Jesus and the Serpent

Posted: 10/08/2009 in Devotion
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John 3:14-17  (KJV)

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 16 For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.


This passage contains one of the best known verse from the Bible. But I am going, instead, to center on verse 14. When I read this verse I had one question come to mind. Why would Jesus compare himself with a serpent? Some other questions I had were these. Why not something or someone else? Instead Jesus chose a serpent. And a serpent that is mentioned only three times in the Bible, that I know of. Here is the third and final time it is mentioned.

But now the question becomes, “What about this serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness? What is so special about this serpent?”


The beginning of the answer begins in Numbers 21:8,9.

8 And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. 9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.


But let’s go back a few verses to see why this brass serpent had to be made. Israel had just got done defeating an army a short time before this. God was taking them in a way that they did not want to go because of the people along the route. So they started to do what they always do. They complained. They complained about everything they complained about before. No water and/food. Their leaders. God. And so on.

God in order to chastise them, sent in fiery or copper colored serpents. After people started to die from poisonous bites, they went to Moses and confessed their guilt. They asked Moses to go to God and ask for the removal of the judgment, the serpents. God instead told Moses to have a brass serpent made and place it on a pole in the middle of camp. He told Moses what to tell the people if they got bit. Anyone who followed the directions would live. Read Numbers 21:1-9

This is the first time that this serpent is mentioned. The third time as stated previously was in a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. The second time is mentioned in 2 Kings 18:4.


4 He (King Hezekiah) removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and called it Nehushtan (thing made of brass).


The second this serpent is mentioned is when Hezekiah was cleaning house. He destroyed the “brasen serpent that Moses had made”. Now we have some of the background of this serpent. But the question still remains, “Why did Jesus compare himself with a serpent”?

This question becomes more important when you see that in scripture many times it is seen as something evil or has an evil connotation to it. Even more puzzling when you realize the serpent is usually mentioned when talking about Satan. (Gen 3:1, 2 Cor 11:3, Rev 12:9, Rev 20:2) The serpent is called crooked. (Job 26:13, Isa. 27:1) All the way at the beginning, we see the serpent as the first creature of creation cursed. (Gen 3:14) There are many more examples of where the serpent is clearly identified with evil.

And why did God have it made of brass? Brass is associated with judgment. Look at the altar, the bronze sea, and all of the tools used in the order of sacrifices. The altar was made of brass. The bronze sea was a huge basin made of brass. All the utensils were made of brass. Jesus feet in Revelation were like brass. Brass has something to do with judgment of sin.

While I was thinking of the question of why Jesus was comparing himself to the brass serpent Moses had made, the word curse came to mind. The serpent was the first of all creation that was cursed as seen in the Bible. (Gen 3:14,15) God used a picture or representation of the result of their sin to cure them. (Numbers 21:8,9) The people sinned, judgment came, and God provided a way out of judgment.

When man sinned, he became his own judgment for that sin. Therefore God had to use a likeness of this judgment as he did in Numbers 21. In the instructions that God gave to Moses to give the people as laws, rules and regulations, God also said something about hangings in Deuteronomy 21:23.


23 His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.


God said the same thing in the New Testament as well.


Galatians 3:13 (KJV)

13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:


God said, in Deut 21:23, that the “body was not to remain upon the tree”, but shall be buried the same day it was hung. Why? For he that is hanged is accursed of God. Was Christ cursed? By no means. The Bible gives warnings about calling Christ accursed or being a curse. But the one who knew no sin had to be like one that had sinned. God had to come in the likeness of man in order to save man. He had to appear to be under a curse to free us from the curse. That is he had to take the curse of sin upon himself.

So the answer to the question is this. To free us from the spiritual poison placed in us by the serpent who beguiled Eve in the garden. So we can live in the relationship that God had intended from the beginning. But the best answer can be found in the text at the beginning.


And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.


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