BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD
“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God,
It is commonly believed that Christianity began some two thousand years ago. After all, we are living round about A.D. 2000; A.D. being the abbreviation foranno domini, “the year of the Lord,” which we know refers to the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. This understanding, though it does point to the historical reality of the birth of Christ, is not entirely accurate. It is not true that Christianity began 2,000 years ago. No, Christianity began way back from the foundation of the world, and the first two believers, or at least professing believers, were Adam and Eve. When Christianity first begun, it was very much a family religion and the churches were the immediate family units with the head of households as the pastors; so there was the church of Adam, the church of Seth, the church of Noah, the church of Shem, the church of Abraham, until eventually we reach the family of Jacob, also known as Israel. From then on, we find that the church was no longer contained in individual family units, but began to take the form of a nation, so that the entire nation which descended from Jacob became the Old Testament Church, or the Church under-age because Christ had not been revealed yet. But it was a church and there were genuine believers in this church; they believed in Christ, which means “the Anointed One,” which in the Hebrew language was “the Messiah.”
The history of Christianity during this primitive time was recorded in what we know today as the Old Testament. As the Old Testament drew to a close, we find the last writing prophet of the Old Testament Church, namely Malachi, telling the people to expect the Messiah soon, and that this Messiah would be ushered in by another prophet. We read, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, He shall come, saith the LORD of hosts” (Mal 3:1). And again, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD” (Mal 4:5).
That was about 430 B.C. For the next 430 years or so, the Lord did not send any prophets. And so between the Old Testament and the New Testament, there was a period of silence equivalent to the days when the Jews were in Egypt! What happened during this period? We do not have any biblical records, though the events were prophesied by the prophet Daniel (chapters 7–8), and secular records have confirmed the prophecies to be true. In a nutshell, this period was a time of great political turmoil for the nation of Israel. Before Malachi began to write, Israel or, more specifically, Judah had already been conquered by the Neo-Babylonians who sent most of the Jews to exile. Now, the Babylonians were captured by the Medo-Persians, who then allowed the Jews to return to build Jerusalem. Malachi wrote during this time; but soon the Persians were conquered by the Greeks led by Alexander the Great and so Palestine (including Israel) came under the Greeks. After the death of Alexander, there was some political struggle, and eventually the Jews came under a Greek general by the name of Antiochus Epiphany. This man hated Judaism and he set up a statue of the Greek God Zeus in the temple of God and sacrificed a pig on the altar. This angered the Jews who then revolted and for a brief period enjoyed independency. This did not last long, for soon, Jerusalem was conquered by the Romans.
Such was the political climate as the New Testament opens with the Gospel accounts. It was in this situation that John the Baptist began to preach. John the Baptist was the prophet that Malachi spoke about. He was the Elijah of Malachi’s prophecy. Malachi was not referring to the Elijah who had been caught up to heaven, but to one who would come with the spirit and power of Elijah. But most of the Jews did not recognise him. Worst still, the people did not recognise the Messiah when He came. Thus John the Baptist declared: “I baptise with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose” (Jn 1:26–27; italics mine).
The Jews did not recognise Him because they were not expecting Him. They were expecting a political messiah to deliver them out of bondage to foreign powers. So they were looking in the high places and among the powerful and influential families. But they were not expecting the son of a carpenter to be the Messiah. No doubt, John himself said that he did not recognise Him and that God had to confirm who He was by sending the Holy Spirit to descend on Him in bodily form (vv. 33–34). But John was looking out for Him. He knew that his ministry was to prepare the way for Christ, the Messiah.
Once he had identified the Lord, John pointed Him out to the people and exclaimed: “Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29; see also v. 36). This ascription of the Lord Jesus Christ is greatly significant and instructive. It would do well for us to examine it carefully.
He is called a Lamb
The Lord Jesus Christ is called a Lamb because there are several characteristics of a lamb that would quite fittingly describe Him.
In the first place, a lamb is often associated with meekness, and we know that the Lord Jesus Christ is meek. He said: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Mt 11:29). And He demonstrated His meekness by never ever complaining even when suffering greatly.
Secondly, a lamb is also known to be gentle, and we know that the Lord Jesus was gentle. We are told: “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench” (Mt 12:20). And He demonstrated His gentleness in His dealings with the most immoral sinners, such as Mary Magdalene, or the Samaritan woman at the well, or even to Paul before his conversion when he was persecuting the Church. And so the Apostle Paul testified of His gentleness when he wrote to the Corinthians: “I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor 10:1).
He is the Lamb of God
He is Lamb of God because He is the Lamb provided by God as the ultimate sacrifice which the whole of the Old Testament was pointing to.
In Genesis 4, we have the first recorded act of worship. Here we read of Abel offering a lamb unto the Lord—for he was a keeper of sheep. Cain his brother who was a farmer offered a sacrifice from the ground. But his sacrifice was rejected whereas Abel’s sacrifice of a lamb was accepted. Why? Because the wages of sin is death, and that sin must be paid for. Since the sinner cannot pay for his own sin because whatever he does will be sinful, God has appointed a Lamb to pay for their sin, and so when the Old Testament saints worshipped, their worship was only acceptable if they sacrificed a lamb or an animal—that points to the ultimate Lamb of God that God Himself will provide.
And thus, a couple of thousand years later, when Abraham was bringing Isaac, his only son, up to the mountain to have him sacrificed, Isaac asked him: “Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Gen 22:7) Abraham answered: “God will provide for himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen 22:8). Was Abraham telling a lie—for he knew that God had asked him to sacrifice his son? No, Abraham was referring to the fact that there is hope of eternal life because God would ultimately provide Himself a Lamb, so that all who die in faith will not really die but live forever.
Now coming to Exodus 12, about 500 years later, we have recorded for us the institution of the Passover. The Jews were in Egypt and Lord was about to smite Egypt with the last plague—the plague which would kill the first born of Egypt. And the Lord instructed the Jews, through Moses, to have every household to take a lamb of one-year-old, without blemish. They were to keep the lamb for four days to prove that it was without sickness, and then they were to kill it, and they were to smear its blood over the door frames of the houses. If they failed to obey, when the Lord passed over the house, the first born in the house would be killed; if they did, he would be spared. What was required of the Jews may sound very strange to us who live in 20th century Singapore, but it was richly symbolic. What was this lamb symbolic of? It was symbolic of Christ.
The Apostle John, who recorded the declaration of John the Baptist, tells us in the same Gospel that the legs of Christ were not broken by the soldiers (Jn 19:33). You see, in those days, the Roman soldiers would often break the legs of those who were being crucified so as to hasten their death by asphyxiation, especially when they should discover the criminal still alive the next day. But when they came to Christ, they found that He was already dead, so they broke not His legs. This is significant because God had instructed the Jews that none of the bones of the Passover lamb was to be broken (Ex 12:46). And so we have a clear scriptural declaration that the Passover lamb, the Lamb of God was Christ.
This became even clearer in Isaiah 53:5–7:
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
For the first time in the Old Testament, we are told in clear that the Lamb of God would be a man. And He would come to bear the sin of many. He would be pure and innocent as a lamb, and yet He would bear the iniquity of His people.
Who is this man? He is the same man the prophets have prophesied and anticipated for centuries. He is Shiloh to whom the sceptre belongs, He is the Beloved, the Branch of David, the Prince of Peace, the Counsellor, the everlasting Father, He is Jehovah Tsikenu—the LORD our righteousness, He is the Messiah, He is the virgin-born Immanuel—God with us. He is the mighty God, He is the eternal Son of God.
Is it not then remarkable that John the Baptist called him the Lamb of God? He became man to be the Lamb of God, though He is the eternal Son of God. This is why the Apostle John declares Him to be “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8). So the author of Hebrews, referring to the eternal Son of God, said: “Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me” (Heb 10:5).
Herein must lie the difference between the two Greek words for “lamb”: amnosand arnion. Amnos refers to the Lamb readied to be sacrificed, who came into the world,—taking the flesh of man,—for this purpose. When John the Baptist introduced Christ, He was the amnos of God, the Lamb of God being readied to die on behalf of His people. Christ did indeed fulfil that work when He was eventually led to the Cross to be crucified. And because He completed His work, He became the arnion—the Lamb already sacrificed and raised, and triumphant.
He is the Lamb of God that Taketh Away
First take note that the verb “taketh” is in the present or continuous tense in the Greek. Thus there is no limitation in time. He is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8). He is the Lamb that taketh away the sin of the world through all ages. And thus even the believers of the Old Testament have theirs taken away by Christ.
Whose sin does Christ take away? He taketh away the sin of the world. But who is the world or the cosmos in the Greek. The word cosmos has many meanings: In John 15:18 it refers to the unbelieving world: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” In Ephesians 1:4, it refers to the entire universe: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” In Romans 11:12, it is the Gentile world which does not include the Jews: “Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?” In Luke 2:1, it is the Roman world: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” In Romans 3:19, it the world without exception: “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”
What is the meaning of cosmos here in John 1? It cannot refer to the world without exception—which would include every sinner. For if that were the case, then there will be no hell, because Christ would have taken away the sin of everyone. God would not be a holy and just God if He still punishes anyone whose sin has been taken away. Some one may say, but it depends on the faith of the individual whether he believes. But if that is the case, then, friends, we are saying the blood of Christ, which the Apostle Paul says is the ‘blood of God’ in Acts 20:28, is not sufficient to take away sin and there must be co-operation on the part of man. Well, if that be the case, then we are all doomed, hopeless in this world and hopeless in the world to come, because according to the Scriptures all our righteousness are as filthy rags in the sight of God. How can our faith ever be acceptable to God that we may contribute to our salvation?
So then, the world in John 1:29 must be referring to the world without distinction. The Jews had always taught that salvation belongs to them alone, and that God loves the nation of Israel alone. They were wrong, pathetically wrong. So John the Baptist tells them that Christ is the “Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” Christ taketh away not just the sins of the Jews but the Gentiles as well. And so the Lord told Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16). God does not love only the Jewish elect, but also the Gentile elect; and whoever, whether Jew or Gentile, believe in Christ, he will have everlasting life. So the Apostle John, after recording the salvation of the Samaritans that came about after Christ spoke to the woman at the well, declares that Christ is indeed “the Saviour of the world” (cf. Jn 4:42).
But the question immediately arises in our minds: If Christ takes away only the sins of Christians, or believers or the elect, why does John the Baptist not say, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of all who believe, or all the elect”? Firstly, remember that John the Baptist was preaching to the Jews, and he had to disabuse their minds of the idea that the Lamb of God is only for the Jews. Secondly, remember that John was preaching to believers and unbelievers. Some of the unbelievers could be the elect of God, but they would not know they were elect until they are brought to believe in the Gospel. Thus when John tells them to “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,” he is telling them that Christ alone can take away sin. No one else in the world can take away sin but Christ and Christ alone. The Lord Himself said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn 14:6). And so Peter declared before the Jewish Sanhedrin: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). And thus John declares that Christ is “the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2:2).
Behold the Lamb of God! This call of John the Baptist is for you too: Behold the Lamb of God. Are you a child of God? Never forget that you are what you are today because of what Christ has done for you.
Praise Him with the elders and angels in heaven: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Rev 5:12).
Hope and trust in Him “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Rev 7:17). Christ became a Lamb that He may be your Shepherd—tempted like as you are, yet without sin. For that reason Christ understands all the trials and temptations that you are going through, and He able to succour you. Cast your anxieties upon Him because He cares for you.
Love Him and serve Him with your heart, soul, and mind because He was slain to redeem you with His precious blood and to wash you from all your guilty stains so that you may have life eternal. Though He is God, He condescended to live among sinful men for you; and He was slandered and tortured for your sake. He was nailed on the Cross of Calvary to shed His blood for your sake. It was your sins that nailed Him there. For your sake, He wore the crown of thorns. For your sake, He died a slow and painful death. But thanks be to God that He rose victorious and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, there interceding on your behalf.
Are you yet living in unbelief? Will you not acknowledge that you are a sinner deserving damnation, and repent of your sin, and seek and believe in Christ while He is being presented to you as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world? The Word of God tells us what you can expect if you are not covered by the blood of Christ when judgement comes upon you, for we read in Revelation 6:15–17:
And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
Now is the time of salvation, now is the acceptable time. When the great day of wrath come and it will come for you when you leave this present life, then you will not meet Christ as the meek, gentle, pure and harmless Lamb of God, indeed you will not even want to meet Him because your sin will expose you to the wrath of the Lamb and you will have nowhere to hide.