Bible Study: Three Minute Message

"The Lamb of God" by Dr. J.W.Bernard

"And they asked Him, and said unto Him, 'Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?  John answered them saying, 'I baptize with water; but there standeth One among you, Whom ye know not;  He it is, Who coming after me is preferred before me, Whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.  These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.  The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him and saith, 'Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world'." (John 1:25-29)

These are the words of the prophet, John the Baptist.  We hear him introducing "the Son of God" (John 1:34) to Israel as their "Lamb of God."  This identifying term, "Lamb of God" is not explained to them.  Therefore, we conclude that Israel understood the term.  

The prophet does not grasp the full meaning of the cross and the atoning death of Christ at this time.  No one does (Luke 24:25,26).  It is not a part of the message of the "Gospel of the Kingdom."  Had it been a part of their message, the disciples would not have tried to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem to die.  The reason for the crucifixion was not revealed unto them until after the resurrection (Luke 24:44-48).  So, therefore, why does he call Jesus "the Lamb?"  Does the "blood of the Lamb" have anything to do with the atonement for the personal sins of mankind?

At no time, throughout the history of Judaism, was the lamb in any way associated with forgiveness of personal sins.  Even the author of Revelation does not see the Lamb as an atoning sacrificial lamb.  However, the Lamb in the book of Revelation is seen as...

  1. a slaughtered Lamb "been slain" (5:6); "was slain" (5:12); "slain from the foundation of the world"  (13:8)
  2. a Lamb purchasing them by His blood (5:9)
  3. making a kingdom of priests (5:10)
  4. washing their robes in His blood (7:14)
  5. conquering through the blood of the Lamb (12:11)
  6. the Lamb as a temple for them in the New Jerusalem (21:22)

These statements in the Revelation prophecy fit perfectly with what the Jews and their Priests anticipated of their approaching Messiah.  He would deliver them from the Roman bondage of "the knife and altar."  This was not freeing them from their personal sins.  As Isaac, Abraham's son was delivered from "the knife and altar," the "blood of the lamb" (Jesus' death) produced by "the knife and altar" was deliverance from the "sin of the world."  The "world" was the dominating influence of the Romans over Israel.  The "sin of the world" was not recognizing and not allowing others to recognize the Messiah when He arrives.  The "sin of the world" became the sin of Israel as they also rejected Him and His offer of the very near kingdom.

The "blood of the lamb" is associated with a violent killing such as martyrdom.  "Slain" (Greek: sphaxo) may be used of an animal sacrifice.  However, the usual meaning is "to kill a person with violence." (2 Kings 10:7; Jer. 52:10).  In the New Testament, it is never used in the sacrificial sense.  It occurs in Revelation as slaughtering and martyrdom, and in 1st John it is used as a violent death.  It is not convincing, in the book of Revelation, that the Lamb is sacrificially slain.  For it is the blood of bulls and goats, not lambs, that postponed Israel's judgment against sin (Lev. 16; Heb. 9:12).

In the context of that day in time and it's relationship to all that was understood by the nation of Israel and exiled Jews, the slaughter of the lamb and the function of its blood is seen against the backdrop of battle, slaughter and martyrdom.  The classification of the death of the Revelation Lamb is with the souls under the altar (6:9) and with the Saints and other slain Prophets (18:24).

Sacrificial lambs in the Temple were seen as a memorial to the sacrifice of Abraham's son, Isaac.  The binding of Isaac upon an altar performed a unique role in Israel's deliverance and had a constant redemptive effect on their behalf.  The "Isaac Redemption" they looked for was national, not personal.  However, their personal lives had become so corrupt that it acted greatly upon their national judgment.  

When Abraham and Isaac went up the mountain to worship, Isaac asked his father where the lamb was.  Abraham said that "God would provide Himself a lamb."  Isaac was, forever after that, called "The Lamb of God" by Israel.  The "blood of the lamb" was in remembrance of Isaac's deliverance from "the altar and knife."  

The merits of Isaac's sacrifice of "the altar and knife" were experienced in the Exodus.  It was "the blood of the lamb" over the door post that liberated Israel out from under the oppression of Egypt's knife and altar.  In 4 Macc. 13:12, the martyrs are told to "recall Isaac, who yielded himself up to God as God's Lamb Sacrifice."

In the mind of every Israelite, Isaac was "the lamb."  However, the lamb in Revelation is a greater figure than Isaac, bound on an altar.  That the lamb of this apocalypse receives adoration along with the Holy Occupant of the Throne, suggests equality, although the divinity of the Lamb is not established at this stage of the writing of Revelation (5:13).  The Lamb may, therefore, be seen as a martyr but cannot, yet, be regarded as a sacrificial offering per se

John the Baptist is a prophet to Israel and it is fitting for him to call the Messiah "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world."  It remains for the author of the fourth Gospel (John 12-21) to reveal this "Lamb of God" as the "Son of God" later in the light of Christ's teaching and death.  Therefore, the book of Revelation had to have been written before the four Gospels, especially the fourth Gospel.