John the baptist identified Jesus with the words: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) His choice of words was deliberate, as a brief overview of part of the Old Testament reveals.
God gave Israel a sacrificial system around which most of their religious activities revolved. The offering of animal sacrifices by the priests was inseparably linked with the sins of the people. Yet these sacrifices, which lasted for 1,500 years, were ineffective in securing a pardon for sins committed.
Then why were they offered? The sacrifices served the following purposes: (1) they showed how serious sin is in that sin required the sacrificial death of an innocent victim, (2) the sacrificial system pointed to a time when God would provide his own Son to be an effective sacrifice for sin.
Jesus Our Substitute
The book of Leviticus, chapter sixteen, speaks about 'the scapegoat.' The priest would take two goats, one would be killed as a sacrifice for the sins of the people and the other would become a scapegoat. The priest would lay his hands on the head of the goat over which he would confess the sins of the nation. He would then chase the goat away into the wilderness. In a symbolic way, the innocent goat became a scapegoat for the people and his being chased away symbolised the removal of the sins of the nation.
In Jesus Christ, who is the Lamb of God, we have a scapegoat provided by God. Our sins were laid upon the Lord and his atoning death took those sins away. Isaiah the prophet foretold the sacrifice of Christ in terms of him being our substitute: "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6) The apostles Peter and Paul express the same truth: "God made him who had no sin to be sin on our behalf." (2 Corinthians 5:21) and "He himself bore our sins in his boy on the tree …" (1 Peter 2:24)
Jesus did for us what we could never have done for ourselves: he took our place; he became our substitute; he became our sacrifice and his death satisfied the holy justice of God. For this reason he is called "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."