The Lamb of God
One of the first references to a lamb in the Bible is in connection with the story of Abraham, when God tested him by requiring of him that he offer Isaac. On the way to the place of sacrifice, Isaac said to his father: “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” To which Abraham responded, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:7–8).
Throughout the Old Testament, as God revealed His plan of salvation stage by stage, He continued to provide a lamb. When He was to redeem His people from Egypt, God instituted the Passover, and stipulated that “on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb” (Ex. 12:3), which was to be sacrificed and eaten to highlight the substitutionary death that would be the means of releasing Israel from captivity.
When He instituted a sacrificial system that was to be fundamental to Israel’s religious life, God stipulated that lambs were to be sacrificed: “two lambs a year old day by day regularly” (29:38). When the sheaf offering was given to the Lord at harvest time, God said: “On the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the Lord” (Lev. 23:12). Fifty days later at Pentecost, Israel was to offer “seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bull from the herd and two rams. They shall be a burnt offering to the Lord” (v. 18). Throughout the Old Testament period, the blood of lambs stained Israel’s altars, part of the elaborate ritual that showed the seriousness with which God took sin, as well as the way in which He was to deal with it.
Yet there was an inadequacy to each sacrifice offered in the Old Testament, an inadequacy evident in the fact that each sacrifice had to be repeated. The Mosaic law could never, “by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near” (Heb. 10:1). God had to provide a better lamb, one whose sacrifice would end all sacrifices and whose blood would deal finally with sin. The answer to Isaac’s question, “where is the lamb?” is ultimately answered by John the Baptist as he points to Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The story of Jesus could almost be regarded as an elaboration of the promise in which Abraham said more than he knew: “God will provide for himself the lamb.”
This theme runs through the New Testament. In presenting the good news to the Ethiopian eunuch, Philip the Evangelist expounds the reference in Isaiah 53:7 to Jesus: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth” (Acts 8:32). Paul encourages the Christians in Corinth to discipline themselves to holiness because “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). And Peter reminds us that we have been redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19).
But it is John the apostle, in the book of Revelation, who really answers Isaac’s question for us and shows us the glory of the Lamb of God’s provision. The Lamb stands before the throne and among the elders who worship Him and who sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:6–12). It is this Lamb who opens the seals of God’s infallible counsel (6:1) and pours His wrath on an unbelieving world (v. 16). It is this Lamb who gathers His blood-washed redeemed (7:9) and shepherds them to the glory-fountains of heaven (7:14). It is this Lamb who enables His people to triumph (12:11) and whose Book contains the names of those who will finally be saved (13:8; 21:27).
Where is the Lamb of God’s provision? He is in heaven’s highest throne, where He receives His bride (19:6–9). He is heaven’s temple (21:22) and heaven’s lamp (21:23). There, in that glory, His people worship Him (22:3). God has provided a Lamb for Himself. God is the Lamb of His own providing.
At the center of the drama of redemption is a Lamb, prepared to be offered, dying so that others will live, bearing away the sins of a people whom God determines to save. We are like sheep going astray (Isa. 53:6); yet the one sheep, the Lamb, which never went astray, God is going to make into a sacrifice. And He will do this in order that straying sheep might be recovered and their sins removed forever. The Lamb of God will be treated as if He had never been holy, so that the lost sheep He came to save will be treated as if they had never sinned.
The biblical image of Jesus the Lamb of God is not just a convenient illustration: it brings us to the very essence and heart of the gospel, where the God-man is held accountable for the law-breaking of sinners, dies as their substitute, and provides a way of salvation through His own shed blood. That is the only gospel the Bible knows: the good news of a Christ, dead at Calvary for the salvation of sinners. God has indeed provided for Himself a Lamb for a burnt offering. Come, see the place where the Lamb lay!