No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:13-17 (NRSV)
The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. Numbers 21:7-9 (NRSV)
Humanity has a fascination with snakes. In some traditions snakes are seen as sacred, in others they are reviled as evil. The serpent is even portrayed as a catalyst to the Fall in the Genesis narrative, though it was Eve’s decision to allow the serpent to succeed in tempting her, and Adam’s decision to follow suit. The cause of the Fall always comes back to humanity, and our attraction to sin.
Interestingly enough, God sends a plague of snakes to the Israelites as they are wandering in the desert and disobeying Him. In all three of these narratives, (Genesis, Numbers and John) the snakes are symbolic of our sins. Like with the snakes, the consequences of our sins will come around to bite us and bring us death. It’s not so much God’s decision to punish us, but in disobeying Him and going around the boundaries He has set for us, we bring the consequences upon ourselves.
In Catholic iconography, there is a popular rendering of Mary, Jesus’ mother, standing on a serpent. The imagery here suggests that at Jesus’ conception the serpent (our sin) was trampled and defeated. The implication is that in God choosing her to be being Jesus’ earthly mother, through her, God gave us the means to reverse the long-ago (bad) decision of Eve in the garden.
It is interesting that John makes the comparison of Jesus crucified on the Cross with the bronze serpent Moses held up. When those who were bitten by snakes looked up to Moses’ bronze serpent God healed them. If we look up to Jesus, hung from a tree and weighed down with all our sin, we find healing, life and salvation.
Hopefully we all have memorized that iconic verse, John 3:16- For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.
He loved the world enough to put the burden of the whole world’s sin and failure on His shoulders.
How do we respond to the love of God in Christ, poured out on us in His Blood that flowed from the Cross?