Unlocking The New Testament: The Lamb (1)

Even though Passover and the Easter are over, there is still so much to discuss concerning the connection between the two. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.”[1]  By God’s great mercy this connection between things secret and things revealed is continually active – utterly alive – and it is with this in mind that we will discuss here one of the most important links in this connection.

Worthy is the Lamb!

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”[2] What believer in Jesus has not at least once sung these words from the Book of Revelation? Indeed, the image of the Lamb is one of the central images in this visionary book, written about the end of the first century: we find it almost in every chapter (Rev. 5:6; 7:14; 13:8 etc).  But it would be right also to say that this image is absolutely central to the whole of Christian theology: the Lamb has been one of the central symbolic images of the Christian religion since the very first centuries of its existence; the idea of the sinless Lamb sacrificed for the sins of the men has been one of the leitmotivs of the Christianity throughout its history. Accordingly, one could expect the pages of the New Testament to be filled with imaginary of the Lamb – but, surprisingly enough, aside from the book of Revelation, we almost don’t find this image here. We don’t find it in the epistles of Paul, the earliest NT writings; and there is only one passage in the gospels where Jesus is referred to directly as the Lamb. This occurs in the first chapter of the Gospel of John where John the Baptist utters this enigmatic exclamation: ‘The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” A little further on, he repeats his announcement: ‘Behold the Lamb of God![3] We find this title in only one chapter in the gospels and repeated in no other place! This fact evokes countless questions, doesn’t it?  Where does John take this image from? What did John the Baptist mean by these words? What meaning did the Israelite observers assign to his words?

In fact, this exclamation of John the Baptist has always posed a problem for NT scholars. Among the different interpretation of the “lamb” which have been proposed, the most plausible is that of the Passover Lamb – but even here we have a serious objection: namely, that the Passover lamb was not considered an expiatory sacrifice. “There is no indication that the Old Testament considered the sacrifice of the paschal lamb to be an atoning death in the sense of vicarious penal suffering”[4] How then is the expression, “the Lamb of God”, in the Gospel of John, to be explained?

The Akedah Lamb

Before we explore extra-biblical sources, let us turn to the Tanakh in our search for answers.  It may surprise you to discover that also in Tanakh, the Hebrew word for lamb rarely appears. However, it is not difficult to guess where we first meet the word “lamb”! Of course, the first citing is found in Genesis 22, in the Akedat Itzhak: When Isaac is being led to the mountain by his father, he asks Abraham, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?[5]  The word was pronounced, the question was asked—and of course the lamb looking “as though it had been slain”[6] from the Book of Revelation begins here, with Isaac’s innocent, trusting, almost naïve question: “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

I believe many Christians are perfectly aware of this connection and parallel between Isaac and Jesus. What you may not be aware of, however, is a Jewish haggadic tradition that states explicitly that there on Mount Moriah, Abraham offered up two sacrifices: he began with the sacrifice of his son and ended with the sacrifice of the ram. This tradition states that Isaac was slain or burnt and then rose from the dead. In Midrash Bereshit Rabbah R. Phineas said in R. Banai’s name: “He prayed: Sovereign of the Universe! Regard it as though I had sacrificed my son Isaac first and then this ram instead of him (in the stead, tahat, being understood as in the verse, And Jotham his son reigned in his stead,[7] where the meaning must be after him)”. In other words, the midrash states explicitly that Abraham offered up two sacrifices—he began with the sacrifice of his son and ended with the sacrifice of the ram—and within this tradition, Isaac is explicitly said to be the lamb of burnt offering:  אתה השה לעלה בני – “You are the lamb, my son.”[8]

Different interpretations and foundations of the Aqedah tradition are presented in the different rabbinic sources. However, the important common point is that “the ashes of Isaac” and “the blood of Isaac’s Aqedah”, though contradicting the plain meaning of the Scripture, are carefully preserved by this tradition: they are to serve forever as atonement and advocate of Israel in every generation. For instance, we read in Mekilta de-Rabbi Ismael: “And as he was about to destroy, the Lord beheld and He repented Him of the evil.”[9] What did He behold? “He beheld the blood of Isaac’s Aqedah”[10]—and immediately His compassion conquers His anger and He redeems and delivers. This is exactly what Abraham is asking for when he continues his prayer in Bereshit Rabbah: “Even so it may be Thy will, O Lord our God, that when Isaac’s children are in trouble, Thou wilt remember that binding in their favor and be filled with compassion with them!”[11] I strongly believe that the Christian image of the Lamb, whose death and resurrection have atoning power and redemptive effect on behalf of  the future generations, is clearly connected to  this Binding of Isaac (Aqedat Itzhak) in Jewish tradition. Next time, we will continue to discuss this connection.

 

 

[1] Deut. 29:29

[2] Rev. 5:12

[3] John 1:29,36

[4] Robert J. Daly, Christian Sacrifice (The Catholic University  of America Press : 1978)

 

[5] Gen 22:7

[6] Rev. 5:6

[7] 2 Kings 15:7

[8] Bereshit Rabbah, 56.4

[9] 1 Chron. 21:15

[10] Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, 90-95

[11] Bereshit Rabbah, 56,10

 I wanted to let you know that the book “Unlocking the Scriptures”  is published already    and is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=unlocking+the+scriptures+by+julia+blum&crid=2IHYED6W7ZVYI&sprefix=julia+blum+%2Caps%2C689&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_11

You might enjoy also my other  books,  you  can get  them  from  my page:   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/    If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, studying in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights, or learning more about the Jewish background of Jesus’ teaching, I would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding our amazing courses (juliab@eteachergroup.com).  

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Dorothy Healy

    Thank you for this valuable insight Julia. Can you explain why the ‘lamb for the burnt offering’ becomes a ‘ram’ (not a lamb) caught in the thicket?

  2. Doug Merriman

    Yeshua (The Jewish Rabi born in Bethlehem, Performed well witnessed miracles, and quoted Psalm 22 from the cross – on Passover) is The One, Who Christians perceive to be the Messiah prophesized about in the Tanakh / Old Testament /Torah).
    We base this exclusively on the written Word in the Scriptures from Moses, to Isaiah, Samuel, Daniel, Zechariah, Joel, Jonah and every Jewish prophet, King, etc… from the “Old Testament”.
    The reference to “Old Testament” and “New” are 1 Total Scripture. Not a “New”, in place of the “Old,” But “Because of The Old.”
    Christians Love Jews (minus the fringe – impersonators) The heart of Christianity is the Jews, as our Savior, and every hero written of in the “Old” and “New” Testaments are our HEROS of The Faith. (Faith in Messiah) . From The off Spring of David through Historical documents, so well preserved they are more credible than any other piece of history/historical literature in existence.
    God’s Word is True, as is His Promise of a Yeshua – A Savior.

    Christian (Not Catholic) view of what we call Psalm Sunday :

    David wrote : “Today is the day that The LORD has made Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:22-29,

    This Psalm is telling of the Day Yeshua rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, (as prophesized by Isaiah and Zechariah), “And the people cried out saying : ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'” <– (New Testament – Matthew 21:9)

    That Palm Sunday is The Day prophesized about In That Psalm of David

    That Palm Sunday was 4 days before Yeshua went to the Cross, where as God told Moses in Egypt (Exodus 12: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household.)
    Yeshua went to the Cross 4 days later, to fulfil God's continued command to Moses : (Exodus 12 : "Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight.)

    Twilight is about the time of 3pm, exactly as is reported of the time of Day Yeshua "committed" "His Spirit into His Father's hands." (N.T. Luke 23:46, and Psalm 31:5).

    That Palm Sunday is also the Day prophesized about by Daniel, in His 70 week prophecy about from the rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem, until Messiah the King, there would be "7 weeks and 62 weeks" (69 weeks = 483 years, w/ 1, 7yr. period remaining), but That gives an exact start time in Nehemiah Ch. 2 and archeology, when after Cyrus, they returned from Babylon and began the rebuild… Anyway, to the EXACT day of that time frame (483 years to the day) , Yeshua rode into Jerusalem, on a Donkey as was Hailed "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'"…, At Passover celebration, while riding on the back of a donkey, down the Mount of Olives, entering Jerusalem….

    After giving life to a dead man, Lazarus , just a week before.

    Anyway, We Christians believe Yeshua is The promised Messiah, foretold of in the Hebrew Scriptures, from Adam to Noah, to Abraham, David, Solomon and all of it, and we conclude from birth to death, Yeshua fulfilled all the Hebrew Scriptures (by deed or promise) and is not finished, but has been witnessed – by All Historical accounts to be Alive, and has promised His return will complete the full scope of eternal fulfillment of ALL Scripture.

    Yeshua caused the blind to see, the cripple to walk, lepers cleansed, dead raised to life, walking on water, feeding thousands with enough for 1, etc…. And He quoted King David, Psalm 22 from the Roman cross – while wearing a sign on the cross reading "Yeshua… King of the Jews." A decree, or Testament from God, written in blood, hung on a post, to save you and me, and all who will believe.

    He is The Lamb, Which taketh away the sin of the world.

    This is how we who believe in Him are saved. We believe in Him, and what He has done, He saves us. We are the ones in need of Him, and His Yeshua is Salvation.

  3. Harold Gunderman

    Again by resolute honor of the promise stated (in the rest of the chapter) we read as the “sands (washed by the sea)” referencing DNA and Cleansing Baptism. Abraham’s “DNA” given by his parents is found also in his Brother who had (12 children, a nation), his son Ishmael (12 children, a nation), and his Grandson Jacob (12 children, a nation). From which comes “36 Rightous”, Lamed Vav Tzadikim, or just “Lamed Vav”. From this comes the Baptism of John and the Baptism into Christ both were related individuals. Also referenced by Abrahams wife who prepared “three measures” for the guests that came. Followed by three sets of “14 generations to the birth of Yeshua”. The number given the earth having a total of 14 light changes (Dawn,Evening) per week. (Cornerstone value 13 ..one less…and Kingdom (nation) value less one more which set upon the shoulders of the Cornerstone..2 times 6 each shoulder..a total of 12).