Behold, The Lamb of God
John 1:29 “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, the Apostle sets the framework for his account of Jesus’ life by turning our attention to the Old Testament. This is evident in verse 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” as he brings readers to recall Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The idea of God, more specifically Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 1) as Creator is expounded upon by John in verse 3, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
With one eye focused on the text of John and the other on the Old Testament, the discerning reader will be equipped to not only understand what God’s inspired word says in John, but also how the words of his gospel can inform one’s understanding of the Old Testament. This is precisely the case with our subject verse of John 1:29.
John the Baptist is quoted here referring to Jesus as “the Lamb of God”. With our attention already keenly cast on the use of the OT in this first chapter of John (the Apostle), we should immediately began recalling where, if anywhere, we may have encountered an OT reference like this. For those unfamiliar with the OT, most good Bible’s have a cross-reference system either in the center column or the margins of their pages. If used properly, these can prove to be invaluable.
Using either recall or your cross-references, you may find that when John uses the title “the Lamb of God” he likely has Exodus 12 in mind. Turning to this passage of the Old Testament, we find ourselves in the context of the Israelite captivity in Egypt and the implementation of plagues upon Pharaoh. The final plague is promised in chapter 11,
“So Moses said, ‘Thus says the LORD: About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. And all these your servants shall come down to me and bow down to me, saying, ‘Get out, you and all the people who follow you.’ And after that I will go out.’ And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.’”
It is with this context in mind that we read of the Passover Lamb in Exodus 12. God instructs Moses to tell all the congregation to acquire a lamb, without blemish (Ex. 12:5) for sacrifice. The people were instructed to kill their lambs at twilight on the specified day. They were to sprinkle its blood on the doorposts and the lintel, then roast and eat the flesh. When God passed through the land of Egypt to enact judgment through the death of their firstborn (both man and beast), He would, “see the blood” and “pass over” the house. This is where the memorial feast of Passover got its name.
There is more we could glean from this OT passage, but for now our understanding of John’s use of “Lamb of God” in John 1:29 is better informed. Likewise, this imagery of a lamb is again used in Isaiah 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.” Additionally, the requirement of God to Moses that the lamb should be without spot or blemish is recounted in 1 Peter 1:19, “but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
Reading the OT by itself can often provide a limited picture of understanding. Yes, they can be understood in their context, i.e. we can read of God requiring the Israelites to slaughter a lamb and sprinkle the blood, but without allowing the New Testament to inform our understanding of the OT, we miss out on a lot of key passages pertaining to Christ and run in danger of misinterpretation.
Passages such as these, where a person, place, event, or institution points or alludes to another person, place, event, or institution use what is called typology. It commonly occurs between the OT and NT and provides continuity between the two, particularly as it relates to God’s plan of redemption. In our case here, the Passover lamb is the type and John’s reference to Jesus as the “Lamb of God” makes Jesus the antitype. Another common use of typology involves what is called the archetype. An example of this would be the “pattern on the mountain” (Ex. 25:9; Heb. 8:5) that God shows Moses for construction of the tabernacle. This pattern was the heavenly temple of God (Rev. 11:19, et.al.) and would be the archetype. We know this because Moses constructed the tabernacle and Solomon eventually the temple, both of which would be the type. What then is the antitype, or the greater temple? It is Jesus. In Matthew 12:6 Jesus says, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here” and in John 2:19 He says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” According to John 2:21-22, we know that this was indeed a reference to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The New Testament is filled with rich references to the Old Testament such as this one from John 1:29. Far from breezing through the Bible, it pays to take time and study, use cross references, and meditate on God’s Word. Doing so will allow for a greater understanding of God’s Word, fuller revelation of Himself, and cause for worshipping God who in His infinite wisdom has determined the beginning from the end.