Jesus came to his own people speaking to them about their shared history. Three times in the
Gospel of John. Jesus makes an explicit reference to an odd tale from the Israelites time in the
wilderness under Moses. We see one of those references in John 8:28.
“ 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”
Knowing about Jesus identification as the Son of Man who will “come on the clouds,” we might
at first assume that Jesus’ is speaking about the time when he will be revealed to be God’s King
over the earth. What is clear from the Gospels, however, is that the path to Jesus’ throne goes
through him being lifted up on a cross.
The odd reference comes from Numbers 21:4-9. The Israelites are in the midst of their 40-year
wandering in the wilderness. They are dodging their Edomite cousins while destroying the
opposing kings of the Canaanites. The Wilderness life was hard and required faith. The people’s
faith had given out. As was their custom, they are complaining about God and Moses and the
conditions that they are living under in the wilderness.
When I was growing up, whenever my dad needed to threaten to spank me, I was usually
already crying and complaining about something. He would simply say “do you need me to give
you something to cry about?” I would know that he meant business.
The fiery serpents were God’s way of saying the very same thing to the disobedient people. “If
you want to complain about dying when I have actually given you life, then I’ll give you
something to cry about.” And out came the snakes. Many people died.
Remember that when God makes a threat, he means business.
Knowing how we all feel about snakes, I can only imagine the sheer panic and terror. Grown
men screaming. Death coming with certainty now. But even in his wrath, God shows mercy. He
tells Moses to make a bronze serpent to set on a pole. If anyone looks on this serpent, his will
be cured of the snakebite and live.
Now the fascinating thing. Jesus says that the Son of Man is also the serpent on a cross. He is
the healing balm from God’s punishment for sin. The people receive the healing by looking on
him lifted up on the cross. How odd? And also, how simple?