Short Meditations in John 3: 13. The Son lifted up
Jn 3:14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,
Poor old Nicodemus must be really struggling now as he listens to Jesus and Jesus puts into his lap all these truths, truths that are likely to challenge his mind, his intellect, his understanding. We’ve been through him struggling with concepts of being born again and the Spirit moving like the wind, and we’ve been through Jesus alluding to having come from heaven and if that wasn’t bad enough for this legalistic leader now Jesus starts using a picture from Old Testament history to reveal what his true purpose on earth is.
What is intriguing about this first half of chapter 3 is that there is not another reference to Nicodemus and John doesn’t tell us what his response was to all this. All we do know is that Nicodemus later speaks in defence of Jesus (Jn 7:50) and that he accompanied Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus and provided the spices for embalming the body (Jn 19:39). He became a follower.
Was it, I wonder, that when Jesus died on the Cross Nicodemus remembered this part of the conversation? What happened back in the Old Testament with Moses, what does Jesus mean? On one occasion when Israel rebelled in the desert they came to a part of the desert particularly inhabited by snakes and many of them were being bitten by the snakes. It was God’s disciplinary judgment on them. Then we find this: “The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.” (Num 21:8,9) This bronze snake on a pole was God’s provision so when the people came to look at it after they had been bitten they were returning to God and God healed them. Such was His grace and mercy. The snake on the pole was simply a way for the people to physically come to God, and in so doing be healed by Him.
Now this is a part of their history that Nicodemus should have known about and the analogy should be quite clear – at least in part! Without any other knowledge you would understand Jesus to mean that in the same way that that snake had been lifted up, so he, Jesus, must be lifted up or exalted. It might simply be him saying he has been sent by God to take a place of prominence, as the Messiah no doubt. Of course, in retrospect, we now realise that Jesus was meaning that his ‘lifting up’ was in fact on the Cross at Calvary and he was God’s means of bringing salvation to all peoples Thus anyone who comes to the Cross and believes in Jesus will be healed from sin (saved).