Everyone is familiar with John 3:16—“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that every one who believes into Him would not perish, but would have eternal life.” But, who ever remembers that in the context of this verse Jesus refers to Himself as a serpent?: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that every one who believes into Him may have eternal life” (vv.14-15). What?! Jesus a serpent?! To get the light on this startling statement, we must go back to Numbers 21 and study the account there.
After the children of Israel had been led by Moses out of bondage in Egypt, it says that they became impatient on the way and spoke against God and against Moses. God’s reaction was to send fiery serpents among the people, which bit the people so that many people of Israel died. Realizing they had sinned, the people repented to Moses and asked him to pray for them that God would take away the serpents. God then instructed Moses to fashion a serpent out of bronze and set it on a pole so that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
Now, in John 3:14, Jesus indicated that Moses’ bronze serpent was actually a figure of Himself. In the same way that the bronze serpent had the likeness of a poisonous snake but not the poison, Christ came in the likeness of the flesh of sin (Romans 8:3), yet He did not have the sin nature (Hebrews 4:15). And as the bronze serpent was lifted up on a pole, so Christ was lifted up on the cross. All who look upon Him, believing and thus receiving God’s way of redemption, shall live!
It is amazing how one word can shake us out of our comfort zone (or what we think we know) and propel us into the depths of the truth.