Can Numbers 21 really impact your life today?
This story comes with a surprising twist. On the surface, it feels like it is an “example” to us, “written down for our instruction” (1 Cor 10:11). The Israelites grumbled in the wilderness. They shouldn’t have. The Lord sent in fiery serpents.
Moral: Don’t grumble. Don’t play into the devil’s hand.
Is that it?
No. There’s more. Jesus spoke about Numbers 21. He took the story to a new depth. He remembered how Moses “lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.” Isn’t it obvious why? Don’t we expect Him to say, “Like Moses, I will lift up the fiery serpent – the devil – in great triumph for all to see”? And why not, it’s true.
It’s why He came -- “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:8). But that’s not what Jesus said to His listeners that day.
Here’s the shocking twist. He said as Moses lifted up the serpent, so He must be lifted up. He didn’t compare Himself to Moses. He compared Himself to the bronze serpent.
Why did He do that?
The image is unnerving. We can understand how the bronze serpent can symbolize the real serpent, the devil himself. But how can we understand the bronze serpent as Jesus and Jesus as the bronze serpent?
But that, our Lord said, is the story of His cross. He told His listeners the only way to defeat the devil is that He Himself die. He said it later this way: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” The Bible quickly adds, “He said this to show what kind of death he was going to die” (Jn 12:32-33).
And it’s true. It’s exactly how Jesus died – He was lifted up on the cross.
Just as the bronze serpent was lifted up on a pole.
Our Lord used Numbers 21 to show us His cross. Just as the bronze serpent put an end to the fiery serpents, so His cross put an end to the real serpent. Just as the people of Israel were healed when they saw the bronze serpent, so we are healed when we see Jesus and believe in Him for eternal life. The stories are inexorably bound together.
Jesus said it so plainly: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believe in him may have eternal life.”
You see, Numbers 21 can impact our life today. Every time we lift up the name of Jesus and let people see His cross, we tell the story. The serpent is done. We can be healed. There is power in our Lord’s cross for us even now.