“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” - John 3:14
Jesus once met with a very religious man named Nicodemus. He was a representative sent by a group identified as the most religious of the day. This religious man was wealthy and influential. There’s evidence his life was changed as a result of his meeting with Jesus. Nicodemus went beyond his religion to a relationship with God in Christ. Jesus told Nicodemus he “must be born again.” It’s very possible Nicodemus heeded Jesus’ words and experienced the second birth of spiritual life.
But in order for Nicodemus and anyone else to experience spiritual life there was something Jesus must do. Our salvation is freely offered to us as a gift of God’s grace. Salvation is free, but it’s not cheap. It cost Father God, His only Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit something. Jesus must do something if the must of being born again is to be made available to us.
After Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again He turned to an Old Testament event that illustrated a truth about His mission. Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness” (John 3:14a). In Numbers 21 the children of Israel complained against the Lord resulting in a plague of pain-producing biting serpents. The people were dying. They cried out to the Lord. The Lord told Moses to make a bronze serpent, put it on a pole and lift it up before the people. Then if they looked at the bronze serpent on the pole they would be healed and live. Jesus referred to this Old Testament incident because it was a prophetic picture of what He must do.
The Old Testament is filled with what are called shadows; eternal truths from historical accounting but that transcend and speak to greater application and revelation. These shadow revelations are mentioned in the New Testament. The Feasts and Old Testament worship system “are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col. 2:17). In Hebrews it states the Law and sacrificial system are a “copy and shadow of heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5). The Law had a “shadow of the good things to come” (Heb. 10:1). Whenever and wherever we study the Old or New Testament, we should always be asking the basic question, “What does this tell me about Jesus?”
These shadows point to truths about Jesus. In Hebrews it states the volume of the Old Testament speaks of Jesus in this way – “Behold, I have come – in the volume of the book it is written of Me – to do Your will, O God” (Psalm 40:6-8; Heb. 10:7). The Old Testament system of sacrifice speaks to us about Jesus’ substitutionary atonement. The fulfillment of this system is found in Christ. We need only look to Jesus in faith and receive His substitutionary sacrifice for our sin in order to be saved from our sins and have eternal life.
Sin incurs a just death penalty. Jesus died on the cross for our sin. When we turn from our sin and trust Jesus and His atoning death on the cross as our substitute, our sacrifice Lamb, God applies the just transfer of our sin to Jesus and Jesus’ righteousness to us. When we do that Jesus becomes, “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jeremiah 23:6; 33:16). This is the gospel.
Jesus went on to say, “even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14b). The snake of Numbers 21 was a type or shadowy symbol of sin. It was cast in bronze because bronze is a metal that speaks of judgment. When the people looked in faith at the lifted up serpent, they were healed. What did this correspond to in the New Testament? To the cross. Jesus became a snake of sin for us so that our sin could be judged and put away and we could be healed. Sin has painful venom. There is always a painful consequence to sin; death. Jesus is the antidote for those snake-bitten by sin. Look to Jesus in faith and live!
The Son of Man Jesus must be lifted up. This is the gospel of salvation as depicted by Jesus from an Old Testament type, Moses lifting up the bronze serpent in the wilderness. A bronze likeness of a serpent was made by Moses, put on a pole, and lifted up before God’s people to see. The people had strayed once again from the Lord. The consequence was a plague of serpents from the Lord that bit the people with a painful venomous bite. To bring relief to God’s people from a painful poisonous bite of the serpent all the people were told to do was look at the serpent that had been lifted up by Moses.
Jesus went on to make connection between the Old Testament shadow and the purpose it illustrated crystal clear saying, “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:15). These are words packed with meaning. Here Jesus speaks to the availability, avenue of appropriation, Agent, antidote, and aim of the Gospel. The gospel is available to all; “whoever.” The avenue through which we appropriate salvation is faith; “believes.” The Agent who performs the work of the gospel upon who we need to believe is Jesus’; “in Him.” Jesus is the antidote to the sin problem and penalty of perishing eternally; “should not perish.” And the aim of the gospel; the desired purpose and outcome is to avoid perishing and instead find “eternal life.” These are the five foundational aspects of the gospel as stated by Jesus:
- Available to all.
- Avenue of appropriation is by faith.
- Agent who does the work of salvation is Jesus.
- Antidote to the sin problem that keeps us from perishing is Jesus.
- Aim of the gospel is eternal life.
The Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthians of this clear holy transaction saying, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus is the antidote for sin because He became sin for us. When we look at Jesus on the cross, understand He became sin for us. That is why salvation can be in no other. That is why faith in Jesus is essential and a must for salvation; the forgiveness of sin. Jesus is our substitute sacrificial Lamb of God. Look at Jesus in faith and be delivered from your sin. Look and live!