Because of sin, all people are under the curse of death.
The people in the wilderness were dying because of their sin. They did not deserve to live, because they had rebelled terribly against God and His goodness toward them. They had a track record of 40 years of grumbling in spite of God’s gracious faithfulness. He had delivered them from Pharaoh’s army. He had provided water and protection in that barren desert. He had given them food every morning with the manna. But in spite of God’s abundant goodness, they grumbled at Him about their circumstances. And so He sent these deadly snakes among them as a judgment because of their sin.
If I were to compare the Prophet Mohammed to a snake, Muslims who heard of it would be out to kill me for blasphemy. It would be an insult to their revered Prophet. The same would be true if I said it of any religious leader. And so it sounds like blasphemy to say that Jesus is like a snake—except for the fact that Jesus Himself drew that comparison!
At the end of Jesus’ interview with Nicodemus (most scholars think that Jesus’ words to Nicodemus end at 3:15 and 3:16-21 are John’s words), Jesus answers Nicodemus’ question (3:9), “How can these things be?” Or, “How can these things happen?” Nicodemus doesn’t understand how the new birth can happen or how it can gain a person entrance into God’s eternal kingdom. So Jesus tells Nicodemus (3:14-15), “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”
Jesus is saying that the Spirit of God cannot just brush away sin when He grants the new birth. For sin to be dealt with, God’s justice must be satisfied. The Son of Man must be lifted up to satisfy God’s wrath on behalf of sinners who believe in Him.
The background for these verses is Numbers 21:4-9. Edom had denied Israel permission to cross its land on their way to Canaan (Num. 20:14-21). God told Moses not to fight against Edom (Deut. 2:4-5). So, Moses turned the people southeast (the Promised Land was northwest) to make a long, difficult journey around the land of Edom.
At this point, the Israelites grew impatient. They had just seen a victory over some Canaanites (Num. 21:1-3). Why couldn’t they march through Edom and kill any Edomites that opposed them? So as they turned southeast, they grumbled against God and Moses (Num. 21:5), “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.” As a result of their grumbling and despising God’s gracious provision of manna and His taking care of them in the wilderness all these years, the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people as judgment, so that many died. I understand the “fiery” serpents to be snakes whose bite burned like fire before you died.
This time the people acknowledged their sin, came to Moses and asked him to pray for a remedy. People were dying. They needed relief. God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. Everyone in Israel that had been bitten would live if they would look to the serpent.
You have to admit, that’s a strange story! After all, one of God’s Ten Commandments was that His people should not make any graven images. Didn’t Moses remember how Aaron had fashioned the golden calf and the awful judgment that came from that terrible episode? These people knew the story of the detested snake in the garden that had tempted Eve and was at the root of all evil. But now God commands Moses to make an image of a snake and put it on a pole. Some must have thought, “Did God really command Moses to make a bronze snake? Had Moses lost it? What was he thinking? Of all the dumb ideas, this one takes the cake!”
But Jesus took that strange story and applied it to Himself, telling Nicodemus …
Just as those who looked in faith to the serpent in the wilderness were healed, so those who look in faith to the lifted up Son of Man will have eternal life.
Chapter 3: John 3
Jesus and Nicodemus
Read John 3:1-21
The New Birth
Read John 3:1-13 again.
Nicodemus was a teacher and a religious leader. He was well educated and lived a good life. He thought that the good things he did would please God and give him a place in heaven. Jesus told him, “No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
Jesus explained that there are two kinds of life: natural life of the body and spiritual life. We are born with natural life, but we receive spiritual life from the Spirit of God. We have already learned in John 1:12 that we receive this new nature, we are born again, when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. God becomes our Father. We are born of God and become the children of God.
When anyone is joined to Christ he is a new being: the old is gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Jesus said this new birth is “of water and the Spirit.” The Bible often uses figurative or picture language – words with a different meaning from what they usually have. “Water” here means the washing away of sin. This is a part of our salvation.
He saved us through the Holy Spirit, who gives us new birth and new life by washing us (Titus 3:5).
You have been made clean already by the teaching I have given you… (John 15:3).
Spiritual cleansing comes from listening to and obeying the Word of God. When Jesus spoke of being born again of water, we believe He meant we are born again by hearing the Word of God and believing it.
Life for a Look
Read John 3:14-21 again.
Once, the people of God had sinned and were punished by being snake bitten. God loved them and told Moses to lift up a bronze snake where everyone could see it. Whoever looked at it got well. Those who would not look died.
Everyone on earth has disobeyed God and has been condemned to die. But God loves us. He proved it by sending His Son to die for us. Jesus was lifted up on a cross like the snake made of bronze. Everyone who looks to Him – that is, believes in Him – is healed from the snakebite of sin. Those who will not believe in Him have to die in their sins. But those who look receive eternal life.
Jesus and John
Read John 3:22-30.
The crowds that used to go to hear John the Baptist were now going to hear Jesus instead. Many of John’s disciples had left him and were following Jesus. But John wasn’t sad about this. God had sent him to tell people about Jesus. So he was happy when they left him to follow Jesus.
John’s attitude and his words show what a noble, unselfish person he was. His words are a good motto for us. Jesus, and not John, was the one who really mattered in John’s life.
He must become more important, while I become less important. (John 3:30).
He Who Comes From Heaven
Read John 3:31-36.
In these verses John, the writer of the Good News, lets us know that Jesus is the one who comes from heaven. He is greater than anybody on earth or everybody on earth all put together. He is full of the Spirit of God. God loves Him and has given Him power over everything.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not have life, but will remain under God’s punishment. (John 3:36).
Many verses in this chapter speak of eternal life. Eternal life is not living on and on in this world. It is God’s never-ending life, the kind of life that Jesus had. Although Jesus died on the cross, His life did not end. He arose from the grave and He lives forever.
If we believe in Jesus, we have eternal life. Our bodies may die, but when they do, our spirits will go to God and will live with Him forever. And just as Jesus’ body was raised from the dead, the bodies of those who believe in Him will one day be raised from the dead to enjoy eternal life.
Answer these question covering what you just read.
1. What did Jesus tell Nicodemus
a) The good things he did would take him to heaven.
b) No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.
2. The new birth is
a) being born of God by believing in Jesus and receiving Him as Savior.
b) coming back to earth as another person after you die.
c) being baptized in water.
3. What is the greatest proof that God loves us?
a) He gave His Son to save us.
b) He gives us life
c) He answers prayer
4. What if we do not accept the salvation that God offers us in Jesus?
a) We may be saved by being baptized in water.
b) We may be saved after we die
c) We will not be saved
5. What if we do accept the salvation that God has provided through Jesus?
a) Our bodies will never die.
b) Our bodies may die, but we will go to live with God forever.
c) Our bodies will never be raised from the dead