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John 1:19-34 Study Guide: Behold the Lamb of God

Community Group Study Guide — Behold the Lamb of God
John 1:19-34

Main idea:
Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and the king who brings the kingdom of God. His ministry will be marked by both kingly authority and suffering as an atonement for our sin. 

Study Information:

Pointing to Jesus
The ministry of John the Baptist shined a spotlight on Jesus to prepare people’s hearts to receive him as their savior and Lord. John would gather by the Jordon River and preach a message of repentance and baptize people as a sign of cleansing to symbolize this coming back from exile to God. The Jordon river was on the eastern border of Israel and was the location of where the people of God entered the Promised Land in the book of Joshua. It was likely that John picked out this location for the significance of coming back from exile and arriving “home” with the Lord. Yet it is important to note that this was a really remote place located 25 miles from Jerusalem and it was not a place that would have naturally gathered a crowd. A typical person in the ancient world could travel 20 miles a day by walking, so this would have been longer than a typical day’s trek for anyone to make and yet crowds gathered, people were baptized and the Pharisees were concerned enough to send a team to check things out. John was fulfilling the role of an Old Testament prophet by calling people back to covenant faithfulness and pointing towards the savior God would send; he just had the benefit of being the last prophet to point to the savior who was already among them. We often think of the prophets as telling the future, but most often they called people to live out what God had already revealed in his word. 

We’re told in verse 19 that this inquiry group was sent by the priests and levites from Jerusalem and verse 24 tells us it was the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a group within Israel that cared about Jewish faith remaining separate from being influenced by the culture and the world which is how they got their name (the word “Pharisee” means “to separate).” They saw this movement of John the Baptist and got concerned and sent a group to explore and they could not come back without an answer about who he is and why he was doing what he was doing (John 1:21). They grill John about his identity and his mission… “are you the Christ, are you Elijah, are you the Prophet? What are you doing?” John answered with a resounding no to all their questions about his identity. The Jewish people were expecting a coming king who would deliver them from their oppression from the Romans. The prophet Elijah never physically died but was taken to heaven and it was prophesied that he’d return, could John be him (Malachi 4:5)? And the title “the Prophet” comes from Deuteronomy 18:15-18 which was someone who’d come like Moses and speak on behalf of God. John was neither of these, though the other gospels say that he came as a type of Elijah. So who is he?

The Pharisees do not get a satisfactory answer about John’s identity, so they ask him why he was doing what he was doing and he simply replies that his job is to prepare the way of the Lord (John 1:23). John is quoting from Isaiah 40:3 which was a prophecy that God would bring his people back from exile and smooth out their path by making every valley high, every hill top low and every crooked path straight. That prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus who makes salvation possible and reconciliation with God possible through faith. John was preparing people’s hearts for Jesus to be their Lord and Savior in his call for repentance and their baptism. Look at John 1:26-27, John the Baptist was baptizing people, not into identity in Christ, but as a way to point to their need for Jesus and that one would come who could really make them clean. We get a sense that John looks out in the crowd and can see Jesus, “one among you”, and points to Jesus’ divine identity. As this crowd gathered to hear from John, John realizes that there is one among them who is not worthy to stoop down and untie his sandal.  

The Sacrificial King
The next day comes and John sees Jesus and cries out “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” John tells the crowd, “this is the one I’ve been talking about!” Look at John 1:31, John the Baptist tells us that his whole ministry of baptism was so that Jesus might be revealed to Israel and that was culminated in the baptism of Jesus himself. Even though Jesus had no sin to repent of, he was baptized by John as a sign that he was the one they were expecting as their savior. When Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and remained on him. In the Hebrew scriptures when someone was anointed king they’d have oil poured over their heads and this sign of oil gets connected to the Spirit in the scriptures. Functionally, the baptism of Jesus was his inauguration as king and his anointing as the Christ. From this point on he will call disciples to follow him and begin his miraculous works which John lays out in a pattern of “seven signs” from chapter 2 to 11. John, the Gospel writer, also makes the kingship of Jesus clear when he calls him the Son of God, which is a statement from Psalm 2 for the king. Yet, this king is different than the kings the people of God would have been used to; this king came to rule and to suffer and to die for our sins. 

To be the “lamb of God” is to be sacrificed for sins. John pulls this imagery from all over the Old Testament. This title calls our attention to Isaiah 53:4-7 that describes the suffering servant who would bear the grief of his people, whom the Lord would lay our inquiry on and he’d be a sheep led to slaughter. Likewise, this calls to mind the exodus story where God provided for his people with a passover lamb. In the process of freeing his people from slavery to Egypt, God judged the Egyptians for their abuse of the people of God by sending the angel of death to take the firstborn of all those who were not covered by the blood of the lamb. God made a provision for any and all to take an unblemished lamb that they were to roast and eat and take the blood from the lamb and paint their door frames with it. The angel of death would pass over those homes since the lamb died in their place. John draws this imagery and applies it to Jesus who is the sacrifice for sins so that those who place their faith in who is and what he has done would be saved from eternal death and find reconciliation with God. Likewise, this title of “lamb of God” points to the sacrificial system given to the people of God throughout the OT Law where they could find atonement (a covering) for their sin through an animal sacrifice. Jesus would be that once and for all sacrifice for sin when he went to the cross (Hebrews 10:1-4). Throughout his ministry Jesus would tell his disciples two truths that seem opposed: he is the king and the king must die. The disciples wanted a king but they struggled to accept that he’d have to die a sacrificial death on the cross (see Mark 8). Yet these two things encompass an important aspect of the work of Jesus, he came to rule and reign and bring about new creation for his people AND he accomplished that through his sacrificial death as the lamb of God. John the Baptist made his life about pointing people to Jesus so they’d repent of sin and find reconciliation through faith in Christ. 

The title of “lamb of God” points to Jesus’ work to be our substitute for sin so that we could have forgiveness and reconciliation with God. What is startling about this is that Jesus is also the Christ, the king! Our king rules over us with love as one who lays down his life so we could be free from slavery to sin and find restoration with God.

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

What was the role of John the Baptist and how does he answer the question about his identity?

Why do the Pharisees would send a group to investigate John the Baptist? 

What two titles does John use for Jesus and how do they point to different aspects of his ministry?

We’re not called to be prophets in the sense that John the Baptist was, but what are some ways we can replicate his ministry to be a person who points to Jesus in our everyday lives?