Lamb of God
(ho amnos tou theou): This is a title specially bestowed upon our Lord by John the Baptist (Joh 1:29-36), "Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!" In Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs an apocryphal book, probably of the 2nd century--we have the term used for the Messiah, "Honor Judah and Levi, for from them shall arise for you the Lamb of God, saving all nations by grace." But the term does not seem to have been of any general use until it received its distinctly Christian significance. It has been generally understood as referring to the prophetic language of Jer 11:19, and Isa 53:7.
1. Sacrificial Sense of the Term:
It is far more probable, however, that the true source of the expression is to be found in the important place which the "lamb" occupies in the sacrifices, especially of the Priestly Code. In these there was the lamb of the daily morning and evening sacrifice. How familiar this would be to the Baptist, being a member of a priestly family! On the Sabbath the number of the offerings was doubled, and at some of the great festivals a still larger number were laid upon the altar (see Ex 29:38; Nu 28:3,9,13). The lamb of the Passover would also occupy a large place in the mind of a devout Israelite, and, as the Passover was not far off, it is quite possible that John may have referred to this as well as to other suggested ideas connected with the lamb. The sacrificial significance of the term seems to be far more probable than the mere comparison of the character of our Lord with meekness and gentleness, as suggested by the words of the prophets, although these contain much more than the mere reference to character (see below). That this became the clearly defined conception of apostolic teaching is clear from passages in Paul and Peter (1Co 5:7; 1Pe 1:18 f). In the Book of Revelation the reference to the Lamb occurs 27 times. The word here used differs from that in John. The amnos of the Gospel has become the arnion of the Apocalypse, a diminutive form suggestive of affection. This is the word used by our Lord in His rebuke and forgiveness of Peter (Joh 21:15), and is peculiarly touched therefore with an added meaning of pathetic tenderness. Westcott, in his Commentary on Joh 1:29, refers to the conjecture that there may have been flocks of lambs passing by on their way to Jerusalem to be used at the feast. This is possible, but fanciful. As applied to Christ, the term certainly suggests the meekness and gentleness of our Lord's nature and work, but could not have been used by John without containing some reference to the place which the lamb bore in the Judaic ritualism.
2. As Variously Understood:
The significance of the Baptist's words has been variously understood. Origen, Cyril, Chrysostom, among the ancients, Lucke, DeWette, Meyer, Ewald, Alford, among the moderns, refer it to Isa 53:7; Grotius, Bengel, Hengstenberg, to the paschal lamb; Baumgarten-Crusius, etc., to the sin offering; Lange strongly urges the influence of the passage in Isa 53:1-12, and refers to John's description of his own mission under the influence of the second part of Isaiah, in which he is supported by Schaff. The importance of the Isaiah-thought is found in Mt 8:17; Ac 8:32; 1Pe 2:22-25.
3. As Set Forth by Isaiah:
It is to be observed that the Septuagint in Isa 53:7 translates the Hebrew word for sheep (seh), by the Greek word for lamb. In 53:10, the prophet's "suffering one" is said to have made "his soul an offering for Isaiah sin," and in 53:4 "he hath borne our griefs," where bearing involves the conception of sin offering, and as possessing justifying power, the idea of "'taking away." John indeed uses not the Septuagint word (pherein), but (airein), and some have maintained that this simply means "put away" or "support," or "endure." But this surely loses the suggestion of the associated term "lamb," which John could not have employed without some reference to its sacrificial and therefore expiatory force. What Lange calls a "germ perception" of atonement must certainly have been in the Baptist's mind, especially when we recall the Isaiah-passages, even though there may not have been any complete dogmatic conception of the full relation of the death of Christ to the salvation of a world. Even the idea of the bearing of the curse of sin may not be excluded, for it was impossible for an Israelite like John, and especially with his surroundings, to have forgotten the significance of the paschal lamb, both in its memorial of the judgment of Egypt, as well as of the deliverance of Israel. Notwithstanding every effort to take out of this striking phrase its deeper meanings, which involve most probably the combination of all the sources above described, it must ever remain one of the richest mines of evangelical thought. It occupies, in the doctrine of atonement, a position analogous to that brief word of the Lord, "God is a Spirit" (Joh 4:24), in relation to the doctrine of God.
The Lamb is defined as "of God," that is, of Divine providing. See Isa 53:1-12; Re 5:6; 13:8. Its emphatic and appointed office is indicated by the definite article, and whether we refer the conception to a specific sacrifice or to the general place of a lamb in the sacrificial institution, they all, as being appointed by and specially set apart for God, suggest the close relation of our Lord to the Divine Being, and particularly to His expiatory sacrifice.
L. D. Bevan