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The Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world.
Jo. 1:29

Twice the apostle John records John the Baptist referring to Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (Jo. 1:29, 36). Reference to the lamb immediately causes the reader to contemplate the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, particularly that of the nation of Israel, but also the larger practice of sacrifice throughout the history of man. It should be remembered that an animal, perhaps one or more lambs, was slain in Eden because of the sin of Adam.

Though numerous animals were offered in various sacrifices, the lamb is the one most often identified with the sacrificial system. The sacrifice meant the death of the lamb, but the death of the lamb meant that the people could live—the principle of giving up life through death that there might be life.

A question for deliberation is whether “the Lamb of God” as used by John is a reference to a particular lamb or a general reference to sacrifice itself in the Old Testament. While some identify the lamb with the Passover lamb, others view it in connection with the lamb of Isaiah (53:7). Other suggestions refer to the lamb Abraham spoke of when questioned by Isaac (22:7-8, 13-14), or the lamb led to the slaughter that Jeremiah referenced (11:19), or the lamb of the trespass offering (Lev. 5:7). A precise identification is impossible to make. It may be proper just to take the words of John as a general reference to the act of sacrifice, and the substitution that is associated with it. In contrast to the numerous sacrifices in the Old Testament, there would be one sacrifice in the New Testament, the Lamb of God.

In the Old Testament the lambs that were slain must be free of blemish, with no physical defect, no defilement of any kind; Moses writes of the requirements for cattle, sheep, and goats: “Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it shall not be acceptable on your behalf . . . it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in it” (Lev. 22:21-22). Only the best was to be offered to the Lord. In addition, a perfect sacrifice symbolized the holiness of God and the holiness He required in man; and, at the same time, the sacrifice that was free from defect exposed the defect or sin of the one offering the sacrifice.

The lamb’s life was offered to God as provision for man’s sin, for it was the state of man and the conduct of man that necessitated the sacrifice. The lamb was a sacrifice, and the sacrifice was a substitution, and, therefore, it was a satisfaction. Such was the meaning and significance of the sacrificial life of the nation of Israel.

In the New Testament the “Lamb of God”—a Person, not an animal—was a sacrifice, and as a sacrifice He was a substitution for mankind (“world”), and because He was a substitution He was a satisfaction before God, so that God’s wrath did and does turn away from man (see: Propitiation). Such is the meaning of the Christology of the Church.

The word “world” does not imply that all will be saved but that the death of Christ is the means of salvation for anyone in the world. Anyone who believes will be saved, meaning that the death of Christ is efficacious for a select group, even though the death is sufficient to save all people, the world.

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