“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”
He was John the Baptist who uttered these words.
He was a man sent from God for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe (John 1:6, 7).
He was a man who, a little more than forty days before, when he baptized the Lord Jesus in the Jordan, had heard the witness from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Not only so, but he also witnessed the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him (Matthew 3:16), leaving John with no doubt but that Jesus was the Son of God Who should come into the world to save His people from their sins, and Whose way John had been commissioned to prepare.
Such wonderful happenings could not occur in secret, but they were noised abroad, and came to the ears of the Pharisees and rulers of the people in Jerusalem, who, in turn, sent priests and Levites to John with the question: “Who art thou?” (John 1:19). It was while they were interrogating him as to his identity, that Jesus, returning from the temptation in the wilderness, came once more to John, evidently now with the intention that John should point Him out. Thus we read: “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and then he uttered the words of our text: “Behold the Lamb of God, Which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29b).
All the questioning by the priests and Levites as to John’s identity could draw out of John but one answer: “I am not the Christ, nor Elias, nor that prophet, but I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord, as saith the prophet Esaias.” And when they were concerned with respect to his baptism, he replied: “I baptize with water, but there standeth One among you, Whom ye know not; He it is, Who coming after me, is preferred before me, Whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose” (John 1:25-27). At that moment Jesus appeared, and John seeing Him said:
“Behold the Lamb of God!”
The figure was well-known in Israel.
Not only was the lamb the symbol of meekness and passivity among all the creatures in God’s creation, but it was judged worthy by God to stand out among the clean animals fit for sacrifice. It was not Israel who designed the lamb for sacrificial purposes, but the God of Israel Who gave commandment for its use. All typology was divinely prearranged and imposed upon Israel. And among the types, the lamb stands preeminent in Israel’s ceremonial service. Hence, it appears in the morning and evening sacrifice. It was predominant in the great day of atonement as the paschal lamb. It served in the redemption of the firstborn of man and beast.
Typically Israel was taught from its historical origins to look to the lamb for its redemption. More particularly it was to the blood of the lamb that the Israel of God had to look for the remission of sin. Revolting as blood theology may appear to the natural man, it was precisely this theology that God from earliest times taught His people Israel and us. Without the shedding of blood there is no redemption, and the only blood that could possibly redeem was to be found in God’s Lamb, of which the creature lamb was a fit symbol.
Behold the Lamb of God!
He is God’s Lamb!
Israel could not produce Him. O, indeed, Israel in obedience to God’s command could bring for sacrifice the lambs of their flocks, and they did. But with all the shedding of blood, Israel had to learn two important things. First of all, they had to learn that not all the blood could wash away one sin. Secondly, Israel must look beyond the type to the Antitype, the prefigurement as well as the fulfillment of all the lambs, as it would be realized only in the Lamb of God. Israel’s redemption lay not in all the sacrificial rites performed by Israel, but in the provision of the God of Israel, Who alone could and would redeem them. In one word, Israel had to look for the Lamb which was to come, the Lamb of God. That was the significance of the paschal lamb slain at the departure of Israel from Egypt, the house of bondage, as Christ taught His disciples in the last supper just before His sacrifice on the cross. That was also the significance of the prophecy of Isaiah 53, where the prophet in vivid terms describes the redemption of God’s people: “He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter . . . 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.”
That Lamb, in all His significance, John now sees standing before him in the Person of the Son of God made flesh. Verily, he recognizes in Him all the fulfillment of prophecy. Here is, indeed, the promised Lamb of God.
Fix your eyes upon Him! Look at Him from every angle! Do not fail to see that in Him is all your salvation! For it is in Him alone that God has prepared all of your redemption.
He it is that takes away the sin of the world.
The sin of the world? Which world?
Important it is that we pause for a moment or two to find the answer to that question.
Does the Baptist refer to the world (cosmos) of ordered things as they came into being by the word and power of the Creator? That is the meaning of the term when the Scriptures speak of the world apart from the facts of sin and grace. You find it in such passages which speak of what God did “before the foundation of the world.” It is obvious that the Baptist does not have that world in mind, for he speaks of the sin of the world.
What then? Does he perhaps speak here of the world as it has come under the power of evil? Of the world of which the devil is prince? The wicked world which we are commanded not to seek or to love? The world which is passing away? Though it is true that the Baptist is speaking of the sin of the world, it should be plain to us that he cannot have in mind the world that perishes in the way of its sin, but of the world that is saved. Moreover, to say that the Lamb of God takes away the sin of that world would militate against all Scripture which denies universal atonement, and the salvation of all men head for head.
That leaves then but one conclusion, that he must refer to the world of which the apostle John later speaks in this gospel: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). That is the world of God’s good pleasure, the object of His eternal love. That is the world of which God’s Son in the flesh is the firstborn of all creation (Col. 1:15, 18). That is the world of the new creation of which the apostle John writes in his Revelation, where he in prophetic vision sees the first heaven and earth passed away, and a new heaven and earth, in the center of which is the new Jerusalem, and the tabernacle of God is with men, and God dwelling with His people, and wiping all tears from their eyes. Where there is no more pain, no sorrow, no death, where all the former things are passed away (Rev. 21:1-4). That is the world for which God sent His Son, which He purposed to save, and for which He prepared and sent His Lamb.
That world’s sin He takes away!
To understand this, we must remember that the world of God’s election historically and organically had its origin in the world of sin and death. We must also remember that it was God’s eternal purpose to realize the world of His good pleasure through the way of sin and grace (Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1). Hence, the sin of the world of God’s good pleasure is the sin of Adam, our first father; and the natural depravity of the world is the depravity in which each of God’s elect is conceived and born. All the elect, whether Jew or Gentile, are under sin (Romans 3:9). Into that state and condition the law of God came, only to magnify and to make that sin and depravity to become exceeding great (Romans 7:18-25).
What should be clearly understood is the Scriptural truth that, though it is true that the Lamb of God came into the world which lay under the power of sin and death, He did not come to save all sinners, nor to make salvation possible for all men if only they would believe on Him. We repeat, God did not send His Lamb to redeem the world that perishes and passes away. But He came to take away the sin of the world of His good pleasure, the world which is the object of His eternal love, the world of His election.
For the sin of that world of God’s good pleasure, the God of our salvation prepares and sends His Lamb, His sacrifice of atonement. He makes Him to be sin, Who knew no sin, in order that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (II Cor. 5:21).
It is in this connection that we learn from Scripture that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (II Cor. 5:19).
That He takes away the sin of that world means literally, first of all, that He lifts it up, raises it from the shoulders of that world, and then bears it away never to return. And noticeably, the Baptist uses the term in its present tense, which means that, as John saw Him, He was in the very act of removing the sin. It means that from the moment of His birth to the moment of His death the Lamb of God was taking away the sin of God’s world. That also explains the reason for His circumcision and baptism. Indeed, He was the holy child Jesus, Who knew no sin; but He was made sin, and the sin and guilt of His people rested upon Him. And through the way of the shedding of His blood, of which circumcision and baptism were the signs, He must enter into the world of sin and darkness, and lead out the world of God’s good pleasure. Not only is He the sin-bearer of God’s world, but as the Lamb of God He must take that sin away—all of it. And in its place He gives His righteousness, the righteousness of God.
How does He do that?
He does that, first of all, as the Head of His people. Mark well, precisely in the same way that people are lost in sin and death, namely through the sin and fall of our first head, Adam, so in that way God also redeems them, but now through the last Adam, the Lord from heaven. He is the Head of all the redeemed (Ephesians 1:20-23). He is that as the Lamb of God. How strikingly this is expressed by the voices of all the redeemed as the apostle John envisions them in their final glory. All the redeemed ascribe salvation to God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands. And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb” (Rev. 7:10-12). Verily, God’s Lamb is given to His people to stand in their place.
Secondly, in the way of perfect obedience He delivers them. In the fullness of time He assumes their flesh and takes upon Him their guilt. He is born under the law, bearing their sin. He ascends the hill of the skull to suffer death in their stead. He rises from the dead, declaring their righteousness. He ascends to the throne of God, interceding for them with the Father. He receives without measure the Spirit to fill their hearts with all the graces of salvation. He brings them at last into the tabernacle of God, a righteous and holy people, who ascribe to God all their salvation through the Lamb.
Behold, Him, then, ye people of God!
The Lamb which God prepared to take away all your sin!
When you and I behold Him thus, then already now we begin to sing, as we will unto all eternity with all the redeemed, and all the holy angels: “Amen: Blessing and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto God for ever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 7:12).