Why Is Jesus Called the Lamb of God?
The title “Lamb of God” applies only to Jesus Christ and connects to Old Testament prophecies of Him. What does His title tell us about Jesus and His work?
We all need a lamb.
But not the kind of lamb that has four legs and a soft wool coat.
What we all need is the innocent blood of another to pay for the wretched sins that justly demand our very lives.
It’s obvious to anyone with eyes to see that the world is increasingly at war with God. His laws are routinely violated, spurned and trampled upon, which means this world is in bad shape spiritually.
Fortunately, the Bible says we do have a lamb—Jesus Christ. As “the Lamb of God,” He gives hope for mankind’s dark and miserable condition.
What is the significance of that title? How does it relate to you? Why is Jesus called the “Lamb of God” in the Bible?
The meaning of lambs in the Old Testament Passover
Picture a scene where tens of thousands of men stand outside their homes, each with a lamb, as they await the arrival of dusk when they are obligated to slit the animal’s throat.
For the enslaved Israelites thousands of years ago, this was no imaginative exercise. It was a bloody reality.
Thousands of lambs were sacrificed on the evening prior to the Israelites’ departure from Egypt in obedience to God’s direct instructions for observing the Passover.
That same night would be marked by the collective cry of devastated Egyptian families whose firstborn died at midnight (Exodus 12:29-30).
But the children of Israel were miraculously spared from the plague. In fact, not one Israelite died. Why is that? Because they had obediently smeared the lambs’ blood on their doorposts as God had said—an act that signaled the “destroyer” to pass over them (verse 23).
What exactly they thought when they first heard God’s detailed, but highly unusual, instructions is unclear from Scripture. But there was one thing they knew and taught their descendants about that night: God saved them from “the destroyer” through the sacrifice of the lamb (verse 23, 27).
Christ fulfilled the symbolism of the Passover lamb
It wasn’t until the New Testament that the true depth of the lesson of the Passover was revealed.
Paul wrote, “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7, emphasis added throughout). In other words, Paul connected the dots and explained how the lambs slaughtered before the Exodus—and the countless others slaughtered in the years that followed—foreshadowed the far greater sacrifice provided by the Messiah.
God is a visual teacher. He intended the observance of Passover to be a graphic exercise packed with profound meaning, not some mindless religious ritual. As the Israelites slit the lambs’ throats, they were supposed to think to themselves, The shed blood of this animal is how God saved us.
As the Israelites would have been condemned to death that night without the lamb’s shed blood, we have all incurred the death penalty many, many times over as a result of our personal sins. Year after year, as the Israelites commemorated their historic deliverance, they literally reenacted the spiritual reality that their very lives depended upon the shed blood of an innocent substitute.
And not just their lives, but the lives of all people throughout time.
As the Israelites would have been condemned to death that night without the lamb’s shed blood, we have all incurred the death penalty many, many times over as a result of our personal sins (Romans 3:23; 6:23).
Were it not for Jesus Christ’s voluntary sacrifice, all we could expect is the fierce condemnation of the lake of fire, which the Bible calls the second death (Revelation 21:8). His willingness to become the Passover lamb for humanity made it possible for us to come under His blood and have our sins forgiven.
The physical salvation Israel experienced on the night of the 10th plague was only a small foretaste of the greater spiritual salvation offered to all through the death of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).
He totally fulfilled the Passover symbolism.
Today, Christians are obligated to continue observing the New Testament Passover as a reminder, or a memorial, of the spiritual deliverance that comes from Christ’s shed blood.
The Lamb of God came from God the Father
Just before Jesus commenced His public ministry, John the Baptist saw Him and was inspired to cry out to his followers, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:35-36). The reference to Jesus as the Passover lamb is included here, but the declaration also connects to a prophecy predating even the first Passover.
Genesis 22 is the well-known story of how Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son of promise, Isaac. We aren’t told what thoughts went swirling through his mind when he got the instructions, but we do know that Abraham wasted no time. The obedient patriarch “rose early” the following day in order to make preparations for the sacrifice (Genesis 22:3).
As Abraham and his company drew nearer to the appointed place, the realization dawned on Isaac—“Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (verse 7).
Carefully read Abraham’s response: “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb” (verse 8).
This turned out to be a prophecy of the coming Savior.
He was the lamb from God the Father. Jesus said, “I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me” (John 8:42).
Jesus’ coming from God to be the substitutionary sacrifice for mankind was foreshadowed by the ram “caught in a thicket by its horns,” which Abraham saw immediately after God stopped him from slaying his son (Genesis 22:13).
That event in Genesis 22 was a prelude to the greatest act of service ever performed. It briefly raised the curtains on God’s ultimate plan to give His own Son’s life in exchange for the life of the world.
Jesus knew that, of course. He had existed alongside the Father for eternity. He revealed His mission to the disciples: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Stop and think, though, about what exactly was required in order to provide the prophesied lamb. Consider how the inherent value of the sacrifice had to amount to more than the sum worth of all human beings who have ever walked the earth, if any were to be saved. It’s impossible for any animal to redeem even a single human being (Hebrews 10:4).
But Jesus Christ, whose life is infinitely more valuable than anything in the universe, could offer a sacrifice that could pay for all of mankind’s indebtedness.
Becoming this perfect sacrifice required that He willingly surrender His immortality, along with the indescribable glory He had as He sat enthroned alongside God the Father in awesome power and authority (Philippians 2:5-8).
In other words, Jesus Christ humbly chose to be sent on this mission. He “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14)—meaning He volunteered to join the ranks of mortal man. Then, at the appointed time, He offered Himself as the unblemished lamb God would provide.
Jesus Christ, who came from God, died so that man could live.
The Lamb of God and you
The sacrificial provision of a lamb taught the Israelites that they could be saved from death with the blood of a substitute.
That is why Jesus is called the Lamb of God.
Isn’t it a blessing to know that God is willing to accept the death of His Son in your place, so you don’t have to pay the penalty of sin with your own life?