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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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The point of view for this subject is suggested by Delitzsch: ‘All the utterances in the New Testament regarding the Lamb of God are derived from this prophecy [Isaiah 53:7], in which the dumb type of the Passover now finds a tongue’ (Com. on Isaiah, Eng. translation , 1890, ii. 297).-(1) In Philip’s interpretation of this passage to the eunuch who questioned him concerning its meaning, he showed that its fulfilment was found in Jesus (Acts 8:32).-(2) In 1 Peter 1:19, Christ is compared with a sacrificial lamb; as an offering on behalf of sin He gave Himself (1 Corinthians 5:7), without blemish and without spot (cf. Leviticus 23:11). If the allusion here is first to the descriptive terms of Isaiah, yet there is included an association derived from the Levitical ritual. Christ was not only a quiet, unresisting sufferer, but also a sacrificial offering for sin.-(3) The main use of the term ‘Lamb’ in the NT is in Revelation, where it occurs 28 times. The word of which it is a translation is a diminutive, and is peculiar to the Apocalypse.

Many surprises await one who, familiar only with the significance of the Lamb in the Levitical sacrifices, traces the new forms in which the figure made itself at home in the visions of the Seer of Patmos. It is evident that the writer had been fascinated by the suggestion on account of which he first employed the term to designate the Exalted Christ (Revelation 5:6), and he was afterward conscious of no incongruity or embarrassment in continuing to use the title when he referred to Christ, even when he associated the most incompatible qualities, relations, and activities with it. In the interest of clearness and consistency one may try to substitute ‘Christ’ for ‘Lamb’ wherever the latter term occurs in this book, but it will be found that then something almost indefinable but very real has fallen out and that nothing of equal worth has taken its place. We move here in a region of prophecy, of symbolism, and of spiritual values, where the imagination supplies itself with wings, and where exact logical thought has to plod along as best it can afoot.

According to Revelation 5:6, in the central place before the throne, in the midst of the four and twenty elders, and the four living creatures, the Revelationist turned to see a Lion, symbol of majesty and overmastering power, when lo! instead of a lion he beheld a Lamb, standing, bearing still the wound by which He was slain in sacrifice, yet with the emblems of power and wisdom in the highest degree. ‘He looked to see power and force, whereby the foes of his faith should be destroyed, and he saw love and gentleness by which they should be conquered’ (G. B. Stevens, The Theology of the NT, 1899, p. 542). The reason Hofmann offers why the Lion which has conquered appears as a Lamb is that He has gained His victory in that form (Weissagung und Erfüllung, 1841-44, ii. 328; cf. Isaiah 53:12). Attempts to trace the symbolism to astrotheology (cf. A. Jeremias, Babylonisches im NT, 1905) or to a Babylonian source discover a single reference to the blood of a lamb substituted as a sacrificial offering for men; but no influence of this on pre-Christian Messianism, or of contemporary cults on this particular symbolism, has been found (cf. J. Moffatt, Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘Revelation,’ 1910, p. 385). But always at the heart of every picture of the Lamb throughout this book is the never-to-be-forgotten fact of His sacrifice and victorious power, and all the properties and functions of the Exalted Christ take their rise from this fact. Among the functions assigned to Him is: (a) that of loosing the seals of the Divine judgments, i.e. of carrying history through its successive stages to its ultimate goal. Henceforth the life of the world must be dominated by the ideal which He has realized, and the power for its fulfilment must proceed from Him. (b) At the very centre of the heavenly host, together with God He receives universal homage from the highest beings in heaven-innumerable angels-and the entire animated creation (Revelation 5:8-13; Revelation 7:9-10). The significance of this worship, springing as it does from a convinced monotheistic faith on the part of the writer, is not to be mistaken. Not a higher and a lower worship are here, but the two are of the same order and unite in one stream. The Lamb does indeed share the throne of God (Revelation 22:1), yet the throne of God and of the Lamb is one. (c) To Him as slain the redeemed owe their power over sin and death (Revelation 5:6; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 5:12, Revelation 7:10; Revelation 7:14, Revelation 12:11, Revelation 14:4); nor in this connexion does the author shrink from the word ‘purchase.’ (d) To Him is entrusted the eternal welfare of men, symbolized by the ‘book of life’ (Revelation 21:27; cf. Revelation 3:5), the history and significance of which may he traced in Isaiah 4:3, Exodus 32:3 f., Psalms 38:16; Psalms 89:19, Ezekiel 13:9, Malachi 3:16, Daniel 12:1, Enoch 47:3, Apoc. Bar. 24:1, Asc. Is. 9:12, Luke 10:26, Philippians 4:3). (e) Still, as in the earthly life, the redeemed follow Him and He maintains the life which was begun through Him, by keeping them in fellowship with Himself and with God as the source of life (Revelation 7:17; Revelation 14:1; Revelation 14:4). As the vision unfolds, several startling paradoxes are thrown into the foreground. The Lamb bears the marks of a violent death at the hand of others, yet He is all-powerful (Revelation 5:6). He gave Himself in the surrender of a perfect love for the sake of sinners, yet He is moved by fierce wrath against evil-doers (Revelation 6:16). The Lamb becomes the great Shepherd of the sheep, whom He guides and they follow Him (Revelation 7:17). Hostile forces shall make war against the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them (Revelation 17:14). In the final chapters, the scene shifts and still more striking symbolism appears. The Lamb is pictured as the central figure in a marriage feast-the Bridegroom whose bride is the New Jerusalem (Revelation 19:7; Revelation 19:9, Revelation 21:9), hidden with God until the fullness of time. Again the scene changes to the New Jerusalem, whose foundations are the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:14), whose temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb (Revelation 21:22), and whose lamp is the Lamb (Revelation 21:23).

In closing we may summarize the significance of ‘Lamb’ in the Apocalypse. The meaning of the person and work of Christ is disclosed in sacrifice. The secret of His nearness to God, of His personal victory and power over others, and the common spirit by which His activity on earth is bound to that in heaven, is found in love. And still further, central in the throne of God, the law of the moral order of the world, the power which moves history to its goal, the all-pervading spirit of the angelic hosts, the principle in which the paradoxes of life are resolved, the magnet which draws heaven down to earth and domiciles it with men, and the light in which all social good is revealed and glorified is sacrificial love.

C. A. Beckwith.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Lamb'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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