The Lamb of God. 1:29-34

John the Baptist's purpose in life was to point away from himself to Jesus. His task was to prepare the way for the coming messiah, and he did this by calling on Israel to repent and to express this repentance outwardly in water baptism. In bearing witness to the coming one, the Baptist laid the corner-stone of Christian theology, namely, the atonement - the coming one is the sacrificial lamb of God.

The passage

v29. As Jesus approached him, the Baptist tells his disciples, "here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." "Lamb", of course, is being used in the sense of "sacrificial lamb", a lamb provided by God to take away our sin. "Jesus bears the consequence of human sin in order that its guilt may be removed", Hoskyns.

v30. The ancients believed in the superiority of the previous generation. Yet the Baptist, whose ministry was before Jesus and therefore rightly superior to Jesus, claims an inferior position.

v31. The Baptist's task was to reveal Jesus as Israel's messiah and to achieve this end he diligently performed his ministry - a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in preparation of the messiah's baptism with the Spirit.

v32-33. The Baptist's knowledge of Jesus was not by personal deduction. He actually witnessed the Spirit of God descend on Jesus and "remain" (abide permanently) with him, and at the same time heard God declare that this Jesus is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.

v34. So, the Baptist was able to testify that Jesus, the lamb of God, is the messiah, the Son of God, the one who washes people clean with the Spirit of God. In the new age of the messianic kingdom, Jesus, the messiah, is able to apply the Spirit's purifying power to God's repentant people.

The lamb of God

Amazing as it may seem, the gospel writers do not often explain the meaning of Jesus' death. The record of his death is clear enough, but not the why.

Early in John's gospel we read of the Baptist's testimony concerning Jesus. He has finally come to understand who Jesus is, although, some time later in prison, he starts to wonder if he was right. The visible coming of the Spirit on Jesus confirmed to the Baptist that Jesus was the messiah - the "chosen one", the coming one, the Christ. Yet, the Baptist's testimony not only identifies Jesus as the messiah, it also identifies his particular messianic role. He does this in the description, "the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

There is little doubt that this "lamb" is a sacrificial lamb. The messiah will serve as a sacrificial lamb provided by God. The messiah, as God's sacrificial lamb, will take away sin; he will remove it by vicariously bearing it himself. The text is not quite clear as to whether the messiah takes sin up and carries it, or carries it off. The theologian J. Jeremias said the verb "takes away" can mean "take up and carry" or "carry off." He says "in both cases it is a matter of setting aside the guilt of others. In the former, however, the means of doing this is by a substitutionary bearing of a penalty; in the latter, sin is removed by means of expiation." Either way, the Baptist has exposed the meaning of the cross. Jesus dies as a sacrifice for sin, thus enabling the sinner to stand approved in the sight of God. Finally, note whom the messiah dies for. It is not just Israel, but rather the "world."

We are set free from the guilt of sin, yesterday, today and tomorrow - such is God's good news for us.


How would you explain to young people the image of Jesus as "the lamb of God"?