When John saw Jesus approaching the Jordan he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” – John 1:29
Hearing What They Heard:
It is often difficult to really hear words the way they heard words. Our understanding is often loaded with modern conventions and usages that no longer appreciate or understand the meaning that they would have understood certain words to have because of their lifestyle and agrarian society. What do you think of when you hear the word “lamb”? Soft, cuddly, and used for wool? For them a lamb was associated with wool, food, sacrifice and passivity. They were led around and often killed as a sacrifice to God.
When John says, “Behold the Lamb of God!” it has an ominous tone for two reasons. The first reason is that lambs often met with untimely ends. The second reason is tied to the first. John says he is the lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world. He is to be a sin offering for the people. While Jesus did not reveal this part of his mission to his disciples until some time later, John the Baptist reveals it at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
Blood of the Lamb in the Old Testament
When the Israelites were in Egypt and God was sending plagues upon the Egyptians there was always a distinction between the Egyptians and the Hebrews. The hail hit the Egyptian crops and animals but not the Hebrews’. The plague of the livestock killed Egyptian cattle but not the Hebrews (Exo 9:1-6). But in the final plague, the death of the firstborn, the threat was against all the people in the land – both Egyptian and Hebrew (Exo 12:3-7, 12-13). The only way to divert disaster was the blood of the lamb that was killed for the Passover feast. The lamb served to protect the family’s firstborn against certain death. The lamb’s blood was a substitute for the child.
A short time later when the people are receiving the Law, there is a prohibition against eating blood. In the midst of that the Lord said, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” – Lev 17:11. It is the blood that makes atonement. It is the blood that acts as a substitution for the life of the guilty. You did not want to be a firstborn, spotless lamb in the family of a Jewish family. Your days were numbered. Jesus, as the lamb of God, has come for a purpose and his days are numbered because he is going to be the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Unlike the lambs who were led to Jerusalem against their will to be offerings to God, Jesus went willingly to Jerusalem knowing full well what was in store for him (John 10:17-18).
Blood and Covenant
Thursday evening, the night prior to his crucifixion, Jesus shared a final meal with his disciples. John expressly states that this was not the Passover meal proper but was probably one of the passover meals that did not include the lamb leading up to the main feast on Friday night. Jesus took the bread and broke it and said “this is my body, given for you…” He is saying this is my self, broken just as this piece of bread is broken, for you. Then he took the cup, blessed it and said, “this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.” – Mark 14:24.
The covenant between God and his people is bound in blood. Jesus says his blood is the blood of the covenant. The Mosaic covenant has many parallels to the last supper and the covenant language and ritual. Notice Exo 24:6-11. The people are sprinkled in the blood. The blood is the blood of the covenant. The people share a meal, eating and drinking, in the presence of God. All these things are symbolized again at the last supper.
Atonement by the Blood of the Lamb
The message is clear – atonement only comes by the shedding of blood. In the Old Testament the blood came by bulls and goats but under the new covenant, it comes by the perfect blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Just as the Paschal lamb was a substitute for the firstborn of the Hebrews in Egypt, so Jesus is the substitute for us only he is God’s firstborn, who shed his blood for us. The time of Jesus death on the cross even coincides with the death of the Paschal lambs for the Passover feast. That is no accident. The message is clear. Jesus is our substitute. Read Hebrews 9:11-15, 22,27-29. Notice that it is the blood of Christ that cleanses us. It is the blood of Christ that is used as a ransom for us. Notice that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. Notice that Christ’s sacrifice once for all brings us salvation. See also (Rom 5:9, Eph 1:7, Rev 7:14). [There is actually in error in biblegateway on this verse – look at 7:14 and then look at 7:15 to see it]
The Lamb Victorious
Now the Lamb of God reigns victorious. Read Revelation 5:1-9. The Lion of Judah appears as a lamb that had been slain. Listen to the new song the elders and hosts of heaven sing about the lamb, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God members of every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on earth.” – Rev 5:9-10. A few verses later, “Worthy is the lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.” Seven praises to the lamb who was slain. By his blood his has purchased or redeemed a people for himself. He sits at God’s right hand.
What Does This Mean for Us?
Imagine with me for a moment a lamb in a Jewish family in the first century. Imagine overhearing your owners talking about having to sacrifice you. Imagine if you heard them say they are doing it because they have to. Not because they want to repent and do better. Not because they are giving their hearts to God as well. What if they gave you out of a legalistic mindset and a check-box mentality that was devoid of their hearts. Would you feel wronged? Would you feel like your blood was shed in vain? Do we do that to Jesus? Is that any different than the person who accepts Jesus as savior but not as Lord? Is that any different than the person who has held on to their own heart but has continually tried to dump all their sin upon the lamb of God? We can’t give him our sin if he doesn’t have our heart.