“So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.’ And Moses interceded for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.’ And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived” (Num 21:7-9).

Till this day, I wrestle with the feeling I have yet to mine the depths of this mysterious passage. There is more here than meets the eye. Were we to metaphorically pull as hard as we can upon the literary fabric of this story, other stories in the Torah would surely be uprooted along with it. Take for example, the words of Israel’s repeated complaint (“Why have you brought us up from Egypt”? See Exod 17:3; Num 20:5; 21:5). Consider also how this same sin was unpunished before the law (Exod 17:3), and punished by death after the law was given (see Rom 7:9): Moses and Aaron’s death (Num 20:12); the death of all those who were bitten by fiery serpents (Num 21:6).

Looking at the Bronze Serpent

There are at least two ways this passage helps me better understand the theology of John’s Gospel. First, it helps me understand why rejecting Yeshua is a capital offence. Israel admits in this passage they have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against Moses (v. 7). Because faith in Moses is just as important as faith in God according to the Torah (see Exod 14:31; 19:9), rejecting Moses is no different than rejecting God. The consequence is death.

Biblical Judaism (the Torah) teaches we cannot have a relationship with God if we have not put our faith in the servant whom he has sent (see Isa 52:13; 53:1)

Second, this passage helps me understand why, according to the Gospel of John, there’s no salvation apart from faith in Yeshua. In Numbers 21, salvation from the death Israel deserves comes from God; AND through the actions of Moses. Moses is God’s man on the ground, and there is absolutely no salvation apart from him. To save the people of Israel, Moses makes a fiery serpent and lifts it high upon a pole. To save the people of Israel and the nations of the world, according to John, Yeshua voluntarily climbs upon the pole to endure the fang-like nails himself.

God never intended John’s Gospel to be a standalone book. To truly believe John’s theology about Yeshua, we must first believe the Torah’s theology about Moses (see John 5:45-46).

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:14-18).

Show the world you are One for Israel!

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