We’re going through the New Testament seeking a deeper understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, an essential doctrine of Christianity. Right now, we’re in the gospel of John. Last time, we looked at the first sign that Jesus did at the wedding of Cana. Tonight, we’re going to look at his talk with Nicodemus and address an idea that seems obscure to some. Why would Jesus compare himself to a snake that was lifted up in teaching that we must be born again?
10“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
There are several stories of salvation in the Old Testament through miracles, yet of all the stories in the Old Testament that Jesus could have used, he decided to point to this one. What is going on in this story that points to the work of Christ?
Let’s look at the whole story in Numbers 21:
4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” 6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.
What was going on was that the people were rebelling again. They wanted to go to Egypt where they thought they had it better. In response, God sends snakes? Why snakes? Snakes were a symbol of Egypt. In essence, instead of bringing Israel to Egypt, he brought Egypt to Israel.
When the people repent, God tells Moses to make a bronze snake and put it up for all to see. The snake was a symbol of death, but the Israelites had to look to that which they considered a shameful curse in order to find life. When they looked to the snake, they were healed. So what’s the connection?
Christ is speaking of his own death by crucifixion here. This was the most shameful death you could have, yet that which Israel saw as shameful was to be their source of life. Once again, they would have to look upon a source of shame and in that shame, they would see life.
Christ is the fulfillment of what Moses did in that passage. He is the source of life that brings true healing, not from the poison of the snake, but from the poison of sin. In speaking such, Christ saw himself as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and the source of life for Israel. We are reminded of what John said earlier. “In him was life.”
How are we to respond? Do we look to the Son and live or not look and die?