Why did Jesus compare a bronze snake to His own death on the cross? The “snake episode” Jesus referred to in His conversation with Nicodemus took place as the nation reapproached the promised land. They had spent 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, and two of their leaders, Miriam and Aaron, had died. Israel had just won a victory against a Canaanite king, and the people were growing impatient. They had been traveling around Edom (inhabited by the descendants of Esau) since they’d been denied passage through that land. Predictably, they complained against God and Moses, and even grumbled about manna (v. 5). (To be fair, though, manna had been their staple food ever since they were children!)
God judged them with a plague of poisonous snakes. They confessed their sinful words and attitudes, and Moses once again interceded on their behalf (v. 7). God instructed that a bronze (or more likely copper) snake be made and hung on a pole. Those who looked at it would live (v. 8). Why did God choose to use a snake? Perhaps because that was what was killing them. At any rate, they had to trust in the Lord and obey His instructions in order to be healed. Only the truly repentant would trust and obey. Perhaps this new generation had learned something after all, for instead of doubling down on their rebelliousness, they repented and obeyed God.
Seven centuries later, in the days of Hezekiah, people turned this historic relic into an idol, and it had to be destroyed (2 Kings 18:4). But even later, just as mentioned in today’s verse, Jesus, the Son of Man, would be lifted up (this time on a Roman cross) to bring life to all who believed.
>> Worship belongs to God alone! What do you “lift up” in your life that is not worthy of your fixed attention and praise? Too often we elevate things, even good things, above God. How can we lift Him up above everything else?
Holy God, today’s passage reminds us that salvation was always Your plan, and You were pointing Your people to the cross throughout the Old Testament. We worship You, the God who saves.