6. Why was Jesus, called the Lamb of God? How could He possibly take away the sin of the world?
We now arrive at a statement of John the Baptist that makes it evident that he understood the Gospel and Jesus’ mission during this period of redemptive history. As we endeavor to answer the questions stated above we will be examining the following verses considering especially verse 29:
29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
As we continue in our examination of the first chapter of the Gospel of John we come to a portion where John the apostle records an incident (or a detail of an incident) that is found in none of the synoptic Gospels. We are thankful for the inclusion of this passage within the sacred text of Scripture, which provides us with a succinct and pithy short synopsis of the Gospel message. As we ponder and seek to provide a response to the first part of our question we must concede that this is a road that many have traveled seeking a response. It appears that common responses have sought to associate John the Baptist’s label for our Savior with a specific ceremony or incident from the Old Testament. Although, many of the explanations provided are fruitful and rich in there reasoning it is apparent that there are aspects where all of the examples simply fall short of providing a comprehensive analogy of this name. We are certainly indebted to Leon Morris’ work on this text that provides an entire chapter of these comparisons that are commonly made. He examines each view and points out its strengths and weaknesses, including but not limited to the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12), the suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:7), the daily sacrifice, the gentle lamb (Jeremiah 11:19), the scapegoat (Leviticus 16), Isaac’s substitute (Genesis 22:8), the guilt offering (Leviticus 14:12), and even the triumphant Lamb (Revelation 5). After examining the viability of all of these possibilities including extensive word studies on each passage, he concludes as follows:
The Lamb of God does appear to be definitely sacrificial, and it awakes memories of more sacrifices than one. The conclusion to which I am driven is that John intended by the expression to express his conviction that in Jesus Christ there is fulfilled all that is fore-shadowed in all the sacrifices. The term is sacrificial. But it refuses to be bound to any one sacrifice. It is a most satisfying concept that Jesus did accomplish the perfect sacrifice which completely removed the sin of the world. He is the complete embodiment of all the truth to which the sacrificial system pointed. That the Lamb is said to be ‘of God’ would seem, in accordance with this view, to indicate that the perfect sacrifice is the one which God Himself provides. Men might offer sacrifices which make this or that aspect of truth plain. But it is only God who can produce the sacrifice which completely deals with sin. 74
Not only does this conclusion prevent one from limiting the definition the term “Lamb of God”, it inevitably reminds us of the Christocentric nature of the Scripture as a whole which we will have opportunity to elaborate on in a future study (John 5:39-40). This does not preclude us from drawing upon these examples to explain aspects of this statement. We should just be wary of attempting to seek one example’s superiority and assert that it is the sole reference that John the Baptist was intending by this statement. Thus, we must conclude with Morris that the statement here in our text is pointing to Christ as that “perfect sacrifice” provided by God Himself.
In this lesson we have provided an extensive amount of background on the redemptive historical implications on this period and John the Baptist’s ministry. As we have stated already John was in the desert preparing a people for the Lord pointing them to their need for escape from the forthcoming judgment. We have stated that John’s role in redemptive history was to point to the Savior as the promise for escape and in this specific text that is precisely what John is doing. Ironically, this is probably not the message that the vast majority of Israelites wanted to hear during this period. The Pharisees or Essenes in their fervor to hasten the advent of the Messiah through there obedience to the Law and restore the theocratic preeminence of the nation may have been disappointed in this proclamation. Rather than ushering in a conqueror with rod of iron and legions of hosts behind Him, God in His wisdom sent a Lamb. This should serve as a reminder that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). Fortunately, we are not left in the dark as to what God intended by this and have the benefit of knowing the rest of the story. For the remainder of this question we will focus on explaining how this story unfolds.
We start shortly after the beginning and pick up with the failure of the first man, Adam who chose to follow the apocryphal word of Satan rather than the sure word of God. This failure plunged humanity into sin and death and expelled them from the presence of the holy God. Yet in His grace and longsuffering God promised redemption through a Savior who would come from the “seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15). Although, man continued in sin and every thought was tainted by sin and evil (Genesis 6:5-6) God maintained His promise and persevered “the seed” through Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Israel. Through the patriarch’s God would establish a nation to be a light to the world and preserve the holy seed until the “fullness of time”. This was no ordinary nation, but a people who covenanted with God to obey His commandments in return for the privilege of being tenants in a good land flowing with milk and honey. In a sense the Lord established typologically another situation very common to Adam in the garden. Israel, like Adam was promised a good land, God’s protection and blessing if they would obey the commandment. Nonetheless, as Son’s of Adam and tainted by the affects of their forefather’s fall Israel was not able to keep the commandment and maintain the privilege of remaining in the land. God would send His covenant ambassadors to proclaim His displeasure with them:
1Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; 2but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. 3For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness. 4No one enters suit justly; no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity. 5They hatch adders’ eggs; they weave the spider’s web; he who eats their eggs dies, and from one that is crushed a viper is hatched. 6Their webs will not serve as clothing; men will not cover themselves with what they make. Their works are works of iniquity, and deeds of violence are in their hands. 7Their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their highways. 8The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace (Isaiah 59:1-8).
Unlike Adam, Israel was allowed to remain in the land despite repeated failures to obey the commandments. However, just like Adam, Israel was ultimately expelled from paradise and forced to live in exile. God’s covenant ambassadors did not only proclaim judgment on behalf of their King, they also proclaimed restoration. This restoration was only possible because of another covenant God had made, the promise that goes back to the garden (mentioned above) and was reconfirmed through Abraham and David. As promised, Israel was restored and brought back to the land after a period of exile. This restoration was not a complete return to the theocratic system, however sufficient enough to preserve the promised “seed” and await His arrival. Now in our text it is announced by God’s forerunner that He had arrived. This announcement, however was indicative of what was necessary for the people and not necessarily what they thought they needed. They needed a Second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:20-22; Romans 5) and the true Israel (Matthew 2:15) to fulfill the commandments that all others had failed to do. And it is this mission that he first accomplished (John 17:4), however another step was necessary to fulfill the promise.
This additional step brings us to the second part of our question, which we will now address before concluding. Since Adam, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) not only are we guilty for our own actual sins, we are also in sin and guilty. This nature has been “imputed” or transferred to us by Adam who was our representative before God. The consequence of this status precludes us from dwelling in the presence of God who is holy, blameless and unable overlook sin or evil in His presence without it being incinerated. Sin is rebellion against God who being completely and perfectly just must judge those who violate His cosmic authority. Christ is known as the Second Adam, since He also stands as a representative before God. He is also qualified to stand before God as representative, because He was born without Adam’s nature, being conceived of the Holy Spirit He fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 3:15) and kept the commandment that Adam (and Israel…and us) failed to keep. Thus, He is the “perfect” sacrifice the Lamb of God who can truly turn away the Father’s wrath and provide appeasement to His justice that must be met (2 Corinthians 5:21). He does this on the cross and completes it in His resurrection and ascension to achieve the final step that was necessary. During this sacrifice the burden of our sin was laid upon Him and God’s justice was completely satisfied in the punishment He received on our behalf. This is summarized well by John Calvin in his comments on this passage:
The principal office of Christ is briefly but clearly stated; that he takes away the sins of the world by the sacrifice of his death, and reconciles men to God. There are other favours, indeed, which Christ bestows upon us, but this is the chief favour, and the rest depend on it; that, by appeasing the wrath of God, he makes us to be reckoned holy and righteous. For from this source flow all the streams of blessings, that, by not imputing our sins, he receives us into favour. Accordingly, John, in order to conduct us to Christ, commences with the gratuitous forgiveness of sins which we obtain through him…Let us therefore learn that we become reconciled to God by the grace of Christ, if we go straight to his death, and when we believe that he who was nailed to the cross is the only propitiatory sacrifice, by which all our guilt is removed. 75
As we continue in this book we will have additional opportunities to examine this glorious truth. About this Lamb of God, holy and blameless, takes away the sin of the world by becoming a curse in place of those who were truly cursed and appeasing the wrath of God turning it away from us and upon Himself. What a Savior….what a promise…what good news we have in the Gospel, hallelujah!