Prophets see things. When John the Baptizer saw Jesus approaching, he saw “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Did you see that? If I hear Scripture as a story about me, I may substitute a message that Jesus takes away my sins. That’s not what John said.
Imagine a world where sin has gone — where the Lamb has taken away the sin of the world. What’s it like? What do you see?
I am not the world. I need to climb off centre-stage and open my eyes to see the scope of what God is doing. Every phrase in John 1 is pregnant with hope for the world.
Open John 1:1-29.
It’s God’s world. It exists as a response to the Author (John 1:1). No chicken-and-egg problem: the Word preceded the world (1:2). It’s all his, every bit of it. All things were made through him; without him nothing was made that has been made (1:3).
Life exists as a response to the living God. People are God-breathed life. His brilliance illuminates our existence. All of us: his life is the light of all mankind (1:4).
His light penetrates the darkness, so our future is bright. God decreed light, and darkness cannot swallow it (1:5).
The Light has arrived on earth, the creative Author who dispelled the darkness in the beginning. He’s here: the true light that enlightens everyone, coming into the world (1:9).
Sin of the world
What is the darkness? It’s the world closed against the Light, shrouded from his sovereign presence:
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him (1:10).
When the nations went their own way, God established a nation to restore his reign to the world. But God’s “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6) was filled with the same darkness:
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him (1:11).
So, the Author stepped into his own story, as the Light of the world. As the world receives the Light, its darkness is dispelled, its sin is drained away, and God’s family is restored:
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (1:12).
How astounding! The true light that lights up everyone arrived not as a God-laser burning through every form of resistance but as a God-human reflecting divine light into the world as humans were designed to do. To receive him is to recognize his authority (trust his name), his authority to restore us as family in the Father’s care (children of God).
And the scope is mind-blowing! Children of God is not just the family of Jacob (his own people). The divine life that lights up all mankind is bringing the whole of humanity to birth as God’s children, alive with God’s DNA:
… children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (1:13).
The Word speaks light to the world, bringing it to life.
The light displaces the darkness.
The Father imparts life to his family.
The Lamb removes the sin of the world.
The Lamb of God
Words create worlds. J. R. R. Tolkien’s words came to life under the direction of Peter Jackson. But as imaginative as they were, The Lord of the Rings remained an imaginary world. Tolkien could not move to Middle Earth.
But in the world created by the Word, the Author joined the drama:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (1:14a).
This is no phantom existence, no trick of the light. The Word who decreed our existence became what he had decreed us to be: a flesh and blood human, in community with us.
What a lights-on moment for the world! His glorious presence dispelled the darkness. The majestic Son reconstituted the Father’s family. His gracious authority removed the harsh oppression. The truth of his kingship dissolved all competing claims to power:
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (1:14b)
God had always planned to live among his family. Humanity began in the garden of his dwelling (Eden). Israel built a tabernacle for God to live among them. David’s son built a temple for the true king whose reign he represented. But all this had been lost. They longed for a Messiah to rise like a lion from King David’s line, overpower God’s enemies, and enforce divine justice on earth.
But when this Lion from the tribe of Judah arrived, he came as a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne (Revelation 5:5-6).
His glory was not the glory of a warrior destroying his enemies, full of force. His glory was the glory of a Father restoring his family, full of grace.
Do you see?
The Light of all mankind, coming into the world.
The Son, with authority to restore the family.
The Word become flesh, living among us.
The Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world.
There is hope of the world. He’s here.
What others are saying
J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 108, 110:
But why “the Lamb of God”? “Lamb” is bound to evoke the image of sacrifice, and yet the expression “who takes away the sin of the world” resists any notion of “the Lamb of God” as a passive victim. Jesus, in speaking of his death on the cross, will later declare, “I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (10:17–18). Similarly, “the Lamb of God” here is victor, not victim. …
Can we go a step further and say that the sinless Lamb “takes away the sin of the world” by shedding his own blood? Such an idea seems far removed from the thought of John the Baptist as we meet him in the synoptic tradition, even though his baptism was said to be “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3).