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The Lamb of God and the Salvation of the World

On the Readings for Sunday, January 15, 2023.

Detail from "The Ghent Altarpiece: Adoration of the Lamb" by Jan van Eyck (circa 1390 –1441) [Wikipedia Commons]

• Is 49:3, 5-6
• Ps 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
• 1 Cor 1:1-3
• Jn 1:29-34

Taken as a whole, this Sunday’s readings can, I think, be summarized in a single sentence: The Son of God became a servant so that by becoming a sacrifice he would be the Savior of mankind.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these names and titles, beginning with the final statement from today’s Gospel, a declaration uttered by John the Baptist at the Jordan River: “Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” This testimony to the identity of Jesus is a key theme in the Gospel of John, as indicated in the Evangelist’s theological commentary following Jesus’ discourse to Nicodemus: “He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Jn 3:18).

And, at the close of his Gospel, the Apostle John explains that his testimony was written so “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (Jn 20:31). We cannot begin to understand fully the servanthood and the sacrifice of Jesus without first recognizing that he is the Son of God.

The Old Testament contains a number of prophetic passages about a coming servant of the Lord who would establish God’s reign and being peace to Israel. Isaiah has several “servant songs”, the most famous being found in chapters 52 and 53 (and read during Holy Week). The servant song in chapter 49 closely aligns the servant with Israel, which highlights the fact that salvation, as Jesus told the Samaritan woman, is from the Jews (Jn 4:22).

But the servant emerges from Israel; he is a man with a singular identity and possessing unique qualities, through whom salvation will come not only to Israel but to all men: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” The season of Christmas, of course, focuses on the remarkable and radical fact that the Son became a servant, leaving the glory of heaven to dwell among men.

The eternal Word, in becoming man, willingly became a servant and embraced the work of sacrifice set before him. “From the beginning of his public life,” the Catechism states, “at his baptism, Jesus is the ‘Servant’, wholly consecrated to the redemptive work that he will accomplish by the ‘baptism’ of his Passion” (par 565). One can only imagine the shock caused by John the Baptist’s emphatic exclamation, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

Under the Law, there were several animals that were sacrificed at various times for the sins of the people; these included bulls, goats, pigeons, doves, and sheep (cf. Lev. 12:6). And among sheep there were three types: rams, ewes, and lambs. Why was Jesus identified as the “Lamb of God”? “It is the lamb,” answered Origen to this question, “that we find offered in the perpetual sacrifices [cf. Ex 29:38].” In addition, it points back to the blood of the unblemished Passover lambs that liberated the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 12).

The Cross is at the heart of the New Exodus, an act of humility, sacrifice, and love liberating man from the power of sin and death. Those who do not recognize Jesus as the Son of God look upon the Cross and see failure and shame. But those who know that Jesus is the Lamb of God see love and grace, what Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger describes as the moment “when God transforms this external violence against him into an act of self-donation to mankind.”

Those who see the Savior on the Cross and become united to him through baptism are, in the words of the Apostle Paul, those “who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy…” They are called, by grace, to be sons and daughters of God.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the January 16, 2011 edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1227 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. Thank you too , for pointing to The Lamb ..prefigured in The Garden – as the lamb that was slain to clothe Adam and Eve ..likely too , they were given the flesh as well ..
    and no bones broken ..
    lambs , playful and innocent , to help bring us back to those days again , free from the fears and lies that make us want to hide from The Father ..
    young as a son , yet , strong enough that none of the bones are broken , even carrying the weight of the broken covenants , like that of David who cries out in Psalm 51 –
    ‘ the bones you have crushed ‘-
    and The Lamb , rising in victory , to set it all straight ..
    May He help us all , to grow in faith , hope and love , to be His lambs who yearn to be fed from those who He has entrusted us all to . 🙂

  2. Agnus Dei. The Cross you say is at the heart of the new exodus. The Lamb of God who replaces the former ritual sacrifice at the last Supper institutes the Holy Eucharist. The epicenter of faith and Church. It wasn’t until I learned its insertion in the Mass was due to controversy that my attentiveness and veneration deepened when offering Mass. At the Council of Trullo Constantinople 692 called by Emperor Justinian II the canons prohibited veneration of icons depicting the Lamb. As I understand any veneration of the Lamb as representative of Christ was thought idolatry of a mere animal. The Eastern Byzantine Churches approved the prohibition. Pope Sergius I decided otherwise and inserted the prayer to the Lamb in the Mass. Now when I offer Mass the theology referencing Jesus Christ the Crucified Lamb of God is more vivid, more rewarding spiritually.

  3. Jesus Christ was identified by John the Baptist: “the Lamb of God”.

    Interesting note about this historical fact: no-one else can ever have had this title and it is at the same time a proof of Jesus Christ and of prophecies fulfilled.

  4. Thank you for the Ghent Altarpiece. The blood of the Lamb drains into a chalice, and on the chalice is permanently engraved one word (the Word!): “Tueri” (“cling to this”). The REAL PRESENCE as a necessary message today about Eucharistic Coherence/Revival–as the centerpiece for any REAL synodality.

  5. We do well to consider these vital matters of the word and deed of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Thank you Carl, your work is demanding and the Lord holds you to high standards. You are upheld in prayer as you tend to your flock.

  6. Is Jesus presently ruling the world or is Satan presently ruling the world? As of the Ascension, Jesus tells us not yet. It is in the Book of Revelation that Jesus takes over as King and Ruler of the world, as God has Promised the Prophets. I say not yet, but modern Apparitions and Locutions from heaven are telling us Jesus is Coming to Rule the world soon. What does everyone think? Has the Seventh Trumpet of Revelation already blown?

    Jesus is Getting Married!

    Revelation 10:7
    At the time when you hear the seventh angel blow his trumpet, the mysterious plan of God shall be fulfilled, as he promised to his servants the prophets.

    Jerimiah 33:13
    The days are coming, oracle of the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days, at that time, I will make a just shoot spring up for David; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be saved and Jerusalem shall dwell safely; this is the name they shall call her: ‘The LORD our justice.’

    Acts of the Apostles 1:6
    When they had gathered together they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He answered them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.

    Revelation 11:15
    Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet. There were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world now belongs to our Lord and to his Anointed, and he will reign forever and ever’.

  7. Thanks, Carl for your Holy Spirit-inspired opening of God’s word.

    It’s good to meditate on the unparalleled self-giving love of Jesus that embraces us collectively every time we come together to celebrate Holy Eucharist (the greatest drama in the universe, represented in our churches, every day and everywhere).

    In regard to lambs: they are more docile and amenable to direction than seasoned rams & ewes (and cleaner!). Likewise: Jesus’ victory over evil, sin, and death is by docile submission to the will of Father God. His apogee of divine humility we can receive at mass: His holy flesh (real food) and His precious blood (real drink) (John 6:55).

    “During His life on earth, He offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the One who had the power to save Him out of death, and He submitted so humbly that His prayer was heard. Although He was Son, He learned to obey through suffering;. . .”

    “. . . but having been made perfect, He became for all who obey Him the source of eternal salvation . . .” (Hebrews 5:7-9)

    Perfected by His docile submission, Savior Jesus justly requires our obedience, too.

    Uniquely, Jesus opens the way for those who are His sheep, who hear His voice and obediently follow Him (John 10:27-30).

    How often we hear the broad road preached: “Jesus, the Lamb of God, has finished the work, we are all saved”, with nary a mention of that unpopular word: ‘OBEDIENCE’, or of the one narrow road Jesus Christ firmly instructed us to take.

    Yes, The Lamb has won the victory and is worthy of all praise and honor. Therefore, to avoid hypocrisy, we need to praise and honor Him by prioritizing obedience to Him.

    May Jesus’ year 2023 be blessed by humble obedience to Him, throughout the Church.

    Always in the love of Jesus Christ; blessings from marty

    • Dear Dr Marty:

      Praise and honour and glory and thanksgiving be unto our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ. This you know and proclaim to God’s flock. Thank you!

      You are in my prayers and it is a blessing to see your name and read your words. When God gives a man intellect and compassion for his fellow sojourner in Christ we are enriched.

      You mention Carl O. Wonder if he realizes what a blessing he is? What a difficult function he carry’s out! We have our little tussles from time to time, yet how can we not have respect for what he does! The articles presented by CWR are
      good and cause us to think. The ensuing dialogue is “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”.

      Write more often if time permits. You along with others bless us.

      Yours in Christ,


      • Thank you so much, dear Brother Brian. I feel even more of the same in regard to your Christ-centred comments and responses; together with the anointed work of Carl Olson and the great CWR team! What an encouragement in faith and in thought . . .

        Here’s part of an on-going conversation with Brother Stephen of The Lamb of God:

        “The derelict field has a buried Treasure; the chaotic marketplace conceals a Pearl of great value.”

        “When the curia and clergy and ecclesiae and theologians, etc. have all had their dusty day, there remains the ONE thing we need: the embrace of The Lamb – unshakeable, unbreakable, unbeatable; ecstatically beautiful beyond our thoughts & words. Awesome in the truest sense; pure Grace; completely unearnable . . .”

        “Blessed, oh, so blessed are those who know the love of The Lamb.”

        Trusting 2023 will bring good fruit for you and your loved ones, Brian.

        All the best from Marty, ever in the love of King Jesus Christ

  8. Today (21st January), in Australia, we commemorate Saint Agnes – virgin martyr.

    During the Diocletian persecution of Christians in Rome, about the year 304 AD, this young woman, scarcely in her teens, made an incredibly brave choice. She voluntarily declared to the persecuting Roman authorities that her faith in Jesus Christ forbade her from acknowledging the pagan gods worshipped by the Imperial Court.

    Threatened with execution if she didn’t sacrifice to the gods, Agnes stood her ground and was duly stabbed in the throat (one of the methods used by Roman soldiers to execute people). She was buried in the cemetery on the Via Nomentana. A few years later, once the persecution was over, a church was built there in her honor. The earliest record of Saint Agnes’ feast day is in the Church’s 354 AD ‘Calendar of Martyrs’. Her relics have been held in Rome ever since.

    The question facing today’s Catholics is: “To whom do I belong?” “Who are MY people?” Do I deeply associate with the brave witness of Jesus Christ, His Mother, His Apostles, and ‘The Great Cloud of Witnesses’ – that is, those many who would rather die than willingly disobey or betray their love of & obedience to Jesus Christ.

    Alternatively, has our spectacular heritage of rock-solid faith in Jesus Christ now become peripheral to our obsessions with religio- and socio-political factionalism, or with one of today’s endless diversity of clericalisms, syncretisms, spiritisms and worse? Has a love affair with antinomian libertinism become the distinctive of a majority of today’s Catholics in Australia, the US, and Europe?

    Would Diocletian have even been bothered to persecute such as we have become?

    Who ARE my people?

    How we Catholics or indeed other Christians answers that question is umbilically connected to what we are seeing, hearing and encountering. Therefore, heresies, scandals, corruptions, and general confustication and discombobulation among our leaders should not be a surprise. We’re manifestly reaping what we’ve sown.

    Yet, even at this late time, the choice remains for every individual to learn from our martyrs and return to a total allegiance to the only One who saves.

    Ever in the love of The Lamb; blessings from marty

    • Dear Dr Marty:

      The Lord Jesus extends a magnificent invitation to us. Your faith and words underscore the promises offered to the believer. Close to Jesus is best, there are spiritual pleasures for ever at His right hand.

      The Catholic Church has been a tremendous blessing to mankind over the centuries. You invite the reader to return to godly principles enshrined in Holy Scripture. You express the blessings found therein. All Christian denominations have fallen off track, yet you and others encourage believers to “taste and see that the Lord is Good”. The Lord invites us to return and you and others know the value of total trust in Him.

      God bless you dear brother.

      Yours in Christ,


      John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

      Hosea 14:2 Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips.

      Micah 7:19 He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

      Joel 2:13 And rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.

      Jeremiah 24:7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

      Hebrews 13:15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

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  1. The Lamb of God and the Salvation of the World | Franciscan Sisters of St Joseph (FSJ) , Asumbi Sisters Kenya
  2. The Lamb of God and the Salvation of the World | Passionists Missionaries Kenya, Vice Province of St. Charles Lwanga, Fathers & Brothers

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