A lamb to the slaughter
The expression ‘It will be like a lamb to the slaughter’ was quoted by a boxer recently. It would be fair to say he probably didn’t know he was quoting from the Bible!
In order to ‘hype’ an impending match he was about to have for the British lightweight title, as well as boost ticket sales and rile his opponent, he announced at a press conference that he was sure to win easily. It would verge on a mismatch, he stated. His opponent would be ‘like a lamb led to the slaughter’.
The expression is commonly used to refer to a one-sided, unequal ‘massacre’.
The expression ‘a lamb led to the slaughter’ was originally a prophetic reference to the Lord Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary.
It is found in Isaiah 53:7: ‘He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth’.
Some 700 years before Christ was born, God gave Isaiah the prophet the most remarkable view and insight into the Messiah who was to come, and his atoning death at Calvary. The prophecy is contained Isaiah 53 — a chapter inexplicable apart from the divine inspiration of the Bible.
Isaiah was given a vision of the Christ and an explanation of the true meaning of that death. At the heart of Isaiah’s message is the gospel of Christ’s substitutionary, sacrificial and saving crucifixion. Messiah was to die in the place of sinners, so that sinners might be saved.
Writing in the prophetic past tense, the Holy Spirit guided Isaiah’s pen to inscribe: ‘but he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.
‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isaiah 53:5-6). Isaiah’s remarkable prophecy foretold that the Christ to come would be ‘led as a lamb to the slaughter’.
The theme of ‘the lamb’ may be traced right through the Bible. A central event in Old Testament history is the Exodus — the deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt — and central to this central event was the slaying of a lamb.
What happened was this. The people of Israel were in bondage in Egypt and God pronounced his judgement on the whole land. His angel of death was going to slay the firstborn of every human and animal there. But God provided a way of escape from this judgement.
If an unblemished lamb was taken and killed, and its blood applied to the doorpost and lintel of the home, the Lord would accept the death of the lamb in place of the firstborn of that house.
Judgement could thus be avoided by the slaughtering of a lamb and the application of its blood. God promised: ‘Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt’ (Exodus 12:13).
And it all happened just as God had predicted. The angel of death passed over Egypt in fearful judgement. The firstborn of Egypt were slain and a great cry went up from their houses. But the firstborn of Israel were spared. They were saved by the blood of the Passover lamb.
A lamb had been slaughtered. Its blood had been applied. All those sheltering under that blood were saved and safe. The Passover lamb of the Old Testament is one of the clearest types of the Christ of the New Testament. Jesus was ‘led as a lamb to the slaughter’.
The Christian gospel proclaims that Christ’s death and blood-shedding is the only means by which a sinner can escape the condemnation of God due to us for our sins. Christ is the true, unblemished Lamb that saves.
This is the unanimous testimony of the Bible. ‘For indeed Christ, our passover, was sacrificed for us’ (1 Corinthians 5:7); ‘in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace’ (Ephesians 1:7); ‘redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot’ (1 Peter 1:18-19); ‘worthy is the Lamb who was slain’ (Revelation 5:12).
Isaiah’s prophecy, interestingly, contains a reference to the silence of the slain lamb: ‘He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth’ (Isaiah 53:7).
This detail was fulfilled to the letter. The New Testament reveals that Jesus was silent before his accusers with a silence that condemned him to death. Before the High Priest ‘Jesus kept silent’ (Matthew 26:63). Before Pilate ‘he answered him not one word, so that the governor marvelled greatly’ (Matthew 27:14).
How then do we explain this silence which condemned Christ to death? The silence of Christ the Lamb can only be explained in terms of submission and guilt.
God had his eternal plan of salvation to save a people for himself and his glory. Central to this was the sacrifice of his Son. Christ submitted to this plan and ‘became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross’ (Philippians 2:8).
The Bible reveals both the active and the passive obedience of Christ. He actively obeyed God’s law. Then, on behalf of others, he passively suffered the consequences of breaking that law, paying their penalty for their breaking of it. ‘He was wounded for our transgressions … bruised for our iniquities’ (Isaiah 53:5). This was the silence of Christ’s submission.
Sadly too, we all know the very uncomfortable phenomenon called a ‘guilty silence’. Before God we are guilty. We have broken his law and are condemned by his law: ‘for by the law is the knowledge of sin’ (Romans 3:20); ‘that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God’ (Romans 3:19).
The sinless Christ took upon himself our guilt. He was accounted guilty, so that by believing in him we might be accounted righteous. In our place, he maintained the silence of imputed guilt.
Calvary was a saving transaction. The sinless Christ was accounted sinful by God, so that sinners who believe in him may be acquitted. He is ‘the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29).
In one of the most profound statements in the Bible, we read of Jesus that God ‘made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). So, in the fulness of time, Christ in fulfilment of prophecy was ‘led as a lamb to the slaughter’. He was led this way so that sinners might be saved.
The focus of the Bible is not so much on Christ’s life but his death — his saving, substitutionary sacrifice for the sinner’s eternal redemption.
Guilty, vile and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was he!
Full atonement! — can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
(Philipp P. Bliss, 1838-76)