“The next day he saw Jesus coming
“…and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’” – John 1:36, ESV
“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” – Rev. 12:11, ESV
“But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” – Rev. 21:27, ESV
Who Is the Lamb of God in the Bible?
We know in the Gospel of John that John the Baptist was referring to Jesus when he exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God!” There were also Old Testament prophecies concerning the sacrifice of a servant for his people. Jesus was prophesied as the Lamb of God in Isaiah 53:7 and Isaiah 53:12, which reads: “Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
Jesus is the perfect sacrifice; He chose to sacrifice His life for us so that in Him, we would have new life. “The substitutionary death of Christ takes away the sin of the whole world, including all Gentiles – a shocking revelation to the Jewish readers” (Moody Bible Commentary). Jesus chose to sacrifice His life for all people. In the greatest act of love the world will ever witness, God sent His only Son to be sacrificed for all mankind
“‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.’” – John 6:51-56
Sacrifice in the Bible
There were several types of sacrifices in the ancient Jewish faith, but notably with the lamb, which the Jewish audience would have thought of at John’s remark, were the sacrifice of lambs at Passover (Exodus 12:11-13) and the sacrifice of two lambs daily at the temple (Exodus 29:38-42). A sacrificed animal took the place of the person who committed the sin(s). Yet, obedience through faith was the founding principal behind the sacrifices (Exodus 19:4-8). There was nothing magical about the animals themselves, it was the act of obeying God’s Word in faith. (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia )
Sacrifice without obedience was worthless. Obedience has always been God’s desire for us. When God’s ancient people fell short of obeying, they sacrificed to atone their sin and return to fellowship with God. “Sacrifice may well have seemed to them the natural expression of homage and gratitude,” G.F. Moore in Encyclopedia Biblica admits of the Old Testament prophets, “and of atonement for sin, and full fellowship with God.” Once the covenant was established, sacrifices were made on the altar, and “the blood would symbolize the community of life between Yahweh and Israel” (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia).
The Bible tells the story of rebellion, sin, and atonement to God through sacrifice. In particular, the Book of Leviticus outlines laws and rules regarding ritual sacrifice. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins,’ says the epistle to the Hebrews (9:22),” wrote Gordon Wenham. Over and over again, God’s people disobeyed and rebelled, and God through His faithfulness would continually draw them back to Him, even through disaster and consequence. “When John the Baptist said, ‘Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29), he was most likely seeing Christ as the perfect Passover lamb, an image Paul also uses when he speaks of ‘Christ, our Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7),” wrote Gordon Wenham.
When John the Baptist saw Jesus a second time, he again said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36) Christ Jesus, as the sacrificial lamb, is significant. The blood of the Lamb of God brings us back into fellowship with God the Father. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. The spotless lamb, Jesus was fully God and fully man and did not sin. God made a way for the sacrifice required to forgive sin to be atoned for eternally. Salvation through Jesus means we are no longer chained by the ancient spin-cycle of sin. We are free to accept and proclaim Christ as our Savior.
What Is the Meaning and Context of John 1:29?
Every Jewish family was required to sacrifice a lamb at Passover, killing and roasting it for the traditional Passover meal. “Can you imagine as many as 100,000 lambs roasting all over the city of Jerusalem? The air would be filled with the aroma,” wrote Allen Jackson in “A Perfect Lamb,” “When John the Baptist declared that Jesus was the ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!’ the people had a very vivid picture of what the sacrifice would mean.”
The Apostle John began his gospel account by identifying Jesus as the Word of God, the second person in the Trinity, and present with God the Father at Creation. Jesus, the Word of God, encompasses all rituals and rules regarding sacrifice. Every biblical sacrifice pointed toward Jesus. The meaning and context of John 1:29 is significant to the Christian faith because Jesus sacrificed His own life for ours.
“There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” (John 1:6-8) In writing these divinely inspired lines about John the Baptist from the marks of his memory, the Apostle John’s goal is to draw readers to Christ through John the Baptist’s testimony and witness to Christ Jesus. While baptizing people in preparation for the Messiah, he is very clear not to claim he is the Messiah. “I baptize with water,’ John replied, but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’” (John 1:26-27). In John 5:35 the apostle records Jesus, Himself, referring to John the Baptist as “a lamp” but not “the light” (NIV Study Bible).
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14). “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look the Lamb of God!’” (John 1:29). This exact phrase appears only here and in John 1:36, “When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look , the Lamb of God!’” The Passover was significant to the Jewish faith, to God’s chosen people. “The reason the Lord instituted the Passover was so that people of Israel would always remember and proclaim their redemption from Egypt,” wrote Jon Bloom.
Jesus came to do what we could never accomplish by our efforts or sacrifice. But by His sacrifice, we are set free. His blood was shed for our freedom. John the Baptist, upon recognizing the Messiah, said he was unworthy to tie Jesus’ sandals. God redeemed Israel over and over again. Their story is our story, the story of redemption. Jesus redeemed all of God’s children for all time. “The ultimate Israel is Jesus himself,” D.A. Carson.
How Can Christians Behold the Lamb of God?
“The death of Christ does not exhaust the significance of the sacrificial system for the Christian,” Gordon Wenham wrote, “We too are expected to walk in Christ’s footsteps and share His suffering (1 Peter 2:21-24). So we are encouraged ‘to present our bodies as a living sacrifice’ (Rom 12:1).” Christianity is a sacrificial faith. We sacrifice ourselves; our very lives are a living sacrifice because Jesus lives in us. Christ-followers submit to God’s will and authority over our own.
We “behold the Lamb of God,” when we take up our crosses daily, as God instructs, and follow Christ. “We can see the greatest event in the world happening, and yet not see it. We can hear without hearing. We have an incredible capacity for assessing spiritual things wrongly,” John Piper preached, “And one of our greatest weaknesses- more today than ever probably- is that we do not meditate on the great things. We do not stop and ponder the things of God.”
Jesus, to defeat death, laid down His life, willingly, not for “good” people, but for all who could never measure up to the bar of “righteousness” that would grant us access to God the Father. Jesus is our substitutionary sacrifice. “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Life, within the love of Christ, brings glory and honor to God. When we truly embrace and receive the sacrificial gift of life Jesus died to give to us, we become a channel of His love.
A Prayer to Behold the Lamb of God
God our Father, You are sovereign over all and Creator of each and every one of us. Your ways are not are ways. Your thoughts are not our thoughts. Give us perspective, as we seek to understand ancient sacrifice and its significance in our modern lives. Reveal to us the wisdom we need to embrace and fully receive salvation. May our lives behold the Lamb of God. Jesus, Your defeat of death will not be lost on us. We will daily take up our crosses to follow You, until the day we hug You in heaven. What a Savior, You are! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Let our hearts be full of gratitude for the gravity of the cross.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.