Although John 3:16 is well known by millions, the two verses immediately proceeding it are obscure to many. John 3:14,15 says - "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." When did Moses lift up a serpent in the wilderness, and what does it mean to say the Son of Man must be lifted up?
Let us begin by considering the historical background of Numbers 21. God had already freed His people from Egyptian bondage and made a covenant with them at Mount Sinai. However, the children of Israel were a faithless and disobedient group, which led God to punish them with forty years of wilderness wandering before they could enter the land He had promised their fathers. On this particular occasion, the people, due to discouragement at their difficult journey, begin murmuring again. In response, the Lord sent fiery serpents among them. Many people were bitten and died. The people recognized their sin and confessed it. The Lord then instructed Moses to make a serpent of bronze and raise it up on a pole within the camp. When one looked at this serpent after being bitten, he would live (Numb. 21:4-9).
With those thoughts clearly in mind, let us consider seven interesting parallels between the bronze serpent and Jesus Christ:
- The people of Israel were dying when the bronze serpent was made, and the world was dying in sin when Jesus came. Romans 3:23 - "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
- The venom of the live serpents caused physical death, and the same is true of sin, spiritually. Romans 6:23 - "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
- The bronze serpent was lifted up on a pole for all to see, and the Christ was lifted up on a cross for all to see. Jesus said in John 12:32,33 - "'And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.' This He said, signifying by what death He would die."
- The bronze serpent was helpful, not harmful, and the same can be said about Jesus. The bronze serpent had no venom, and Jesus had no sin. Hebrews 4:15 - "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin."
- In that day, there was only one remedy for a serpent bite, and today there is only one Savior for man. Acts 4:12 - "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." If one is going to be saved today, it will have to be through Jesus!
- God did not remove the serpents but provided a way to overcome them, just as God has not removed the problem of sin but instead provided a way to overcome it through Jesus. The same statement can be made regarding the temptations that all humans face. God will not remove them, but He will provide a way to overcome them. I Corinthians 10:13 - "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it."
- The Israelites had to meet God's conditions in order to be saved, and man today must still meet God's conditions in order to be saved. If an Israelite was bitten in his tent by a fiery serpent and refused to go outside and look at the bronze serpent, he would perish. Even if he believed that the bronze serpent could save him, if he refused to actually obey God by gazing upon it, he would die. The same is true today regarding Jesus and sin. Hebrews 5:9 - "...He [Jesus] became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." It is not enough to affirm faith in Jesus and yet refuse to obey Him. Such will not deliver one from the venom of sin.