1) Jesus once said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." John 3:14. We have read this text before, but did not explain it. Will you please explain how Moses lifted up the serpent, and what the lifting up of the Son of Man means?
Answer: The story of Moses lifting up the serpent is recorded in Numbers 21:4-9. Please read it for us.
2) "Then they journeyed from Mount Hor . . . and the people spoke against the Lord and Moses: 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.' So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, 'We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us. So Moses prayed for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live. So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived."
Comment: This was an event which happened about 1400 B.C. It sounds like a myth. God gave no explanation of its spiritual signification, nor did He say it symbolized anything. Hence the Jews have never had a clear concept of its meaning, and even committed the sin of offering incense to it. This is recorded in 2 Kings 18:4, "He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it." This historical record is significant in that it proves that the story of Moses lifting up the serpent was true, not a myth. For 700 years afterwards, the bronze serpent was still there. This also shows that the prophetic meaning of Old Testament types came to light only in New Testament times. Jesus words, "even so must the Son of Man be lifted up," mean that as the people bitten by serpents were healed by gazing on the bronze serpent, so people in our day afflicted by Satan may be healed by looking to Christ.
3) This is indeed a striking illustration. Aside from this, what other lesson can we learn from this metaphore?
Answer: It strengthens our faith by showing us how the Old and New Testament Scriptures are closely interlinked. Moses' bronze serpent and Jacob's ladder reaching from earth to heaven are two prominent symbols of Christ, for which the Jews who believe only in the Old Testament and reject the New Testament, have not been able to give a rational explanation. Only in New Testament times did John record these words of Jesus: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." and "Hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." John 1:51.
The topic of our study is "Christ Uplifted". In fact, Christ is the chief topic and the central theme of all Scripture. In Genesis the story of man's fall presents God's promise of the woman's Seed wounding the serpent's head. The bronze serpent and Jacob's ladder all point to Christ. Thus we see how Christ is the dominant theme of Scripture, and only as we take hold of this theme can we tap into the power of the Bible to deliver men from the spell of sin and death.
4) On this point people often raise this question: Since Jesus is our Saviour, and we must look to Him to know the love of God and be born agaoin, then how about our ancestors who have not heard the gospel, are they all perished?
Answer: The Bible has a satisfactory answer to this question. We noted earlier in the Bible that the light of truth is revealed progressively---from simple to complex. Take the story of Moses' serpent and Jacob's ladder. They were initially buried in the Old Testament writings, not understood for many centuries. After hundreds, and even 1400 years, when Jesus came to earth, He explained them. And only after He had risen from the dead and gone to heaven, were they widely understood. Now please read another passage in Matt. 13:16-17 to see how truth is revealed to men.
5) "Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly , I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it."
Comment: The reason earlier generations failed to see and hear what we know today, is because in ancient times many Bible prophecies had not yet been fulfilled. We who witness their fulfillment are both blessed and responsible. Responsible for what? For practicing the truth we learn. Please read 1 Pet. 1:10-12.
6) "Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven---things which angels desire to look into."
Comment: Note again the emphasis that the ancients knew less, and the moderns know more. The knowledge involved was of prime importance, for it has to do with the eternal destinies of men. That was why even the angels desire to took into it. 2 Tim. 3:15 says, "The Holy Scriptures . . .are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." Now please read Proverbs 4:18.
7) "The path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day."
Comment: "The just" mentioned here are those God prepares to save. He reveals the truth to them progressively. The writings of the prophets were not fully understood even by the prophets themselves. Only as we see them unfolding in our day, do we realize that we now live in the "time of the end," which is the focus of all Bible prophecies. As we witness the ripening process, we should feel sober, and fear as well as rejoice. Please read Luke 12:47,48.
8) "That servant who knows his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required, and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more." Now according to this principle, because the ancients knew comparatively little truth, and moderns know more, so we have the greater responsibility to practice it, am I right?
Comment: Yes. From this we have the answer to the question you just brought up. Please read Acts 17:30.
9) "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands men everywhere to repent."
Comment: What we see is a progression from ignorance to knowing much, ending up in full knowledge. The Bible tells us that the history of manking has developed to the "time of the end". The next scene will be the second coming of Christ, after which God will establish His kingdom on earth. To this end God gives men revelations of truth, beginning with the light of dawn, advancing to the full blaze of noon. Our present knowledge of Bible prophecy has reached noon time, that is why we will be held most responsible to practise the truth. We stand in greatest need to repent.
10) Can we say that because the "times of ignorance God overlooked", then all the ignorant will be saved?
Comment: Such a sweeping statement does not agree with Bible teaching. These words could only mean that God judges men according to what truth they know and how much of it they practise. Please read Romans 2:14-16.
11) "For when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or excusing them."
Comment: Note the terms "by nature" and "conscience" . Man's nature, though fallen, is still guarded by its conscience. The previous context of this passage reads, "as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law." Please read John 1:9.
12) "That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world."
Comment: This is an important text. It tells us that every human being born in the world receives a certain amount of light, and his destiny is decided by the manner in which he relates to that light. Please read the story in Jer. 35:1-19.
13) "The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord . . .saying, 'Go to the house of the Rechabites, speak to them, and bring them into the house of the Lord, into one of the chambers, and give them wine to drink.'
"Then I took . . . the whole house of the Rechabites, and brought them into the house of the Lord, . . . then I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites bowls full of wine, and cups; and I said to them, 'Drink wine'. But they said, 'We will drink no wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying, "You shall drink no wine, you nor your sons, forever. . ." Thus we have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he charged us, to drink no wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, or our daughters, . . .' Then came the word of the Lord to Jeremiah, saying, 'Thus says the Lord of hosts . . ., 'Go and tell the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. "Will you not receive instruction to obey My words?" says the Lord. "The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, which he commanded his sons, not to drink wine, are performed, for to this day they drink none, and obey their father's commandment. But although I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, you did not obey Me. I have also sent to you all My servants the prophets,rising up early and sending them, saying, "Turn now everyone from his evil way, amend your doings, and do not go after other gods to serve them; then you will dwell in the land which I have given you and your fathers. But you have not inclined your ear, nor obeyed Me. . . Therefore thus saith the Lord God of hosts, . . . "Behold, I will bring on Judah and on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the doom that I have pronounced against them, because I have spoken to them but they have not heard , and I have called to them but they have not answered."' And Jeremiah said to the house of the Rechabites, 'Thus says the Lord of hosts, . . . "Because you have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts and done according to all that he commanded you, therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, . . 'Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not lack a man to stand before Me forever.'"
Comment: The Jews enjoyed special privileges: God Himself proclaimed to them the Ten Commandments, and sent His prophets to instruct them; yet they refused to listen. Yet the Rechabites had only the command of their father, and all their children faithfully obeyed. This is a good example of how God will implement the principle of "To whom much is given, of him shall much be required." Please read a comparable New Testament situation in John 8:37-40.
14) Jesus said to the Jews, "I know that you are Abraham's descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. . . If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this."
Comment: Abraham was the ancestor of the Jews, a very pious man. In Isa. 41:8 God said, "But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham My friend." Yet they did not want to listen to Jesus, who said, "My word has no place in you." Here are two opposing attitudes. One is to meekly receive God's word and honestly to obey. The other is to be arrogant and self-sufficient, refusing to obey. Regardless of historical background and pedigree, a man's attitude toward the truth decides his destiny. If his attitude is right, a man who has never read the Bible can yield to the movings of the Holy Spirit and decide to be an upright man, obeying the dictates of his conscience and doing no evil to his neighbor. Romans 8:14 says, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God." The Holy Spirit is not restricted by time or space. One pious student of the Bible, Ellen White has written these words in Desire of Ages, p. 638. Please read it for us.
15) "Those whom Christ commends in the judgment may have known little of theology, but they have cherished His principles. Through the influence of the divine Spirit they have been a blessing to those about them. Even among the heathen are those who have cherished the spirit of kindness; before the words of life had fallen upon their ears, they have befriended the missionaries, even ministering to them at the peril of their own lives. Among the heathen are those who worship God ignorantly, those to whom the light is never brought by human instrumentality, yet they will not perish. Though ignorant of the written law of God, they have heard His voice speaking to them in nature, and have done the things that the law required. Their works are evidence that the Holy Spirit has touched their hearts, and they are recognized as the children of God."
Comment: This agrees with Peters words, "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him." Acts 10:34,35. This is the positive aspect.
On the other hand, there are arrogant souls who reject the truth. Of them Jesus said in Matthew 13:14, "In them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says, 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them."
The same danger exists with modern Christians: thinking that because they believe in Jesus and have been baptized, they will surely be saved, forgetting the words of Jesus: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." Matt. 5:16. The Lord warns us not to be mere professing Christians. He says, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'" Matt. 7:21-23.
May God help us to be practising Christians, not merely professing to believe in Him, but uplifting Christ in our daily living. We invite all who have not known Christ before to accept Him now and choose to follow and obey Him.