John 1:29 – 34

“Behold The Lamb of God”

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! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 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.”[1]

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There certainly were a number of things that were unusual about John the Baptist.  We know from the other Gospel accounts that John wore strange clothes (made out of camel’s hair) and he ate strange food (locusts and wild honey).  And then he was out in the wilderness for quite some time announcing, “Repent of your sins, for the Kingdom of God has come near,” and was baptizing people as a sign of their repentance.

And then Jesus arrived on the scene.  And what did John say: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  What an interesting saying.  And then note how John mentions that he had not known Jesus and who he truly was until God revealed it to him.  In fact, he says that the primary reason that God had called him to be an evangelist in the desert was for the very purpose of being able to identify Jesus as the Lamb of God.

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What does that mean, “Lamb of God”?  To appreciate the depth of meaning of this expression, we would have to go back and read much of the Old Testament.  It was made clear by God to the Israelite people as far back as their time of bondage in Egypt that they would be saved only if a lamb, a pure lamb, were killed and the blood of the lamb be put on the doorposts of their homes.  (Read Exodus 12:1 – 29.)

Over the many hundreds of years since God sent Moses to rescue the nation of Israel, each year at Passover the Jews would kill a lamb and eat the meat to remind them of God’s great salvation.  It was a great reminder of God’s love for His people.  But whether it was the lamb killed during the Passover, or the goats and rams killed on the Day of Atonement (sacrifices made to bring forgiveness of sins for the people), they knew that this was still just a temporary reprieve from the guilt of their sins.

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But there was still the hope and the promise that one day God would send a Deliverer who would rescue people for all time from their sins.  And that promise became real for John when he baptized Jesus.  John saw the Holy Spirit come down on Jesus and confirm for him that Jesus would be the One who would take away our sins once and for all.

Now speaking of the Holy Spirit coming down upon Jesus, I want to look at that for a moment.  Notice that it says the Holy Spirit descended from Heaven “like a dove”.  It does not say that the Holy Spirit was a dove.  And yet we have this picture of the Holy Spirit as a dove gently fluttering down and sitting on Jesus’ shoulder.  That is not the image I see.

We know that when people have God’s Spirit, it comes and fills them and empowers them to do whatever God leads them to do.  Whether it is Samson, David, Elijah, early Christians or you and me, Scripture talks about “being filled with God’s Spirit” and with this comes the power of God. Whatever John saw, I do think that it came down gently “like a dove” but I kind of imagine that it was much greater than our image which came down and then filled Jesus with the power He would need for the ministry that lay before Him.

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So as I look at these verses in John, I see a couple powerful theological truths here.  Let us not miss the fact that this passage gives us support for the idea of the Trinity.  We know that God (the Father) had sent John and spoken to him concerning Jesus (the Son) who would come, and upon whom the Spirit (the Holy Spirit) would descend.  A divine incomprehensible truth for us humans, and yet it is still a Truth of Scripture.

Secondly, we see the beginning of Jesus’ ministry begin in humble submission to John’s baptism (which He says in Matthew 3:15 was really submission to doing all that God requires of men).  But we also see that He will go forward filled and empowered by God’s Spirit for what lies ahead.  And ultimately His life and death and resurrection will prove, as John says here in verse 34, that in fact, Jesus is really the Son of God.

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And what does this passage do for us?  It prepares us for all that will come in the rest of this Gospel.  But remember, this is not to be just an intellectual pursuit of knowing about the life of Jesus.  It should be preparing us to know Him better as our God and as Saviour, the Lamb of God who would die us.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Jn 1:29–34). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.