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.” 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!” 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!’ 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” 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?” The word was pronounced, the question was asked—and of course the lamb looking “as though it had been slain” 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, 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.”
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.” What did He behold? “He beheld the blood of Isaac’s Aqedah”—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!” 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.
 Deut. 29:29
 Rev. 5:12
 John 1:29,36
 Robert J. Daly, Christian Sacrifice (The Catholic University of America Press : 1978)
 Gen 22:7
 Rev. 5:6
 2 Kings 15:7
 Bereshit Rabbah, 56.4
 1 Chron. 21:15
 Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, 90-95
 Bereshit Rabbah, 56,10
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