Lamb of God


     The story of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt (see Ex. 12:1-32) is the most significant example of a substitutionary sacrifice in the Old Testament.  God had inflicted plagues on Egypt in order to cause Pharaoh to release the Israelites from bondage.  Egypt had suffered nine plagues, and still Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go.  They were the workforce behind his great construction projects, and he was not willing to lose this valuable source of free labor.  A final, tenth plague was about to occur — one that would be so devastating to Egypt and to Pharaoh personally that he would at last relent and let the people go.  God was going to pass through the land of Egypt at night and strike dead the firstborn of every household.  God instructed Moses to tell the congregation of Israel that every household was to take a lamb and kill it at twilight.  They were to put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and the lintel of their houses.  The LORD was going to pass through Egypt that night and strike dead the firstborn of every household.  But where the LORD saw blood on the doorposts, he would pass over; no death would fall upon that household.  At midnight the LORD struck down the firstborn throughout Egypt, including the house of Pharaoh.  The cry throughout the land caused Pharaoh to finally let the Israelites go.  The Jews observe this event annually as the Passover, ever since the LORD passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt.

Symbolism of the Passover

     The Passover contains much symbolism that points to Christ.  Just as the Israelites were in bondage in Egypt, so we are in bondage to sin.  The lamb that was sacrificed for the Passover was to be perfect, without blemish.  In his first Epistle, Peter identifies Christ as the spotless lamb whose blood ransomed us from our bondage to sin (see 1 Peter 1:18-19).  The blood of the Passover lamb averted death of the firstborn among the Israelites.  Now the blood of Christ covers our sins and rescues us from death.  During the Last Supper when Jesus was celebrating the Passover with his disciples for the last time, he took the cup and when he had given thanks he said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:27-28).  Jesus instituted the New Covenant with the breaking of bread and drinking the cup of wine — symbols of his body that was sacrificed and his blood that was spilled on the cross for our sins.

Jesus as the Lamb of God

    John the Baptist stands at the transition point between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.  He made the prophetic statement about Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 KJV).  John the Baptist was the first to use the epithet Lamb of God for Jesus, clearly identifying him with the sacrificial lamb of the Passover. The words of John the Baptist are sung in the Chorus, Behold the Lamb of God, in Handel’s Messiah.  This chorus is the first piece in Part 2: The Suffering Lamb Who Redeems.

     In his first letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul called Christ our Passover Lamb, who has been sacrificed (see 1 Cor. 5:7).  The Book of Revelation is full of references to Jesus as the Lamb.  These texts have inspired many musicians to create sacred music in honor and praise of the Lamb of God.  The most famous are the words that Handel put to music in the Chorus, Worthy Is the Lamb in the Messiah: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Rev. 5:12 KJV).  Samuel Barber wrote Agnus Dei (Latin for Lamb of God) as a choral arrangement of his famous Adagio for Strings.  Many old hymns have captured the sacrificial atonement of Christ as the Lamb in beautiful verse.  For example, the first and third verses of William Cowper’s hymn, There is a Fountain Filled with Blood, read:

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

Dear dying Lamb,
Thy precious blood,
Shall never lose it power,
‘Til all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved, to sin no more.

     The Book of Revelation has inspired contemporary Christian song writers to compose pieces about the Lamb of God.  Twila Paris’ song Lamb of God is a good example.  Michael W. Smith repeats the phrase “Worthy is the Lamb” in the song Agnus Dei.  The chorus to the song You Are My All In All by Dennis Jernigan says:

Jesus, Lamb of God
Worthy is Your name.

Jesus, Lamb of God
Worthy is Your name.

The gospel song Now Behold the Lamb echoes the words of John the Baptist.

Substitutionary Atonement

    The doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Christ has fallen into disrepute in modern times, especially the penal aspects of it.  It has become offensive to those who see God’s punishment of Christ for our sins as vindictive and unloving.  A loving God would not treat his only Son in such a way, some say.  Yet the most recognized verse in the Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  God was willing to give up his Son on the cross for our salvation because he loved us, and Jesus was willing to make the sacrifice as our substitute.  The substitutionary atonement of Christ is the heart of the Gospel.  To reject it is to reject the Gospel message.

     Those who reject the substitutionary atonement of Christ downplay the seriousness of sin and the holiness and justice of God.  The little jingle “We are not so bad; God is not so mad” summarizes this position.  But this is not how the Scriptures portray the situation.  In Isaiah’s vision of the throne of heaven, the seraphim proclaim the holiness of God.  Realizing his sinfulness before a holy God, Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5).  Even what good we think we do is tainted with selfish motives and self-righteousness.  Again the prophet Isaiah says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isa. 64:6).  We deceive ourselves into thinking that we are well, when we are desperately sick.  The sickness is with our hearts, as the prophet Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

     Chapter 53 of the Book of Isaiah contains the most detailed prophecy of the Messiah who bears the penalty of our sins.  This prophecy about the Messiah is the Gospel message given over 700 years before Jesus was born.  Isaiah says of the Messiah, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5‑6).  In his first Epistle, Peter summarizes these verses from the prophet Isaiah saying, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25).  The healing that Isaiah and Peter describe is a result of the forgiveness and pardon that we receive for our sins, so that in Christ we might become righteous before God (see Isa. 1:18; 2 Cor. 5:21).

     Here is a playlist of the pieces referenced in this blog.

     For further reading about Jesus as the Messiah, see my book The Road to Emmaus: Christ in the Old Testament – Inspired by Handel’s Messiah.