The Lamb of God: A Pattern of Redemption


For the month of April, Crossway Books has graciously allowed our readers to freely download The Cross by Martin Lloyd-Jones. This book is a collection of excellent sermons from one of the foremost preachers of the twentieth century.

The apostle John’s title for Jesus as “Lamb of God” (John 1:29) has caused interpreters to puzzle, as Dr. Seuss once put it, “till [their] puzzlers were sore.” They puzzle because there are many possibilities to which this phrase may refer.[1] Is this the lamb of Genesis 22:8, the Passover lamb of Exodus 12:21, or some other lamb? Rather than saying that John created a novel composite metaphor, I suggest that he just read his Bible well. I propose in this article that in John 1:29, the apostle John evokes a pattern of redemption in the Old Testament that culminates in the Servant of Isaiah 52:13–53:12 (esp. v. 7) understood in his proper canonical context.

1. Approximately five options of analogical or typological connection are suggested: (1) God’s provided lamb of Gen. 22, (2) the Passover lamb of Exod. 12, (3) a lamb of the Tamid, (4) the messianic lamb of Jewish apocalyptic literature (e.g., 1 Enoch 89:45–46), and (5) the lamblike Servant of Isa. 53.

To explain this, I will highlight key developments in the pattern depicted below before returning to John’s Gospel.[2]

2. This article summarizes portions of my doctoral work “The Lamblike Servant: Exodus Typology and the Death of Jesus in the Gospel of John” and also a forthcoming article with Themelios.

Genesis 22: A Substitutionary Type

In Genesis 22, the Lord tests Abraham by commanding him, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:2). The language of “only son” (Gen. 22:2, 12, 16) accents how Isaac is Abraham’s firstborn child from Sarah, his only child of promise, the one he had waited over 25 years to meet. In route to obey God’s command, Abraham responds to Isaac’s query about why they didn’t bring a lamb for the sacrifice: “God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:8). God would see to it that there was a lamb, and Abraham’s faith was rewarded by the sight of a ram, which he offered “as a burnt offering instead of his son” (Gen. 22:13). In this episode, we see the expectation for God to provide a lamb which would die in the place of Abraham’s firstborn child of promise—a clearly substitutionary sacrifice.

Two details merit additional comment: (1) Why might Moses insist so repeatedly that it was a burnt offering (Gen. 22:2, 3, 6, 7, 13)? And (2) What significance may the Lord intend in appointing a ram (ʾayil)? First, the burnt offering is consumed entirely by fire upon the altar before the Lord, that is, it is completely devoted to him. This suggests what the Pentateuch confirms, namely, that the Lord intends for the children of promise to be wholly devoted to him. Second, the provision of a ram is intriguing for at least three reasons: First, the Lord will later prescribe a ram for priestly ordination offerings (Lev. 8:22). Since the Lord intends for his people to be wholly devoted to him and the ram is later employed this way, perhaps this foreshadows the Lord’s declaration of his people as a “kingdom of priests” (Exod. 19:6). Second, a ram is the prescription for the guilt offering (ʾāšām, Lev. 5:16), which Isaiah says is the kind of offering that the Servant is (ʾāšām, Isa. 53:10). Third, the term ram is also used metaphorically in the OT for a ruler or leader (e.g., Exod. 15:15; 2 Kgs. 24:15; Jer. 25:34). Taking this observation in hand with the previous, Gentry observes, “Since this same word for ram is often used metaphorically of community leaders, the ʾāšām [=guilt offering] is perfectly suited to describe a sacrifice where the king suffers the penalty on behalf of his people.”[3] Therefore, we are warranted to see in Genesis 22 the seeds of future sacrifices.

3. Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13–53:12),” SBJT 11.2 (2007): 36; see also Daniel I. Block, “My Servant David: Ancient Israel’s Vision of the Messiah,” in Israel’s Messiah in the Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. Richard S. Hess and M. Daniel Carroll R. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 51–52.

The significance of this event is far-reaching in the OT. After observing that Mount Moriah is the place the temple was built at the direction of the Lord (2 Chr. 3:1; cf. 1 Chr. 21), Michael Morales writes, “the entire cult of Israel—that is, the temple system of priesthood and sacrifices—was built on an event, narrated in Genesis 22, where Yahweh God had provided a substitute, an animal replacement, for the seed of Abraham whose utter consecration to himself he had commanded.”[4] Yet, before the temple was built on that mount—before even the tabernacle service was instituted—God would again see to it that a lamb would die in the place of his firstborn.

4. L. Michael Morales, Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption, Essential Studies in Biblical Theology 2 (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020), 31.

Exodus 12: Variation on God’s Provided Lamb

The exodus from Egypt was determined in the mind of God before Isaac was even born (Gen. 15:13–16). Likewise, while Moses was still in Midian, God disclosed his plans beforehand that he would harden Pharoah’s heart until the plague on the firstborn liberated God’s firstborn Israel (Exod. 4:21–23). Specifically, it would be by the blood of the lambs upon the doorpost (Exod. 12:13, 22–23) that God would bring about Israel’s redemption.

But why require blood? If the Lord was able to distinguish between his people without it in the previous plagues, what was the need for bloodshed here? The answer is that the Lord required the blood not because he didn’t know who his people were but because they needed to trust his word—his promise to save those who took refuge by faith in the wrath-removing sacrifice of a lamb. Either a lamb was sacrificed or the firstborn perished. As Alexander puts it, “What distinguished the Israelites from the Egyptians was not that the former were inherently more righteous than the latter. Judged by God, the Israelites and the Egyptians all deserved to die. However, the Passover lambs became a substitute for the Israelite firstborn. The lambs died in the place of the Israelite firstborn males and atoned for human sin or wrongdoing.”[5]

5. T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem: Exploring God’s Plan for Life on Earth (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 130, emphasis added.

The exodus, which becomes the preeminent pattern for redemption in the rest of the OT, was etched into the fabric of Jewish identity through the annual celebration of the Passover feast, for which God strikingly gives instructions during the first Passover (Exod. 12:14–17; 13:7–10). Yearly hereafter, God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt is celebrated via the consumption of a Passover lamb. Their longing for Egypt in the wilderness (Num. 11:5, 18; 14:2; 20:5; 21:5), however, sets forth a quandary: although the people are out of Egypt, Egypt is not out of the people! They remain plagued by unbelief, sin, and idolatry. Clearly, an even better sacrifice is needed.

Isaiah 53: Variation on the Passover Lamb

Fast forward to the Prophets, where the first major prophet Isaiah employs the exodus as a pattern of redemption. Anticipating a new exodus, Isaiah declares that Yahweh will do a “a new thing” which causes “the former things” (i.e., the first exodus) to be forgotten by comparison (see Isa. 43:18–19)! The new exodus that Isaiah anticipates has two stages. As Peter Gentry writes,

6. Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, 2nd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 611, emphasis added.

The first stage is the physical return from exile. But as previously noted, “You can get the people out of Babylon, but how do you get Babylon out of the people?” The physical return from exile gets the people out of Babylon, but the problem of getting Babylon out of the people must be dealt with by a second stage. The second stage is the spiritual return from exile: it deals with the problem of sin and brings about forgiveness and reconciliation in a renewed covenant between Yahweh and his people.[6]

7. Although a full discussion of typology is far beyond the scope of this article, still clarity about what I mean requires some elaboration. The term “typology” itself suggests the study of types. Sequiera and Emadi define biblical types, saying that they “are historical, authorially-intended, textually rooted, tied to Scripture’s [unfolding] covenant structure, and undergo escalation from old covenant shadow to new covenant reality” (Aubrey Sequeira and Samuel Emadi, “Biblical-Theological Exegesis and the Nature of Typology,” SBJT 21.1 [2017]: 12). Multiple installments of a type constitute “God-given patterns between earlier and later events, persons, and institutions within the unfolding of God’s plan—[which] is rightly labeled typology” (Gentry and Wellum, KTC2, 120, emphasis original).

The first stage the Lord brings to pass through the Persian king Cyrus (Isa. 44:24–48:22), but the second stage is accomplished by the Servant of Isaiah 49–53. The Servant of Isaiah 52:13–53:12 appears amidst these new exodus anticipations: Yahweh will once again bare his mighty Arm and redeem (Isa. 52:9–10) in order to reveal his salvation to the end of the earth (Isa. 52:10 cf. 49:6), and his people will not depart “in haste” as they did in the first Passover (see Isa. 52:12 cf. Exod. 12:11; Deut. 16:13; the only other uses in the OT).

In this exodus context, when we see the Servant compared to “a lamb led to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7), we are warranted to think Isaiah has the Passover lamb primarily in mind. The Servant is the Passover lamb of the new exodus, who averts the wrath of God by dying in the place of the many as a vicarious substitute. As a variation on the type of the paschal lamb, the Servant’s death comes with typological escalations:[7] he is human; his death is an offering that deals with guilt (Isa. 53:10); he bears the guilt of sins not his own (Isa. 53:6); and he is surprisingly “high and lifted up” in a manner that Isaiah only accords to Yahweh (Isa. 52:13 cf. 2:12–17; 6:1; 33:10; 57:15)—perhaps because he is Yahweh’s Arm revealed (53:1).

John 1: Behold the Lamblike Servant

8. The only other use outside of John 1:29–36 is 1 Pet. 1:19, which has Passover overtones; however, Peter quickly identifies Jesus as the Servant of Isa. 53 in 1 Pet. 2:22–25.

Returning to John’s gospel, allow me to lay out cumulative reasons we should see Isaiah 53 as the background for John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God (ho amnos tou theou), who takes away the sin of the world!”

9. This point is strengthened by John’s allusion to Isaiah 52:13 in John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32–34 via the concept of Jesus being “lifted up.”
  1. The term “lamb” (amnos) is used in the Greek translation (LXX) of Isaiah 53:7, and although rare in the NT, the term also appears in a quote of Isaiah 53:7 in Acts 8:32.[8]
  2. Isaiah was indisputably quoted in the preceding context (Isa. 40:3 in John 1:23).
  3. Isaiah 42:1 (and perhaps Isaiah 11:2) is alluded to in the following verses (John 1:32–34), which strengthens the case that John had Isaiah in mind.
  4. The Baptist’s phrase “who takes away the sin of the world” is a valid way to render Isaiah’s phrase “he bore the sin of many” (Isa. 53:12).
  5. The apostle John, beyond reasonable doubt, identifies Jesus as the Servant of Isaiah 53 in John 12:32–43.
  6. Since Jesus, as the Divine Word made flesh, is the coming one (1:30), he shares divine identity with God, just as the Servant does.[9]
10. John 19:36 specifically cites Exod. 12:46.

All in all, the best explanation for the apostle John’s intermingling of Isaianic, Passover, and Genesis 22 references in his Gospel is that he has Isaiah 53 in mind as the culmination of a pattern of redemption. We might say that, throughout his Gospel, John shades in his Servant picture with a Passover pencil loaded with Genesis 22 graphite. Regarding Passover, John sees the crucifixion—when Jesus is lifted up as the lamblike Servant—as the sacrifice of the new Passover lamb.[10] Regarding Genesis 22, when John wrote of the Father sending his Son to be lifted up as the Servant to save all who believe (John 3:14–17), he indicated that Jesus, the Lamb of God, is God’s only Son not spared so that the children of God might be saved (alluding to Gen. 22).[11]

11. Returning to a brief discussion of typology, many use the term typology and its cognates to describe interpretation. Biblical typology, however, belongs in the category of divine revelation. As Caneday writes, “To identify typology as a hermeneutical term or key locates the discussion within interpretation of Scripture rather than principally within the nature of revelation where it belongs…. Our role is ‘to identify types, symbols, and allegories that are in Scripture and not creatively invent them as the phrase ‘typological interpretation’ suggests’” (Ardel B. Caneday, “Biblical Types: Revelation Concealed in Plain Sight to Be Disclosed—‘These Things Occurred Typologically to Them and Were Written Down for Our Admonition,’” in God’s Glory Revealed in Christ: Essays on Biblical Theology in Honor of Thomas R. Schreiner, ed. Denny Burk, James M. Hamilton, and Brian Vickers [Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2019], 141–42; citing Brent E. Parker, “Typology and Allegory: Is There a Distinction? A Brief Examination of Figural Reading,” SBJT 21.1 [2017]: 67). Therefore, in demonstrating the “typological escalation” in Jesus as the Passover lamb, I am observing divinely intended differences between later installments and the earlier type, differences expected when an image sharpens from shadow to reality.


In Jesus, therefore, God has seen to it again by providing the lamblike Servant who died as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11–18) in the place of his sheep—namely, “we [who] like sheep had gone astray” (Isa. 53:6)—displaying a love for which our fitting response is worship. This Lamb, unlike previous ones, is truly able to “take away sin” (John 1:29), the very sins in which we would otherwise die (John 8:21, 24 cf. Gen. 2:17)!

Thus, we have seen, through our careful investigation of the canonical context of John 1:29, the fuller picture of what John means by calling Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Not only that, we have witnessed one of the myriad of ways God unfolds his plan of redemption in salvation-history. This pattern of redemption is not God’s backup plan but his “plan for the fullness of time” (Eph 1:10). Indeed, before the foundation of the world, John speaks about “the book of the life of the Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 13:8). We worship the Lamb especially at Easter, not only because he died in our place as the lamblike Servant, but also because he is “standing after having been slain” (Rev. 5:6, my translation). Worthy, worthy, worthy is the Risen Lamb, our Lord Jesus, who in Paul’s words, was slain “for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25)!



  • David Christensen

    David Christensen is an adjunct Professor of New Testament and Greek at both Carolina College of Biblical Studies and the University of the Cumberlands. After earning his MDiv from Faith Bible Seminary, David received his ThM in Systematic Theology and PhD in New Testament from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. David and his wife Kelly have three beloved daughters and serve as members at Ninth & O Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, where David regularly teaches their small group.

David Christensen

David Christensen

David Christensen is an adjunct Professor of New Testament and Greek at both Carolina College of Biblical Studies and the University of the Cumberlands. After earning his MDiv from Faith Bible Seminary, David received his ThM in Systematic Theology and PhD in New Testament from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. David and his wife Kelly have three beloved daughters and serve as members at Ninth & O Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, where David regularly teaches their small group.