February 11, 2013
From the desk of Dr. A.J. Higgins
The Lifted Up Christ
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,
even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”
As the Lord Jesus spoke with Nicodemus, He skillfully brought him to the point where he had to own that despite all his knowledge and what he thought he knew (v 2), he really did not know how to be saved or born again. “How can these things be?” (V 9), was Nicodemus coming to “an end of himself,” as the old preachers used to say. Here was a man who was lost!
The Lord Jesus then turned him from Ezekiel’s reference to new life, to an illustration with which he would be very familiar. He made use of the illustration of the uplifted brazen serpent of Numbers 21. His use of this shows the Necessity of His being lifted up. The scene in Numbers 21 was helpless and hopeless from every human vantage point. The best that men could hope for in their plea to Moses was that the serpents might be taken away from the people. But that would not have helped those already bitten. For them, the sentence of death was already coursing through their veins. Little wonder that the Lord Jesus said that the Son of Man must be lifted up. Nothing else could possibly meet our need.
The uplifted serpent reminds us also of the Availability of a remedy. It was visible and available for all. “Look and live” was the cry; all who looked were healed and lived. Those bitten needed life; the uplifted Savior would give an entirely new and different kind of life, a life which is eternal.
The serpent on the pole spoke of the problem (the serpent) judged (brass), and rendered harmless. The work of Christ on Calvary reminds us that He was made sin for us (2 Cor 5:21) and God judged sin. He dealt with sin with all the holy hatred of His character when He judged sin on the Lord Jesus. All that sin deserved, Christ received. It was judged in its entirety and put away (Heb 9:26). The serpent on the pole was “harmless.” The work of Christ when lifted on the cross was greater in its Efficacy, as it removed the judgment of sin for all who look to Him. Certainly, the antitype is always superior to the type.
But “lifted up” reminds us of one additional truth: the Shame He knew. He was raised up as though not fit for earth, it’s very Creator, and exposed to the sneering and scornful gaze of men. He was lifted up as not fit for God – placed on the tree, the place of those cursed by God. Totally, authoritatively rejected by earth, cast out and scorned – yet at the very same time, giving Himself for us!
1. Look up the references in John (there are four) to being “lifted up.”
2. Contrast what Israel did with the brazen serpent in 2 Kings 18:4 and the abiding efficacy of Christ.
3. Trace the “must” expressions of John’s Gospel relative to the Lord Jesus Christ.