9/25/2017 6:03:33 AM
God's Ways With Israel and the Gospel of John
In Numbers 21:4-9 we hear the story of "the Bronze Serpent." Israel has become "impatient along the way" and they grumble both against God and against Moses, saying, "there is no food and there is no water, and we detest this damnable food [i.e. manna]." The Lord sent fiery serpents among them, they bit the people, so that "many of the people of Israel died." We ought to "judge ourselves, lest we be judged (1 Corinthians 11:31)." The people begged Moses to intercede for them with the Lord, to ask Him to "take away the snakes." The beautiful part of the story is that God does even *more* than they ask of Him, out of sheer mercy alone.
The Lord said to Moses, "make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." As is often the case (though with a famous example to the contrary notwithstanding in Numbers 20:10-13), the Lord speaks and Moses says the same thing, or the Lord commands something to be done and Moses does it verbatim (see Deuteronomy 18:15-20 for an exampel of the first, and Exodus 34:1-9 for an example of the second). Here we see that God does more than take away the snakes, He heals the people. The prophetic reality is that God also does even more than heal the people...He provides a template that Jesus will employ in His own prophetic preaching and saving mission!
In the Gospel of John this event of the bronze serpent plays an unfolding and direct role in what Jesus teaches, does, and suffers. When speaking with a "teacher of Israel" by night--Nicodemus by name--Jesus declares (John 3:14-15): "And 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." At a key moment during Holy Week Jesus gives His Johannine "Passion prediction" (given on three occasions in the other three Gospels) when speaking to some Greeks in Jerusalem for the Passover (John 12:32): "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself." In saying this He showed what kind of death He was to die (crucifixion is the kind whereby one is hoisted up into the air). The bronze serpent healed the dying Israelites in the wilderness, while the crucified Jesus brings everlasting life to the whole world, Gentiles included!
Jesus is not only the object of faith, He also speaks of the necessity of faith in His teaching...it is like looking in trust at the Word of God (see John 6:40): "For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." This faith is Trinitarian since its origin is found in the "will of the Father," such that everyone who "looks on the Son" and believes (thanks to the Holy Spirit) in Him should have everlasting life. This Trinitarian-ly grounded faith, based on the Word of God and the Promise of Christ, eventuates in "the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come," our true Promised Land.