Lamb of God
Having spent the last three weeks considering a number of the names by which our Lord God has revealed himself I thought it would be appropriate to move on to look at some of the names, titles and descriptions that are used of Jesus.
It would be possible to organise a series of messages in a variety of different ways. We could follow something of a chronological method and begin with OT names and descriptions. The name Jesus might not appear in the OT but he is most certainly there known under different guises.
If we adopted that approach we would have to consider, among others, names such as the Angel of the LORD, the Servant of the LORD, Immanuel, Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, the Branch before we ever moved on into the NT.
Another way of doing it would be to look for those names and titles which are most widely used and begin with them. We could then gradually work our way through to others which appear less frequently.
I am not going to rigidly follow either method which is another way of saying that my choice in the coming weeks, if the Lord allows, is going to be somewhat random. We’re going to look at some of Jesus’ names which draw my attention. This week the name that does that is Lamb, or Lamb of God.
Some important OT LAMBS
Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God in the NT more than thirty times with the overwhelming number of those references being found in the Book of Revelation.
In order for us to grasp just why it is that Jesus should be compared to a Lamb in the NT we need first of all to turn to the OT. It is the OT that provides us with the background we need if we are to righty understand what the NT wants to teach us. To discover that background we will briefly consider three different OT events:
Abraham and Isaac
In Gen.22 the LORD called upon Abraham to offer his son Isaac in sacrifice. This was a monumental test of Abraham’s faith because the LORD had earlier declared that his promises to Abraham would be fulfilled through Isaac. It was never the LORD’s intention to allow Abraham to kill his son though Abraham did not know this at the time.
On the way to the place that the LORD had indicated Isaac asks his father a question:
Gen.22:7 "where is the lamb for a burnt offering?"
Abraham responded with:
Gen.22:8 "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son."
As you’ll remember that is just what God did in fact do. Abraham was on the verge of sacrificing his son Isaac when the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and told him to stop. Abraham must have been mightily relieved and when he looked around he saw a ram caught in a nearby thicket – this animal, providentially provided by God, died in the place of his son Isaac.
In this episode we are shown the substitutionary nature of animal sacrifice – an animal dies and a human life goes free. We are also shown that the effective sacrifice is supplied by the Lord. And hang on to Isaac’s question – "where is the lamb?" – the answer will come.
Moving on several hundred years and we come to the institution of the Passover at the very end of the time of Israel’s slavery in Egypt. Moses had been led by the LORD to challenge Pharaoh to release the Israelites and when Pharaoh resisted Moses was empowered to announce a series of plagues. Nine plagues had made it plain for all to see that the LORD was more powerful than Pharaoh and any of his magicians but Pharaoh’s stubborn heart still refused to ‘let God’s people go’. His hand was about to be forced. Plague N°10 was about to begin.
The 10 th plague involved the death of the firstborn. In every home a life would be lost – humans and animals were similarly concerned. There was only one way of being safe. The LORD instructed his people to carefully select a year old lamb and kill it. Its blood was to be painted to their doorframes, on the doorposts and on the lintel. The blood would serve as protection when the destroyer, the angel of death, passed by. The lamb’s blood protected all those who would otherwise be exposed to death and where the blood was seen the destroyer "passed over". This was the Passover lamb.
Once again the substitutionary nature of the sacrificed lamb is in evidence but further detail too is added – the lamb had to be a physically perfect specimen without any blemish: it would point to the purity and perfection necessary in the later more important Lamb that would come.
In this famous chapter Isaiah presents the last of his four "Servant Songs". In it he describes the silent suffering of the servant by comparing him to a meek and mild lamb:
Is.53:7 "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth."
Isaiah emphasises how appearances didn’t match the reality of what was taking place. This servant died because it was the Lord’s will that he should and he died as a substitute bearing the sins of others.
How the NT Relates these Episodes to Jesus
Isaac’s plaintive question: "where is the lamb?" finds its truest most complete answer in the third decade of the Christian era.
John the Baptist had already been exercising his ministry preparing the way for the One who was greater than he and then one day it happened. John saw Jesus walking towards him and John spoke out to those who were with him:
Jn.1:29 "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"
In Abraham’s day it was just one life that had been saved by the death of that ram but here something far, far greater was coming into view. A sacrifice that would mean salvation for a lost world! Abraham had told Isaac that God would provide and he had indeed provided a local salvation for Isaac but now God was providing again the Lamb was his lamb, the Lamb of God, and he would take away the sins of the world.
The identification was important; the importance of the events that were beginning to unfold could hardly be exaggerated. So what happens? The next day when John saw Jesus again he simply had to pass on the news all over again:
Jn.1:36 "Behold, the Lamb of God!"
It is the apostle Paul who draws a direct line from the Passover lamb of Exodus to the Lord Jesus Christ
1Cor.5:7 "For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed."
However he is not alone in making this link. Peter writes in similar vein and in speaking about redemption compares the death of the Lord Jesus Christ to that of the sacrificial lamb of the Passover:
1Pet.1:19 "(you were ransomed) with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot."
When it comes to Isaiah’s messianic prophecy it turns out that it was just this Scripture that the Ethiopian official on his way home from worshipping in Jerusalem was reading when Philip, urged by the Spirit, ran up to meet him.
Acts 8:32 "Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth."
The Ethiopian didn’t understand who the prophet was writing about but Philip did. He began with that very Scripture speaking of a meek lamb and told him
"the good news about Jesus." v.35.
God’s Law called for the sacrifice of a spotless, unblemished Lamb who would be an atonement for sin. Jesus became that Lamb. He was led meekly to the slaughter, enduring his sufferings with great patience. He was not only ready to die for his own people and he did actually die for them. Let us too encourage each other to "behold the lamb of God" and to go on beholding him who alone can take away the sin of the world.
The Testimony of the Book of Revelation
We have already seen that the idea of Jesus as a lamb, the Lamb of God, is not only clearly taught in the NT but it has a rich and a significant meaning too. And we have yet to consider the NT book which contains by far the most references to Jesus the Lamb: the Book of Revelation.
Given the fact that Revelation is a book full of rich symbolism we should perhaps not be surprised to discover that the symbolic language of Jesus the Lamb is so frequently employed by the apostle John. He refers to Jesus as the Lamb some thirty times! The way in which this name/title is used serves to draw out a number of further distinctions:
The Lamb rules sovereignly and he is worshipped for his rule and for the salvation he has secured for his people.
In chapter s 5-
This authority to break open the seals has been won at a great personal cost to this Lamb. He is standing but he stands as one who had been slain. The death and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ are thus brought into view and his death was the means of ransoming people for God from all over the world.
So the Lamb rules a fact which is confirmed by the fact that we find him frequently being associated with the throne of God. He is indeed worthy of great praise.
If the Lamb is to be worshipped because of his exalted ruling status he is also to be praised because of the salvation he has secured for his people:
The salvation he has secured for his people too is a complete salvation, an effective salvation: he cleanses, guides and comforts his people granting them final victory:
Rev.7:14 "They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
Rev.7:17 "the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Rev.12:11 "they have conquered (Satan, the accuser of our brothers) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death."
Spiritual life is uniquely bound up with this Lamb.
All those who belong to him, all those who are saved, find that their names have been written long ago in his book and it is a book of life, eternal life:
Rev.13:8 "written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain."
Your name must be written in his book if you hope one day to enjoy life in heaven:
Rev.21:27 "But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life."
He is happily united to his people forever.
This truth is illustrated for us by the repeated picture of a wedding and the banquet that goes with it – it is the wedding of the Lamb and his marriage feast!
Rev.19:7 "Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;"
Rev.19:9 "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."
Finally, the eternal dwelling place for God’s redeemed people is bound up with the Lamb who shines brightly
What a Lamb this is!
In Israel from the time of Moses to the time of Christ two lambs were offered in sacrifice every day – one in the morning and another in the evening. That would mean something in excess of 1,000,000 lambs. Add to them the Passover lambs that were sacrificed every year in Jerusalem – according to some conservative estimates maybe around 15,000 or so. That makes for an awful lot of lambs.
But our Lamb offered his life just once and it was sufficient to achieve what those millions of lambs could never do.
What value there is in our Lamb! Jesus is not only the Lamb ordained and sent by God – he is the Lamb who is God!
So let us take heed and "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" and make sure that he has taken away our sin too!