13 April 2010

John 3:7-15

"And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." (v.14-15)


In this passage Jesus is in conversation with Nicodemus, who is described as a "teacher of Israel". Their discussion included a range of abstract images connected to the idea of being "born of the Spirit" before Jesus focused the conversation on a particular image from Israel's history that Nicodemus would have known well.

The account of the serpent "lifted up ... in the wilderness" is found in the Old Testament in Numbers 21:4-9. Moses had led the people of God out of slavery in Egypt but life was not easy for the people in the wilderness. They complained that they had no food or water and the narrator tells the reader that "The Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died". The people repented of their complaining and so, in response to God's command, Moses made a bronze serpent and set it upon a pole. Those who had been bitten by the serpents could look at the bronze serpent and live.

There are a number of complex questions in this narrative, including the fact that although God provided a means for their healing, it was God who had sent the poisonous serpents in the first place. It may well be that we cannot take all of the details of the Old Testament account and relate them exactly to the meaning of the words of Jesus here. Perhaps we should simply focus on the idea of being 'lifted up' as a link between the healing work of the bronze serpent and the healing work of Jesus who would later be 'lifted up' on the Cross.

One clear link between the two accounts is the need to 'look'. The serpent-bitten Israelites needed to look at the bronze serpent on the pole to find their healing. Those who seek forgiveness and healing today are invited to look at Jesus - lifted up on the Cross.

To Ponder

Is it ever right for us to be like the Israelites in the wilderness and 'speak against God'? If so, when?

Reflect on the image of Jesus 'lifted up' on the Cross as being the way that God has provided for you to be made whole.

Bible notes author

The Revd Chris Blake

Chris Blake is a Methodist minister and principal of Cliff College in Derbyshire. His background is as a biochemist, and he has previously served in Barking and Dagenham as an industrial chaplain, in Dorset in the Wimborne Circuit and as chair of the Cornwall Methodist District.