Behold the Lamb of God

Grunewald, John the Baptist

Matthias Grunewald, John the Baptist, Isenheim altarpiece (detail). Source: Art and the Bible.

Key Verses:

And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?  And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.”  (Genesis 22:7-8; KJV)

“Then Moshe [Moses] called for all the leaders of Isra’el and said, ‘Select and take lambs for your families, and slaughter the Pesach [Passover] lamb.” (Exodus 12:21; CJB*)

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:4-7; KJV)

“The next day, John saw Jesus coming to him, and he saith: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sin of the world.”  (John 1:29; DR)

“For our Pesach lamb, the Messiah, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7b; CJB*)

My Reflections:

Abraham, our father in faith, can be seen as the first prophet of the Paschal Lamb–the lamb without blemish who would take away the world’s burden of sin and fulfill the desire of God to reconcile fully with his people.  John the Baptist was the last such prophet when he saw Jesus and witnessed–twice for emphasis– “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36).

In obedience to the Lord, Abraham had taken his beloved son Isaac up the mountain, intending to offer him in sacrifice.  But, trusting in the Lord, he answered Isaac’s question and spoke prophetic words: that God would himself provide the lamb for the offering. Was the Lord providing Isaac as the lamb? Well did Abraham know that Isaac was purely and totally a gift from the Lord, the child of his old age and of Sarah’s. But perhaps God was planning another way. The Lord began to fulfill Abraham’s words straight away, staying Abraham’s hand by a word and providing a lamb who appeared in the thicket, thus ensuring that this loving father would not have to give up the life of his son.  Yet this was not the end of God’s provision. The full meaning of Abraham’s words would not become clear for centuries. 

The prophet Isaiah also bore witness to the connection between the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12), traditionally understood as the Messiah, and the lamb led to the slaughter. The Servant is disfigured by his extreme suffering, and will “startle many nations“:

“Just as many were appalled at him, because he was so disfigured that he didn’t even seem human and simply no longer looked like a man, so now he will startle many nations; because of him kings will be speechless, For they will see what they had not been told, they will ponder things they had never heard.” (Isaiah 52:14-15; CJB*)

As in this passage from The Complete Jewish Study Bible, the Revised Standard Version also translates the underlined phrase as “startle many nations.” However, the King James Version and the Douay-Rheims both say “sprinkle many nations,” which implies a very different significance. The explanatory footnote in The Complete Jewish Study Bible provides some fascinating insight:

The purpose of his suffering was to “startle many nations” (52:15; the Hebrew word yaz’zeh can be translated as either “startle” or “sprinkle”). According to Messianic Jewish scholar Michael Rydelnik, given the overall context of Isa. 52-53 of Yeshua as the Suffering Servant, the more accurate translation is “sprinkle”: “This is the same word used in Leviticus for sprinkling sacrificial food (Lev. 4:6; 16:14,19), indicating that the Servant’s disfiguring death would function as a sacrifice for many nations” (Rydelnik and Vanlaningham 1087-88). Additionally, Messiah’s suffering was to bear the sorrows, grief, and iniquities of the Nation as a guilt offering (53:4-6,10,12), and to justify many (53:11). [The Complete Jewish Study Bible, p. 579n]

The asham or guilt offering is the “only means by which one is made right with Adonai [the Lord]” (The Complete Jewish Study Bible, p. 581).  The Suffering Servant as lamb becomes the source for the sprinkling of many nations–a further link to Abraham. The Lord’s covenant with Abraham promised that in him all the nations of the earth (Gen 18:18) would be blessed. The sacrifice of God’s own uniquely provided lamb would accomplish such a blessing of all nations as had never been seen.

God honored and fulfilled the whole history of salvation when his Son became incarnate and offered himself as the perfect guilt offering and paschal offering, the Lamb of God who would take on and take away the sins of the world. This would be the fulfillment of Jesus’ public ministry. But three years earlier,  on the banks of the Jordan River, John the Baptist had seen Jesus with spiritual vision and recognized him as the long-awaited Lamb, the Messiah. One can imagine that no human force could have prevented him at that moment, when he turned and pointed, saying “Behold!”

Notes:

*Scripture quotation taken from The Complete Jewish Bible, copyright ©1998 and 2016 by David H. Stern. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Resources:

The Complete Jewish Study Bible: Insights for Jews and Christians. David H. Stern, Trans. & Rabbi Barry A. Rubin, Ed. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998 and 2016 (updated).

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One thought on “Behold the Lamb of God

  1. Pingback: “So shall your God rejoice over you”: Isaiah 62 and Jesus the Bridegroom | Burning Hearts

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