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What has a bronze snake to do with Jesus?

Updated: Feb 20

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, despising it as light and unfulfilling (Numbers 21.5). But their grumbling ran deeper than the tastiness of their food. 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.


Sin acknowledged

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 bronze snake and mount it on a pole. God then decreed that those bitten by a real snake could live if they looked upon the bronze copy (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. It had everything to do with obedience in submitting to God’s cure.


Jesus talks of the bronze snake

Jesus himself directs attention to this bronze snake when talking to Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He refers to Moses lifting up the snake in the desert and says that the Son of Man too must be lifted up. Just as everyone who accepted God’s symbolic snake was cured of their snake bites, so all who accept Jesus as the true Son will receive the immeasurably greater gift of eternal life (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 for a cure to their punishment for sin, we can look up to Jesus raised on the cross. He bore our punishment, paid the price for our sins, and became our cure.


In this way, the snake cure foreshadowed the crucifixion. The connection is plain; the difference is all the difference in the world. The bronze snake made by Moses could only restore mortal life. Belief in Jesus holds the promise of life eternal.





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