One of the most exciting exclamations ever uttered is the statement by John the Baptist when he says: "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). (ESV).
The meaning and significance of this statement may not be immediately obvious to new students of the Bible. Is calling someone a "lamb of God" just a lovely way of describing someone favored by God? And the part about taking away the sin of the world-is that just a compliment, like "you've made my day" or "things just seem better when you're around"?
The answer to both of these impertinent questions is, of course, no. John the Baptist's description of Jesus is nothing less than a prophecy of profound proportions. Jesus will prove to be a sacrificial lamb, someone whose death and resurrection will be the means of the forgiveness of sins for any and all who accept him through faith as their saviour:
Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. (1Corinthians 5:7).
Or see 1Peter 17-19:
And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
Matthew Henry sums up the matter as follows:
That Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, which bespeaks him the great sacrifice, by which atonement is made for sin, and man reconciled to God. Of all the legal sacrifices he chooses to allude to the lambs that were offered with a special reference to the daily sacrifice, which was offered every morning and evening continually, and that was always a lamb; to the paschal lamb, the blood of which secured the Israelites from the stroke of the destroying angel. Christ is our Passover. Christ, who was to make atonement for sin, is called the Lamb of God.
Matthew Henry's Commentary ed. Leslie F. Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 1960, pp.1510-1511.
There is therefore a great deal of meaning contained in the brief phrase, "lamb of God." There is enough meaning to keep us in awe and wonder for a lifetime, pondering the pain of Christ's death, and the glorious joy of his resurrection.
How did John the Baptist know about Jesus? It appears that that the declaration in John occurred sometime after the baptism of Jesus in the book of Matthew. In Matthew 3:16-17, a spectacular Trinitarian scene occurs:
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
Our powers of imagination are probably inadequate to visualize properly this scene; nevertheless our friend John the Baptist did see this and it is recorded, forming part of the wealth and riches of the written word of God--our encouragement to faith.
There is something else we do not want to overlook: John the Baptist's father, Zechariah. John is prepared for his role by his earthly father. In Luke 1: 67-79 we read the eloquent prophecy of Zechariah which summarizes the sweep of history as well as what is to come:
And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people, in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
In ancient times, we know young men were normally trained for their occupations by their fathers. This is an example of a prophet preparing a son to be a prophet, the very one that would prepare the way for the Lord. John the Baptist was of course destined to have a short earthly existence, but we can imagine that when he rejoined Zechariah in heaven, his father might well have echoed the words of God the Father: "this is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased."
In faith and fellowship,