3 January – Gospel

Commentary on John 1:29-34

Yesterday we saw John the Baptist denying that he was the Messiah or any of the great prophets. Today he gives testimony to Jesus as the one he had been talking about.

The passage begins with “The next day…” We mentioned already that the opening section of John up to the wedding at Cana represents a week, echoing the seven days of creation in Genesis. We will see that phrase occurring three more times in the first chapter, and that brings us to the fourth day of the week. There is then a gap, but the wedding at Cana is introduced as taking place “on the third day”, that is, after the previous four, and hence is the seventh day.

As John saw Jesus approaching he said to those around him:

Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Another feature of this first chapter is that the author introduces the various titles of Jesus which he uses later on.

Why the “Lamb”? The central feature of the Jewish Passover feast was the lamb, which was eaten during the Passover meal. It recalled the lamb which the families of the Israelites ate on the eve of their escape from Egypt, and whose blood was painted on the doorposts of their houses. When the angel of God came to destroy all the firstborn, it “passed over” the houses of the Israelites, which had been marked with the lamb’s blood. This became then a symbol of liberation, and one of the most important celebrations in the Jewish calendar.

For us, however, there is now a new symbol of liberation, a new Lamb. Jesus is both the ‘offer-er’ of the sacrifice and its victim, and his death and resurrection inaugurate a New Covenant between God and his people. It is perhaps significant that in all the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, there is no mention of a lamb being eaten during the meal. Because there was, of course, a new Lamb, who told his companions to take and eat, take and drink the bread and wine “handed over for you”. And it is through the blood of this Lamb that we find salvation and liberation.

The title Lamb of God also recalls the suffering servant led like a lamb to the slaughter, which we read about in Isaiah (53:7,10). In Revelation, too, we read of the victorious apocalyptic lamb who will destroy the evil in the world (5:5-7; 17:14).

The Baptist then indicates the superiority of Jesus over himself:

This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’

In the context of the Prologue we read earlier, this is an intimation of Jesus’ pre-existence as the Word with God (remember that, chronologically, John was slightly older than Jesus). John also explains why he was baptising; it was to make Jesus known to the people of Israel. His baptism did not have the power to forgive sin; this would be the prerogative of Jesus and his disciples (in John’s Gospel, the Baptist also says that up to this, he had not known Jesus, which conflicts with the other Gospels where he is presented as a close relative).

John then continues to talk about the baptism of Jesus, whereas the event itself is described in Matthew and Luke. He says that he personally saw the Spirit of God come down on Jesus like a dove, and it stayed with him, indicating the enduring relationship between God and his Father. The dove is a symbol of new life, recalling the dove which brought the olive branch back to Noah’s ark and indicated that the Flood was over. At the same time, the One who told John to baptise with water also said that the One on whom the Spirit came down would, in turn, baptise with the Holy Spirit. And the Baptist concludes:

And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Chosen One.

“Chosen One” is also translated as ‘Son of God’, so here we have another title of Jesus.

Each one of us has also received the same Spirit in our baptism. It was that Spirit which inspired Jesus in all his Messianic work, climaxing in his death on the cross. May the same Spirit inspire us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and join with him in his work to build the Kingdom.

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