“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.” (John 3:14-15 ESV)
In John 3, Jesus cited the example of the serpent in the wilderness to signify that He would bear the sins of mankind in Himself. This incident is found in Numbers 21, an account of the Israelites’ murmuring against God. Here they voiced their dissatisfaction with the food the Lord had provided. After years of wandering, the people were still looking back to the good food they had in Egypt. They forgot that they had been slaves there. After all those years, you would think that their experiences would have taught them the consequences of complaining against the Lord’s provision.
The Lord punished Israel with a plague of fiery serpents. These snakes fell on them with devastating consequences. The people cried out in repentance and the Lord provided salvation. The odd thing is that the salvation was in the form of a bronze serpent. All the people who had been bitten had to do was look at it and they would be saved from death. Those who thought that doing such a simple thing was stupid, pointless or foolish, died.
In this incident we see that the very thing that caused death was a symbol of life. This of course is a type for Christ. He became sin on the cross. What was deadly brought life. All who look to His cross in faith are saved from death. Those who refuse to look to the cross because they insist they know better or think that looking to a man crucified in despicable shame is foolish or unscientific and cannot possibly make a difference to them will die.
In the midst of trials and difficulties, I have often been tempted to look back fondly to the good old days before I was a Christian. I often think things would be better if I went back. But then I recall that I was always in bondage to shame and fear. And I had no relief because the one who i perceived shamed me most was the one I feared the most: the Lord. Now I know Him and am sure of His mercy and unconditional love. Why would I want to go back?