Behold, the Lamb of God
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
A lamb to change the world
There are only two books in the bible where Christ is called the Lamb of God, and both of those books are written by John. We heard in the opening prologue of our study of John, his reference to the Word. Now we hear John the Baptist announce and introduce “The Lamb of God”.
We have read the whole story and we can jump to the conclusion that the references are to Jesus Christ but we must also look at history and the culture where this was first introduced. Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find a lamb used in the expiation of sin. In the sin offerings in ancient Israel, bulls and goats were used in the sacrifice and the scapegoat was driven out into the wilderness, but lambs were not used.
Do we find it strange that John uses this announcement in his Gospel, but the other writers do not? To most of us, this is not a new label, we are familiar with lambs, and offerings and our mind can quickly go to our mental version of the whole story. An interesting fact is that the term Lamb of God is actually only used by Apostle John. The reference from John the Baptist and then later in his book of Revelation.
between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain… – Revelation 5:6 ESV
Then several references are reiterated:
11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” – Revelation 5:11-13 ESV
We also have a bit of scripture that is provided by Peter that references the blood of Christ, like that of a lamb.
18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you. – 1 Peter 1:18-20 ESV
As we learn about Christianity, we learn more and more about offerings, especially sin offerings. Those things that were given as payment of homage for shortcomings. John’s reference to the lamb was very meaningful to those reading his works.
What are some of your insights to the use of the term “Lamb of God”?
There are some quick references to maybe Abraham taking his innocent son up the hill to make an offering to God. There may be the wild protection of the lamb’s blood spread over the doors for identification during the initial Passover. The innocence of a baby lamb is a constant image. We even see pictures of where Jesus is carrying a lamb. We sing songs of “the Lion and the Lamb”. A strong reference we also get is from the prophet Isaiah in chapter 53.
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 ESV
The visual interpretation that comes to mind in reading Isaiah’s words seems to take me right to Jerusalem, to when Jesus was led to his death sentence. Jesus was disrespected, abused, and yet having the power to overthrow such actions, he opened not his mouth. I have been around many animals on a ranch in my life and when there is such turmoil, there is no silence, there is much chaos. That is where the control, focus and dedication of Jesus and the task at hand intersects.
The idea of a lamb taking away all the sins of the world that was declared by John the Baptist puts us in the frame of mind of a sacrificial offering as well. How could a timid and bashful animal such as a lamb take away the sin of the world?
What are some characteristics that come to mind when you think of a lamb?
35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. – John 1:35-39 ESV
Were you aware that the first disciples were not called by Jesus to “follow him”. When we look at the scripture we can see that they overheard John proclaiming Jesus as the Lamb of God and they took the initiative on their own.
When we read a passage like this we see that there is more of a two-way process going on than the people in the story realized at that time. The individuals were looking for the coming Messiah, but what they did not realize was that the coming Messiah was looking for them. Eager in their excitement, they had no idea what this was going to involve.
The scriptures identify the first two as most likely followers of John the Baptist that transitioned to following the proclaimed Messiah. We know one of the two first disciples was Andrew, who ends up going and finding his brother, Cephas, and is ecstatic to share the news that they have found the Messiah.
Who was the other one?
The simplest answer is that this was one of the other early disciples who met and followed Jesus right from the start. Since he is not named, here or elsewhere, it is not impossible that we are here meeting the author of the book.
John knows that many of his readers will begin to identify with characters in his story. Up to this point in the Gospel, John has told us about John the Baptist and the people sent from Jerusalem to check him out. We aren’t likely to identify with them. But now here, it seems, are ordinary characters, people on a quest, looking for something. This is likely the same behavior we had when we decided to check out a Saturday morning bible study with a couple guys.
What are a couple of faith-filled actions that you took by the incentive of the Holy Spirit? Did you have a calling? Or did you use your own initiative?
To be truthful to the Word and our own realities, we must realize just because the first “followers” of Jesus took their own initiative, we must also understand that like many around us and maybe ourselves included, there is initial wavering. Andrew and John may have had that initial draw towards Jesus, but it is documented that they probably gave it a try for a little while, but ended up going back to life as usual. We know this because in the other Synoptics that Jesus comes along the sea of Galilee and sees the men fishing and invites them along.
16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. – Mark 1:16-18 ESV
Now that we learn from John directly that the men had a previous encounter with Jesus at the river, it makes it more understandable that the dropped everything and followed Him. It was not their first encounter with Jesus. It is a speculation that their first encounters with Jesus planted a seed in their heart. They maybe even discussed among themselves about the man the met. Then when He came by the shore, that seed sprouted and the moved into that ultimate relationship with Jesus.
As we share the Gospel with others, they may be at first interested and may even fellowship for a time with us and then fade. Let us not discredit the work that God does with us and through us. We may be planting seeds that will flourish in the future.
Have you personally experienced a similar example where a seed was planted within you and yet it did not flourish immediately, but sprouted later?
The calling of Philip and Nathanael is unique to John’s Gospel and is not found in the Synoptics. John’s attention of these calling details reiterates his passion for making disciples. The Synoptic Gospels only mention Philip in their lists of the Twelve. John uses some very detailed stories about Philip, providing evidence that he knows Philip firsthand. It is not just one time, but many: John 6:5-7, John 12:20-26; John 14:8-9.
Nathaniel is not mentioned as one of the Twelve in the Synoptics, but he is usually associated with Bartholomew since John never refers to Bartholomew by name in his Gospel. It is quite possible that Nathanael was his personal name or first name. Bartholomew and Philip are always paired in the lists of the Twelve from the Synoptics.
Coming and going
Jesus does a miraculous event when he actually interacts with Nathanael and let’s him know his power. Jesus shares with him that he knew who he was before Philip came and invited him from under the fig tree. That had to be creepy, and the immediate response was “wow, you must be the Son of God”. Jesus then declares that what they have witnessed is nothing compared to what is to come.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” – John 1: 51 ESV
John’s language sounds confused. We might expect angels coming and going from heaven to “descend and ascend,” not the reverse. But John was alluding to Genesis 28:12, in which Jacob dreamed about a stairway on which angels were “going up and down.” Heaven will again open at Christ’s resurrection and at His return; angels will accompany Him to heaven and one day usher Him back to earth.
What are you seeking?
As we come together in community, the question posed by Jesus in this section gets laid before us: What are you seeking? There is a void within us that creates a perpetual desire for more. What are you striving for? What does it feel like is a void in your life? What do you think Jesus is calling into? Where do you feel Him leading you?
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
- R. C. Sproul. John (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary). Kindle Edition.
- Nicholas Thomas Wright. John for Everyone. Kindle Edition
- Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
- Godet, F., & Dwight, T. (1886). Commentary on the Gospel of John: With a Critical Introduction (Vol. 1). New York: Funk & Wagnalls.