The Serpent in the Wilderness
Numbers 21:8 Then the Lord told him, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!”
Although this is only one of at least forty miracles during the exodus and wilderness wanderings, it is especially important as a prophecy of the coming work of Christ on the cross.
John 3:14-15 “And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, said Jesus so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.
Sin, symbolized by the serpent, must be put to death, as it were. This death must be appropriated in faith as his own deserved death by the sinner, if he would live. Just so,
II Corinthians 5:21For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
This might seem an incredible story, but it was confirmed by none other than the Lord Jesus Himself:
A plague of poisonous snakes had infested the camp of Israel, sent as a divine judgment because of their complaints and ingratitude, and many people had died. When they confessed their sin and Moses prayed for their deliverance, God in His grace prescribed this unique remedy.
There is, of course, no naturalistic process which can heal a deadly snakebite merely by a look. Neither, of course, is there a naturalistic explanation for the salvation of a sin poisoned soul merely by looking with faith upon the crucified Son of man. Both are mighty miracles, with the first being beautifully designed by God to be a prophetic foreshadowing of the other.
The symbolism is striking. The brass serpent impaled on the pole represented the poisonous serpents slain, but it also spoke of“He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand yearsin Revelation 20:2, and 20:10…….Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Thus it also symbolized the judgment on sin itself and its final banishment from God’s creation.
All of this, however, was only the symbol. The real deliverance required Christ to be made “sin for us, who knew no sin. The Son of man must be lifted up on the cross, and then all who see Him, and believe, receive life instead of death.