During this Christmas season just past, we often hear of ‘The Lamb’. Most Christians know what that means, no matter if you’re a babe in the faith or mature in the faith. However, the practice of study (in my opinion) means constantly asking questions. I ask myself, ‘what does this mean?’ ‘How can I go deeper?’ ‘What does the Greek say?’ ‘Why is this reference here, at this moment in the narrative, and not earlier in the chapter or later?’ Isn’t this the fifth time this particular reference has been made…so why is that?’ What did the Lord want us to know here?’
Never assume you know the full answer, because we don’t. Never assume we can’t learn more, because God is infinite. He always has things to teach us. So what is “The Lamb”? For many of us in this industrialized world, we may never see a lamb or a grown sheep. We are not agricultural and the metaphors that were immediately understood by the agrarian society in which Jesus preached are lost to us today in terms of daily experience. So we study it.
We are introduced to Jesus as the Lamb when John the Baptist saw Him arrive at the banks of the Jordan. This moment was the one God intended for Jesus to be baptized and begin His earthly ministry as the God-Man.
John the Baptist saw Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Going back in time now, God had told the Israelites that they must sacrifice a year-old lamb twice a day. (Numbers 28:3-4). This act was to shed the blood of a young, perfect animal so that the person’s sins would be atoned for. It goes without explanation that we understand every person on earth is born with a sin nature, and is an enemy of the Lord, at war with Him, and in need of reconciliation. Without atonement, we cannot commune with God.
The sacrifice of the lambs were a temporary covering of those sins that must be repented of and atoned for. A person’s sins are so deep and so tall that a blood covering from one lamb one time certainly would not fulfill the debt to the Lord that the sin’s existence created. People wrongly think, “I lied once, but that’s over and I haven’t lied since, so my sin is gone.” The lie is an offense against God, and that offense remains forever reverberating in the strings of the Milky Way, as a clang against His holy being in the harmonious temple, and as a blight in His sight for all His days. It stays. This stain can never be removed. A sin doesn’t vanish into thin air. You may have forgotten it, but God has not.
Therefore, any sin has an eternal existence and so would need an eternal sacrifice to atone for it. So God set it up that the Law would be delivered at Mt. Sinai, and He ordained that the blood from twice-daily slaughtered lambs would be the covering. Though God made known the Law to the Israelites, the blood covering had been ordained since Genesis 4:4 when Abel brought the first fatlings of his flock as a sacrifice to the LORD.
What about lambs, and sheep in general? What are they like?
Well, when shepherds brought their flocks together to the troughs to drink, the sheep all mixed and mingled. How would the shepherds ever get them sorted out?! Sheep are not branded like cows are. It’s easy- the shepherd calls them. Sheep know the voice of the one who cares for them, and they follow him without making a mistake.
When Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27) his hearers knew exactly what He was talking about. And the lambs followed the mother sheep, who followed the shepherd.
Sheep are not fighters. They may struggle for a moment when caught for shearing, but when they sense they are held firmly in the grip of the shepherd, they give up entirely and become docile.
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7; Mark 15:5).
This is true of sheep and lambs even if they are headed to the slaughter and not just for shearing.
Sheep are flocking animals and have a natural tendency to follow a dominant one to greener pastures.
“The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3)
“I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.” (Ezekiel 34:14)
Lambs are prey animals (grown sheep are too). Wolves stalk them. Lions do too. Jesus was surrounded by wolves many times:
“And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.” (Luke 4:29).
Jesus sent the disciples, saying “Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” (Luke 10:3).
These disciple lambs were innocent, vulnerable, put amidst the cruel schemes of malicious men, just as Jesus was. Some indeed were slaughtered. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is thick.
Jesus was the prototype for that innocent, gentle obedience that He told us to employ now, as His flock.
His death on the cross was as a silent lamb to the heinous slaughter. But His blood is eternal. His perfect life and His holy blood was the fulfillment of the payment to God for the wrath He held against sin and sinners.
Lambs are gentle, vulnerable-looking innocent, and obedient. Make no mistake, the babe grew up. As far as unbelievers go, the lamb was slain. The one who is coming the second time is not the Lamb but is the Holy Righteous One, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, full of wrath and meting it out in perfect precision unto every sinner on the earth.
Yet, for the believer, the Lamb is still the Lamb. It is one aspect of His work on earth that will never be diminished or forgotten. (Revelation 5:13)
The Lamb is in heaven, with God:
“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6a)
The Lamb opens the scroll containing the seals. Lo, He judges:
“Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!”” (Revelation 6:1)
And the Lamb becomes the Shepherd!
“For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17)
Jesus was and is and is to come. He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.