In John chapter three
Jesus used a historical illustration to teach
Nicodemus about the importance of believing in His
coming death. Jesus said, "As Moses lifted up the
serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of
Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in
Him have eternal life" (John 3:14-15).
God commanded Moses to
make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole as a cure
for a punishment after the people sinned (cf. Num.
21:4-9). Jesus used the same imagery to teach that
He will be lifted up on a cross as a cure for
people’s sin. Faith in Him alone gives eternal life
to those who are doomed to die because of their sin.
The historical situation
was the last of a number of "apostasies" in the
wilderness wanderings. Four things characterize
those events: the people of Israel complained
against God, He sent judgment upon them, they
repented of their sin and He forgave them and
The people of Israel
became impatient in their journey in the wilderness.
They griped about the "miserable food" God provided
for them (Numbers 21:4–5). The people "spoke against
God and Moses." God takes our mouthing and
complaining about Him seriously! "Why have you
brought us up out of Egypt to die in the
wilderness?" they asked. "For there is no food and
no water, and we loathe this miserable food." God
was keeping two million people from starving to
death in a wilderness and they were grumbling at
Him. The "miserable food" they were eating was the
manna God was providing for them daily. True, it
wasn't stake and ale, but it kept them alive and
God sent poisonous snakes
as a judgment because the people were grumbling
again God and Moses. "The Lord sent fiery serpents
among the people and they bit the people, so that
many people of Israel died" (Numbers 21:6). "The
wages of sin is death." That fact is still true.
"The soul that sins will surely die." That truth
won't go away. It is a law of life.
The people seeing the
seriousness of their sin urged Moses to intercede on
their behalf (v. 7). "We have sinned, because we
have spoken against the LORD and you." They
confessed to God their evil attitude and behavior.
Then Moses prayed that the LORD would remove the
serpents from them.
The LORD then instructed
Moses to, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a
standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who
is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live" (v.
8). This "look" involved a look of faith in God to
"And Moses made a bronze
serpent and set it on the standard; and it came
about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked
to the bronze serpent, he lived" (v. 9).
The stress in this
passage is not on some magical healing, but on a
bronze serpent as a symbol of salvation that God
offered to all who would look to Him and live.
Jesus borrowed the object
lesson from history. He said, just like Moses raised
the serpent up in the wilderness, He, too, must be
lifted up so that whoever believes on Him may have
This "lifting up" of the
Son of Man is a definite statement of Jesus' coming
death on the cross. He was telling Nicodemus that in
His death God would provide salvation. There is a
divine imperative in the death of Jesus. The Son of
Man "must" be lifted up. Peter preached the
necessity of His death saying, "this Man, was
delivered up by the predetermined plan and
foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the
hands of godless men and put Him to death. And God
raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of
death; since it was impossible for Him to be held in
its power" (Acts 2:23–24). It was God's deliberate
choice and purpose to crucify Jesus. It was no
accident, or the martyrdom of a good religious
teacher. He died as an act of God. His death was
necessary for our salvation.
The death of Jesus is
exalted in New Testament preaching. The preaching of
the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,
but to those who are being saved it is the power of
God (1 Corinthians 1:18). There is something about
the message of the cross that throbs, it acts, it
produces results. We glory in the uplifted cross of
Jesus because it is the power of God to bring
healing to our sin sick souls. "We preach Christ
crucified" was the theme of apostolic preaching in
the New Testament (1:23). Without that cross, we die
an eternal death.
Why is the uplifted cross
so important? The apostle Paul wrote, "God
demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while
we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans
5:8). In fact, Christ died just at the right time
for us while we were helpless sinners (5:6). He
"died for us;" He "died for the ungodly." He died
"on our behalf," or "instead of us." The atoning
death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the foundation
for the kingdom of God. There is simply no other way
to be saved. "The wages of sin is death," the
apostle Paul wrote. Then he went on to say, "but the
free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our
Lord" (Romans 6:23). A look of faith gives eternal
life to those doomed to die.
"For God so loved the
world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that
whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have
eternal life" (John 3:16).
The emphasis Jesus is
making is that salvation comes through believing.
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and
that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not
as a result of works, so that no one may boast"
Salvation doesn't come
through some magical formula. It comes by simple
faith, looking up to the cross of Jesus and
believing that He died in your place on the cross.
There is no other way of salvation. "There is
salvation in no one else; for there is no other name
under heaven that has been given among men by which
we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). There is no other
name that you can call upon to be saved. No other
person anywhere in this world will give you a right
relationship with God. Be careful what name for God
someone whispers in your ear. Any other name or
person will send you to hell.
Salvation comes by grace
through faith in Jesus Christ alone. How tragic, but
in the history of Israel the bronze serpent became
an idolatrous object of worship (2 Kings 18:4) and
had to be destroyed in King Hezekiah's reforms.
Salvation came not through the serpent on the pole,
but through God's sovereign provision. They were not
saved by what they saw, but by the Savior.
We live in a day in which
men take sacred objects and icons and turn them into
idolatrous objects of worship and belief. The object
of our faith must always be the Lord Jesus Christ.
21:4–9 John 3:14–16 The Bronze Serpent
in the Old Testament