for each family, though each individual was to eat of that lamb, personally. In every house without the blood, someone was dead. The blood of those lambs looked forward to the Cross.
The Passover was to be celebrated every year. They celebrated it as a commemorative feast, every year, with one lamb per family. There were other sacrifices, as well: each to cover sin. The Day of Atonement (“covering”) was observed once every year: one animal for the whole nation. Individual lamb offerings were brought for both individual sins, and for the covering of the firstborn.
In every case, these blood-sacrifices looked forward to the one Lamb of God that would come into the world and bear the sins of the human race. One lamb for the whole world. Judgment has fallen on the whole world, because of sin. We are given the option to place ourselves under the blood of God’s sacrifice and be saved. Every soul who fails to place himself under that blood is lost.
Romans 5:6 says that “in due time” Christ died for the ungodly. Revelation 13:8 says Jesus was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the Earth”—he was there all the time, like the Ram in the story of Abraham and Isaac, but we had not seen him. He died at the proper time in history.
Why So Many Lambs?
Over the centuries, millions of lambs had died sacrificially, in hope of the salvation of Man. Obviously, some were offered by unbelieving hearts, only following a “form.” That is true today as well. Many recite catechisms, or creeds, without applying that truth to their own case. They say the words, but they don’t believe. In those days, the lambs died, but to no advantage. In a sense, that is true today, as well. Jesus truly died for the sins of the whole human race (1st John 2:2,) but for those who do not believe, it is to no advantage.
The lambs, bulls, and goats of the Old Testament sacrifices had three major flaws:
- Not being human, (unrelated to the sinner) they could not be the Redeemer—and could not cleanse the sinner. The Law of the substitute (and the Kinsman-Redeemer) required a willing, voluntary substitution of a free individual who was a close relative of the sinner.
- Even as a “covering,” though ordained by God, the animal sacrifices could only cover sins temporarily. The Day of Atonement was yearly, by necessity. The sin offerings were repeated every time someone sinned. We need a permanent solution for sin, and animals simply cannot serve that purpose.
- Though they truly were ordained by God, the animal sacrifices were only effective until the “Real Deal” came through. Once Jesus was offered at the cross, the animal sacrifices no longer covered the guilt of the sinner. If we reject the offering of Jesus at the Cross, then the animal sacrifices are no more acceptable than the sacrifices offered by pagans.
But there was definitely a time of full forgiveness coming, when God said he would remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34.) And, in Isaiah 1:18, God promised that He would cleanse them from their sins: that though their sins had been red like crimson, they would be clean as newly washed wool. Covering and cleansing are two different things. Maybe the Jews thought that this would only happen in the Messianic Kingdom. They were partly right—it only happens in the Messiah!
And when Messiah comes, God promises that the gentile nations would rejoice in his presence. (Isaiah 11:10, 60:3) These things had evidently been passed over or ignored by Israel. I can understand that—I have frequently found passages that I know I must have read dozens of times and suddenly I see it clearly, as if it had not been there before.
Jesus in New Testament Doctrine
Let’s look at Hebrews chapters nine and ten: In Hebrews 9:19-22 (read it), we see the sprinkling of blood in the Old Testament sacrifices. This was ordained by God. He approved this practice. But, in Hebrews 9:23-28, God goes on to show the superiority of the sacrifice of Christ. (Read this, too). Hebrews 10:1-10 continues the thought, and states that it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Finally, he points out that if we reject Jesus’ sacrifice then the Old Testament sacrifices are no longer valid. (Hebrews 10:26-31 …remember the context: the comparison of animal sacrifice to that of Christ.) The people to whom he was speaking were believing Jews; they had the history of the sacrifices. They evidently felt that they could always go back to the animal sacrifices if they decided they didn’t like Jesus. God warned them that they could not go back: the old animal sacrifices would no longer do any good.
Now: we can compare this with John 1:29, which we read at the beginning, and see that Jesus came to take away sins. He satisfied the holiness of God, as our propitiation (1st John 2:2) and He took away the sins of the whole world, just as John predicted. So, if the sins have all been taken on Christ, and judged at the Cross, why does anyone still face judgment?
In John 3:18, 19 Jesus said, “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
Jesus said that the judgment people now face is for not believing the Gospel…not trusting in the blood of His sacrifice. In effect, just as the Egyptians in Exodus, and Cain in Genesis, they have refused to place themselves under the blood of God’s chosen sacrifice—the Lamb of God—and so they fall under the judgment of God, just as if He had not died for their sins.
Finally, unlike the Old Testament temporary sacrifices, Jesus’ blood has a permanent effect. In Hebrews 10:14-18, God explained that Jesus’ one offering cleansed forever those who trusted in Him. A believer becomes literally a child of God, and as such, begins to demonstrate the attributes of God. The sins of a believer are already purged at the cross, and are not being held against him/her. God sees you, the believer, as being Holy…exactly as Holy as Jesus.
Conclusion—Jesus in You
When John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God” it raised some questions in the hearts of those who heard. They probably found it confusing: they thought they knew all about lambs and sacrifices. We may have the same response. The questions we should be asking ourselves are:
- If Jesus is truly the chosen sacrifice of God, how can I lay my hands on that sacrifice, and endorse it as the one sacrifice for my own sin?
- Am I under the blood of that sacrifice?
- Do I care about those around me? Are they under that protection as well, or am I leaving them to be lost? What attributes of God do I demonstrate by my choice?
The answer to the first question, (“…how can I lay claim to that sacrifice?”) is simple: You lay hold by faith; by believing that Jesus died for your sins and placing your dependence on His shed blood as full payment for your sins. Jesus said, “Verily, verily I say unto thee, he that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24)
The second question is one that only you can answer. Either you already have trusted Jesus as your Savior, believing that his blood alone can take away your sins, or you have not. If there was ever a time in your life when you believed that Jesus was your only hope for salvation, and you trusted in Him, then you are under the blood of His sacrifice, and you will be there forever!
The answer to the third question must be addressed daily: Will I show the love of God, and reach out to the dying lost world around me with the hope of the Gospel? Or will I just let them stay lost? What possible excuse could I offer the Lord for having allowed those around me to perish without my having at least made the effort to reach them?
It seems to me that if I am truly under the blood of that sacrifice, and have become literally a child of God, and if am to be displaying the attributes of His character, as His ambassador, then the care that He extends to the world should be mine as well. Sadly, I have to confess that it frequently is not. I am frequently too caught up in my own issues. Yes, I have shared the Gospel with those with whom I work. I have led a few to the Lord, but not many. And usually, when I pray, I am not praying for their souls, but only that I can “get through the day without collapse or anger.” My first concern should be for the salvation of their souls, not my own comfort and happiness.
When I hear John the Baptist’s cry, “Behold the Lamb…”, I need to consider these things, and remember that his blood was shed not for just my sins, but also for the sins of the whole world. This is a call to faithful service, and evangelism, all to be tempered by humility and love, which are also attributes of God.
Please consider daily the challenge of John the Baptist, and behold the Lamb from the perspective of those who have been born again, and who owe our allegiance to the Cross.
God help us as we step forward by faith.