The mission of the John the Baptist was to bear witness to Jesus as the messiah, and in this passage from John’s Gospel we are shown how he does this.
The Baptist’s success in preaching brings down upon him the anger of the Jewish establishment, who demand to know by whose authority he does these things. Is he the messiah? Is he Elijah? No, no, declares John. I’m no more than a lowly servant of the Lord, unfit even to untie his shoe laces. I’m no more than a voice in the wilderness, heard now and soon forgotten.
Did John the Baptist know who Jesus was when he first met him? Opinions are divided on this, but it is certain that John grasped that Jesus was God’s Chosen One at the moment of revelation during Jesus’s baptism. The voice from heaven named Jesus as God’s Beloved Servant, entrusted with a specific mission.
It is then that John refers to Jesus as the ‘lamb of God’.
What is the significance of this title? The prophet Isaiah speaks of a ‘sacrificial victim’, a lamb of sacrifice offered to God in expiation for the sins of the world. Jesus is this suffering servant of Yahweh through whose death all mankind is reconciled with God.
But ‘lamb’ is also a messianic title for the Lord, as we find it in the book of Revelation, where ‘the lamb once slain is now alive’ and leads his flock. Jesus as the Lamb of God is the ruler of his people and leads them into his heavenly kingdom.
It is in this sense that John the Baptist points out Jesus to his disciples, and urges them to follow Jesus. Thus do Andrew and John, future apostles, receive their call.