Meditations on “The Big Picture” 15. Three Liftings
John 3:14,15 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life
We have come to the point in biblical history where Jesus has left heaven, come to earth and is now ministering to the people of Israel, mostly up in Galilee, but sometimes down south in Jerusalem. They see him as a man, a miracle worker, yes; a great teacher, yes; a bringer of a new way, yes, but still a man. The next major step in this history of the world is about to happen. It will all take place within the space of less than two months but after it has happened, the world will never be the same again. The period and events we are about to observe are most certainly the most important and most significant events in world history, and yet they are ignored or forgotten by so many.
Three times in John’s Gospel, the apostle John, reflecting back on that wonderful time, remembers some of the words of Jesus that the earlier Gospel writers missed in their concern to get down the basics. For John there was more than the basics; there were truths spoken by Jesus that revealed him for who he truly was. I say three times he did this but in fact it was dozens of times in his Gospel but I want to just note three specific words. We have the first of them in our verse above from chapter 3 of John. But in very similar vein we also read, “So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be,” (Jn 8:28) and then later, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (Jn 12:32)
Now I am fairly certain that (certainly in John’s mind) each of these refers to Jesus being lifted up on the Cross, but in reality I want to put before you that in less than two months there were in fact three ‘lifting up’ times and each one – yes each one – was as significant as the others and causes the world to change.
The first one is, as we indicated above, Jesus being lifted up on the Cross. In John 3 that is paralleled with the snake that Moses lifted up in the desert (see Num 21:6-9). Anyone who ‘looked on’ the bronze snake after having been bitten by a snake, would live. What an analogy. We have been bitten by Sin and are consigned to death but if we will accept Jesus’ dying on the Cross as for us, we are saved. Hanging on the Cross Jesus took all our sins and ‘became sin’ (2 Cor 5:21) or the sin offering that essentially took on the sin of the person offering it. On the Cross all our sin and guilt and shame were dealt with by Jesus and justice was satisfied as the unique Son of God hung in our place and took that which was due to us, and being God could do it for every single person who would ask for it. That first ‘lifting up’ was critical for the world. It is the only way that justice can be satisfied in respect of every one of us.
But the second ‘lifting up’ was that of the resurrection: “God raised him from the dead,” (Acts 2:24) and “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (Acts 2:32) so that “through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:4) The resurrection, the second ‘lifting up’ proved who Jesus was. As the dead body was lifted up and the life returned, the indications are that this ‘new’ body was something more than the old one had been. The apostle Paul pressed the logic of this: “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:11) Being ‘born again’ (Jn 3) means being indwelt by the Holy Spirit who brings ‘new life’ to us also. This is the significance of the second ‘lifting up’.
Now the third ‘lifting up’ was even more dramatic. No one saw Jesus being raised from the dead, except God but when it comes to the third ‘lifting’ it was quite different: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going.” (Acts 1:9,10) Jesus’ ascension into heaven was physical and literal. It said to the disciples, ‘don’t go looking for him anymore; he is no longer on the earth.’ If they were not blown away by the resurrection – and they clearly were – then the ascension was even more mind blowing. Where did he go? Which cloud is the doorway to heaven????
Mark adds at the end of his Gospel, “Jesus … was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honour at God’s right hand.” (Mk 16:19) The writer to the Hebrews put it, “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb 1:3) The apostle Paul also wrote, “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” (Eph 1:20-22) The point of the third lifting was that it transferred Jesus from his earthly ministry to a new exalted ministry at the Father’s right hand (see Rom 8:34, 1 Pet 3:22, 1 Cor 15:25) As Rev 5 shows us, Jesus is the one who now oversees the end times. There he will remain until the time comes for him to return again (Rev 19), but NOW he is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2). He is Lord.
On the Cross he took our sins, in the resurrection he gave us confidence and a picture of the power we would receive, and in the ascension he shows us where he now reigns. As we said earlier, the world was never the same again!