SERPENT IN THE DESERT AND JESUS
The Israelites had been wandering in the desert for 40 years since they left Egypt. It took such a long time because of their sins. Most seniors had died in the desert. The Israelites had no immediate hope of entering the promised land because the Edomites denied passage through their land. Though they were close to the promised land, Moses was leading the people in the opposite direction to travel around the land of Edom. That made the people upset. They again complained against Moses and God for lack of food and water and the quality of food they got by the grace of God. In response, God punished them by sending fiery serpents.
The snakes were “fiery” because the bite by these snakes caused severe fever and inflammation leading to death. Another interpretation is that these snakes had the color of fire. People asked Moses to intercede for them to God to take away the serpents. Instead of eliminating the serpents, God asked Moses to make an image of the fiery serpent made of bronze and raise it on a pole so that people could see it from all parts of the camp. Whoever was bitten by a snake was asked to look at the bronze snake and their life was saved from death.
God, who had denied making any image, had ordered to create the image of a fiery serpent on a pole as a foreshadow of the crucified Jesus in the future. Looking at the bronze serpent did not mean to worship it but to remember their sin like the original sin committed by Eve at the temptation of the serpent and ask God’s mercy. It was not the bronze serpent that saved them, but God who asked to look at it to remember God. However, the bronze serpent later became an object of worship. People were burning incense to it during the time of Hezekiah. So, the king destroyed it to regain proper worship of the Lord (2 Kgs 18:4).
Instead of the pole and bronze serpent of the Old Testament, now we have the cross and the body of Jesus on the cross to look at with faith and repentance for our salvation. That there was a bronze serpent raised on a pole by Moses was not enough to save the lives of the people. Those who were bitten by a snake had to look at it with repentance, seeking mercy of God rather than relying on medical remedies of the time.
The bronze serpent was free of poison. So also, Jesus, raised on the cross, was free from sin.
The death of Jesus on the cross brought us salvation. However, we need to look at him with faith for our redemption. The cross of Jesus was also the way to the glory of Jesus. Our sufferings for Christ and his church also will lead us to partake in the glory of Jesus.