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. (John 3:14-15).Long before He came unto the scene, His life and mission was announced through the Patriarchs and prophets of old. Jacob prophesied about Him: "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. (Genesis 49:10). Isaiah spoke both about His birth, death and sacrifice of atonement: "...Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel"(Isaiah 7:24), "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6).
Jesus didn't just emerge in human history. When John The Baptist first saw Him, He exclaimed: "...Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:26). Every Jew at Jesus' lifetime was waiting in anticipation of the prophesied Messiah, yet, when He showed up; when " He came unto his own,...his own received him not." (John 1:11). Isaiah accurately prophesied His rejection.
In this interaction with Nicodemus, Jesus referenced Scripture to tell Nicodemus more about the Kingdom of God and salvation. The first time I read John 3:14, I startled: "How on earth should Jesus liken Himself to a serpent?".
It will be good to recount what Jesus was referencing. Jesus here drew an analogy from an incident that happened in the wilderness when the Israelites were sojourning to the promise land. The people murmured and complained: they sinned against God. And as punishment for their sins, God sent snakes among them and everyone bitten by a snake died. Having realised the severity of the situation, they cried to God, and Moses was instructed to erect a pole and hang a brass serpent. According to God's instruction, anyone who looked up to the brass serpent, will live. (See Numbers 21:5-9 for full story).
The serpent hanging on a pole or tree indicated punishment for sin and a curse. Scriptures says "...Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree" (Galatians 3:13). In effect, all those who sinned against God in the wilderness, deserved the full impact of punishment, but God said no, He provided a way of escape by putting "sin" itself on the tree. Remember sin was first introduced into the human race through a serpent.
Jesus , therefore, referencing this incident was describing His own death, His substitutionary death for the sins of humankind.
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him".(2 Corinthians 5:21).All of us, as members of the human race, like the Israelites in the wilderness have been stung by sin. Before God , we stand guilty of sin until we come to Christ through faith