Often we hear in hymns or sermons Jesus referred to as a lamb, or more specifically the lamb of God. But what does this mean? Why is the King of the universe and the savior of mankind portrayed as a such helpless, cute little animal as a lamb?
To find the significance of the lamb and it’s uses we must look beyond the New Testament in to the Old Covenant established with Moses; the Law. In the Law, God explained in detail how the nation of Israel was to live and serve God. However, there was a problem: sin. But God also provided instructions for dealing with that too. In Leviticus we see 17 mentions of the use of lambs for offerings concerning people’s sins.
However, the Lord would not accept just any lamb to pay the debt of sin, it had to be one without blemish, deformity, sickness, or spot (Leviticus 4:32-35). If the lamb was not acceptable by the Law’s standards the Lord would not accept it and it would be a defiled sacrifice (Malachi 1:8). Why was this? Because God wanted Israel to see and understand that sin has a high price that must be paid, this was demonstrated by God’s requirement to kill something valuable, rare, and beautiful – a spotless lamb. This is why John the Baptist said of Jesus “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
So where does Jesus fit in? He is our sacrifice for sin; our lamb. Because of what He did we don’t have to make sacrifices everyday when we sin as the Israelites did under the Old Covenant (Matthew 5:17). Another significant difference from the Old Covenant is that Jesus’ sacrifice was a “once and for all” sacrifice that applied to all who would accept it (Heb 7:27, 9:12, 10:10, 1Jhn 2:2) where as in the Old Testament offerings of animals and food items were offered repeatedly. Jesus was the spotless lamb that met God’s strict requirements of perfection that was needed to redeem mankind (1Pet 1:18,19, 2:22, Heb 2:17). This is why no man, no priest, no king, and no offering could fully get rid of the problem of sin (Act 4:12, Jhn 3:16, Heb 5:9).
Another use for a lamb in the Old Testament was redeeming the firstborn of an unclean animal. In Exodus the Law tells us “But every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb; and if you will not redeem [it], then you shall break its neck. And all the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.” So we see there is only redemption or death for the unclean. This is a spiritual principal for us as well; if we are not redeemed we are unable to enter heaven. Lambs were used to redeem both men and donkeys which were considered an unclean animal, this scripture seems to put us on the same level as unclean animals and rightly so. Mankind being unclean, because of our guilt of sin before God (Rom 3:23), has been redeemed by the Lamb sent by God (1Pet 1:19) so that we can be holy and pleasing to God (2Tit 2:21, Heb 10:14).
Hbr 9:13 – For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh,
Hbr 9:14 – how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?