Saturday, March 30, 2024

Jesus, The Lamb of God

Jesus as the Lamb of God

One of the most beautiful and profound titles of Jesus Christ is "the Lamb of God". This title reveals to us the mystery of God's love and mercy, as well as the meaning of Christ's sacrifice on the cross and in the Eucharist. In this blog post, we will explore the biblical, theological, and liturgical significance of this title, and how it can inspire us to follow Jesus more closely.

The Lamb of God in the Bible

The title "the Lamb of God" is first used by John the Baptist, who proclaimed Jesus as such when he saw him coming to be baptized: "Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn 1:29). This title echoes several passages from the Old Testament, where lambs were used as sacrificial animals to atone for sins and to celebrate God's covenant with his people.

The most important of these passages is the account of the Passover in Exodus 12, where God instructed the Israelites to slaughter a lamb without blemish, sprinkle its blood on their doorposts, and eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. This was to protect them from the angel of death who would strike down the firstborn of Egypt, and to mark their liberation from slavery and their journey to the promised land. The Passover lamb was a sign of God's saving power and faithful love for his people.

The prophets also used the image of the lamb to describe the Messiah, who would be both a sacrificial offering for sin and a suffering servant. Isaiah prophesied: "Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearer, he was silent and opened not his mouth" (Is 53:7). This passage was applied to Jesus by Philip when he explained the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading it (Acts 8:26-35).

In the Gospels, Jesus is identified as "the Lamb of God" not only by John the Baptist, but also by his own words and actions. He foretold his passion, death, and resurrection as a service and a ransom for many (Mt 20:26-28). He celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples on the eve of Passover, instituting the Eucharist as his new covenant in his blood (Lk 22:14-20). He was condemned to death by Pilate at noon, the hour when the Passover lambs were slaughtered in the temple (Jn 19:14). He died on the cross without having his bones broken, fulfilling the prophecy of Exodus 12:46 and Psalm 34:21 (Jn 19:36).

The title "the Lamb of God" is also used extensively in the Book of Revelation, where Jesus is depicted as a slain lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, symbolizing his power and wisdom. He is worthy to open the scroll with seven seals, which contains God's plan for history. He is praised by all creation as "the Lamb who was slain" who has "purchased for God with his blood men of every race and tongue, of every people and nation" (Rev 5:6-14). He is also called "the King of kings and Lord of lords" who will defeat his enemies and reign with his bride, the Church, in the new Jerusalem (Rev 17:14; 19:11-16; 21:9-27).

The Lamb of God in Catholic Teaching

The title "the Lamb of God" expresses several aspects of Catholic teaching about Jesus Christ. First, it affirms that he is truly God and truly man, who became incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God. He is "the Word made flesh" who dwelt among us (Jn 1:14). He is "the image of the invisible God" who reveals to us "the Father's heart" (Col 1:15; Jn 1:18).

Second, it declares that he is our Redeemer and Savior, who offered himself as a perfect sacrifice for our sins on the cross. He is "the Lamb without blemish or spot" who shed his precious blood for us (1 Pet 1:19). He is "the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for those of the whole world" (1 Jn 2:2).

Third, it signifies that he is our High Priest and Mediator, who intercedes for us before God's throne. He is "a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" who entered "into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf" (Heb 6:20; 9:24). He is "the one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim 2:5-6).

Fourth, it denotes that he is our King and Lord, who has all authority and power in heaven and on earth. He is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David" who has conquered death and sin (Rev 5:5). He is "the Lord of lords and King of kings" who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead (Rev 17:14; 2 Tim 4:1).

Fifth, it implies that he is our Food and Life, who nourishes us with his body and blood in the Eucharist. He is "the bread of life" who gives us "his flesh for the life of the world" (Jn 6:35, 51). He is "the living bread which came down from heaven" who says to us: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (Jn 6:51, 54).

The Lamb of God in the Church Fathers

The title "the Lamb of God" was also used by the early Church Fathers, who recognized its rich meaning and its connection with the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the sacraments. Here are some examples of their writings:

- Polycarp, a disciple of John the Apostle, wrote: "Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal high priest himself, the Son of God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth...and to us with you, and to all those under heaven who will yet believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his Father who raised him from the dead." (Letter to the Philippians, 12)

- Ignatius, another disciple of John the Apostle, wrote: "There is only one physician, who is both flesh and spirit, born and unborn, God in man, true life in death, both from Mary and from God, first subject to suffering and then beyond it, Jesus Christ our Lord." (Letter to the Ephesians, 7)

- Justin Martyr, a second-century apologist, wrote: "For our God Jesus Christ was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit." (First Apology, 46)

- Irenaeus, a second-century bishop and theologian, wrote: "He is Himself in His own right God and Lord and Eternal King and Only-begotten and Incarnate Word, proclaimed as such by all the prophets and by the Apostles and by the Spirit Himself, may He be glorified by all who believe in Him." (Against Heresies,3.19.1)

- Clement of Alexandria, a second-century philosopher and theologian, wrote: "The Word itself is the manifest God, and that the hidden Father sent Him. He is the Saviour; this is His name. He came to save all by Himself; all, I say, who through Him are reborn in God—infants, children, boys, young men, and old." (Exhortation to the Greeks, 10.110)

- Tertullian, a second-century lawyer and theologian, wrote: "The blood of Christ is salvation to His people; His flesh is food indeed; His blood is drink indeed." (On Prayer, 6)

- Origen, a third-century scholar, and exegete wrote: "The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world [Rev. 13:8] was destined to be slain according to that pattern and type which was shown to Abraham when he was ordered to offer up his son Isaac." (Commentary on John, 1.28)

- Cyprian, a third-century bishop, and martyr, wrote: "The Lamb without spot that taketh away the sins of the world [John 1:29] grants a release from sins." (Treatise on Works and Alms, 14)

- Athanasius, a fourth-century bishop and defender of orthodoxy, wrote: "The Lamb of God not only did this, but was also chastised on our behalf, and suffered a penalty He did not owe, but which we owed because of the multitude of our sins, and so He became the cause of the forgiveness of our sins." (On the Incarnation, 25)

Conclusion

Jesus as the Lamb of God

We have seen that the title "the Lamb of God" is not a late invention of Constantine or the Council of Nicea, but a biblical truth that was taught by the apostles, the early Church Fathers, and the Catholic Church throughout history. This title reveals to us the mystery of God's love and mercy, as well as the meaning of Christ's sacrifice on the cross and in the Eucharist. By calling Jesus "the Lamb of God", we acknowledge that he is truly God and truly man, our Redeemer and Savior, our High Priest and Mediator, our King and Lord, and our Food and Life. We also express our gratitude and devotion to him, who gave himself for us as a perfect offering to the Father. As we celebrate the Eucharist, let us join our voices with the angels and saints in heaven, who sing: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" (Rev 5:12).


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References

- Bible (New American Bible, Revised Edition)

- Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians, 12

- Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, 7

- Justin Martyr, First Apology, 46

- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.19.1

- Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks, 10.110

- Tertullian, On Prayer, 6

- Origen, Commentary on John, 1.28

- Cyprian, Treatise on Works and Alms, 14

- Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 25

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