LAMB, LAMB OF GOD (כֶּ֫בֶשׂ, H3897, principal word in Heb. for a male lamb, the young of the sheep, though other words also were used in the OT; outside Revelation the principal word in Gr. was ἀμνός, G303, but frequently in Revelation ἀρνίον, G768, appeared, meaning a little lamb). It was the animal of sacrifice among the Jews and a term applied to Jesus in the fourth gospel (John 1:29).
To the Jews the lamb represented innocence and gentleness. The prophets represented the tender compassion of God for His people under the figure of the shepherd and the lamb (Isa 40:11), and ultimately the intention of God for His people used the lamb as an important symbol (11:6). The psalmist carried the imagery of the shepherd and the lamb to its most beautiful expression in Psalm 23. Likewise the lamb was the climax of prophetic symbolism of the suffering of God’s people, the servant nation, which the NT found to be a prefiguring of Jesus (Isa 53:7; Acts 8:32).
In the NT the term was used only symbolically. Of special importance was the designation of Jesus as “the Lamb of God” by John the Baptist (John 1:29). Some have regarded that pronouncement by the Baptist to be a thematic statement of the contents of the fourth gospel, Jesus being presented throughout the document as the lamb of sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. Much speculation has centered on the OT reference believed to have been in the mind of John when he thus spoke of Jesus. Of course, the Mosaic lamb of the Passover has been suggested frequently because Jesus is identified with the Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7). Naturally many have found the suffering lamb (Isa 53) to have been foremost in his mind. Still others have sought to avoid any particular lamb and have considered the lamb simply as the principal animal of sacrifice in the worship of God. Two things about the designation “lamb of God,” as applied to Jesus were most notable: He was declared to be the lamb of God and His sacrifice was for the world. All other lambs in the sacrificial system had been offered by men under the commandment of God; but as God had substituted His own provision, a Lamb, instead of Isaac who was under Abraham’s hand, so God in Jesus provided His own Lamb. All other sacrifices of a lamb had been limited to the nation or to the individual; but the sacrifice of Jesus was world-wide, embracing all humanity in its scope. He was to take away the sins of the world. The lamb was a worthy symbol of Jesus who in innocence patiently endured suffering as a substitute (Acts 8:32; 1 Pet 1:19).
In the NT the term “lamb” was applied also to disciples of Jesus. Seventy disciples were sent forth as “lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3). Likewise the risen Christ charged the Apostle Peter to feed His lambs, which prob. marked out Peter’s special responsibility to nurture and advance the people the ascended Lord would leave behind.
Of special interest is the use of the term “lamb” in Revelation where it occurs twenty-eight times in symbolic reference to Christ and once as a comparative statement identifying some aspect of the beast (Rev 13:11). The beast was, no doubt, represented as having the horns of a lamb to point to its religious significance. The introductory reference in Revelation 5:1-14 is to the Lamb triumphant. This description of the Lamb and the works attributed to Him clearly identify Him as the Christ. The characteristics of the Lamb (ἀρνίον, G768, used exclusively in Rev. but not in John 12:15) are significant. He stood as “one slain,” as if his throat had been cut in sacrifice. He had been slain, but was alive forevermore. He had seven horns, which prob. were symbolic of his great power. He had seven eyes that represented his ceaseless vigilance for the people of God; thus the eyes were reinterpreted as the seven spirits of God, the fullness of God’s Spirit working in behalf of His people. His attributes were those of God—omnipotence and omniscience. The term for lamb in Revelation was consistently different from the usual term for lamb, ἀμνός, G303, elsewhere in the NT, and the significance of this difference has been much debated. It is most likely that the two words have the same essential meaning in the NT—a symbolic representation of the redemptive work of Christ, although in Revelation that redemptive work is viewed in connection with its triumphant victory over all things. See Sacrifice and Offerings.