Nicodemus the Pharisee came to Yeshua in the night, seeking clear answers.
Instead, Yeshua revealed to him mysteries and miracles, without Nicodemus even asking. Every part of this conversation has significance.
“Unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “How can these things happen?” Nicodemus asked. — John 3:3-4a
By way of an answer, Yeshua started to explain:
“No one has gone up into Heaven except the One who came down from Heaven — the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,” said Yeshua, “so the Son of Man must be lifted up. — John 3:13–14
Why on earth would Yeshua compare Himself to the serpent on the pole? We need to know because this is a foundational scriptural truth that often doesn’t get enough attention. What does it mean, and what’s the deeper spiritual significance? In the sign and secret of the serpent, we find a remarkably well-designed connection between the Old Testament and New, between Moses and the Messiah, that reveals new depths in what Yeshua has done for us, and the miraculous power He has today to atone, to provide, to heal, and to transform. As we explore the image of the serpent, we find that God has much to reveal to us.
What Is the Serpent on the Pole?
In His conversation with Nicodemus, Yeshua built on the idea that He was the greater Moses — the true Messiah:
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life! — John 3:14–15
What is the meaning of this mystery of the serpent on the pole? On the surface, it seems like a strange analogy that Yeshua made. But all of this is based on Numbers 21:4–9, the account of the children of Israel wandering through the desert. And clearly, they were becoming disgruntled.
- Yeshua was lifted up on the cross because He bore our sin like the scapegoat, just like the serpent on the pole.
The Messiah on the Cross
Isaiah 53:4 says,
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our pains. Yet we esteemed Him stricken, struck by God, and afflicted.
When it says He “carried our pains,” the word for “carried” is nasa. In the Hebrew New Testament, the serpent in the wilderness was “lifted up” (nasa), and it bore the sins of the people who were grumbling. And as they lifted up (nasa) their eyes to look at that serpent, they found healing. When the Messiah was lifted up (nasa) on the cross, as the serpent was lifted up on the pole, He bore our sin and our pain, and it was for our gain. Just like the people who looked at the serpent on the pole found healing, when we look to Yeshua on the cross, we find healing and wholeness. So, Isaiah 53 — one of the most important messianic prophecies — connects back to the serpent on the pole in the wilderness. The serpent on the pole connects back to the scapegoat, which in turn connects to the cross, where the Messiah would bear our griefs and carry our pains.
Why would Yeshua need to be lifted up like the serpent on the pole, as He revealed to Nicodemus? Think about it. The first man and woman stole from the tree in the garden of Eden. When humankind took fruit down from the tree, it was a descent. There was a lowering spiritually, morally, physically, emotionally, and relationally — on every level. When humankind pulled that fruit off the tree and disobeyed God’s command, we dragged ourselves and all of creation down with us. So the Messiah had to descend from Heaven, and He had to be lifted back up onto the tree for you and me.
When He was lifted up, He was placed back on that tree to replace what we stole from the tree; He was placed on the cross to atone for the sin of the first man and woman and to redeem and repair us.
I don’t know about you, but I think what He did for us on that cross was amazing — a miracle. It brings to mind the words of Moses and the Israelites, singing to the Lord: Mi kamocha ba’elim Adonai, Mi kamocha nedar ba’qodesh, Nora tehillot oseh fele. Or,
Who is like You among the gods, Lord? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders? — Exodus 15:11 NASB
We brought a descent, and Yeshua descended so that we could ascend.
Excerpted with permission from Signs and Secrets of the Messiah by Rabbi Jason Sobel, copyright Rabbi Jason Sobel.
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He descended because of the descent we brought about in Eden. He was lifted up onto the cross to repair the breach in relationship with God. Who would do such a thing but Jesus? Come share your thoughts with us about what Jesus did for us. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily