Friday, January 29, 2010

Jesus: Like a Serpent

We are studying the Gospel of John, and we have now come to what is likely the most popular, most quoted verse in all of the New Testament, aside from those verses used in liturgy. Immediately prior to this, Jesus was amazed by the fact that Nicodemus does not understand what Jesus meant when He said everyone must be born again to see the Kingdom of God. In this study, we will continue with Jesus' discussion with Nicodemus right where we left off.

Jesus: Like a Serpent
Do you know what a mixed metaphor is? It is like shooting fish in a barrel of monkeys. The Bible has at least one mixed metaphor, and it is, well, of Biblical proportions! Many Christians are completely unaware of this little gaff because of the beloved verse which appears almost immediately afterwards: John 3:16. So let us take a moment to examine the context surrounding the succinct summary of God's love found in John 3:16.

John 3:13 starts off by saying nobody has gone to Heaven except Jesus. That makes for an interesting conundrum. You see, according to the Old Testament, at least two people have gone to Heaven. Enoch, who simply disappeared and is thought to have been taken to Heaven (Genesis 5:24, Hebrews 11:5), and Elijah, who rode to Heaven on a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11) make Jesus' words seem untrue.

One way for these verses to be true is for Jesus to have walked the earth embodied as Enoch and Elijah. However, Elijah supposedly came back to earth as John the Baptist (Matthew 11:7-15, Matthew 17:10-13, Mark 9:11-13), to prepare the way for Jesus! So Jesus made the way for Jesus? It is possible, given Jesus is God, but it does not logically add up.

Then for something completely different, John 3:14-15 takes a completely different path:
"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life." NIV
What was that first part, the part about Moses lifting a snake in the desert? Oh, you will find that charming story in Numbers 21:4-9. It starts out with the Israelites having the nerve to complain about God and Moses for leading them into the desert, where, like dogs, they have eaten the same thing for every meal for untold number of days, and where they are parched because they lack water.

God punishes them for complaining by sending either poisonous snakes or fiery serpents (depending on your Bible version) to attack them. The snakes/ fiery serpents kill many Israelites. The Israelites repent. God tells Moses to make a bronze snake/ fiery serpent and mount it on a pole. Anyone who had been bitten by the snakes/ fiery serpents would live if they looked at the bronze figure. (By the way, the American Medical Association's symbol is a snake on a pole. That is not just a coincidence.)

Here is where the mixed metaphor comes into play. A major metaphor of Christianity is that the snake, the serpent is Satan. Check out Revelation 12:9-15 and Revelation 20:2. That metaphor gets tied back into the story of the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 by 2 Corinthians 11:3. In other words, the same accursed animal used as a metaphor for Satan in now used as a metaphor which foreshadowed Jesus by John 3:14!

Maybe we should look at it another way? The snakes/fiery serpents were sent by God as punishment; they were God's wrath. God had Moses make a symbol of the embodiment of that wrath out of bronze (an impure metal) and mount it on a pole so that people would see it and live. On the other hand you have pure and holy Jesus, symbol of God's love for man, subjected to the wrath of men, nailed to a cross, where simply looking at Jesus would not grant Salvation, but rather believing in Him and His death for your sins. So you can see that the situations are pretty much identical. Not!

Now, what if the snake event was really meant to foreshadow Jesus? Perhaps if the omniscient God had instead told Moses to make a bronze lamb, symbolizing the Lamb of God, Jesus, it would have matched better. Or perhaps if God told Moses to tell the Israelites that they needed to repent of their sins and believe that God is merciful, and then they would survive the snake bites, it would have been a powerful foreshadowing. Instead, the message we find is a bit garbled.

John 3:16 goes on to say that God so loved the world that He gave us Jesus, so that anyone who believed in Him would be Saved. Of course, let us not forget that what we are saved from. It is not an imminent car accident, or falling of a cliff; no coincidental danger or force of nature. It is being saved from the wrath of God, and in that sense the reference to the story from Numbers 21:4-9 does coincide. Looking at the bronze snake saved people from God's wrath, just like believing in Jesus supposedly does.

It cannot be understated that wrath is an act of volition, just like mercy. God chooses where and when to apply His wrath. God is not subject to any rules but His own desires.

So as you read the verses of John 3:17-21 which expounds upon how God sent Jesus to Save the world through Him, and how those evil-doers who do not believe this already stand condemned, it would be good to remember that God has chosen to condemn them. It was not necessary to do so.

Remember this fact as you walk around and realize that the majority of the people you see will not be Saved; per Jesus' own words in Matthew 7:13-14, only a few will make it through the narrow gate. Consider if God's Plan to use Jesus to Save the world was really all that effective.


  1. I have just found your blog and thank you for the opportunity to write a comment.

    Re: John 3:14, 15 ; I can clearly see you have a good knowledge of the Bible's writings so am astounded you cannot understand this most basic gospel theme. Should there be any confusion regarding this, Paul removes it for us in 2 Corinthians 5:21 -why else would he have quoted Psalm 22 lamenting the fathers forsaking of him on the cross?

    Also, they way to destruction is wide because the majority of people embrace their free will as a mark of proud independance rather than surrender it to their Maker in mutual commitment. Giving mankind free will was always running the risk of stubborn rebellion, but mankind would be incapable of a true love relationship as a mere automation.
    Salvation through Jesus is very effective for those who dare accept it on His terms.
    I have staked my life on this in this world and the next.
    Thank you again for this opportunity to respond.

  2. Hello XiaoMenTu, and thank you for your comment.

    You defend the faith well, and I can see that you are also well versed in your Bible knowledge.

    I do not believe the problem is that I do not understand "this most basic gospel theme," but rather that I understand it from a different perspective. It is sort of like how you may be able to tell when a person is sick, but a doctor can actually identify the particular virus which is causing the illness. Like the doctor, I believe I have a better understanding of the Scriptures than most people and that the Scriptures actually contain quite a bit of evidence suggesting that they are false, but I suppose there is the chance that I am just fooling myself.

    I have much to say about the tie into Psalm 22, but I will save that until the time when the blog reaches that point in study through the New Testament.

    I can appreciate the passion you have for Christ, and I do thank you for taking the time to show me the Truth. For your sake, I hope you are right, but as I understand the Scriptures it seems unlikely that you are.

    I do understand the philosophy of rebellion as it relates to Christianity quite well. However, I think that argument falls short of explaining why the way to destruction is so wide.

    My best rebuttal to the points you have raised are these questions to ponder in relation to God and Jesus:

    If you transgressed me, such as if you hit me, and yet I forgive you, do I still have to "pay back" the wrong committed to me? If so, is it justice if I pay back that transgression to an innocent person, like if I hit one of your friends? How am I satisfied in transferring the sentence of judgement onto an innocent person who does not deserve it?

    If you are a parent, and your beloved child is choosing to do some sin with his own free will, do you not guide him or scold him as soon as you can to correct that behavior before major problems occur later in life? If you were a parent and you did nothing to discipline your children, would you expect the majority of your children to grow up doing the right things?

    If you want to be well loved, would you do so with a single, yet meaningful action, or would you build a relationship? Would you expect a strong love to grow where there is no direct interaction?

    All the best to you, XiaoMenTu.

  3. I truly enjoyed reading the comments of both of you. Of course most of us who believe completely in the Word as written will disagree of your understanding of these verses. Perhaps the wording/events were not properly transcribed in some of the previously written Word by the scribes. Thus confusion results. We each must work out our own salvation as we study and thus few will enter Heaven due to misunderstanding as well as because of transgressions. Thank you for the opportunity to voice my opinion. May GOD bless you in your studies and in forming your opinions. I do understand your questionings.

  4. Thanks for the comment and blessing, Anonymous. It is quite possible that there are issues with transcription, and I think that there are many cases where that is a very effective rebuttal. Yet there are deeper issues where the changing of a word or two does not necessarily resolve the matters in a consistent manner with God's perfect and benevolent attributes. At least, that is the way I understand things now.

    May we both grow in our understanding.