How, though, did John recognize Jesus as being the Lamb of God? The Jews had been waiting for a Messiah, the “Lion of Judah.” A mighty King who would deliver them from the oppression of the Romans—yet, here goes John, portraying Jesus through one of the meekest and gentlest of symbols. What prompted him to call Jesus the Lamb of God?
In order to grasp the full meaning of what John the Baptist saw, we have to go back to, where God had made the promise of a Redeemer right after our first parents sinned. This promise would bring hope to the faithful throughout many generations.
One of the best illustrations of what a redeemer means is found in an event in the life of Abraham. Abraham would often talk to God, so much so that he was called the friend of God. One day, God spoke to Abraham saying, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of” ().
Without a question, Abraham woke up early in the morning, took a donkey, two servants, Isaac, and placed a bundle of wood on Isaac’s back for the sacrifice. The four of them began their journey. On the third day, Abraham could finally see in the distance the place where God had instructed him to make the sacrifice. So he stopped walking and told the servants, “You stay and wait here while Isaac and I go to worship. When we finish, we will come back and meet you here.” Nearing the place of sacrifice, the lad, noticing there was no lamb for the sacrifice asked his father, “Father, we have wood and fire for the sacrifice but we’ve forgotten the lamb!” With a pain any father would feel in his heart, Abraham replied, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” ().
Soon they had arrived at their destination, but there still was no lamb. But without a word of complaint, Isaac submitted himself to Abraham his father, allowing himself to be bound to the altar as a sacrifice. Abraham lifted his knife, intending to do exactly as the Lord had commanded him, when a voice from Heaven broke the deafening silence. “Do not lay a hand on the lad,” God said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (See.)
With a sigh of relief, Abraham put down his knife. All of a sudden, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed something moving in the bushes. He turned to see a ram with its head stuck in the thorns. A lamb had been provided! As Abraham, relieved and incredibly happy, walked down the mountain with Isaac, excited to meet with the clueless servants and tell them the entire story, he decides to call this place “Jehovahjireh,” meaning “the Lord will provide” ().
Abraham had begun his journey believing that the Lord would provide. He came down the mountain having seen with his own eyes the provision made for his son. And with the eyes of faith he could now see the Lord making provision for the salvation of his offspring, who would be innumerable as the sand on the seashore.
The story of God’s provision of a sacrifice was told over and over, first to Isaac’s children, then to his grandchildren and so on. Especially after being delivered from the land of Egypt, the lamb took on a significant and personal meaning to the Israelites. As they traveled toward the Promised Land, God commanded Israel that they commemorate their deliverance with a yearly event called the “Passover.” The name stood for the “passing-over” of the angel of death, as he had taken the lives of all the firstborn sons of those who did not have a lamb’s blood on the doorpost of their houses. That final plague had freed Israel, and they were able to leave Egypt with their sons and travel back “home” to the Promised Land just as Abraham once did with his son Isaac. And every year after that, they would commemorate this salvation with this feast. The Lord commanded them in this way, “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover” (, ESV).
This feast included choosing a male lamb without any spots or blemishes, having it stay with the family for four days and then being roasted with fire and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. None of its bones were to be broken in the process. Every detail was important. And it was intended to be a reminder of their salvation from Egypt as well as a hope for the future salvation from sin. One day a Redeemer would come!
As a total of 41 generations passed from the time of Abraham, the nation of Israel was still waiting for the prophecies to be fulfilled. For a lot of the people, the Passover had become a mere ritual. Many had lost their focus on the promised Lamb; there were a few who still had this hope fresh in their minds. As mentioned earlier, among them was John the Baptist, whom Scripture had prophesied to be the one who paved the way for the Messiah to come.
But since so many of the people did not wholeheartedly behold the glory of the Lord and did not acquaint themselves with Him, their hearts were hardened and their eyes blinded. (.) They were looking for the Lion of Judah, the son of David ( ). They had no eyes for a tender plant without form or comeliness ( ). A Lamb is not what their pride was hoping for. So, as the time for the yearly Passover feast was nearing, they did not realize that their redemption was just as close.
On this occasion, all the Jews would travel to Jerusalem. As they were preparing for this Passover feast, they were also wondering if Jesus would be there. They “spake among themselves, as they stood in the temple, What think ye, that he will not come to the feast?” ().
But while the people were choosing a lamb for the Passover ritual, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. When the people saw Him, they exclaimed, “This is the Son of David! He is the Messiah who will deliver us! We want Him to be our King!” As they were saying this, they began to lay their coats on the ground ahead of Him. Some took leaves and laid them before Jesus, making a path for Him to enter into the city. The people had chosen their Lamb. And at the very same time, the Pharisees also were eyeing Jesus, plotting how they could kill Him in just a few days.
The time everyone had been waiting for since the fall of Adam and Eve had finally come. Israel’s Redeemer has arrived. Jesus eats one last supper with His disciples. Just as in the wilderness, the chosen lambs had spent their last few hours with the family before they would be sacrificed. During His trial, the Lamb of God is tried with cruel accusations, and bitter words, “yet he opened not his mouth” (). Just as Isaac willingly allowed his father to bind him to the altar, so Jesus, is now “brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, he open[s] not his mouth.”
In Exodus 12, the Israelites were commanded to offer the lamb as a sacrifice on the 14th day of the 1st month of the year. So Jesus, after being tried and found guiltless—a Lamb without spot or blemish—is pronounced a death sentence. He is given a heavy wooden cross to carry on His bruised and stinging back. He is the Lamb. HE is the sacrifice, carrying His own wood, just like Isaac on the way to Mount Moriah. But this time, the Father does not have a substitute. This time, Jesus is our substitute. The substitute Lamb with its head stuck in the thorns (). He carries the cross to the same place where years ago, Abraham had found a substitute for his sacrifice.
On the morning of the 14th day of the 1st month, a third cross was raised between two others. It was now 3 in the afternoon. The sun would set soon and the Sabbath rest would begin. In the temple people were bringing lambs to be sacrificed while Jesus, the innocent Lamb, was carrying the weight of every sin committed up to that time, and every sin after. He thought of the bitter cup that was His to drink. No one else was worthy to drink it for Him. But then Jesus thought of me. And He thought of you. Drawing one last breath, He decided it was worth it. And as He breathed out one last time, the words “It Is Finished” rang through the air ().
“The lamb representing Christ had been brought to be slain. Clothed in his significant and beautiful dress, the priest stood with lifted knife, as did Abraham when he was about to slay his son. With intense interest the people were looking on. But the earth trembles and quakes; for the Lord Himself draws near. With a rending noise the inner veil of the temple is torn from top to bottom by an unseen hand, throwing open to the gaze of the multitude a place once filled with the presence of God. . . .
“All is terror and confusion. The priest is about to slay the victim; but the knife drops from his nerveless hand, and the lamb escapes. Type has met antitype in the death of God’s Son. The great sacrifice has been made. The way into the holiest is laid open. A new and living way is prepared for all.”—The Desire of Ages, pp. 756, 757.
From now on, the sacrifice of lambs is no longer needed. The Lamb of God has come and has taken away the sins of all humanity. We no longer need an earthly mediator, because Jesus has become our High Priest. “By His own blood” He entered “once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” ().
This is the beautiful picture John the Baptist saw as he looked at Jesus. Yes, he knew Jesus was the “Lion of Judah,” who would reign as a powerful and sovereign King. But above all, Jesus as the humble Lamb, who was willing to suffer in John’s place, was what overwhelmed his heart with admiration. The Lamb God promised He would provide thousands of years ago, was now walking right towards him.
Dear, reader, whenever you feel that your sin is too great, or that no hope is left, remember the Lamb that was provided on Calvary’s cross. Jesus is still the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Not only for Isaac, and not only for the Israelites in Egypt—His sacrifice allows you and me to escape in freedom from the crushing burden of sin and to enter into eternal life.