Agnus Dei

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
He is the one of whom I said,
‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’
I did not know him,
but the reason why I came baptizing with water
was that he might be made known to Israel.”
John testified further, saying,
“I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky
and remain upon him.
I did not know him,
but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me,
‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain,
he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
(John 1:29-34)

Scripture Study

1:29 The Lamb of God: the background for this title may be the victorious apocalyptic lamb who would destroy evil in the world (Rev 5–7; 17:14); the paschal lamb, whose blood saved Israel (Ex 12); and/or the suffering servant led like a lamb to the slaughter as a sin-offering (Is 53:7, 10).

1:30 He existed before me: possibly as Elijah (to come, Jn 1:27); for the evangelist and his audience, Jesus’ preexistence would be implied.

1:31 I did not know him: this gospel shows no knowledge of the tradition (Lk 1) about the kinship of Jesus and John the Baptist. The reason why I came baptizing with water: in this gospel, John’s baptism is not connected with forgiveness of sins; its purpose is revelatory, that Jesus may be made known to Israel.

1:32 Like a dove: a symbol of the new creation (Gn 8:8) or the community of Israel (Hos 11:11). Remain: the first use of a favorite verb in John, emphasizing the permanency of the relationship between Father and Son (as here) and between the Son and the Christian. Jesus is the permanent bearer of the Spirit.

1:34 The Son of God: this reading is supported by good Greek manuscripts, including the Chester Beatty and Bodmer Papyri and the Vatican Codex, but is suspect because it harmonizes this passage with the synoptic version: “This is my beloved Son” (Mt 3:17; Mk 1:11; Lk 3:22). The poorly attested alternate reading, “God’s chosen One,” is probably a reference to the Servant of Yahweh (Is 42:1).

Scripture Reflection

For the first time in the Gospel, Christ is called the “Lamb of God”. Isaiah had compared the sufferings of the Servant of Yahweh, the Messiah, with the sacrifice of a lamb (cf. Is 53:7); and the blood of the paschal lamb smeared on the doors of houses had served to protect the firstborn of the Israelites in Egypt (cf. Ex 12:6–7): all this was a promise and prefiguring of the true Lamb, Christ, the victim in the sacrifice of Calvary on behalf of all mankind. This is why St Paul will say that “Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7). The expression “Lamb of God” also suggests the spotless innocence of the Redeemer (cf. 1 Pet 1:18–20; 1 Jn 3:5).

Christ came to free us from original sin, which in Adam affected all men, and from all personal sins. The book of Revelation reveals to us that Jesus is victorious and glorious in heaven as the slain lamb (cf. Rev 5:6–14), surrounded by saints, martyrs and virgins (Rev 7:9, 14; 14:1–5), who render him the praise and glory due him as God (Rev 7:10). Since Holy Communion is a sharing in the sacrifice of Christ, priests say these words of the Baptist before administering it, to encourage the faithful to be grateful to our Lord for giving himself up to death to save us and for giving himself to us as nourishment for our souls.

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.