What has a bronze snake to do with Jesus?
Updated: Oct 23, 2021
Description: This bronze snake wasn’t idolatrous, but a lesson in obedience for the Israelites. For Jesus, the raising of the snake was significant.
In the desert thousands of years ago, Moses made a bronze snake and set it up on a pole. He was obeying God’s command, but his action foreshadowed the sacrifice of Jesus. Read on for insights into the connection.
Manna and moaning
For Moses, the timing was the fortieth year after the Israelites had been freed from slavery in Egypt. For this whole time, they had been sustained in the desert by manna – the ‘bread’ from heaven God had been providing since the start of their journey. The people moaned about food at the beginning, and they were still moaning at the end saying, ‘we detest this miserable food!’ (Numbers 21.5). But their grumbling was about more than what they had to eat. They were challenging God’s promises and Moses’ ordained leadership. Not surprisingly, God was a little irritated. He helped them come to their senses by sending in a brigade of venomous snakes.
Only after many had died, did the people come to Moses, acknowledge their sin, and ask him to intercede. God relented and told Moses to ‘make a snake and put it up on a pole.’ God decreed that ‘anyone who was bitten can look at it and live’ (Numbers 21.8). Hence the bronze snake being made and raised. However, recovery from the poisonous bites had nothing to do with the bronze snake itself. Only obedience in submitting to God’s cure saved lives.
Jesus talks of the bronze snake
Jesus himself refers to this bronze snake when talking to Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He said, ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’ (John 3.14-15).
Since Jesus actually pointed out the comparison, let's look a little deeper. Sin can poison us just as surely as venomous snakes poisoned the Israelites. It can seep into our veins no matter how good it feels to get our own way to start with. We can end up (mentally and/or physically) writhing for our lives – poisoned in spirit.
The difference for us
Whereas the Israelites had to look up to the raised snake to ‘cure’ their punishment for sin, we can look up to Jesus raised on the cross. He bore our punishment, paid the price, and became our ‘cure’. As he said (and to repeat part of John 3.14-15) ‘the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’
By looking up at Jesus and believing in the salvation his sacrifice bestowed, we are saved from the poison of sin, just as the Israelites were saved from snake poison when God offered a cure that foreshadowed the crucifixion. The connection is plain; the difference is all the difference in the world: the miraculous bronze snake made by Moses could merely restore mortal life; belief in Jesus holds the promise of life eternal.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.