The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up: “The views and opinions expressed by this lubber do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the crew. Reader discretion be advised.” – Staff
As Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up. (John 3:14-15)
The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up
I once heard a pastor say that she struggled to understand the significance of John 3:14-15. She knew the context of the Numbers reference, but confessed she wasn’t sure why Jesus used this phrasing to explain how he would die. John 3:14-15 is actually a very powerful passage, for it shows not only how Jesus would die, but why—and what benefits we would receive as a result.
A Snake on a Pole
The people grew impatient on the way. They spoke against God. (Numbers 21:4)
Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them. They bit the people. Many died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take (sin) the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. (Numbers 21:6-7)
The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten (sinned) can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake (sinned) and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. (Numbers 21:9)
Sin, in its purest form, is man going against God. We go against his commands, his will, his instructions. Mutinous, rebellious, stiff-necked… all point to a heart that refuses to obey God. And when we sin, death is always the result: if not in our own life, in the life of someone else.
Sin, God’s Law, and Death
The power of sin is the law. (1 Corinthians 15:56)
We might be surprised to learn that God’s law empowers sin. Not that his law affirms sin. Heaven forbid! To say such is to pervert the purpose of God’s law. Rather, the law reveals God’s holiness.
All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law. All who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Romans 2:12-14)
What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Romans 7:7 )
The very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. (Romans 7:10-13)
God’s law gives us a more complete understanding of God. And to whom much is given, much is demanded. (Luke 12:48) But what does this have to do with snakes in the desert?
In Egypt the Israelites could be excused, perhaps, for disobeying God. They were slaves. Their future looked bleak. Their memory of how God had brought Abraham from Ur to a promised land had dimmed.
Then God leads them out of bondage and into freedom. They are a new people. He has promised to bring them into a good land. He gives them his law (a picture of his character). In return they grumble and argue with God. So God sends snakes to strike them. Many die. And when they cry out for mercy, he tells them to look upon the thing that brings death to them: the snake.
Man on a Cross Lifted Up—A Super Savior
Fast forward 1,400 years or so. A savior comes who promises freedom. A new kingdom. Life, health, and wholeness. A savior who does not abolish God’s law but upholds every portion thereof. In Jesus the bite of the snake, the venom of sin, has no effect. He is immune to sin and sickness because he is the one who created the law, wrote the law, is the law. He is truth, life, and the light of man.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)
What the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so Jesus condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the (his) Spirit. (Romans 8:3–4)
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory (life) through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)
How does Jesus dying on the cross provide the antivenom for sin?
God’s law is infused into Jesus. It is his very nature. His tolerance for keeping the law is unending. Sin has no power over Jesus because he is the law. As a result, Jesus produces antibodies against sin: words from God that defeat every temptation to sin. With each attack, the antibodies—God’s word—beat back the enemy. When he was crucified on the cross, he shed his blood: blood filled with antibodies that bring life to believers.
The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. (Romans 7:10-13)
In a similar way that antivenom is created from the venom of snakes, the antibodies for sin are harvested from the blood of Jesus and infusing those antibodies into our spirit. In response, those who have received the blood of Christ no longer die when bitten by (break) God’s law. Rather, they recover and regain their health. And should we find ourselves bitten and suffering from the affects of sin, we only need to ask Jesus to infuse us with his pure, Holy Spirit: the spirit that can cleanse even the foulest blood.
There are consequences to sin, but with the antibodies of Jesus we need not worry about experiencing the second death. Our bodies may perish but our soul will live.
The snake on the pole represents the consequences of sin. Look upon the snake and acknowledge that sin brings death.
“The Son of Man must be lifted up!”
The man on the cross represents sin’s antivenom. Look upon the man and receive his blood with antibodies shed for you.