There are many word pictures used to describe Jesus. A Lamb, a Shepherd, a Lion. He is the Light, the Door, and the Vine. But I was reminded of one yesterday as I was studying John with a friend. We were looking at John 3, the same passage that just happens to be on my reading plan this morning. And so I’m replaying yesterday’s conversation as I hover over today’s reading. And I’m in awe of a serpent lifted up.
No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. ~ Jesus
( John 3:13-15 ESV)
You need to go back to Numbers 21 to get the connection. The people of the exodus from Egypt are wandering in the wilderness because of their refusal to enter the land of promise. Yet, God in His grace continues to care for them and provide for them. But they grumble. And they complain. And they “loathe” God’s gracious provision as “worthless food” (Num. 21:5). And God sends fiery serpents among them as judgment for their arrogant insolence. Those who are bitten die. So they cry out to God for deliverance and God tells Moses to make a serpent out of bronze, set it on a pole, and whoever looks at it after being bitten will survive. Moses does. And they do.
So too, says Jesus to Nicodemus, will be the dynamic concerning the Son of Man. He too will be lifted up, an allusion to the cross, and whoever looks to Him will have eternal life. So, in a sense, He will be like that serpent lifted up.
And the association of Jesus with any sort of serpent is, at first, almost offensive. After all, since the beginning, hasn’t it been the serpent who has embodied evil and epitomized rebellion against God? The serpent who has been the distorter of truth and the father of lies? The serpent who was the object of God’s condemnation and cursed above all other beasts and sentenced to be a belly crawler and a dust eater? The serpent who became the self-sworn enemy of God and the object of God’s wrath when time will have run its course?
Yup, that would be him.
And when Jesus was lifted up on the cross, He, like the serpent, became a curse and the object of God’s wrath.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13 ESV)
For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2Corinthians 5:21 ESV)
The righteous judgment due the rebellious Israelites was placed upon an image fashioned of bronze and their escape was but to look upon it believing that God’s provision would give them life.
In the same way, the judgment due my sin was placed not on an image fashioned of bronze, but upon the Son of God who took upon Himself flesh and the likeness of sinful man, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). But though He was without sin, during those hours upon the cross, He was made sin and became cursed. He submitted to the Father’s will as the representative sin-bearer and thus the object of divine judgment and wrath. And, in so doing, the Lamb of God, lifted up like the serpent, took away the sin of the world (John 1:29) that all those who would look to Him might live.
Behold our Savior!
Give Him all praise and thanksgiving!
Because of such grace . . . and for His eternal glory!