John 3:9-15 — Snake in the Wilderness

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven —the Son of Man. 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.”

One of the most beautiful things about the Gospel of John is how he connects the Old Testament with the New. John uses Old Testament symbols, prophecies, and stories to reveal their fulfillment in Jesus. In today’s passage, we find one such instance where he compares Moses lifting the snake in the wilderness to Jesus being lifted up. 

“As Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” This might seem shocking. Is Jesus comparing himself to a snake? It all makes sense once we understand the meaning of both events. 

First event first. During the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land, Edom denied the Israelites permission to cross its land on their way to Canaan. God told Moses not to fight but to go around. Forgetting everything the Lord had done for them until that point, the people started grumbling. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread. There is no water. And we detest this miserable food.” As a result, the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people as judgment. 

The people acknowledged their sins and asked Moses to pray for forgiveness. God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. Everyone who had been bitten would live if they looked at the serpent. This might sound very strange, considering God’s commandment not to make any graven images, but it proves a few points that we will look at another time. In any event, those who looked at the serpent lived. 

Years later, Jesus would say what we just heard him saying.

There are five important things to note about what happened in the wilderness. 

One, the people committed sin, which led to death. 

Two, God provided the remedy for the curse. 

Three, this remedy had to be lifted up. 

Four, the sinful people only needed to look in faith at what God had given them as a remedy. 

And five, the result was life. 

Now if we look at the story of Jesus, we see an exact replication of this.

One, the wages of sin is death. 

Two, God provided the sacrifice of his son as the remedy. 

Three, Jesus was lifted up from the dead. 

Four, all we need to do is look upon him in faith expressed through repentance and baptism. 

And five, we have eternal life. 

So, does it all make sense now? 

God bless you.