Introduction: why a Lamb?
Contents part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4
One of the most precious titles of the Lord Jesus Christ is that of ‘The Lamb of God”. On closer consideration two thoughts come to mind. Firstly, although Jesus is referred to as the Lamb thirty times in the NT, only four of these are outside the book of Revelation! And of these only two are outside of John’s writings. The second observation is that, in spite of the fact that all of the OT sacrificial system speaks of the work of Christ, Jesus is only directly referred to as a Lamb and not as any other animal that was used under the Old Covenant rituals. What then are we to make of all this? What can we learn?
This is the first of seven proposed studies considering Jesus as the Lamb of God. This first one will look at why Christ is referred to as the Lamb of God; the second as the Lamb on the throne; thirdly the Lamb on Mount Sion, fourthly the blood of the Lamb, then the Shepherd Lamb, next the worthy Lamb, seventhly the wrath of the Lamb, and finally the Lamb's wife. Since most references are found in the book of the Revelation the studies will be based in this last book of Scripture, but this first study is a look at why Jesus is called the Lamb of God. We shall consider this under the following headings.
Abel was a shepherd, and he brought the firstlings of the flock, this can only be lambs by definition. God accepted Abel but not so Cain, why? Let us consider the passage in more detail. Cain only brought the fruit of the ground, whereas Abel brought a lamb also. Note that word also, it implies that Abel brought fruit of the ground too, but the difference was the lamb, it was on this that God accepted Abel. God said to Cain that if he did well he too would be accepted. We have to conclude then that God could only be approached by the shedding of blood and here it was the blood of lambs. Indeed the idea of shedding blood was known to Adam: after the Fall God had slain animals to cloth Adam and Eve (Gen.2: 21), it was as if God were saying that He was covering (in the OT sense) sin and there had to be the shedding of blood; it is interesting to note that the animals God slew are not identified. With Abel it is clear that it was a lamb that had to be used to approach God, how significant this is when we refer to Jesus as the Lamb of God.
Turning to the New Testament we can see how this fits in with the Lord Jesus.
The Fall had the immediate consequence of man’s expulsion from God’s presence. The coming of the Lord Jesus and His death/resurrection was to undo all that, and restore us to full fellowship with God. Through His death Jesus accomplished many things, and one of them was to remove the spiritual veil between mankind and the Godhead. Jesus allowed His body to be broken, allowed the human race to torture Him and put Him on one of the most barbaric instruments of execution ever devised by the human mind. He allowed God to smite Him, and cut Him off from the Divine fellowship for a period of time. Why? On that cross, nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus was paying the price of sin; not His own, for He had none, but rather taking the punishment for the whole of the human race. The result of which is that we can now approach God. We can enter the holiest of all because of what Jesus did at Calvary, His broken body opened up the way for us to approach God. We are made accepted in Him, note we are not accepted by what we are or do, it is because of JESUS and Him alone. Eph.1:6
Jesus the Lamb is the one alone by whom we can approach and be accepted by God.
This incident is to do with Abraham’s test in obedience to God.. The story is well known: God commands Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering . Abraham fulfils the order to the letter and as he is about to kill his only son, and heir, Isaac when God stops him and a ram is provided in his place. Thus God proved Abraham’s heart in the matter of complete obedience. Now this incident in itself is full of teaching, but for our present purpose we want to see how the lamb fits into it all.
In the verses quoted above we see that Abraham said that God will provide a Lamb. Now let us think very carefully about this. Firstly Abraham expected that he had to kill Isaac, in fact the writer to the Hebrews says as much, it says that Abraham was expecting a resurrection for Isaac, not a substitute! Secondly Abraham was a prophet (Gen.20:7), God called him one! At the mount God provided a ram and not a lamb , the two Hebrew words are different, so when Abraham uttered the words above it could not be directly relate to the offering of Isaac, otherwise he would have proved a false prophet. Bearing in mind that God provided a ram (Gen.22: 13), it would suggest that Abraham was speaking prophetically concerning Christ. It is as though Abraham had some insight into what God was to do further down the ages; Abraham saw Christ's day and rejoiced ( Jn.8:56). Was it at this time that Abraham saw the Lord's day?
It was to be a burnt offering; in the first section above we saw that the using a lamb was the way Abel approached God. The burnt offering as seen in the Levitical code. (Lev.1:4) was concerned with approaching and being accepted by God. With Abel's offering we concluded that Jesus was the one alone by whom we approach God, here we learn that it is God who provides that burnt offering. From the very outset of human history God promised a Saviour Gen.3:15, for we can not provide one ourselves. From before creation God, seeing the fall and its consequences, had the provision in hand. His provision is JESUS, no one else was acceptable to God.
Jesus the Lamb is God's provision and was so from the beginning.
We have now moved on to the account of the Exodus, where the Israelites were brought out of Egypt. The word division in the above passage can be translated as redeemed. So we see that the exodus was to do with redemption. This was to be a division between God’s people and the Egyptians. God was to take Israel out of Goshen into the land He had previously promised to Abraham. Redemption was to be the way God performed this separation.
God was telling Moses that the bondage that Israel was enduring in Egypt was about to come to an end: God was about to redeem them from the Egyptians. This word redeem also means to buy back, especially the purchasing of a slave with a view to their freedom. So it was with the Israelites. For many years they were slaves in Egypt and now God was to buy them back from their owners in order to belong to Him. But how did God redeem them?
Turning to the twelfth chapter of Exodus we see this
The Passover was God’s way. Each household was to take a lamb, slay it, eat it and put the blood on the doorposts and lintels. That night God would pass through the land and smite the firstborn if they were not inside a house where the lamb's blood was not on the door post. As we move through Exodus we see further that:
The whole Passover was to do with redemption, that is ownership. God bought Israel from the Egyptians, and He used the LAMB to do so; later we see that when the firstlings are to be redeemed a lamb is used. The use of the lamb in redemption is too clear to miss. We only need to turn to the NT and see the clear teaching. Firstly Christ is our Passover, and has been sacrificed for us.
Secondly, Peter refers to Christ as the Lamb here in the context of redemption. We are redeemed by the blood of Christ, not with silver or gold etc. If we had stayed in Exodus and looked at Numbers too we would have seen that the firstborn were redeemed by silver. (Num.3: 40-51; 18:15-16). The value of a ransom is, of course what is paid, Peter tells us we are redeemed with Christ’s blood! God values us so much, that only the blood of His Son would do. In fact there was no other price that could redeem us! Just think of it that we are bought with God’s own blood!(Acts 20:28)
Putting the two meanings of the word redemption together, we see that God by using a lamb bought Israel from the ownership of Pharaoh and thus separated them unto Himself. In the New Covenant God bought us with The LAMB that is Christ, and separated us unto Himself, from slavery.
But what are we enslaved to? Jesus gives us that answer- sin Jn.8: 30-36. We cannot free ourselves, we are held in its grip Jesus the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world, purchased us. The word redeem in Peter means to release on receipt of the ransom. Thus when we turn to Christ the debt has already been paid and we are set at liberty from the enemy and the slavery of sin. One more thought:
Paul in Timothy uses a word for ransom, which means ‘ vicarious ransom’ that, is Jesus not only paid the debt, but also was the ransom Himself. Once more we get the same recurring idea that not only has God provided all things necessary for our salvation, but He Himself was the full provision of those things. What a wonderful God we have!
Considering the Passover once more, it was not only redemption for God’s people but also judgement on their enemies. By being bought with the blood of Christ and redeemed to God, judgement had come upon the enemies of God, Pharoah and his armies were all overthrown in the Red Sea; God's great baptism put them to death! At the cross Jesus utterly defeated the devil and all his hosts, Jesus stripped the principalities of darkness of their power and authority, we were freed from their bondage, glory to God! (Col.2: 14-15)
Jesus the lamb is the one who redeems us and frees us from the enemy
Every morning and evening Israel was to offer a lamb continually. That is the burnt offering was to be repeated; this would have been a continual reminder to Israel of God’s ways and that He required shed blood so that we could approach Him . But it also reminds us of the inadequacy of the OT sacrificial system, for had it been perfect there would have not been any need for repeated sacrifice, as the writer to the Hebrews has it:
So then the sacrifice of animals never took away sin, they were shadows of the reality; but the reality is that of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In the ninth and tenth chapters of Hebrews the writer covers this aspect in some detail. He uses the word once, the Greek word is much stronger; it is ONCE FOR ALL.
The relevant verses are:
We see that Jesus came once and for all into this world with the intention of putting away sin by His own sacrifice, He was offered once and for all as that sacrifice and through Him we are sanctified once and for all. There is finality about the phrase: once and for all. Not to be repeated nor even re-enacted. Jesus’ death and sacrifice was the ONE and ONLY sacrifice that took away sin. Any one who claims to be able to take away sin, or re-enact Jesus’ sacrifice is acting contrary to scripture and is guilty of blasphemy, for such claims negate Christ’s uniqueness in His person and work.
Finally we see that the continual sacrifice at the Tabernacle shows us that Christ’s death and its efficacy is continually before the throne of God. This is why we can always approach God, Jesus is there still with the scars of Calvary as a reminder of His death and the Father’s acceptance of His work. The blood of Jesus still pleads before the throne, it is eternally effective. This is why we read:
Jesus the Lamb- His sacrificial work is finished, and is eternally effectual .