A lot of information is conveyed as the Gospel of John opens. We are introduced to John the Baptist and to Jesus, and we are told of Christ’s selection of his first followers.
But this is more than a narrative. The author, in introducing us to the characters, also provides us with the identity of Jesus, an identity that he builds on in unfolding verses until the picture of who Jesus is becomes complete.
Jesus is the “Word,” the message of God that is not just a message like that given to the prophets of old, but a message that is bound up in the being of God. It is a message that dispels darkness with light and grants access to God to all who will follow its beam.
He is the “one and only” who came from God (1:14) and yet, who is God (1:18).
He is Jesus the Christ (1:17). He is the “Son of God” (1:34).
He is the one promised by Moses and the prophets, Jesus of Nazareth (1:45).
He is the king of Israel (1:49).
He is the “lamb of God” who takes away the sins of the world.
Interestingly, the phrase “lamb of God” only occurs here in the Bible. It is certainly a reference to the “Passover lamb” of Exodus 12 and Numbers 9. John makes that reference plan in 19:36 when he talks about Jesus’ bones not being broken. But the thing is, the Passover lamb was never a sin offering.
John brings together here a number of things from the Old Testament. There is first the Passover, the great saving event of the Old Testament. He adds the notion of sacrifice for sin. Joined with those is the idea of the innocent dying because of the guilty and on behalf of the guilty. None of these ideas are new. What is new is the notion that this is God’s lamb. Not something belonging to me that I offer for my sins, but something that belongs to God that He offers to take away not just my sin, but the sins of the whole world. The story John is telling is not just historical, but historic. It is a history changing story, and in telling it this way, John underscores the uniqueness of the story of Jesus.