Summary: # 9 in series. Jesus ends his conversation with Nicodemus by telling him three things about salvation.
“Look And Live!”
Earlier in John chapter three Jesus has confronted Nicodemus with the momentous announcement that even he must be born again. Although he is a respected leader, a moral man, even a religious man he is still lost. Jesus is still talking to Nicodemus, he is responding to the question Nicodemus asked in verse nine, “How can this be?” What Nicodemus really wants to know is, “How does the new birth happen?” And so the Lord answers with an illustration that Nicodemus would never forget.
Jesus ends his conversation with Nicodemus by telling him three things about salvation.
First, A Picture of Salvation (3:14-15)
In verses fourteen and fifteen Jesus uses an event from Israel’s history to illustrate His teaching. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilder-ness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, (15) that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Jesus calls to mind a scene from the book of Numbers 21:4-9. “Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom: and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. (5) And the people spoke against God, and against Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilder-ness? For there is no food, and no water; and our soul loathes this worthless bread (manna). (6) And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. (7) Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against you; pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. So Moses prayed for the people. (8) Then the Lord said unto Moses, Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole: and it shall be that everyone that is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live. (9) So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it upon a pole, and it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived".
In this passage the people of Israel are journeying through the wilderness and have recently traveled from the Mount Hor area near the Red Sea to the borders of Edom near where Petra is located. It is without a doubt some of the most inhospitable territory on the earth. The Bible says that because of the difficulty of the journey the people became discouraged and began to complain against God and His servant Moses (Numbers 21:4). Because of their grumbling and murmuring, God in response sends poisonous snakes into their midst and many of the people are bitten and die from the snake bites (v. 6). Then the people repented and cried out, “We have sinned” (v. 7).The Lord then offered salvation through a strange means. He commanded Moses to make the image of a serpent from bronze and to hang it from a pole. The people who were bitten and were dying could be healed only by lifting their eyes and looking at the serpent. They would be saved by an act of faith, those who looked up at the serpent were saved. It certainly goes without saying that the remedy proposed by God through Moses sounds utterly absurd.
The details of the analogy are remarkable. First, it is a story of sin and its consequences.
Nicodemus understood that it was sin that had brought the judgment of God upon the people. It was a result of their sin that they were dying.
Secondly, the only people who were saved by looking to the bronze serpent were those who acknowledged that they were dying. These were people who were perishing because of their sin and they knew it!
Third, we dare not overlook the importance of the “look of faith,” it was by faith that those who were bitten looked at the bronze snake lived. Moses lifted up the serpent in the camp and all the dying Israelites had to do was look at the pole and they would be saved. “No matter how horribly they were bitten, no matter how many times they had been bitten or how sick they were, the opportunity for salvation was there. Even the most degraded and miserable sinner who looks to Christ will be saved. That is why the Lord used this wonderful illustration.” [R. Kent Hughes. “Preaching the Word: John –That You May Believe.” (Wheaton: Ill.: Crossway Books, 1999) p. 83]
It should be noted that it was not enough to know that salvation was offered, each man had to look for himself otherwise God’s provision was useless. Jesus is saying that being born again comes through the simple dependence of a look of faith, not by having a perfect faith. Even so, Jesus would be lifted up on a cross, and all those who look unto him will be saved.