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Lamb of God

LAMB OF GOD. Jesus was called the Lamb of God by John the Baptist (John.1.29, John.1.36). The expression certainly emphasizes the redemptive character of the work of Christ. More than a score of times in the Book of Revelation the lamb is used as a symbol of Christ, and in Christian art of the succeeding centuries the motif is continued, as it is also in the communion service of many churches when they use these words: “Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.”

The OT has numerous references to the lamb as a sacrificial victim (see Lamb). Of special interest is the Passover lamb (Exod.12.3-Exod.12.6) through whose sacrifice deliverance from Egypt was achieved. This deliverance became in time a picture of redemption from sin (Luke.9.31; 1Cor.5.7). The substitutionary use of the unblemished lamb in sacrifice led to the idea of the Suffering Servant, who as a lamb died in the place of sinners (Isa.53.4-Isa.53.7).

A description of Jesus by John the Baptist found only in John 1:29, 36. The Greek word amnos refers to Jesus also in Acts 8:32 and 1 Peter 1:19, and the word arnion is found frequently in Revelation. As John 1:36 seems to allude to the lamb of the Passover, it may be that this is also in mind in the Baptist's words. But as reference is made to removing the sin of the world this is probably not an adequate explanation. The lamb of the sin offering was meant to signify the forgiveness of sin, and this concept may have some bearing on the saying. It is possible also that some contribution to the understanding of it may come from Isaiah 53 and the Suffering Servant who is led like a lamb to the slaughter. Likewise the lamb God was to provide for Abraham (Gen. 22:8) may give some comparison. John's gospel is so rich in imagery that there could be allusions to several of these concepts.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

This is a title specially bestowed upon our Lord by John the Baptist (Joh 1:29-36), "Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!" In Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs an apocryphal book, probably of the 2nd century--we have the term used for the Messiah, "Honor Judah and Levi, for from them shall arise for you the Lamb of God, saving all nations by grace." But the term does not seem to have been of any general use until it received its distinctly Christian significance. It has been generally understood as referring to the prophetic language of Jer 11:19, and Isa 53:7.

1. Sacrificial Sense of the Term:

2. As Variously Understood:

The significance of the Baptist’s words has been variously understood. Origen, Cyril, Chrysostom, among the ancients, Lucke, DeWette, Meyer, Ewald, Alford, among the moderns, refer it to Isa 53:7; Grotius, Bengel, Hengstenberg, to the paschal lamb; Baumgarten-Crusius, etc., to the sin offering; Lange strongly urges the influence of the passage in Isa 53, and refers to John’s description of his own mission under the influence of the second part of Isaiah, in which he is supported by Schaff. The importance of the Isaiah-thought is found in Mt 8:17; Ac 8:32; 1Pe 2:22-25.

3. As Set Forth by Isaiah:

It is to be observed that the Septuagint in Isa 53:7 translates the Hebrew word for sheep (seh), by the Greek word for lamb. In 53:10, the prophet’s "suffering one" is said to have made "his soul an offering for Isaiah sin," and in 53:4 "he hath borne our griefs," where bearing involves the conception of sin offering, and as possessing justifying power, the idea of "’taking away." John indeed uses not the Septuagint word (pherein), but (airein), and some have maintained that this simply means "put away" or "support," or "endure." But this surely loses the suggestion of the associated term "lamb," which John could not have employed without some reference to its sacrificial and therefore expiatory force. What Lange calls a "germ perception" of atonement must certainly have been in the Baptist’s mind, especially when we recall the Isaiah-passages, even though there may not have been any complete dogmatic conception of the full relation of the death of Christ to the salvation of a world. Even the idea of the bearing of the curse of sin may not be excluded, for it was impossible for an Israelite like John, and especially with his surroundings, to have forgotten the significance of the paschal lamb, both in its memorial of the judgment of Egypt, as well as of the deliverance of Israel. Notwithstanding every effort to take out of this striking phrase its deeper meanings, which involve most probably the combination of all the sources above described, it must ever remain one of the richest mines of evangelical thought. It occupies, in the doctrine of atonement, a position analogous to that brief word of the Lord, "God is a Spirit" (Joh 4:24), in relation to the doctrine of God.

The Lamb is defined as "of God," that is, of Divine providing. See Isa 53; Re 5:6; 13:8. Its emphatic and appointed office is indicated by the definite article, and whether we refer the conception to a specific sacrifice or to the general place of a lamb in the sacrificial institution, they all, as being appointed by and specially set apart for God, suggest the close relation of our Lord to the Divine Being, and particularly to His expiatory sacrifice.