Lifted Up For Us

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life (John 3:14-15).

Jesus has been saying many difficult things to Nicodemus. This time Nicodemus probably understood the referent, but the application? How can these things be?

If we are to understand Jesus’ application, we must first understand Jesus’ referent. Jesus speaks of Moses lifting up a serpent in the wilderness, and such is the situation in Numbers 21:4-9. As usual, the Israelites are not acting graciously toward God, and so God punishes them yet again, this time with serpents. Many begin to suffer and die and cry out to God. To deliver them from the serpents, God commands Moses to create a likeness of the serpents; the people must look up at the image of the serpent to be healed. Deliverance from death thus comes by God’s power to those who look upon the image of the serpent.

Jesus indicates in John 3:14 that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so also the “Son of Man” must be lifted up. What Nicodemus may not have understood at the time is made clear to us: as Moses lifted up the serpent, Jesus will be lifted up on the cross.

Jesus knows full well the fate that will befall Him; He begins to describe the fate awaiting Him in Jerusalem at the Passover to the disciples in Matthew 16:21, and as He institutes the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26:26-28, He describes the cup as the “blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). As the “Lamb of God” who “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), Jesus teaches Nicodemus the sober truth about His own fate.

The parallel goes beyond the simple act of being “lifted up”. Not only is Jesus lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent, but just as the Israelites were delivered from the power of the bite of the serpents, so in Christ all can find deliverance from the power of sin and death. Jesus had no need to die for His own sin or for any infraction that He committed, for in Him there was no sin, neither was there any deceit in His mouth (cf. Isaiah 53:9, 1 Peter 2:20-22, Hebrews 4:15, 7:27). He was lifted up for our transgressions, so that we could have the remission of sin in His blood, and have restored association with God (Isaiah 53:5, Matthew 26:28, 1 John 1:1-7).

The parallels do not end there. As the Israelites had to look up at the serpent in order to receive healing, so believers in Christ must look upon Jesus on the cross as well. It was predicted in Zechariah 12:10 that the people would look upon the Messiah and mourn for Him. This prophecy is directly fulfilled by the Roman soldiers who pierce the side of Jesus with a spear to verify His death (John 19:37), yet we must also internalize the prophecy for ourselves. We ourselves have pierced God by our sin, for He went to the Cross on our behalf for our transgression (Isaiah 53:5, Romans 5:6-8). We must look upon Christ on the Cross, the One whom we have pierced, and we should mourn for our sin and its terrible consequences. If we look upon Him in obedient faith, we gain our deliverance. Just as the Israelites looked to the image of the serpent to be healed of their wounds, so we must look to Jesus on the cross if we desire to be healed of our iniquities.

Jesus is not only “lifted up” on the cross. If it were so, His death would be meaningless, and we would still be lost in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:12-18). On the third day, however, the first day of the week, Jesus was again “lifted up” in the resurrection (John 20:1-29)!

Jesus is no less aware of His coming resurrection as He was of His upcoming death on the cross (Matthew 16:21, 26:29). In John 2:13-22, as Jesus cleanses the Temple in Jerusalem, He says, “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). While everyone thought He spoke of the Temple, Jesus’ disciples would later remember the event and understand how He spoke of the “Temple of His body” (John 2:21), and understood Him to be speaking of His resurrection. No doubt Nicodemus also, reflecting upon his dialogue with Jesus as recorded in John 3:1-21 after everything had taken place, would also recognize how Jesus spoke of His death and His resurrection in John 3:14.

Nevertheless, how does Jesus being lifted up in the resurrection have anything to do with Moses lifting up the serpent? The connection may not be immediately apparent, but we can understand it if we look at the events in Numbers 21:4-9 as the type of the reality seen in the resurrection. God plagues the sinful Israelites with serpents; to deliver them from death, God commands Moses to make an image of the serpent. In this event, looking upon the image of the thing that kills brings life.

The serpent also represents a much deeper level of mortality. The serpent beguiled Eve into eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:1-6), incurring sin and death for mankind. God did not leave man without promise: one would come to bruise the head of the serpent, Satan (Genesis 3:15, Revelation 12:9). Through sin, Satan has successfully bruised the heel of all men and women, and we all are under the sentence of sin and death because of it (Romans 3:5-23). Jesus was the One who was able to bruise Satan’s head by conquering both sin and death, dying on the cross for the remission of sin and being raised to life again on the third day (Romans 5:12-18, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). Jesus gained the victory, and we are able to be victors in Him (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

Moses’ lifting the serpent in the wilderness represents the type: the Israelites were bitten by snakes; by looking upon the image of a snake, they were healed, thus defeating the snakes. This points us to the resurrection of Jesus and our own victory: we have been bitten by sin, and by looking to Jesus who was lifted up in the resurrection, we have the victory over death, beginning in our baptism and ending in our resurrection on the final day (Romans 6:3-7, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, 1 Peter 1:3-9). Let us look upon Jesus, pierced for our iniquities, and receive forgiveness of sin and the hope of the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Him Whom They Have Pierced

And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they shall look unto me whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born (Zechariah 12:10).

One of the continual themes of the prophets features God’s desire for Israel to come to some real understanding of what they have done. God has great confidence that when Israel does so, they will deeply mourn and lament all that they have done against Him. In many ways, that is what God wants most from Israel: an understanding of past sins so that they can now serve God again.

Zechariah imagines a day when God will again protect Jerusalem from any and all nations that come against her (Zechariah 12:1-9). On that day, when the inhabitants of Jerusalem understand that God has delivered them yet again, they will have the type of realization that eluded their ancestors in the days of Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 1:1-9): they will perceive all the sins they have committed and how they have pierced God with them. They will mourn deeply for their transgression.

One could perhaps identify some moments in history when something of this sort took place– perhaps in the days of the Maccabees– but Zechariah’s image finds its final, thorough fulfillment in the events that surrounded the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Jews therefore, because it was the Preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross upon the sabbath (for the day of that sabbath was a high day), asked of Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. The soldiers therefore came, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with him: but when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: howbeit one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and straightway there came out blood and water. And he that hath seen hath borne witness, and his witness is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye also may believe.
For these things came to pass, that the scripture might be fulfilled, “A bone of him shall not be broken.”
And again another scripture saith, “They shall look on him whom they pierced” (John 19:31-37).

We can easily overlay much of what Zechariah has said over this event. The enemies of Israel– indeed, all of mankind– have surrounded Jerusalem as Jesus, the Lamb of God, drinks the full cup of evil and suffering (cf. Ephesians 6:12, Matthew 26:39). Jesus destroys the power of sin and death through suffering His death and, ultimately, obtaining the glory of the resurrection (Romans 8:1-4). On that day, to testify to His death, a Roman soldier pierced Jesus– the Immanuel, God the Son, God in the flesh– with his spear. The soldiers, the women, and the Apostle John looked upon Jesus who was pierced.

Yet where is the outpouring of grace and supplication? While it may be true that some of the women lamented, where is the city wide lament? And how is it that “they” have pierced Jesus when it was really the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus?

The beauty and the power of Zechariah’s image comes from its complete spiritual understanding. It is not just about that one moment and what the Roman soldier does. We do well to ask ourselves– why exactly is Jesus on that cross? Is it really because of the Romans? As it is written:

But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

[Jesus], who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree, that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed (1 Peter 2:24).

Jesus is on the cross because of our sin. Jesus was wounded because of our transgressions. We may not have physically pierced His flesh on Golgotha on that April day so long ago, but on account of our sins, we, as Israel, have pierced God.

God has poured out upon mankind grace and supplication through Jesus (cf. Romans 5:6-11) to the end that we mourn for our sins and the cost that they demanded– God being pierced on an object of torture and execution. And we are to look upon Him.

For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me.”
In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

We can be the new Jerusalem; we have the opportunity weekly to look with eyes of faith upon Him whom we have pierced by our sin, and it is appropriate for us to mourn, lament, and experience the bitterness that comes from understanding the pain and suffering our sin caused our Lord. In so doing, we are able to do, as the new Israel, what God always wanted out of Israel according to the flesh: an understanding of just what we have done to Him by our sin so that we can turn from them and serve Him according to His will.

It may have taken place physically almost 2000 years ago, but we are still called upon to look at our Savior with eyes of faith and look upon Him whom we have pierced for our sin. Let us do so in lamentation, turning again to life through the Son!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Gospel in Jesus’ Birth

And the angel said unto her, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).

This is the day that many in the world set aside to consider the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. It is important for us to take note that God never commands us to observe the birth of His Son, and we have no example from the New Testament of such an observance. We do not even know the day of His birth– December 25 was fixed hundreds of years later, and more because of the pagan festivals that surround that date than anything from the Scriptures. Since the shepherds were out at night with the flocks (Luke 2:8), it is most likely that He was born in spring or fall.

Nevertheless, the birth of Jesus is an important event. It is the moment at which the Word becomes flesh and dwells among mankind (John 1:1, 14). It is the occasion of the miracle of the virgin birth (Matthew 1:22-23). It is also the beginning of the fulfillment of the hope of Israel– and it is the feeling of hope that is about to come to pass that makes the story of Jesus’ birth so memorable. Isaiah spoke of the one who would prepare the way of the Lord (Isaiah 40:3-5) and Malachi speaks of the Elijah to come (Malachi 4:5-6): the angel Gabriel told Zechariah that his son would fulfill these things (Luke 1:13-17).

As a good Jewish girl, Mary would know all the predictions that were made about the Messiah– born to be the King, the One favored by God (cf. Isaiah 9:1-5, 11:1-10, etc.). And then the angel Gabriel comes to her and tells her that the child she will bear by the Holy Spirit will fulfill these things. He will be called great, the Son of the Most High. He would receive the throne of David. His Kingdom would never end.

These promises were no longer in the distant future. They were here in the flesh. God’s great plan was being realized in the flesh (Ephesians 3:11)!

The Good News of Jesus of Nazareth begins here. In the messages of the angel Gabriel and the Holy Spirit through Zechariah, Mary, Simeon, and Anna, we learn how Jesus will overturn the way the world works (Luke 1:47-55), suffer and die (Luke 2:35), but would rule over a Kingdom without end (Luke 1:30-33), and would be light of revelation to both Jew and Gentile (Luke 2:31-32, 38). Redemption was here!

Jesus of Nazareth was not born on December 25, but we can take advantage of the focus on Jesus’ birth to proclaim the message of His birth, life, death, resurrection, and lordship, just as Gabriel and the Holy Spirit did in those days of pregnant expectation so long ago. Let us find our hope in God’s redemption through Jesus Christ, and proclaim the wonder of Jesus in our lives!

Ethan R. Longhenry