The four Gospels provide a bridge between the Old and New Testaments. In them, Jesus fulfills the types and prophecies spoken of him in the Old Testament for his first advent, as he explained to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:44. Three of the Gospels are referred to as synoptic, or “seeing together,” as they all portray a similar point of view concerning Jesus. They also each have a specific people group in mind: Matthew seeks to prove to the Jews that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, using at least 53 references to the Old Testament; Mark seeks to provide the gospel of Christ to the fast-paced mind of the Romans; and Luke seeks to portray Jesus as the perfect man to the Greek mind. On the other hand, John’s Gospel is for all, and he transports us into heaven itself to show that Jesus Christ is “very God of very God” (Nicene Creed), God in the flesh, who, in the incarnation, became a man.
It is in John 1:29 that we find the main message of John’s Gospel. John the Baptist spoke these words the day after he was interrogated by the religious leaders concerning his baptizing of people in preparation for the appearance of Jesus. This is a verse that I have known for the greater part of my life, even before I began reading the Scriptures from cover-to-cover every year since 1992. It eluded my thinking, and consequently my preaching and teaching, until the Holy Spirit focused my attention to see the eternally rich and profound truth found within these 24 words:
“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”
First, John is telling us to “behold” Jesus. Some people look, but they don’t behold. Many people saw Jesus, but because they didn’t behold him, or grasp what, rather who they saw, they could not grasp the greatness of the One who walked among them. Even his own brothers and sisters failed to behold him! John is calling us to “behold” this man, not just to look and go on our way, but to make a careful observation of who He is!
Now that he has called our attention, John tells us who this man is: He is the Lamb of God! The Apostle John tells us in Revelation 13:9 that this Lamb was slain and crucified before the very foundation of the world. God’s plan for the salvation of mankind was laid out before time began. Beginning with Genesis 3:21, the millions, possibly billions, of animals sacrificed during the Old Testament period all pointed to the once-and-for-all sacrifice the Lamb of God would make on the cross of Calvary. The blood of this Lamb was signified by the blood spread across the lintel of every Israelite’s door as they prepared to leave Egypt, thus preventing the death angel from killing the firstborn in the homes covered by this blood. These sacrifices appeased the heart of God for man’s sin, because they looked forward to a future event, but they could not do what the Lamb of God would do in fulfillment of these sacrifices when he died on the cross. These sacrifices were ritualistic in nature and provided no inner power to overcome sin at its root in the heart. But the blood of this Lamb, who “. . . through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God. . .” was able to “. . . purify [the] conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14). All of the lambs sacrificed into eternity could not come close to accomplishing what the Lamb of God would do shortly after John spoke these words.
John then tells us what this Lamb would do and continue to do in the present: He takes away the sin of the world!
More often than not, when this passage is quoted, an ‘s’ is added to “sin.” On the contrary, Jesus came into the world to deal with the greatest sin of all, unbelief! Unbelief being the chief sin is confirmed by the words of Jesus in John 16:8–9: “And when [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin because they do not believe in me.” It is unbelief that grips the heart of a sinner, causing the offer of salvation through the blood of Christ to fall on deaf ears. It was willful and rebellious unbelief that was at the root of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in Matthew 12 and Mark 3. From that time until the present, and until the day of our Lord’s return, to die in the state of unbelief seals that individual’s eternal destiny for time and eternity. However, when that sinner believes the gospel and comes to Christ, he or she is immediately indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who begins the task of dealing with that individual’s sins (plural)—a task that continues until glorification!
Throughout the pages of this fourth gospel, the Holy Spirit focuses our attention on those who behold and believe and those who don’t:
- In chapter three, Nicodemus is confronted with his unbelief, and even though there is no record of him coming to faith, his work in preparing the body of Jesus for burial with Joseph of Arimathea in chapter 19 provides hope that he came to believe.
- In chapter four, the woman at the well believes, along with countless people in the city of Sychar because of her witness.
- In chapter five, the Jews fail again to believe!
- In chapter nine, the man born blind believes, and the religious leaders fail to believe again, labeling Christ as a sinner.
These are just a few of the many examples that prove this central theme of John’s Gospel. Failure to believe that Jesus is the Christ brings with it eternal consequences that can never be repented of.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Dr. Anthony W. Hurst Sr. is a faculty member in the School of Divinity. He can be reached at email@example.com.