Primary Text: Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-18
Since this day is what it is, it would be worthwhile to discuss the death of Jesus on the cross as well as the resurrection of the body three days hence. If one looks at Scripture as a whole, there are many indications of the purpose of Christ all throughout the Scripture. Jesus even proclaimed that the Old Testament testifies about Him (John 5:39), and that he was around before the time of Abraham (John 8:58). It can be said that there was always hope of a Messiah. Every part of Scripture speaks to Christ. The Old Testament speaks of the hope of the coming Messiah. The Gospels speak of the Messiah that is here. The rest of the New Testament speaks of the return of the Messiah. Christ is within the pages of the Old Testament if we just choose to look for Him.
And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. (Numbers 21:4-9)
The Israelites are traveling on their way to the promised land of Canaan and spoke against Moses and God, grumbling about their food and water. The judgment from the Lord was the removal of protection regarding the snakes that were present in the desert. This judgment was not final since Moses prayed for the people and the Lord gave them mercy by having them put a snake upon a pole. Those that looked at the snake lived. Does this sound a whole lot like Christ to you? It should! Christ, Himself mentioned this connection.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:14-18)
1. The serpents represent the presence and punishment of sin.
As verse 14 mentions, as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up! The people sinned by grumbling against the Lord, so we have the Lord responding by sending fiery serpents among the people. The fiery serpent is an interesting image. It brings to mind that it was a serpent that deceived Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. The serpent is most certainly a representation of Satan as Revelation tells us:
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Revelation 12:9)
Sin brings sure death upon each of us, as these snakes did the Israelites when they were bitten. The wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23)!
2. The bronze serpent on the pole represents the sacrificed Christ.
The Lord could have forgiven them right away and healed the ones that were bitten by the poisonous snakes, but He directed something different. He told Moses to make a bronze snake, put it on a pole, and lift it up in the camp. Any one that was bitten by a snake could look upon it and live. Why a bronze snake? We are told in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” But this bronze snake was harmless as Christ is – Christ had no sin. Christ’s feet were described to be glowing like bronze in a furnace (Revelation 1:15). Christ was made a curse (Galatians 3:13) as the serpent was cursed.
When the people went to look upon this bronze snake, they were forgiven, healed and lived. When we look to Christ as the Israelites looked to this bronze snake, we are forgiven of our sins we have which leads to death, of all those sicknesses of the spirit which bring death.
3. Looking upon the bronze snake in faith represents the belief required on Christ for salvation.
Since there is not a figure of Christ hanging up on a cross to look at for healing of sins, it is revealed that the purpose of the snake was never a function of the act of looking at it, but of faith and belief. In faith and belief, the cross of Christ is always there to look at if there is faith enough to seek it. Remember that Israel numbered around 630,000 men (Numbers 26:51) – add women and children and the number would go around 1.2 million. The act of looking upon the bronze snake on the pole was not an easy one. It would require a journey with the belief that looking upon the snake would heal the person of being bit. Certainly, some died simply for not believing they would be healed by making this journey.
Isn’t this like some of us in this world today? How many Israelites believed that the fact the snakes bit them were due to their sins and not happenstance? How many don’t see that they’ve been bitten by sin? They go through life with all the pain and misery within their souls, but never realize that the snake of sin bit them. They deceive themselves that the snake of sin never bit them at all. They deceive themselves into thinking the sicknesses of sin in their lives burning through their souls are caused by other things. How many see their sins, see the loss within their souls, but don’t believe enough to take the journey in their hearts to the cross of Jesus Christ?
Many Israelites didn’t take that journey to go see that bronze snake, just as many people today don’t take the journey to come to the foot of the cross. Perhaps the worst fate one of these Israelites could face was to know the snake bit them, feel what is going on, and know why the snake bit them, but not have the faith to take the journey to go look upon the bronze snake. This echoes the worst fate that could befall anyone today: To know about Christ, see their sins in front of them, and yet don’t come to the foot of the cross for whatever reason they might have that keeps them from taking that action step in faith.
4. We all have this snake problem in our lives.
Romans 3:23 says that “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”. Each of us have been bitten by these snakes we call sin and have had that venom from sin flowing within our souls. Each of us have that opportunity to recognize those things and seek healing through Jesus, who has been lifted up to become sin for each and every one of us who comes to him in belief. The only thing that keeps us from making that journey is ourselves. The same forgiveness and saving of death is there always when we seek Him out.
As Jesus concludes in John 3:17-18, God had no desires to condemn the world, and therefore sent this chance at forgiveness of sins and healing through Christ, much like He had no desires to fully condemn all the Israelites for their transgressions. God wishes that no one find that condemnation and death. Whichever Israelite that believed enough in the snake to go see it when bitten found healing and forgiveness, just as we can go to the foot of the cross of Christ today.
There were Israelites that didn’t have that faith to go look at the bronze snake, just as there are those today don’t have the faith and desire to go to the foot of the cross of Christ in belief. The Israelites that didn’t believe in looking at the bronze snake died, just as those of us that don’t believe in Christ will be condemned. None of us wish that upon people, and most certainly, God doesn’t wish that upon anybody. 2 Peter 3:9 says that “the Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
The only thing keeping anyone from coming to Christ, being forgiven, and being healed of our sins is themselves. Christ is there to believe in always. You need to just make that journey so you can look upon him on the cross.