A shepherd with a flock of sheep is a familiar and friendly scene. Jesus himself uses words dear to every believer: “I am the Good Shepherd.” We treasure that truth drawn from Psalm 23 and John 10. Yet Jesus is also described as a lamb. How is that possible? Both the Bible’s first writer, Moses, and its final writer, John, help us answer this question.
Moses and the lamb
When Bible readers are led to the banks of the Jordan River and meet John the Baptist, we find a preacher talking about repentance and summoning sinners to Baptism. One day Jesus of Nazareth walked onto the scene. John chose his words to make a splash: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Anyone with John that day had to do some interpretation, some mental problem-solving, at his outburst, “Look, a Lamb!” Was the Baptizer calling attention to a common four-legged creature? Why call a man a lamb? What is it about a lamb that makes it an apt description of Jesus of Nazareth?
Remember that John’s hearers caught something that we are not so quick to catch. The concept of the lamb of God was burned into Israel’s collective consciousness through their annual Passover Festival.
Almost 15 centuries earlier when Jesus’ forefathers and foremothers were a nation of slaves, great Moses announced to each household that Independence Day was right in front of them. They were to “take a lamb” (Exodus 12:3). At midnight long ago in Egypt, God would unleash a killer angel into every neighborhood. It would visit every home not marked with the blood of God’s lamb.
So in the backyard of each house, the family gathered around God’s lamb. Father held a knife in one hand and the lamb with his other hand. Bright red bloomed on a field of white wool as the lamb became limp—an impossible sight for an Israelite child ever to forget. This blood was to be painted over the door the family used to come and go. Believe it: The hellish visitor would surely come, but it would be forced to turn away from this door. As weak and sinful as they were, it would pass over the believer in God’s promise attached to the blood of the lamb.
Moses said that ever after on this night, God’s people must again gather, celebrate, and remember that lamb of God. For one day in the future, the great Lamb of God will come to save all believers.
Revelation and the Lamb
In the last book of the Bible, God gives a message of hope to his scattered people. They were again troubled by powerful tyrants, both religious and political. In the Revelation, God’s Spirit pulls back the curtain on some scenes that are real but ordinarily not visible to human beings.
Here’s one from heaven: a lamb looking as if it had been slain. “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne” (Revelation 5:6). This mangled victim, however, stands on his feet again—on a throne, where a king ordinarily sits.
The One these saints praise is both Lamb and Shepherd. He shed his blood for them and then leads them through all life’s trials.
Mary’s Son appeared weak, for he was one of us and had to die, a Lamb ready for the slaughter. But he rose again. He is strong, for he is God’s Son and holds equal power with the eternal Father. The Father gives all authority to the Son. The Son reigns over all things, and the scroll where the future is recorded is in the hands of the Lamb (Revelation 5:7).
This scene from the Revelation no doubt meant a great deal to its first audience. Like us, they were God’s little flock, shredded by the scissors blades of false doctrine and persecution. A lamb does not have the big bark of a dog, the sharp beak of a hawk, the antlers of an elk, the speed of an antelope, or even the protective coloration of a rabbit. A lamb seems just a meal for a predator. Yet Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God . . . for us—for believers of all time. “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12).
The Lamb and Shepherd
It must have been very lonely for old John the apostle, preaching to the seagulls on the penal colony of Patmos Island. But how lovely to see this panorama. The gospel of Good Friday and Easter was not chained on earth after all. Victories were taking place, one person at a time. “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).
John asked, “‘These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?’ . . . And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’ ” (Revelation 7:13,14). They were cleansed by the blood of the Lamb (1 John 1:7). Graciously and freely while they were still sinners, they were cleansed, made children of God, and heirs of heaven. The lamb is a great symbol for God’s grace and love. He sent his only Son to shed his blood for unworthy sinners. No wonder they praise the Lamb.
But they have also come through the “great tribulation.” How did that happen? Trouble is another name for life on this planet, ignited by the tinder of the sinful human condition. The One who holds the future and all power was their Good Shepherd for all their trials. “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17). The One these saints praise is both Lamb and Shepherd. He shed his blood for them and then leads them through all life’s trials to this glorious scene.
Finally, Satan, whose name is the accuser, will be defeated. He is like a well-prepared lawyer who has all the proof he needs to put you and me away in his moldy kennels for eternity. “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say, . . . ‘For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony’ ” (Revelation 12:10,11).
The Lamb and the Shepherd. Jesus is the Lamb who shed his blood to repel the death angel from believers and the Shepherd who guides us through our trials. Both are good names for Jesus. They are good names for me to treasure and to share with someone I care about.
Author: Thomas Jeske
Volume 109, Number 05
Issue: May 2022