IS JOHN 1:29 REALLY A REFERENCE TO CALVARY?
by Shawn Brasseaux
When John the Baptist preached, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), it is commonly assumed and taught that he was predicting that Jesus Christ was going to Calvary’s cross to die and pay for the world’s sins. Did Messiah’s forerunner really know of Calvary in advance? Beloved, may we have an eye to see what the Holy Spirit has said in His Word, may we have an ear to hear what the Holy Spirit has said in His Word, and may we have a heart to believe what the Holy Spirit has said in His Word. Yes, the Spirit of God will teach us through His Word in order to tell us what He wants us to believe about John 1:29.
Let us begin by reading John 1:29 in full: “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” A similar expression is repeated in John 1:36: “And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!”
Paul’s Gospel—Christ’s finished crosswork—is usually read into these verses. While many entertain the idea that John the Baptist was telling his audience that Jesus would go and die for the sins of the world, we would have to disagree with them on the basis of how John worded his claim. The phraseology of the Scriptures is important. As opposed to John saying that Jesus would “die for (or forgive, or cleanse, or make atonement for, et cetera) the sins of the world,” which would be a reference to Calvary, John the Baptist said that Jesus would “take away the sin of the world.” The terminology indicates John is referring to Jesus Christ removing sin (the system of sin, or the nature of sin, that is prevalent in creation), sin being the overall cause of sins (the actions). We will now present three reasons from Scripture why we do not believe John 1:28 refers to Calvary.
REASON #1 FOR BELIEVING THAT JOHN 1:29 IS NOT REFERENCING CALVARY
We read the following in Matthew 16:21-23, which is near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry: “ From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.  Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.  But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”
If John the Baptist were telling his audience about Calvary back in John 1:29 (at the beginning of Jesus Christ’s ministry, almost three years prior to Matthew chapter 16), then why did Jesus begin to explain His death and resurrection to His disciples in the weeks just prior to them occurring? John the Baptist’s converts—such as the Apostle Andrew—had heard John the Baptist speak (John 1:40), and yet Andrew seemed to know nothing about Jesus’ death in Matthew chapter 16. Notice how in Matthew 16:22-23 that Peter actually began to deny that Jesus was going to die. The Scriptures never indicate Andrew corrected his brother. Andrew heard John’s message, but he did not know about Calvary any more than Peter.
REASON #2 FOR BELIEVING THAT JOHN 1:29 IS NOT REFERENCING CALVARY
John 1:29 could not have been a reference to Calvary, since we read in Luke 18:31-34: “ Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.  For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on:  And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.  And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.”
Jesus Christ is just about a week or two away from dying on Calvary, and the 12 apostles do not have a clue that it is about to happen. Even after He tells them all about His suffering, death, and resurrection, they do not understand because God hid that information from them and they did not know what was spoken! Again, how could Calvary be revealed to John the Baptist, but kept secret from Peter and the 11 (all of whom heard John preach)? It makes no sense.
REASON #3 FOR BELIEVING THAT JOHN 1:29 IS NOT REFERENCING CALVARY
According to Israel’s prophetic program, the schedule in effect when John the Baptist’s ministry was operating, Jesus Christ would not die for the whole world, but only for Israel’s sins. The Old and New Testament Scriptures make this very clear:
- The Prophet Isaiah, a Jew, wrote in Isaiah 53:8: “…for the transgression of my people was he stricken.” Gentiles were not Isaiah’s people; who were Isaiah’s people? Isaiah was writing strictly about Messiah dying for
- The angel said in Matthew 1:21: “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Again, Jesus was a Jew; Gentiles were not “his people.” Jesus was coming to save Israel from their sins.
- Jesus Himself said in Matthew 20:28: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” While this is a favorite verse of Calvinists, this does not refer to Gentiles selected for heaven; in keeping with the earlier divine revelations (see two verses above), Jesus meant that He was coming to die for Israel.
Even after Calvary, Christ’s death was only beneficial for Israel:
- The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Peter said to Israel in Acts 3:26: “Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” There are no Gentiles in this verse.
- The Apostle Peter and the other apostles said in Acts 5:31: “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”
Clearly, John the Baptist would not have been talking about Jesus dying for the sins of the whole world. According to the prophetic program, Jesus would die only for the sins of Israel. Israel, God’s chosen people in the earth, had to be saved first, before they could reach Gentiles, the nations of the world. That was the whole goal of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3).
The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul says that Jesus Christ made Paul an apostle so that he could declare to the whole world that Jesus Christ died for all. Paul was the “due-time testifier” of Jesus Christ’s crosswork being available to everyone, Jew and Gentile. We read in 1 Timothy 2:4-7: “ [God] Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;  Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.  Whereunto [For which purpose] I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.”
Had John the Baptist been preaching that Jesus would die for everyone’s sins, then the apostles of Israel should have done the same thing, and then there would have been no need for Paul’s apostleship. If we make John the Baptist’s message the same as Paul’s Gospel, then Paul’s apostleship and ministry lose their distinction. Whenever Paul’s ministry is attacked, the Lord Jesus Christ whom Paul served, is attacked, for the Lord Jesus Christ magnified Paul’s ministry (Romans 11:13), and Paul’s ministry exalted the Lord Jesus Christ.
WHAT JOHN THE BAPTIST MEANT BY USING THE TERM “THE LAMB OF GOD”
Whenever trying to understand a verse of Scripture, we need to look for similar verses or phraseology elsewhere in the Bible. Let us do that here.
According to The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the New Testament uses the term “lamb” 30 times to refer to Jesus Christ:
- The first two times are John 1:29 and John 1:36, the verses we are currently explaining, and they call Jesus Christ “the Lamb of God.”
- “Lamb” appears a third time in the New Testament in Acts 8:32, when Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch read Isaiah 53:7 to learn that Jesus “was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth.” Here, Jesus Christ is not called a lamb but is rather likened unto a lamb (simile).
- We read of “lamb” connected to Jesus Christ a fourth time in the New Testament, in 1 Peter 1:19, “[Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold…] But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and spot….”
- There are 26 remaining instances of the word “lamb” used to apply to Jesus Christ in the New Testament, and they all appear in the book of the Revelation. It is important to note that, unlike the above four instances being examples of similes (Jesus Christ likened unto a lamb), these instances are used as a proper name. Jesus Christ is called “the Lamb” 26 times in the Revelation. (The serious Bible student will carefully read and consider Revelation 5:6, 8, 12, 13; Revelation 6:1, 16; Revelation 7:9, 10, 14, 17; Revelation 12:11; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 14:1, 4 [x2], 10; Revelation 15:3; Revelation 17:14 [x2]; Revelation 19:7,9; Revelation 21:14,22,23; and Revelation 22:1,3).
In summary, the only Bible book where Jesus Christ is often called “the Lamb” is the book of the Revelation. Although Isaiah, Acts, and Peter liken Jesus to a lamb being led to the slaughter, the title of Him being “the Lamb” (the language of John the Baptist) is identified with a future time, the time well beyond John the Baptist’s day, far beyond Calvary’s day, and actually beyond our day as well. What John the Baptist was talking about was not a lamb that would die on a cross, or a lamb that was meek and lowly, but “the Lamb,” the wrathful Lamb that would take away the wickedness of the world. The main theme of the book of the Revelation is not Jesus dying at Calvary, but rather His glorious return to planet Earth in power, to rid the world of Satan and sin (evil), and to establish His everlasting kingdom of righteousness. The Apostle John wrote how Christ would punish sinners, how He would come to set up His kingdom, how He would stifle satanic activity on Earth, how He would deal with sin promptly.
In fact, we read about the “wrath of the Lamb” in Revelation 6:15-17: “ And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;  And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:  For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”
With this now in mind, we can look again at John the Baptist’s preaching. John the Baptist’s own testimony confirms what he was preaching concerning “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” The words of the sermons that John the Baptist preached to Israel can be read in Matthew 3:1-12, Mark 1:1-8, Luke 3:1-18, and John 1:15-36. Rather than preaching that Jesus was going to die on a cross, John the Baptist said the following:
- Matthew 3:7-12: “ But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:  And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.  And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.  I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:  Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
- Luke 3:3,7-9,16-17: “ And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; ….  Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.  And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire….  John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:  Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.”
John the Baptist is warning Israel, not of Messiah Jesus coming to die on the cross, but that Messiah Jesus is coming to “baptize with the Holy Ghost” and “baptize with fire” (notice how Joel 2:28-32 and Acts 2:16-21 agree). Messiah is coming to pour out His Spirit, the Holy Ghost, on those who believe on Him; He is coming to pour out His wrath, the seven-year Tribulation, on those who reject Him. There is a Spirit baptism that can be accepted, which will save a Jew through that wrath, or a Jew can reject Messiah and His Spirit and be destroyed in that wrath. This is exactly what we discussed earlier regarding the events of the book of the Revelation.
John the Baptist had received revelation from Father God (John 1:6ff.), but not full divine revelation as we have in the completed Bible. As his sermons demonstrate, John was waiting for the baptism with the Holy Spirit and the baptism with fire, but they still had not come as much as two years after he began his ministry. John never thought that he would wind up in prison, but he did; he assumed that Messiah would shortly establish His earthly kingdom, where evil kings and wicked religious leaders would be destroyed. Thus, John, once in prison, now discouraged, now “offended in [Jesus],” sent his disciples to Jesus to ask Him if He was the Messiah they had been seeking (Matthew 11:1-6; Luke 7:18-23); John heard about Christ’s compassionate miracles, but was wondering when the Holy Spirit and the wrath were to be poured out.
Thankfully, however, that wrath of God has yet to come on planet Earth. It is still in abeyance—the seven-year Tribulation and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ are still scheduled to occur one day, just not today. Until then, the God of the Bible is so gracious, so longsuffering. Had our Dispensation of Grace not interrupted Israel’s program, prophecy would have finished—the time of God’s wrath on the nation Israel would have transpired and concluded (again, see Joel 2:28-32 and Acts 2:16-21). John the Baptist talked about this wrath to come and so did James and Peter. Even Jesus had words to say about that wrath that Joel predicted centuries earlier. It was just when that wrath was about to be poured out (Acts chapter 7) that God brought in our program and offered grace and peace to Israel and all the Christ-rejecting world rather than His wrath and war to all the world (Romans 11:31-32). He has delayed that wrath and ushered in our Dispensation of Grace, where all can be saved from His wrath (the Second Coming of Christ and the everlasting lake of fire) by simple faith in Jesus Christ’s sinless bloodshed, His death, His burial, and His resurrection as sufficient payment for their sins. God’s righteousness is ours in Christ, and it is a gift; we cannot work for a gift. May we not procrastinate regarding eternal salvation from our sins. May we rely exclusively on Jesus Christ today, and receive a right standing before God today.
The phrase, “The Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” is best understood in light of Jesus Christ pouring out His wrath on wicked Israel and wicked Gentiles; to make it a reference to Calvary is to contradict the overall testimony of Scripture. It is to diminish Paul’s special ministry and message, and it is to undermine the dispensational layout of the Holy Bible. May we rejoice in these simple truths of God’s Word rightly divided, and may we not be sidetracked by denominationalism.