By Submitted Article on March 21, 2020.
First of four parts
Jacob M. Van Zyl
In John’s gospel, Jesus said on three occasions that he would be lifted up (John 3:14, 8:28, 12:32). From the context, it is clear that he referred to the crucifixion, but there may be more to it.
While explaining to Nicodemus that Father, Son and Spirit are involved in salvation (John 3), Jesus said that the Son would be lifted up just as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole – a strange metaphor. The lifting up in both cases corresponds, but there is no likeness between Jesus and a snake. His vilest adversary, Satan, is called a serpent (Rev. 12:9).
The episode concerning the bronze snake (Num. 21) had some more similarities to Jesus’ crucifixion.
Firstly, the people sinned. They rebelled against God for the lack of food and water, and called the God-given manna miserable. All sinners rebel against God.
Secondly, they experienced the consequences of sin. God sent serpents to bite them. Ouch! It was painful and deadly: “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
Thirdly: they realized they could not fight against God, so they became penitent, pleading for mercy. Sinners who want to be saved must do the same.
Fourthly, mercy was granted to them in the form of the bronze serpent on a pole. If they looked up to the serpent, trusting in God, they were healed of snake venom.
Likewise, God provided salvation for sinners by putting his Son on a cross, so that whoever looks up to him in penitence and faith might be saved (John 3:16).
By taking the sins of humanity onto himself, Christ became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). As the serpent was put on a pole, Christ nailed our sins to the cross (Col. 2:13-14). The snake was not an effigy of Jesus but of the sin laid on him.
After Christ paid our sin-debt to God by giving his life, he was lifted up from the grave, triumphing over death and opening eternal life for those who believe in him.
Forty days later, he was lifted up to the right hand of the Father to intercede for believers (Rom. 8:34). “Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
Christ promised to return in glory (Matt. 24:30-31, Mark 13:26-27, Luke 21:27). He will be lifted up, exalted by believers and feared by unbelievers, realizing the Bible was true after all.
Then the resurrection of bodies and renewal of Earth takes place.
Jacob Van Zyl of Lethbridge is a retired counsellor and the author of several faith-based books.