Prophetic Momentum

Jon Cressey writing mostly about church, prophets and prophecy...

Life for a look!

life for a look
Easter has just passed, and I found myself reading John 3:14-15, where Jesus refers to Numbers 21:4-9.

Both are well-known texts, but what strikes me is the way that Jesus, in His early days, must have pensively considered the text as He read it or heard it read. It must have been hard to dwell on. In His early years, He would have passed by it, nodding His head as He recited from memory, but then surely, there would be a day when the penny dropped. There must have been many an occasion as He pored through the scriptures where He spotted the shadows – hidden references that spoke of Him, and being able to say, that’s me! And that, and that, and that… Who could He tell? Who would believe or understand?

Isaiah’s prophecies on the suffering servant must have sent a shiver down His spine. The only one He could speak to about these things was His Father. Not Joseph, but His Father in heaven. Prayer wasn’t an option but a necessity.

Complaining comes before the serpents

The Old Testament narrative in Numbers 21:4-9 is a compelling one: in the oppressive heat of the desert, the Israelites’ journey became a march through despair, circling the edges of Edom. It would be a forty-year, gruelling march. Exhaustion bled into rebellion as the harshness of their path turned their faith brittle. Accusations against the hidden agenda of God and Moses flew, sharp and biting as the serpents that soon swarmed among them, a divine retribution for their insurrection. ‘Why lead us from Egypt to die here?’ they demanded, voicing a desperate, raw betrayal – whilst longing for the cucumbers that were freely available in the captivity of Egypt.

God’s remedy

The air thickened with venom, both literal and metaphorical, as serpents slithered through the ranks, their bites bringing agony and death. In this place of suffering, redemption was forged. Moses, acting on God’s mercy-driven command, quickly crafted a serpent of bronze, elevating it on high.

Up it went. On a pole. Beaten bronze shaped like a serpent. The answer to Israel’s predicament.

It was a test of faith: to look upon the very symbol of their punishment and believe in their salvation. Those who were bitten, in an act of obedience and faith, dared their gaze lifting from their potentially deadly bite wounds to the bronze serpent against the backdrop of their own mortality, found life. In this moment, the Israelites stood on the precipice of faith, their survival intertwined with the very emblem of their despair.

Perhaps as Jesus read about the Israelites’ grumbling against God and Moses, despite God’s continual provision and protection, He would have empathised with their weaknesses. In His humanity, Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions and physical needs. He understood the challenge of faith amidst suffering and want. Yet, unlike the Israelites who failed to trust God’s goodness, Jesus embodied perfect faith and obedience, even in the face of His impending crucifixion. The contrast between human failure and divine faithfulness would not have been lost on Him.

Reflecting on the judgement brought upon the Israelites through the fiery serpents, Jesus would knowingly have recognised the seriousness with which God regards sin and rebellion.

The Cross – symbol of both judgement and grace

Fully aware of His destiny to be “lifted up” on the cross, Jesus identified deeply with the symbol of the bronze serpent. The cross, like the serpent on a pole, would become a perplexing symbol of both judgement and grace, death and healing. Jesus knew that through His suffering and death, He would defeat sin and death, offering eternal life to all who would believe in Him. Anyone looking to Him for life, would find it.

It was a heavy burden and mission for Jesus, knowing the cost He would personally pay for humanity’s redemption. Jesus Himself connects the dots in John 3:14-15. The connection between the two texts is too important to leave to speculation or to someone hopefully stumbling upon the connection – Jesus Himself prophesies the connection, and now the reader is left with Nicodemus to watch the fulfilment of that prophecy of the cross unfold.

Revealing the love of God…

Jesus would have seen in the Israelites’ complaints and fears a reflection of the human condition: our propensity to doubt God’s goodness, to forget His past faithfulness, and to turn away from Him in times of hardship. Yet, He also personally and profoundly knew the immense depth of God’s love for His creation—a love so great that it would send Him, God’s only Son, to offer His life as a ransom for many. And that was His proclamation. It is a love defined by Paul the apostle with the quandary, “what shall separate us from the love of God…” capped with a prayer about it, that cannot be contained. No width, no length, no height or depth of God’s love can be measured.

And so Jesus understood that His life and death would be the ultimate demonstration of God’s love and mercy, providing a way back to the Father for all who had gone astray. And now Nicodemus has some serious thinking to do.

Looking back at the Old Testament encounter would have reinforced Jesus’ resolve to fulfil His earthly ministry, knowing the pain and separation from the Father He would endure on the cross. It would also affirm the joy set before Him: the restoration of broken lives, the forgiveness of sins, and the promise of eternal life with God.

So for you, the question remains which Pilate asked the crowds calling for His crucifixion, “what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ? It was a question Pilate had to answer, so must you. The answer is the One who was on the Cross, but now risen and ascended. Just one look can change your life forever.

Life for a look!
Scroll to top