"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). When John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching, this is what he proclaimed. So what does it mean that Jesus is the Lamb of God?
Lambs play a major role in the Old Testament sacrificial system as well as in Messianic prophecy. Exodus 29:38-46 describes the twice-daily sacrifice of year-old lambs. God said, "It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there" (Exodus 29:42). The offering of the lamb symbolically atoned for the sins of the people so that they could commune with God. Jesus' sacrifice does the same for us. The writer of Hebrews says, "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant" (Hebrews 9:11-15a). It is Jesus' blood that atones for our sins and restores our relationship with God. It is because of His death and bodily resurrection that we can meet with God and hear Him.
We see a foreshadowing of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb in the story of Abraham and Isaac (see Genesis 22:1-14). Abraham took his son to Moriah, at the instruction of God, with the intention of sacrificing him. When the boy asked where the sacrificial lamb was, Abraham replied, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son" (Genesis 22:8). Abraham was prepared to offer his child to God, but God stopped him from so doing and supplied a ram to be sacrificed instead. On a greater scale, God provided the Lamb for us – His own Son. Only the sacrifice of God is truly sufficient for our atonement.
Jesus is also referred to as the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). The Passover is described in Exodus 12. The first Passover occurred during God's deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. The angel of death passed over Egypt and killed the firstborn sons. However, the Israelites were instructed to kill a lamb without blemish, wipe the lamb's blood over the doorpost, and stay inside (eating the lamb and unleavened bread in haste). When the angel of death saw the blood on their doors, he passed over, thus sparing the firstborn of the Israelites. Passover was to be memorialized each year as a feast that lasts seven days. In essence, the lamb is the protector of the Israelites and also seen as the atoner for them. It is because of the blood of the lamb that they are spared death. It is because of Jesus' blood that we are spared (spiritual) death. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). We are "covered by Jesus' blood" and therefore are spared death and given life. Interestingly, Jesus' crucifixion occurred during Passover.
Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament sacrificial system. He became the once-for-all offering for our sins (Hebrews 10:1-18). Jesus being the Lamb of God also refers to other prophecies regarding the Messiah. For example, Isaiah 53:7 says, "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." Jeremiah 11:19 is a similar passage.
In short, Jesus as the Lamb of God is a sacrifice for our sins in fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial system. It is by His sacrifice that our communion with God is restored and by the covering of His blood that we are spared spiritual death.
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