‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”’ (John 3:14-15 NIV)
When speaking to Nicodemus Jesus drew an interesting parallel between a snake in the desert and himself. What did he mean?
In Numbers we are told that the Israelites
‘grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God.’ (Numbers 21:4-5) They complained that there was no bread and no water; they detested the manna God had provided and felt God had only brought them into the desert to die.
(v.5) Venomous snakes came into the camp, resulting in many deaths,
(v.6) which led the people to recognise their sin and so they asked Moses to intercede.
(v.7) Responding to this intercession God instructed Moses to,
‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live’, (V.8) which is what happened.
The people thought they had the right to judge God. They don’t like what’s going on, and were blind to what God had done for them. They had forgotten he had saved them out of slavery, delivering them through miraculous plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea.
The situation of Nicodemus is not so very different. He felt he could judge Jesus:
‘we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.’ (John 3:2) And he too was in spiritual darkness regarding God’s activity.
Humanity stood in judgment of God in the Garden of Eden, desiring to be independent of him, and from that moment on death entered our experience
Help for the Israelites, Nicodemus and humanity comes from something God ordained and provides. Our only hope is in the provision God makes not in something we do; in something else that is lifted up on a pole, or more precisely, in someone who is lifted up on a cross.
The term “lifted up” in John’s gospel is an expression for Jesus’ crucifixion and is the only remedy for humanity’s condition.
The snake was just a symbol that provided physical healing to some Israelites, pointing to the ultimate One who provides spiritual healing for all humanity.
Our only hope to escape from death depends on looking to this provision God has made. Our only hope is to look to the One who was hoisted on a pole. We must look to, and believe in, the Son of Man who is “lifted up” if we are to be saved from death and have eternal life.
This is the Gospel message prefigured in the history of Israel’s wanderings in the desert, so let’s look to Jesus and live.
Father, help us to fix our eyes on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who endured the cross for the joy of our salvation,
Have a good week looking to Jesus.