Referring to His coming death, the Lord Jesus Christ told His disciples,
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)
The passage cited is in Numbers 21:6-9,
And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
This passage shows that the promise of a saviour, symbolised here by a brass serpent hung on a pole, was not a new doctrine but part of the Hope of Israel.
The apostle Paul, writing to believers, also refers to mankind's redemption through the sacrifice of The Lord, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:” (Galtians 3:13-14).
We need to understand in what way Christ was made a curse for us. It certainly wasn't His character - he manifested that of His Father, nor was it his behaviour - he was sinless - and He is God's beloved Son in whom He was well pleased. We read further in Romans 8:3,
...God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
So, it was
sin in the flesh
that was condemned by being cursed on the tree. But, again, the Lord Jesus was sinless, so it was not sin in the form of transgression that was cursed. The answer is in the fact that Jesus came
in the likeness of sinful flesh
and it was sinful flesh (typified by a brass serpent) that was condemned in One who never gave way to its temptations.
That The Lord Jesus Christ bore our human nature with all its weaknesses, is proved in Hebrews 2:14-18,
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.
Thus The Lord Jesus Christ was sacrificed as our representative rather than as our substitute. This is an important distinction because, if we deny that He was tempted like us, we take away His achievement in overcoming all His temptations and tempters, nor could there have been anything to condemn on the cross1. It would also be a denial that
Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. (2 John 7)
In time, the brass serpent became an object of worship so king Hezekiah,
…brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan
[i.e. a piece of brass] (2Kings& 18:4). Today, many professing Christians worship the cross1 in a similar way, not realising its original significance as an object of condemnation. When Paul said he gloried in the cross of Christ; he was not worshipping it, but glorying in the Lord Jesus Christ's achievement in overcoming the world and condemning its ways in the manner of His death,
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. (Galatians 6:4)
It is through baptism that God, in His mercy, has provided a way for believers to share in Christ's death and resurrection (Romans 6).
1 The word translated 'cross' means 'stake'. Whether it was an upright pole with or without a cross piece however is not doctrinally important - the necessary requirement was that it was the product of a tree.
©2018 Martin Allen Cragg