BIBLICAL INSIGHT in 500 words
WHAT? Jesus Said He Was A Snake?
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up” (John 3:14).
The question about the meaning of serpent is a way of asking, what is God doing about evil?
1-Jesus Defies the World’s Expectations
The image of the snake in the desert looks back to an incident described in Numbers 21:5–9. During their wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites grumbled against Moses and were punished by poisonous snakes invading the camp. God gave Moses the remedy: Make a snake of bronze, put it on a pole, and hold it up. Anyone who looks at the snake will live.
What does this story tell us about the identity of Jesus? In a word: Jesus was not what people expected. For God to ask Moses to fashion a bronze snake was to go against the commandment – “no graven images” (Exodus 20:4). God moved beyond expectations when, in Jesus, God took on human flesh.
This, the only place in the New Testament that refers to the serpent, clearly points to the death of Jesus. Humanity has been smitten with a deadly disease. The only cure is to look at the “Son of Man” (John 3:14; Daniel 7:13-14) dying on the cross. “so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15).
2-Jesus Carries The World’s Sin To the Cross
But this brings us to the question: how can the crucifixion of Jesus be like putting a snake on a pole? The snake is the problem, not the solution. Surely John is not suggesting that Jesus was like the poisonous snakes that had been attacking the people? No.
Evil unleashed its full force on Jesus. As he pressed his way through his ministry and toward Jerusalem, the sins, the evil, and Satan himself attached him, latched onto him until by the time he came to the cross, “He who did not sin became sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He carried the sins of the world in order to take them away. With the world’s sin and the devil’s evil clinging to him, he was lifted up on the cross.
When we look at Jesus upon the cross, we see two things:
- First, we see the defeat of evil in which we are mired and imprisoned.
- Second, we see the love of God pouring out forgiveness and freedom.
When Jesus died upon the cross, we see the full and dramatic display of God’s love. The Son reveals the love of the Father when he is lifted up and dies under the weight of the world’s evil. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16-17).