And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)
So, I took an interest in this statement our Lord made, which most of us may probably see as the build-up to the most popular verse, where He makes reference to a telling event in the history of Israel as they sought to find their way to the promised land.
You can find that in Numbers 21:4-9, but lemme tell it as best as I can. It was another one of those moments where the Israelites got all whiny and stuff, grumbling about food and water and how they hated the manna. So God sent snakes to bite them as punishment. Some got bitten and didn’t survive. So they went and begged, and in response, God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole, stating that anyone who would look up to it would be healed.
This is one of the many pictures of God’s plan of redemption recorded in the Old Testament. And it speaks volumes of our situation and Christ’s intervention…
The poison that dwelled in the bodies of the Israelites as a result of their rebellion towards God is a picture of how humanity’s parents disobeyed Him and set off a cataclysmic reaction where every single person would be infected with that spiritual poison. As the poison tortured them to death, so does the very presence and indwelling of sin serve as a torment to our spirits as it leads us to an eternal destiny of separation from God. It might not be as painfully obvious as the stinging effects of the venom were to the disobedient Israelites in every case, but the state is the same. Sin will always lead to death.
Looking at the state of the smitten people, I believe it’s quite obvious that they were helpless, miserable and at a loss as to what to do. Humanity may refuse to accept it or acknowledge it, but apart from God, we are such a mess. With all our genius and intellect and stuff, there’s still only so much we can do. All the sources we’ve looked to that we think can help have all failed us. Sin’s power still rules over many, and there’s no efficient way of quenching it totally with our own means.
Enter right stage, the Son of Man. The One appointed by God to deal with our mess. How does the serpent reflect Him?
Well, some Bible commentaries say that the use of bronze to make the serpent is a sign of stability, referring to John’s description in Revelation 1:15. Others talk about its inferiority to the likes of gold and silver and point out Christ’s humble estate, as Isaiah portrayed Him in Isaiah 53. What really does stick out, though, is the fact that the serpent was created to look just like the other poisonous ones, yet did not possess any of the venom. In the same way, Jesus came as a man. Just like us. Yet unlike us, this cursed venom called sin didn’t exist in His genes. A sinless Man.
Just as the snake was put up on a pole to be seen by all, so was the Saviour hung up on a Roman torture tool for all to see. A picture of God’s love and justice wrapped up in one. Love that chose to save us from suffering the consequences of our sinfulness, and justice that made it clear that He doesn’t let it go unpunished.
What was the order from God concerning the brazen serpent? “…it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” Not do some good stuff in order to be healed from the poison. And such it is with the gospel. We are saved by grace through faith. What we must do to be saved is believe. Believe that the One who died such a gory death on that cross stood in our place, so we don’t have to face His wrath, but rather be at peace with God. And we must come knowing that it is the only hope we have. The cross of Christ is of no benefit to the person who doesn’t think much of it. You can be sure that some of the Israelites didn’t believe as they looked at the serpent on a pole, and it didn’t work for them. Without faith, it is impossible to please God.
Wrapping up, how many serpents were made? Just one.
This world hates the whole exclusivism thingy, but the truth remains that there is only one Mediator who can bring peace between God and man. Jesus. No other route.
It’s also important to note that with regard to the lifting up, it was not only in Jesus’ death that this was fulfilled, but also in His ascension. And in these days, when the gospel is proclaimed. When we make the good news known, we lift Him up, and by His power, He will draw men unto Himself.
On that note, with this glorious mystery revealed unto us, let us continue to lift up the brazen serpent’s Reality. He is the only cure to the poison that surges through the veins of humanity as the walls of sin and rebellion keep many from seeing the true light. The Holy Spirit is ever ready to open the eyes of many to the realness of this sickness and the lack of a cure aside from believing in the Son. Our deep philosophies and stuff cannot cure us or restore us back into fellowship with God like it was originally supposed to be. Only Jesus can. We must make this known to all.