Formations 12.31.2017: Christ(mas) Has Come!

John 1:19-20, 24-34

Crypt of Fourvière, Paschal Lamb

On the Christian calendar—as opposed to the secular calendar by which stores began decking their halls shortly after Halloween—the Christmas season began on December 25th and will end twelve days later on January 5. During this brief season of the year, we contemplate what it means that God has come to us in Christ.

The waiting of Advent is over. Now what?

And so, we close out this unit on “Awaiting Christ” with one final vignette. In today’s passage, Jesus is embarking upon his public ministry. As he arrives on the scene, John the Baptist points him out to some of John’s disciples.

John baptized in the wilderness while awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promise that “the one on whom you see the Spirit coming down and resting is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (v. 33). Now, that promise has come true, and he is eager for his disciples to realize this fact and, as it were, switch allegiance from himself to this far more worthy preacher to which he had devoted his life as a herald.

Eventually—and unexpectedly—John encounters “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (v. 29). His season of waiting has come to an end. The fullness of God’s grace has appeared.


• Do you find it hard to experience Christmas after spending a month or more preparing for it? Why or why not?
• Is Christmas what you expected it to be? Explain.
• How might this passage speak to people today who find themselves “awaiting Christ”?
• What should we look for in order to find him?
• What should be our response when Jesus at last appears on the scene?

Reference Shelf

Lamb of God

The lamb of God is a title for Jesus that appears only in John 1:29, 36, although the image of Jesus as a lamb occurs in Acts 8:32, 1 Pet 1:18-20, and twenty-eight times in Revelation.

John the Baptist identifies Jesus as “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Three contexts for interpreting this title have been proposed: (1) the apocalyptic lamb, (2) the suffering servant, and (3) the paschal lamb.

The Apocalyptic Lamb. The figure of a lamb (or ram) appears in Jewish apocalyptic literature representing the agent of God who crushes evil and delivers God’s people (TJos 19:8; 1 Enoch 90:38). Similarly, in Relevation the lamb overcomes evil (17:14), overcomes death (5:5-6), opens the scroll (4:7ff.), and leads the people (7:17) as the Lord of lords and King of kings (17:14; 19:16). This context has been championed especially by C. H. Dodd. The Greek term used consistently for “lamb” in Revelation (arnion) is not the same as that used in John 1:29 (amnos).

The Suffering Servant. The NT speaks of Jesus as the suffering servant, an image derived from the servant songs in Isaiah. Isa 53:7 likens the servant to “a lamb that is led to the slaughter,” and this verse is specifically applied to Jesus by Acts 8:32. The accounts of the baptism of Jesus also evoke Isa 42: 1—“my servant…my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him.” Moreover, just as the servant bears the sins of many (Isa 53:4, 12), so the lamb of God takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). This interpretation has been defended by Joachim Jeremias, who argues (with questionable support) that the Aramaic word for “servant” could also mean “lamb.”

The Paschal Lamb. C. K. Barrett maintains that the primary background for this title is the Passover lamb, which, however, was not technically a sin offering. Nevertheless, paschal imagery is important in John’s account of the crucifixion: Jesus dies at the time the priests to sacrifice that Passover lambs (John 19:14; cf. Exod 12:6); Jesus is offered wine from a sponge raised to him on hyssop (John 19:29; cf. Exod 12:22, Rev 5:9), and none of Jesus’ bones were broken (John 19.36; cf. Exod 12:46).

R. Alan Culpepper, “Lamb of God,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 496–7.


John is here center stage and intent on clarifying his role: what he is not (the Christ…), and what he is (the voice of one crying in the wilderness). The focus is on the question: why is John baptizing? The Jewish interrogators…assume he baptizes because he is an eschatological figure, either the Messiah or a preparer for the Messiah. John says he is indeed a preparer figure, but the one mentioned in Isaiah 40:3 (cf. 1:6-8; 5:35)….

Day Two answers the question of Day One (Why does John baptize?): John baptizes with water so that the Baptizer with the Spirit may be revealed to Israel (vv. 31, 33). There is some evidence that in Jewish circles there existed a belief that the Messiah was hidden and that his identity had to be revealed before he could become known (1 Enoch 62:7; 2 Esdras 12:32; 2 Baruch 29:3; 39:7; Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 8:3; 49:1; 110:1). In the Fourth Gospel the baptismal activity of John is the means by which the Baptist comes to a recognition of Jesus.

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005) 83–85.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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