Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John.Book 6, Part 4

30. Of What John Learned from Jesus when Mary Visited Elisabeth in the Hill Country.

“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him.” (Joh_1:29) The mother of Jesus had formerly, as soon as she conceived, stayed with the mother of John, also at that time with child, and the Former then communicated to the Formed with some exactness His own image, and caused him to be conformed to His glory. And from this outward similarity it came that with those who did not distinguish between the image itself and that which was according to the image, John was thought to be Christ (Luk_3:14) and Jesus was supposed (Mat_14:2) to be John risen from the dead. So now Jesus, after the testimonies of John to Him which we have examined, is Himself seen by the Baptist coming to him. It is to be noticed that on the former occasion, when the voice of Mary’s salutation came to the ears of Elisabeth, the babe John leaped in the womb of his mother, who then received the Holy Spirit, as it were, from the ground. For it came to pass, we read, (Luk_1:41, Luk_1:42) “when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she lifted up her voice with a loud cry and said,” etc. On this occasion, similarly, John sees Jesus coming to him and says, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” For with regard to matters of great moment one is first instructed by hearing and afterwards one sees them with one’s own eyes. That John was helped to the shape he was to wear by the Lord who, still in the process of formation and in His mother’s womb, approached Elisabeth, will be clear to any one who has grasped our proof that John is a voice but that Jesus is the Word, for when Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit at the salutation of Mary there was a great voice in her, as the words themselves bear; for they say, “And she spake out with a loud voice.” Elisabeth, it is plain, did this, “and she spake.” For the voice of Mary’s salutation coming to the ears of Elisabeth filled John with itself; hence John leaps, and his mother becomes, as it were, the mouth of her son and a prophetess, crying out with a loud voice and saying, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” Now we see clearly how it was with Mary’s hasty journey to the hill country, and her entrance into the house of Zacharias, and the greeting with which she salutes Elisabeth; it was that she might communicate some of the power she derived from Him she had conceived, to John, yet in his mother’s womb, and that John too might communicate to his mother some of the prophetic grace which had come to him, that all these things were done. And most rightly was it in the hill country that these transactions took place, since no great thing can be entertained by those who are low and may be thence called valleys. Here, then, after the testimonies of John, – the first, when he cried and spoke about His deity; the second, addressed to the priests and levites who were sent by the Jews from Jerusalem; and the third, in answer to the sharper questions of those from the Pharisees, – Jesus is seen by the witness-bearer coming to him while he is still advancing and growing better. This advance and improvement is symbolically indicated in the phrase, “On the morrow.” For Jesus came in the consequent illumination, as it were, and on the day after what had preceded, not only known as standing in the midst even of those who knew Him not, but now plainly seen advancing to him who had formerly made such declarations about Him. On the first day the testimonies take place, and on the second Jesus comes to John. On the third John, standing with two of his disciples and looking upon Jesus as He walked, said, “Behold the Lamb of God,” thus urging those who were there to follow the Son of God. On the fourth day, too, He was minded to go forth into Galilee, and He who came forth to seek that which Was lost finds Philip and says to him, “Follow Me.” And on that day, after the fourth, which is the sixth from the beginning of those we have enumerated, the marriage takes place in Cana of Galilee, which we shall have to consider when we get to the passage. Note this, too, that Mary being the greater comes to Elisabeth, who is the less, and the Son of God comes to the Baptist; which should encourage us to render help without delay to those who are in a lower position, and to cultivate for ourselves a moderate station. 


31. Of the Conversation Between John and Jesus at the Baptism, Recorded by Matthew Only.

John the disciple does not tell us where the Saviour comes from to John the Baptist, but we learn this from Matthew, who writes: (Mat_3:13) “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan to John, to be baptized of him.” And Mark adds the place in Galilee; he says, (Mar_1:9) “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in Jordan.” Luke does not mention the place Jesus came from, but on the other hand he tells us what we do not learn from the others, that immediately after the baptism, as He was coming up, heaven was opened to Him, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. Again, it is Matthew alone who tells us of John’s preventing the Lord, saying to the Saviour, “I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?” None of the others added this after Matthew, so that they might not be saying just the same as he. And what the Lord rejoined, “Suffer it now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness,” this also Matthew alone recorded.


32. John Calls Jesus a “Lamb.” Why Does He Name This Animal Specially? of the Typology of The Sacrifices, Generally.

“And he sayeth, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (Joh_1:29) There were five animals which were brought to the altar, three that walk and two that fly; and it seems to be worth asking why John calls the Saviour a lamb and not any of these other creatures, and why, when each of the animals that walk is offered of three kinds he used for the sheep-kind the term “lamb.” The five animals are as follows: the bullock, the sheep, the goat, the turtle-dove, the pigeon. And of the walking animals these are the three kinds – bullock, ox, calf; ram, sheep, lamb; he-goat, goat, kid. Of the flying animals, of pigeons we only hear of two young ones; of turtle doves only of a pair. He, then, who would accurately understand the spiritual rationale of the sacrifices must enquire of what heavenly things these were the pattern and the shadow, and also for what end the sacrifice of each victim is prescribed, and he must specially collect the points connected with the lamb. Now that the principle of the sacrifice must be apprehended with reference to certain heavenly mysteries, appears from the words of the Apostle, who somewhere (Heb_8:5, Heb_9:23) says, “Who serve a pattern and shadow of heavenly things,” and again, “It was necessary that the patterns of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.” Now to find out all the particulars of these and to state in its relation to them that sacrifice of the spiritual law which took place in Jesus Christ (a truth greater than human nature can comprehend) – to do this belongs to no other than the perfect man, (Heb_5:14) who, by reason of use, has his senses exercised to discern good and evil, and who is able to say, from a truth-loving disposition, (1Co_2:6) “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect.” Of these things truly and things like these, we can say, (Exo_29:38-44) “Which none of the rulers of this world knew.”


33. A Lamb Was Offered at the Morning and Evening Sacrifice. Significance of This.

Now we find the lamb offered in the continual daily sacrifice. Thus it is written, (Exo_29:38-44) “This is that which thou shalt offer upon the altar; two lambs of the first year day by day continually, for a continual sacrifice. The one lamb thou shalt offer in the morning, and the other lamb thou shalt offer at even, and a tenth part of fine flour mingled with beaten oil, the fourth part of a hin; and for a drink-offering the fourth part of a bin of wine to the first lamb. And the other lamb thou shalt offer in the evening, according to the first sacrifice and according to its drink-offering. Thou shalt offer a sweet savour, an offering to the Lord, a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of tent of witness before the Lord, where I will make myself known to thee, to speak unto thee. And I will appoint thee for the children of Israel, and I will be sanctified in my glory, and with sanctification I will sanctify the tent of witness.” But what other continual sacrifice can there be to the man of reason in the world of mind, but the Word growing to maturity, the Word who is symbolically called a lamb and who is offered as soon as the soul receives illumination. This would be the continual sacrifice of the morning, and it is offered again when the sojourn of the mind with divine things comes to an end. For it cannot maintain for ever its intercourse with higher things, seeing that the soul is appointed to be yoked together with the body which is of earth and heavy.


34. The Morning and Evening Sacrifices of the Saint in His Life of Thought.

But if any one asks what the saint is to do in the time between morning and evening, let him follow what takes place in the cultus and infer from it the principle he asks for. In that case the priests begin their offerings with the continual sacrifice, and before they come to the continuous one of the evening they offer the other sacrifices which the law prescribes, as, for example, that for transgression, or that for involuntary offences, or that connected with a prayer for salvation, or that of jealousy, or that of the Sabbath, or of the new moon, and so on, which it would take too long to mention. So we, beginning our oblation with the discourse of that type which is Christ, can go on to discourse about many other most useful things. And drawing to a close still in the things of Christ, we come, as it were, to evening and night, when we arrive at the bodily features of His manifestation.


35. Jesus Is a Lamb in Respect of His Human Nature.

If we enquire further into the significance of Jesus being pointed out by John, when he says, “This is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,” we may take our stand at the dispensation of the bodily advent of the Son of God in human life, and in that case we shall conceive the lamb to be no other than the man. For the man “was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb, dumb before his shearers,” (Isa_53:7) saying, “I was as like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.” (Jer_11:19) Hence, too, in the Apocalypse (Rev_5:6) a lamb is seen, standing as if slain. This slain lamb has been made, according to certain hidden reasons, a purification of the whole world, for which, according to the Father’s love to man, He submitted to death, purchasing us back by His own blood from him who had got us into his power, sold under sin. And He who led this lamb to the slaughter was God in man, the great High-Priest, as he shows by the words: (Joh_10:18) “No one taketh My life away from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”


36. Of the Death of the Martyrs Considered as a Sacrifice, and in What Way It Operates to the Benefit of Others.

Akin to this sacrifice are the others of which the sacrifices of the law are symbols, and another kind of sacrifice also appears to me to be of the same nature; namely, the shedding of the blood of the noble martyrs, whom the disciple John saw, for this is not without significance, standing beside the heavenly altar. “Who is wise, (Hos_14:9) and he shall understand these things, prudent, and he shall know them?” It is a matter of higher speculation to consider even slightly the rationale of those sacrifices which cleanse those for whom they are offered. Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter should receive attention; it was by vowing it that he conquered the children of Ammon, and the victim approved his vow, for when her father said, (Jdg_11:35) “I have opened my mouth unto the Lord against thee,” she answered, “If thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord against me, do that which thou hast vowed.” The story suggests that the being must be a very cruel one to whom such sacrifices are offered for the salvation of men; and we require some breadth of mind and some ability to solve the difficulties raised against Providence, to be able to account for such things and to see that they are mysteries and exceed our human nature. Then we shall say, (Wisdom of Solomon 17:1) “Great are the judgments of God, and hard to be described; for this cause untutored souls have gone astray.” Among the Gentiles, too, it is recorded that many a one, when pestilential disease broke out in his country, offered himself a victim for the public good. That this was the case the faithful Clement assumes,53 on the faith of the narratives, to whom Paul bears witness when he says, (Phi_4:3) “With Clement also, and the others, my fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life.” If there is anything in these narratives that appears incongruous to one who is minded to carp at mysteries revealed to few, the same difficulty attaches to the office that was laid on the martyrs, for it was God’s will that we should rather endure all the dreadful reproaches connected with confessing Him as God, than escape for a short time from such sufferings which men count evil by allowing ourselves by our words to conform to the will of the enemies of the truth. We are, therefore, led to believe that the powers of evil do suffer defeat by the death of the holy martyrs; as if their patience, their confession, even unto death, and their zeal for piety blunted the edge of the onset of evil powers against the sufferer, and their might being thus dulled and exhausted, many others of those whom they had conquered raised their heads and were set free from the weight with which the evil powers formerly oppressed and injured them. And even the martyrs themselves are no longer involved in suffering, even though those agents which formerly wrought ill to others are not exhausted; for he who has offered such a sacrifice overcomes the power which opposed him, as I may show by an illustration which is suited to this subject. He who destroys a poisonous animal, or lulls it to sleep with charms, or by any means deprives it of its venom, he does good to many who would otherwise have suffered from that animal had it not been destroyed, or charmed, or emptied of its venom. Moreover, if one of those who were formerly bitten should come to know of this, and should be cured of his malady and look upon the death of that which injured him, or tread on it, or touch it when dead, or taste a part of it, then he, who was formerly a sufferer, would owe cure and benefit to the destroyer of the poisonous animal. In some such way must we suppose the death of the most holy martyrs to operate, many receiving benefit from it by an influence we cannot describe.


37. Of the Effects of the Death of Christ, of His Triumph After It, and of the Removal by His Death of the Sins of Men.

We have lingered over this subject of the martyrs and over the record of those who died on account of pestilence, because this lets us see the excellence of Him who was led as a sheep to the slaughter and was dumb as a lamb before the shearer. For if there is any point in these stories of the Greeks, and if what we have said of the martyrs is well rounded, – the Apostles, too, were for the same reason the filth of the world and the offscouring of all things, (1Co_4:13) – what and how great things must be said of the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed for this very reason, that He might take away the sin not of a few but of the whole world, for the sake of which also He suffered? If any one sin, we read, (1Jo_2:1, 1Jo_2:2) “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for those of the whole world,” since He is the Saviour of all men, (1Ti_4:10) especially of them that believe, who (Col_2:14, Col_2:15) blotted out the written bond that was against us by His own blood, and took it out of the way, so that not even a trace, not even of our blotted-out sins, might still be found, and nailed it to His cross; who having put off from Himself the principalities and powers, made a show of them openly, triumphing over them by His cross. And we are taught to rejoice when we suffer afflictions in the world, knowing the ground of our rejoicing to be this, that the world has been conquered and has manifestly been subjected to its conqueror. Hence all the nations, released from their former rulers, serve Him, because He (Psa_72:12) saved the poor from his tyrant by His own passion, and the needy who had no helper. This Saviour, then, having humbled the calumniator by humbling Himself, abides with the visible sun before His illustrious church, tropically called the moon, from generation to generation. And having by His passion destroyed His enemies, He who is strong in battle and a mighty Lord (Psa_24:8) required after His mighty deeds a purification which could only be given Him by His Father alone; and this is why He forbids Mary to touch Him, saying, (Joh_20:17) “Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended to My Father; bat go and tell My disciples, I go to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.” And when He comes, loaded with victory and with trophies, with His body which has risen from the dead, – for what other meaning can we see in the words, “I am not yet ascended to My Father,” and “I go unto My Father,” – then there are certain powers which say, Who is this that cometh from Edom, red garments from Bosor; this that is beautiful? (Isa_63:1) Then those who escort Him say to those that are upon the heavenly gates, (Psa_24:7, Psa_24:9) “Lift up your gates, ye rulers, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the king of glory shall come in.” But they ask again, seeing as it were His right hand red with blood and His whole person covered with the marks of His valour, “Why are Thy garments red, and Thy clothes like the treading of the full winefat when it is trodden?” And to this He answers, “I have crushed them.” For this cause He had need to wash “His robe in wine, and His garment in the blood of the grape.” (Gen_49:11) For when He had taken up our infirmities and carried our diseases, and had borne the sin of the whole world, and had conferred blessings on so many, then, perhaps, He received that baptism which is greater than any that could ever be conceived among men, and of which I think He speaks when He says, (Luk_12:50) “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished?” I enquire here with boldness and I challenge the ideas put forward by most writers. They say that the greatest baptism, beyond which no greater can be conceived, is His passion. But if this be so, why should He say to Mary after it, “Touch Me not”? He should rather have offered Himself to her touch, when by His passion He had received His perfect baptism. But if it was the case, as we said before, that after all His deeds of valour done against His enemies, He had need to wash “His robe in wine, His garment in the blood of the grape,” then He was on His way up to the husbandman of the true vine, the Father, so that having washed there and after having gone up on high, He might lead captivity captive and come down bearing manifold gifts – the tongues, as of fire, which were divided to the Apostles, and the holy angels which are to be present with them in each action and to deliver them. For before these economies they were not yet cleansed and angels could not dwell with them, for they too perhaps do not desire to be with those who have not prepared themselves nor been cleansed by Jesus. For it was of Jesus’ benignity alone that He ate and drank with publicans and sinners, and suffered the penitent woman who was a sinner to wash His feet with her tears, and went down even to death for the ungodly, counting it not robbery to be equal with God, and emptied Himself, assuming the form of a servant. And in accomplishing all this He fulfils rather the will of the Father who gave Him up for sinners than His own. For the Father is good, but the Saviour is the image of His goodness; and doing good to the world in all things, since God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, which formerly for its wickedness was all enemy to Him, He accomplishes His good deeds in order and succession, and does not all at once take all His enemies for His footstool. For the Father says to Him, to the Lord of us all, (Psa_110:1) “Sit Thou on My right hand, until I make Thy enemies the footstool of Thy feet.” And this goes on till the last enemy, Death, is overcome by Him.

And if we consider what is meant by this subjection to Christ and find an explanation of this mainly from the saying, (1Co_15:26) “When all things shall have been put under Him, then shall the Son Himself be subjected to Him who put all things under Him,” then we shall see how the conception agrees with the goodness of the God of all, since it is that of the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world. Not all men’s sin, however, is taken away by the Lamb of God, not the sin of those who do not grieve and suffer affliction till it be taken away. For thorns are not only fixed but deeply rooted in the hand of every one who is intoxicated by wickedness and has parted with sobriety, as it is said in the Proverbs, (Pro_26:9) “Thorns grow in the hand of the drunkard,” and what pain they must cause him who has admitted such growth in the substance of his soul, it is hard even to tell. Who has allowed wickedness to establish itself so deeply in his soul as to be a ground full of thorns, he must be cut down by the quick and powerful word of God, which is sharper than a two-edged sword, and which is more caustic than any fire. To such a soul that fire must be sent which finds out thorns, and by its divine virtue stands where they are and does not also burn up the threshing-floors or standing corn. But of the Lamb which takes away the sin of the world and begins to do so by His own death there are several ways, some of which are capable of being clearly understood by most, but others are concealed from most, and are known to those only who are worthy of divine wisdom. Why should we count up all the ways by which we come to believe among men? That is a thing which every one living in the body is able to see for himself. And in the ways in which we believe in these also, sin is taken away; by afflictions and evil spirits and dangerous diseases and grievous sicknesses. And who knows what follows after this? So much as we have said was not unnecessary – we could not neglect the thought which is so clearly connected with that of the words, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,” and had therefore to attend somewhat closely to this part of our subject. This has brought us to see that God convicts some by His wrath and chastens them by His anger, since His love to men is so great that He will not leave any without conviction and chastening; so that we should do what in us lies to be spared such conviction and such chastening by the sorest trials.


38. The World, of Which the Sin Is Taken Away, Is Said to Be the Church. Reasons for Not Agreeing with This Opinion.

The reader will do well to consider what was said above and illustrated from various quarters on the question what is meant in Scripture by the word “world”; and I think it proper to repeat this. I am aware that a certain scholar understands by the world the Church alone, since the Church is the adornment of the world,54 and is said to be the light of the world. “You,” he says, (Mat_5:14) “are the light of the world.” Now, the adornment of the world is the Church, Christ being her adornment, who is the first light of the world. We must consider if Christ is said to be the light of the same world as His disciples. When Christ is the light of the world, perhaps it is meant that He is the light of the Church, but when His disciples are the light of the world, perhaps they are the light of others who call on the Lord, others in addition to the Church, as Paul says on this point in the beginning of his first Epistle to the Corinthians, where he writes, “To the Church of God, with all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Should any one consider that the Church is called the light of the world, meaning thereby of the rest of the race of men, including unbelievers, this may be true if the assertion is taken prophetically and theologically; but if it is to be taken of the present, we remind him that the light of a thing illuminates that thing, and would ask him to show how the remainder of the race is illuminated by the Church’s presence in the world. If those who hold the view in question cannot show this, then let them consider if our interpretation is not a sound one, that the light is the Church, and the world those others who call on the Name. The words which follow the above in Matthew will point out to the careful enquirer the proper interpretation. “You,” it is said, “are the salt of the earth,” the rest of mankind being conceived as the earth, and believers are their salt; it is because they believe that the earth is preserved. For the end will come if the salt loses its savour, and ceases to salt and preserve the earth, since it is clear that if iniquity is multiplied and love waxes cold upon the earth, (Mat_14:12) as the Saviour Himself uttered an expression of doubt as to those who would witness His coming, saying, (Luk_18:8) “When the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith upon the earth?” then the end of the age will come. Supposing, then, the Church to be called the world, since the Saviour’s light shines on it – we have to ask in connection with the text, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” whether the world here is to be taken intellectually of the Church, and the taking away of sin is limited to the Church. In that case what are we to make of the saying of the same disciple with regard to the Saviour, as the propitiation for sin? “If any man sin,” we read, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world?” Paul’s dictum appears to me to be to the same effect, when he says, (1Ti_4:10) “Who is the Saviour of all men, especially of the faithful.” Again, Heracleon, dealing with our passage, declares, without any proof or any citation of witnesses to that effect, that the words, “Lamb of God,” are spoken by John as a prophet, but the words, “who taketh away the sin of the world,” by John as more than a prophet. The former expression he considers to be used of His body, but the latter of Him who was in that body, because the lamb is an imperfect member of the genus sheep; the same being true of the body as compared with the dweller in it. Had he meant to attribute perfection to the body he would have spoken of a ram as about to be sacrificed. After the careful discussions given above, I do not think it necessary to enter into repetitions on this passage, or to controvert Heracleon’s careless utterances. One point only may be noted, that as the world was scarcely able to contain Him who had emptied Himself, it required a lamb and not a ram, that its sin might be taken away. 





53 I Clement, 55. κοσμος means both “ornament” and “world”