For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2001 James Melough


“And 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,” Jn 3:14-15.  While there is possibly no Christian who can’t quote this portion of Scripture, it is questionable whether all of them are familiar with the OT incident referred to, and it is equally questionable whether all of those who are, are aware of its spiritual significance.  The details are recorded in Numbers 21.  As chastisement for rebellious murmuring, God sent serpents amongst the Israelites; and then in response to their repentance, commanded Moses, “Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live,” Nu 21:8.

No one familiar with biblical symbolism has any difficulty seeing in that brazen serpent suspended on the pole, a figure of Christ suspended on the cross; but a problem for many is to understand how that which is almost invariably the biblical symbol of Satan (Ge 3:1,14-15; Re 12:9; 20:22), can be also symbolic of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We should note, however, that this is not the only symbol used to portray both Christ and Satan.  The lion is another, for while the Lord is designated as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Satan is declared to be, “a roaring lion ... seeking whom he may devour,” 1 Pe 5:8.

The propriety of the brazen serpent as a type of Christ is comprehended in the light of 2 Co 5:21, “For he hath made him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”  We stand today before God in all the acceptability of Christ, having imputed to us His righteousness; but only because two thousand years ago He stood before God as our Representative, in all our unacceptability, willing to have imputed to Him all our sin.

The method by which that brazen serpent was produced, declares in symbol something of what it cost Christ to make atonement for our sin.  The brazen serpent hanging on that pole in the desert was the product of the fire and the hammer, the one making it malleable, the other giving it shape.  It must be malleable before the hammer could have any effect.  In the malleability of that heated brass God bids us see the perfect submission of His Son.  It was love, not compulsion that led Christ to Calvary to bear judgment due to us, to die a death we should have died.  The lifeless Form hanging on Calvary’s cross had emerged from the furnace of Divine anger (anger that should have consumed us, but to which He voluntarily submitted Himself); it had been produced by the blows of God’s wrath against sin, that should have fallen upon us.  The prophet, pointing forward to Calvary, declared concerning Christ, “From above hath he sent fire into my bones,” La 1:13; “Thy wrath lieth hard upon me,” Ps 88:7.

As one look at that suspended brazen serpent was sufficient to annul the sentence of death for every bitten Israelite, so is one believing look at the Christ suspended on Calvary’s cross sufficient to annul the sentence of eternal death pronounced against every sinner.


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough