Soon after leaving Jerusalem, 600 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Lehi prophesied that the Messiah would come to earth and would be baptized in Bethabara, on the other side of the river Jordan. He told his family that the prophet who would baptize the Messiah would recognize who He was, and would “bear record that he had baptized the Lamb of God, who should take away the sins of the world” (1 Nephi 10:4-10).
Shortly afterward, Lehi’s son Nephi prayed to see the things which his father had seen (1 Nephi 11:1-3). He experienced an elaborate vision, in which he was instructed by an angel of God. The angel showed him scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, as well as subsequent global events, explaining the scenes in terms of the mission of Jesus Christ. Throughout this vision (1 Nephi 11-14), the angel refers to the Savior 27 times as “the Lamb of God.”
At the end of Nephi’s vision, he saw a man dressed in a white robe. The angel explained to him that this man was “one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” and that his name would be John. He told Nephi that this apostle would write about the end of the world and that his words would be included in the Bible (1 Nephi 14:18-27).
The phrase “the Lamb of God” only appears twice in the Bible, both times in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. In both cases, the apostle John is quoting John the Baptist as he testifies that Jesus is the Savior (John 1:29, 36).
But the term “the Lamb” appears an additional 24 times in reference to the Savior. All 24 of those occurrences are in the Revelation of St. John, the very book the angel referenced in Nephi’s vision!
What is the significance of this title?
When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, God commanded them to “offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord” (Moses 5:5). They obeyed, and some time later, an angel taught them the meaning of this sacrifice: “This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth” (Moses 5:7).
Generations later, the prophet Abraham led his son Isaac on a three-day journey to offer a sacrifice to God. Isaac noticed that something rather critical was missing: “My father,” he said, “Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham replied, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:7-8). This was literally fulfilled a few moments later, as Abraham found “a ram caught in a thicket by his horns” which he was able to offer “in the stead of his son” (Genesis 22:13). But it was fulfilled more meaningfully and more completely about two thousand years later, when, in the words of the prophet Alma, “God himself [atoned] for the sins of the world” (Alma 42:15). Abraham’s words were fulfilled not only by God Himself providing a lamb, but also by God providing Himself as the Lamb.
President Thomas S. Monson compared the feelings of Abraham on that occasion with the feelings of our Heavenly Father as His Son offered Himself as the final and eternal sacrifice:
As God witnessed the suffering of Jesus, his Only Begotten Son in the flesh, and beheld his agony, there was no voice from heaven to spare the life of Jesus. There was no ram in the thicket to be offered as a substitute sacrifice. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16) (“The Search for Jesus,” Ensign, December 1990).
Today, I will remember and be grateful for the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, that He was willing to suffer and die in order to bring us back to the presence of God. I will remember the symbolism of Adam and Eve’s sacrifices and of Abraham’s sacrifice as I ponder “that great and last sacrifice,” in which the Son of God offered Himself as the Lamb of God.
See also the following two talks given in the April 2019 general conference:
- “Behold the Lamb of God” by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
- “Good Shepherd, Lamb of God,” by Elder Gerrit W. Gong