14 “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His conly begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 “But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” – John 3:14-21 NASB
Last week we began the review of the interactions Jesus had with the church leader, Nicodemus. We pick up this week after Jesus attempted to enlighten Nicodemus about the real focus of salvation. With it clear by Nicodemus’ position in the Sanhedrin, it was evident he was a wise man, but Jesus uses this opportunity as a time to do a reality check. Each of us have learned about the Gospel, and Jesus, yet many times our own intellect does not make a foundational improvement to our life or heart. Jesus turns from the discussion of being reborn, which Nicodemus struggled with, and heads back to a great Old Testament reference.
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; – John 3:14
This is a reference to a part of history, not just a parable or illustration. This event was recorded in the latter part of Moses life, in Numbers, chapter 21. The event is in reference to yet another time when the rescued slave Israelites were on the move and complained to Moses how horrible life was.
They set out from Mount Hor along the Red Sea Road, a detour around the land of Edom. The people became irritable and cross as they traveled. They spoke out against God and Moses: “Why did you drag us out of Egypt to die in this godforsaken country? No decent food; no water—we can’t stomach this stuff any longer.” So GOD sent poisonous snakes among the people; they bit them and many in Israel died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke out against GOD and you. Pray to GOD; ask him to take these snakes from us.” Moses prayed for the people. GOD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it on a flagpole: Whoever is bitten and looks at it will live.” So Moses made a snake of fiery copper and put it on top of a flagpole. Anyone bitten by a snake who then looked at the copper snake lived. – Numbers 21-4-9 MSG
What are some of the concepts that come to your mind when you read the recording of this historical event?
The Israelites were still on the move following Moses direction and they had seen many miraculous things since leaving Egypt. This is after the parting of the Red Sea, after Moses gets water for them and God provides quail and manna to eat; this is after Moses receives the Ten Commandments; this is after the golden calf incident; this is after Moses gets the instructions for the tent of meeting for the Ark of the Covenant to be worshiped; this is after numerous battles with enemies were won by the hand of God.
The travelers get frustrated and disgruntled with their leader and complain. It was not that they did not have food or water, they just did not have what they thought they deserved. They felt they were entitled to better things than what they were experiencing.
What has your attitude been like with God and your leaders? What are you disgruntled about? Can you put yourself in the shoes of the Israelites?
We must recall how far these individuals had come. They were actual slaves making bricks in Egypt under harsh conditions. They were rescued and in the process of being led into a new future. They had heard some promises, they had seen some changes, but they were weary and tired. Isn’t this when we get judgmental, critical, and become disgruntled?
How does God respond to the Israelites complaining?
Does God’s response surprise you? Is this the way the world depicts God? This is a clear picture of what is known as the wrath of God. He literally sent poisonous snakes in to kill the people that thought they were privileged. This same type of situation occurred when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments and was faced with the golden calf the Israelites were now worshipping (Exodus 32). What did God do in this instance? God instructed Moses and the Levites to kill 3,000 of the Israelites for their disobedience (Exodus 32:27-28). Aaron’s own son’s were struck down and killed when they did not perform their duties as instructed (Leviticus 10:1-2). We must face the truth, that there is a wrath of God for those that oppose God’s will. He is very loving and compassionate, but He is not a pushover. We must remember, it is not about us, it is all about Him.
Does God just kill them? Or does He give them an opportunity to be restored to Him?
What exactly does God do? Do you find it striking that God uses a snake as a means to salvation? Wasn’t it a snake in the garden that started the whole mess to begin with? So now we look to a snake for hope?
The snake that he instructed Moses to make was a replica of what? The snake that poisoned them and put them on a death bed. In the same fashion, we, man are poisoning and putting ourselves on our own death bed. God came down in the form of man, a replica to save us. He is not saying that satan is okay, that our savior is a snake. That is not the point God makes, God wants to restore what has been destroyed.
Today we see some symbols that have a resemblance of a snake and a pole. There is what is known as the “Rod of Asciepius”, which is a serpent-entwined rod wielded by the Greek god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine. The symbol has continued to be used in modern times, where it is associated with medicine and health care, yet frequently confused with the staff of the god Hermes, the caduceus. It is relatively common, especially in the United States, to find the caduceus, with its two snakes and wings, used as a symbol of medicine instead of the correct Rod of Asclepius, with only a single snake. This usage is erroneous, popularised largely as a result of the adoption of the caduceus as its insignia by the U.S. Army Medical Corps in 1902. Each of these symbols are traced back to ancient mythology, but I find it hard to not correlate them to the historical event in the book of Numbers. Maybe, if nothing else, when we see the snake entwined on a symbol we can remember that God has provided a way for us to be healed, if we just turn to it (Jesus).
What does this story of Moses and the bronze serpent have to do with the book of John, Jesus and Nicodemus? Let’s see what the book of John follows on with:
16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. – John 3:16-17 NLT
First of all. Many translations of the bible have these verses in red, meaning that Jesus spoke these words. When we really look at words, this is not how a person would talk about themselves, but more of a commentary and most likely the words of John describing Jesus.
Just like God provided salvation to the Israelites he also provides salvation to all of the world. He did not send Jesus to beat people, He did not send Jesus to make them feel bad, He did not send Jesus to kill people. He sent Jesus to provide a way to have eternal life.
Some very critical and key points in this famous scripture reference:
God loved the world. Not just some people, but all people in the world. Whether they are American, Jewish, Iranian, black, white, tall, short, male, female, healthy or sick, mean or joyful; whether they are your best friend or your worst enemy. He loves all of his creation.
He gave his one and only Son. We have one option. There is no universal way to be saved. Regardless of good intentions, bright ideas and thousands of self-help books, and encouragement you may receive, there is only one way, one Son that provides you the opportunity for a non-perishable eternal life. (see verse 18 as well)
Everyone has eternal life, one will be in the kingdom of God in heaven, the other will be in hell, separated from God.
Now relating back to Jesus’ example, what did the snake have to do to save the people? What did the people have to do to save themselves from the predicament they were in? What was the result of those that did not obey?
We will see as Jesus continues this interaction with Nicodemus, the woman at the well and the healing at the pool, there is one basic, simple action we need to fully grasp:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. – John 3:36 ESV
It is clear, and if not in John chapter 3, it is in many illustrations in the bible, Old Testament and New, that there is a wrath of God and it will be on display, with consequences. We need to continuously evaluate our heart, our mind and our behavior. We can easily slip into a state of independence or codependency and not have our focus on Jesus, the one and only hope we have. We have been poisoned by sin and our only hope is to look to Jesus who has been lifted up.
New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Jn 3:14–21). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Nu 21:4–9). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
Tyndale House Publishers. (2013). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Jn 3:16–17). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jn 3:36). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.