By Larry Paulus
“And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me” (Jn. 12:32).
Based on the clear teaching of Scripture, the Hymn Writer, Philip P. Bliss wrote of Christ: Lifted up was he to die, it is finished was his cry, now in heaven exalted high: Hallelujah, What a Saviour. His Story?
One evening Nicodemus came to Jesus to have a private talk with him. Jesus made it clear to him that in order to enter the kingdom of God, a man must be born again/that is to be born from above. As part of that conversation with him, Jesus said: 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.
When the people of Israel came out of Egypt, after the death of Aaron, the High Priest, one of the Canaanite Kings captured some of the people of Israel. Israel vowed to the Lord, If you will deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities. (Numbers 21:1-3) The Lord listened to them, and they utterly destroyed them and their cities. But after that great victory, the people became discouraged because of the way, and they grumbled against God and against Moses. In response, as a consequence of their grumbling, the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and many people were bitten by the serpents and died. Then the people confessed, WE have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you (Moses). Pray to the Lord that he take away the serpents from us. So Moses prayed to the Lord, and the Lord directed him to make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole so that if a serpent had bitten any one, when he looked upon the serpent he lived. Jesus said: As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. So in Jesus own words, that bronze Serpent lifted up on the pole foreshadowed the lifting up of the Son of Man. How did it foreshadow His being lifted up?
1. First, as the Serpent was lifted up on a pole, So Christ, the Son of Man was lifted up on a Cross. The serpent was lifted up on a pole and positioned so that thousands of people (603,550 men plus women and children under 20) could see it. Christ was lifted up on the cross outside the city of Jerusalem at a place where many people passed by. The inscription above which read: This is Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek. The Lord saw to it that the inscription would be read in the languages in common use among both the Jews and non-Jews. Not only was Jesus viewed at that time by those passing by, but these things have been written down for us in the inspired word of the Living God, so that we can even now, view him there, and understand why He was put on the cross. When we understand that he was there because of us, we then realize we are part of the problem. To elaborate,
2. Second, the Bronze Serpent was the Lord’s provision for the sin of grumbling on one occasion for the children of Israel. Jesus being lifted up on the cross, by contrast was for all the sins-- sins of every kind of all people for all time. The grumbling of the children of Israel because of the Journey was a symptom of their unbelief. All sin in rooted in unbelief. It is very clear from the Bible, our own sin helped to put Christ on the Cross. We rejoice that Christ paid the penalty for all sin of all people for all time, including those who lived before him, at that time, and to the end of time. Because he paid the penalty for the sins of everyone, therefore I know that MY sins are also paid for. John 3:15 says that whosoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life. Praise the Lord!
3. Third, the Lord promised that whoever looked on the serpent would live. Likewise, the Lord has promised that when we look to the Son of Man on the cross, in faith believing that he is paying for my sin, we will be saved. In the case of the serpent, the focus was on physical healing, and then secondly in being healed in their relationship to God. In the case of looking to Christ on the cross, the emphasis is on spiritual healing—that is eternal salvation. There are times and places where the Lord chooses to heal physically those who are trusting in his Son. Jesus did many miracles of healing, and the Lord also used the Apostles to heal many. But those are given to us as one of the signs of an Apostle that helped give evidence that the message which they spoke had God’s authority behind it. But Paul had a thorn in the flesh for which he was told that God’s grace was sufficient because God’s power is revealed in our weakness. Several of Paul’s co-workers became ill, for which the Lord did not use Paul to heal them. Timothy had frequent ailments for which Paul advised him to drink a little wine. Epaphras came close to death for the work of Christ. Trophimus was left by Paul sick at Miletus. That is as much about that as I will say. Some in the church would say that is an error. See James 5:16.
4. Fourth, for the benefits of the bronze serpent to be received, the promise of God had to be believed in faith. Likewise to receive the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, the promise of forgiveness and eternal life by believing in Jesus, must be believed in faith. If we will not believe God’s promises, we will not receive help or grace from him.
5. Fifth, The physical bronze serpent was completely separate from the people who had sinned against God. Likewise Christ on the cross, nearly 2000 years ago is completely outside of me. This may seem to be so obvious as to not be necessary to say, and therefore seem pointless to say it. But there is something very important in that. That the Jewish people who were bitten were told to look to the serpent on the pole and we are called to look on Jesus on the Cross—both of them point to the fact that our acceptance before God is not in any way in us. Rather, both of these point to our righteousness being outside of us, in Christ, God the son. Our believing in him is our ground of acceptance before God by which he counts us righteous and forgiven for the sake of his son. The Bible clearly teaches (John 14:21,23, John 17:21-23 Col. 1:28) that Christ lives in the believer. But if we begin to think of Christ in us as the basis for our salvation, then the basis of our salvation gets mixed up with us, and our sanctification which in this world is still imperfect. We strive to live according to the will of God, but none of us would say as our Saviour did that we always do those things that please the Father. By Contrast, Jesus did that from birth. His obedience was perfect. Christ living in us is a gift from God, but his living in us is not given as the basis of our salvation; it is a result of our salvation. Believing in him who suffered on the cross for our sins once for all—is our only basis for our sure and certain hope of eternal life.
The Pole in the Wilderness, and the Cross, Contrasted. As with Moses: the serpent was lifted up on a pole, so must Christ be lifted up on the Cross. The serpent in the wilderness was in response to the one sin, which is a symptom of sinfulness. The Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ was in response to all sin, of which the Israelite’s grumbling was only one kind.
For those who looked at the brazen serpent, the Lord promised forgiveness and healing from the plague. For those who look to the Cross, God has promised forgiveness for all people, for all time.
In both instances a promise must be believed. The healing came by the Israelites believing a promise; and likewise, salvation comes to men by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.
The serpent on pole was an “outside of me” kind of remedy. Similarly, Christ on the cross is an “outside of me” deliverance. The Cross, in the same manner, points to a righteousness that is outside of me. Salvation is of the Lord.
The serpent of brass was the divinely-provided source of restored physical life. And the Cross is the exclusive source of restored spiritual life. From the sufferings of Christ and the glory which has followed, proceed the one and only source of eternal salvation for men.
The serpent was lifted up on pole in order to be seen of all the Israelites, lying all about, perishing from the plague of serpents. Christ was once lifted up on the Cross at Golgotha, but is to be continually lifted up before men in the preaching of the Cross (I Cor. 1:18), so that men may look in faith, and believe on the Son of God. (Compare Numbers 21:8, the promise to the Israelites in the wilderness, and words such as Isaiah 45:22 and John 3:16, which are words of promise for all men. “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” “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.”
The second passage in the Gospel of John that speaks of Jesus being lifted up is in chapter 8:28. Jesus was speaking to Jewish people, unbelieving Pharisees who did not believe his claim to be Messiah. He has been speaking to them about the Father and his relationship to the Father, but they did not understand what he meant.
“When ye have lifted up the Son of Man, then shall ye know that I am (he), and (that) I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. 29 And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I always do those things that please him. 30 As he spake these words, many believed on him.
There are seven distinct witnesses to Jesus being the Messiah spoken of in the Gospel of John, [seven approved by God, one unapproved (demonic)]. Jesus being lifted up on the cross is the crowning witness that He is God’s Messiah, The Saviour of the World, the One to whom all people are drawn. Not all people yield themselves to being drawn to him, but he is drawing them. We cannot answer the question, When Jesus was hanging on the cross, did those who put him there, come to recognize in their hearts immediately that he was Messiah? Or was that a more gradual coming to faith. What we see instead was a continual mocking of him. But certainly later, when the Apostles began preaching Jesus, and showing from the scriptures that He was the Christ, they knew. Psalm 22 and 69 foretell details that happened to him on the cross. Isaiah 52 and 53 have more details. In the early years after the death and resurrection of Christ, Acts 6:7 tells us, “And the Word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” Praise God! In addition to being lifted up physically on the cross, he has also been lifted to the place of honor by Our Heavenly Father: Listen to the closing words of Isaiah 53:10 “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief: when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.”
“He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied: by His knowledge shall my righteous Servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities” (v. 11).
“Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; because He hath poured out His soul unto death: and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (v. 12).
Because he suffered on the cross, according to the will God, according to the plan laid out for him by the heavenly Father, therefore God has given him the place of highest honor, as it is written in Philippians 2:9-11, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
It is our fervent desire, and the object of all true praying men, that people will come to receive Him as their Saviour, that He will be lifted up to the highest place in their hearts before they meet Him on that aweful day of the great judgment at the end. Those who do not receive Him as their Lord and Saviour Now, will meet Him as their Judge then. Then they will hear those terrible words: “Depart from me you who work iniquity!” (see Matthew 7:23; 25:41).