29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is 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 ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
Only in the fourth gospel does John the Baptist proclaim Jesus, “The Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36). The image of Christ as Lamb occurs again most notably in Revelation, where the Lamb on the throne stands in contrast to the preceding description of four magnificent creatures (Revelation 5:6). The connection in both instances is almost certainly with the salvific symbolism of the Passover lamb—slaughtered in order to save the firstborn sons of Israel from the plague of death.
John’s acclamation, like the description of the Lamb on the throne, is at the same time both unexpected in its meekness and grandiose in its expectations. In the synoptic accounts of Jesus’ baptism, John proclaims a Messiah who will come with winnowing fork in his hand. Although the fourth evangelist is hesitant even to describe Jesus’ baptism due to an elevated Christology, his image of the kind of Messiah Jesus will be seems decidedly more nuanced.
Jesus carries all of the power and promise of God. Jesus is God incarnate, who John declares with confidence, “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And yet, Jesus doesn’t do this with cleansing fire or a threatening winnowing fork. Jesus exculpates the sin of the world through his own blood—as a lamb at the slaughter.
To be sure, there are some dangerous implications of this image if drawn too far. In particular, a preacher must be careful not to encourage victimization as a godly quality or to hold God up as a victimizer. However, the humble image of Jesus beginning his ministry as one of the least of us (a lamb), just as he was born a humble infant, is worth consideration in its own right.
From where do we expect our salvation? From whence is our hope to come? Is it from firearm-wielding, population-separating rulers and insurgents? Or is it from the less expected places—from the children and the livestock, from the peacemakers, and those who are going about their living, walking by, staying close (cf. John 1:36, 39), and offering an alternative to the violence and the hate?
Look at who is seated on the throne—it may not be the magnificent creatures you expect, but it is one who holds more power than any others combined.
The Rev. Dr. Amy Lindeman Allen is Co-Lead Pastor at The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Reno, NV. She holds her PhD from Vanderbilt University in New Testament and Early Christianity.