Behold, the Lamb of God

Image by Dorothée QUENNESSON from Pixabay

Gospel of John 1:29-51

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! ESV

This is John the Baptizer speaking. Remember that the Baptizer had to answer hard questions from the Temple leaders and did not claim to be anyone special, except that he was called to witness to the coming Messiah. The very next day Jesus walks down the bank of the river. It think it is safe to say that the Baptizer could be heard by those who had come to hear him preach. ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’

We should know first that the title of Lamb of God was not used in the OT. In fact, it appears here and in GJohn 1:36, but no where else in the Bible. Revelation has many phrases regarding the Lamb as a title, but not that specific title. While the lamb image is associated with the expectation of the coming Messiah, it is more related to the Messiah leading the flock than as the sacrifice.

Because the title does not appear in Acts or the letters, we can assume that the early church did not make much use of it. Over the centuries we have developed a solid OT background for the Lamb of God as the Passover lamb for all sinners. In reality, we misuse the Passover lamb image somewhat because Jesus more directly represents the sin offering and the annual scape goat offering, though we seldom speak of Jesus as a goat [unless we mean greatest of all time].

It is helpful to look again at 1:18. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

We need to read this as:       No one has ever seen God.

                                                The only God who is at the Father’s side.

                                                He has made him known.

Verse 18 is the setup for verse 29. We cannot see God, but we can see Jesus who is also God as John demonstrated in the opening of his Gospel. The Baptizer has a sophisticated understanding of the Messiah, well ahead of the Temple leaders, and Jesus’ soon to be disciples.

30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’ NET

The Baptizer is repeating what he had preached from the start of his ministry. He speaks in the way of OT prophets, claiming only to speak the words God has given him. He does not claim to be special.

The Baptizer had followers, some of whom were disciples. Disciples were young men (usually in their teens) who asked a rabbi to take them on as students. They lived full time with their master and helped him in all ways—cooking, running errands, etc. An important part of being a disciple was to always listen to the lessons and commit them to memory. Before printing became prevalent, people grew up learning how to remember what people said, even word-for-word. For them, it was not unusual to hear a long story as few as three times and have it word prefect.

Back in verses 26-27 The Baptizer told the Temple authorities, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not knoweven he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

Now the Baptizer goes a step farther in his description of Jesus, he existed before me.’  That is not new for we readers of GJohn. He has already stressed that the Messiah has always existed, even before creation.

31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” ESV

The Baptizer says he did not know Jesus before seeing him approaching for baptism. He must have forgotten that they met when Mary visited Elizabeth. It is fair to ask if cousins in a small country might have spent some time together as they grew up. That would be especially true if Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem for the feast days when the Baptizer’s father would have been serving in the Temple.

The Baptizer may be saying that he did not realize that cousin Jesus was the Promised One. However, he repeats the phrase in verse 33.

This is the first time Israel is mentioned. GJohn wants us to understand that Jesus’ ministry is to the direct descendants of Abraham. The rest of the world will hear the Gospel from the followers of Jesus.

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.” ESV

The Spirit—Holy Spirit—was well known to OT readers. Jews had no problem with the Spirit being from God and with God. They understood that the Spirit was the only way God could visit on earth. They knew the Spirit was involved with the creation of the universe. They knew that if they dared to look inside the Holy of Holies in the Temple, they would not see anything physical. It was only the Spirit of God that filled the room.

When the Bapitzer said he saw the Spirit ‘like a dove,’ again, that was a common image from the OT. It is especially connected with the doves that Noah sent out to find dry land. A white dove with an olive branch became the symbol of peace as well as a representation of the presence of God.

All four Gospels include the Spirit and the dove. Luke alone says that the dove appeared ‘in bodily form.’ For Jewish listeners, the distinction was nearly meaningless because they understood the power of the image of the Spirit coming onto a person to be the same as seeing an actual dove alight on the person.

Looking back to verse 29, we see that the Baptizer recognized Jesus before he baptized him. Then he says he did not know Jesus before he saw the dove.

Let me state the obvious; GJohn does not record the actual baptism of Jesus. We have nearly identical descriptions from the Synoptics and John had other objectives, namely, to emphasize that John was a witness. While the Synoptics record that God said Jesus was His son, only GJohn has the Baptizer saying, ‘Jesus is the Son of God.’

Matthew 3 on baptism of Jesus. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” NIV

Mark 1 on baptism of Jesus. At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” NIV

Luke 3 on baptism of Jesus. 21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” NIV

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. ESV  

It was in verse 29, the first verse for today, that the Baptizer first called Jesus the Lamb of God. This time the Baptizer semes to be thinking out loud more than making a theological statement. I get the sense in this reading that he was sitting with his disciples, perhaps eating lunch. Even great prophets got to take rest breaks.

What is new is the response of two of the Baptizer’s disciples. They would have watched the baptism of Jesus the day before and had probably thought about him overnight. For what ever reason, they left the Baptizer and followed Jesus.

As we read this section, it seems the two did not have a clear reason for following Jesus. They were intrigued, but not necessarily with any intent to leave the Baptizer. Perhaps they just wanted to go back and tell their master what they found out.

Jesus, as we read so often, knew who they were and why they followed him, but allowed them to explain themselves. Now, think about the question they asked. “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Really? What they really wanted to ask was, ‘Are you really the Lamb of God?’

We have no idea how long these two had been following the Baptizer. We also do not know what else the Baptizer said to his disciples about Jesus. I would guess Jesus was the talk around the campfire the night before.

I wanted to use the ESV for this whole segment not because it is the best translation, but because it seems to maintain the feel of the First Century a little better than some others. I especially wanted to include the ending of verse 39, for it was about the tenth hour. The concept of hours existed in ancient times, but minutes is a more modern invention. For Jesus and the gang, daylight was divided into 12 hours and night into 12 hours. They knew that the seasons messed with the length of the hours, but that did not matter, especially since the latitude at Jerusalem is equal to San Diego, California.

In their minds, the first hour started as the sun rose, in the sixth hour the sun was overhead, and twelfth hour ended as the sun set. The tenth hour would be roughly 4 PM for us.

Why is it important for us to know it was the tenth hour, you ask? How did the author of the Gospel of John know the time? There were only three people involved; we know Jesus was one and we will see very soon that Andrew was there; the unnamed disciple was the third. It should be no great leap of faith to guess that the unnamed disciple was the author of the Gospel. We will keep bumping into this little detail as we read the Gospel because John is never named, and yet, the author seems to know details that only an eyewitness would know, especially if the eyewitness was one of the four in the inner circle of disciples. But we only know those four from the other Gospels. GJohn does not name either John or his brother James.

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). ESV

Now we have Andrew going to find his brother Cephas. We are left to wonder what happened to the other disciple with Andrew. Many, including me, believe that John was the unnamed and that he went with Andrew because they both had brothers manning their respective fishing boats. I believe that Andrew and John were the younger brothers and that they brought the older ones to Jesus.

Petros—from which we get Peter—is Greek meaning Rock. Cephas is Hebrew and Aramaic meaning Rock. So, the leader of the Apostles was named Rocky.

 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.” ESV

Now we have 4 named disciples. GJohn only names one more about halfway through the Gospel, Thomas. Seven disciples go unnamed. OK, I am wrong. John names Judas 11 times, but only one of the two Judas disciples, not to mention Judas the brother of Jesus. Oh, and Nathanael is called Bartholomew in the Synoptics and Acts. You can’t tell the players without a scorecard.

Moses is mentioned in GJohn seven times, this is the second (1:17). We will also see seven miracles and seven “I ams.” Remember that seven is one of the perfect numbers in Hebrew tradition.

To call Nathanael an Israelite identifies him with the older nation under King David, as opposed to the Judean or Jewish designation representing only one tribe. His presence under a fig tree harks back to Genesis 3:7, Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselvesNIV

When Jesus describes angels ascending and descending between Heaven and Jesus, Nathanael is being identified with Jacob and his dream in Genesis 28:11-17. Jacob was called Israel, but he was deceitful while Nathanael was without deceit.

When Jesus says, truly, truly, the Greek word is amen, repeated. GJohn alone has Jesus repeating the amen. In contrast, all four Gospels record Jesus calling himself the Son of Man, eleven times in GJohn, one short of the perfect 12.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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