What does it mean that Jesus is the Lamb of God?

If you were alive when Jesus was on earth and you wanted to point Him out to those around you, what would you call Him? Lord, Savior, and King are titles that immediately come to my mind. What about Lamb of God? That is what John the Baptist called Jesus at the beginning of His ministry (John 1:29, 36). Why did he do that? What makes Jesus the Lamb of God? To understand this title, we must begin in the Old Testament.

When God first gave the Law to the Israelites, He also gave instructions for how the Israelites were be reconciled to Him when they broke His Law. Every morning and evening, a lamb was sacrificed in the temple to atone for the sins of the people (Exodus 29:38-42). Various portions of the book of Leviticus detail God’s instruction for offering a blood payment/sacrifice for sin. Hebrews 9:22 sums up God’s requirement for atonement (making amends): "…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."

Old Testament Guidelines for Sacrifice

Three specific guidelines were often given in order for the sacrifice to be accepted (Leviticus 4:27, 32-35):

  1. The animal had to be perfect. It could not have a defect, blemish, or be sick.
  2. The person offering the sacrifice was to place his hand on the animal’s head, signifying that the guilt of his sin was being transferred to and now carried by the animal. The innocent animal was being sacrificed on behalf of, and in place of, the guilty person.
  3. The animal had to be killed. The death of the animal signified that the payment for sin had been made since the “…wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

A lamb was a common animal that was used to pay the punishment for one’s sin. God gave these instructions of animal sacrifice as a temporary covering for one’s sins, which was a foreshadowing of the perfect and complete sacrifice of Jesus to come.

In fact, right after the first sin was committed by Adam and Eve, God killed an animal to provide a covering for them—both physically (as clothing) and spiritually (as payment for their sin) (Genesis 3:2, 21). This was the beginning of an animal dying on behalf of a human and shedding its blood to be a payment for sin.

The Passover Lamb

A second significant reference to a sacrificial lamb is during the first Passover (Exodus 12:3-13). On the eve of Israel’s departure from slavery in Egypt, God tells them to slaughter a lamb that is without defect and then to place its blood on the doorframes of their houses so that the angel of death would "pass over" them. This innocent blood was a covering of protection from the Angel of Death.

These temple sacrifices for sin and the Passover lamb were two references that would have been familiar to the Jewish people. So when they heard John use the phrase "Lamb of God," they had a good clue about what he meant. While the blood of lambs provided a covering for sin, it couldn’t take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). The lambs were merely a payment of the penalty for sin. But Jesus—the Lamb of God— came to pay for sin once and for all.

"The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" --John 1:29

How can Jesus be a sacrifice for humanity's sin?

Since humans were the ones who originally sinned in the Garden of Eden, only a perfect human (not an animal) could ultimately pay the punishment for our sin (Romans 5:9-12). Enter Jesus: the perfect, innocent human to serve as a sacrifice for the sin of every human being.

Jesus is completely perfect and without sin or defect (1 Peter 1:19), and our sin was laid upon Him at the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). He took our place and paid the penalty for our lawbreaking. With His blood, He protects us so that the Angel of (spiritual) Death might "pass over" us.

In Isaiah 53, we can find a prophecy given about the Savior of the world. It specifically says that this Savior would be led like a "lamb to the slaughter," yet would not open his mouth, and on this person would be laid the iniquities (sin) of us all (Isaiah 53:5, 7). This is another picture of how Jesus became the Lamb of God when died for our sin.

What great love God has shown us, that while we were still sinners, before we ever knew Him or loved Him, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)!

Have you believed in Jesus, the Lamb of God, to take away your sin? The fact that Jesus served as the Lamb of God and died to pay the punishment for your sin doesn’t automatically mean that you are forgiven. You must personally admit to God that you have sinned and broken His law, believe that Jesus paid the penalty for your sin by being punished on the cross, and you must ask God to forgive you. You can do that right now if you haven’t believed in Jesus before. God promises that when you receive and believe in Jesus, your sin will be forgiven and that you will be part of God’s forever family (John 1:12). What good news!



John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36). He used this term because the Jews would have understood the concept of a sacrificial lamb very well. In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to perform animal sacrifices to atone (reconcile) their relationship with God when they had sinned. The animal, often a lamb, had to be without blemish and was killed on behalf of the guilty person (Exodus 29:38-42). While they were enslaved in Egypt, God told the Israelites to slaughter a lamb and paint their doorposts with its blood as a protection so the Angel of Death would "pass over" them (Exodus 12). These two references are a foreshadowing of Jesus’ coming as the perfect Lamb of God. A lamb’s blood was only a covering for sins' punishment; Jesus’ blood was the final and complete payment, taking away the sins of the whole world (John 1:29).

Writer: Hanna S.

Hanna loves spending time with kids and teens. She enjoys being detectives with them to investigate God's Word to discover truths to answer any questions. She is the co-author of a newly published apologetics curriculum for children and teaches one online for highschoolers-adults. To learn more about her ministry you can visit networkerstec.com. For fun, she likes to play Ultimate Frisbee, read historical fiction, and paint.

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