Serpent On A Pole

In a search of Old Testament scriptures for evidence that Jesus arrival on earth was anticipated; the Serpent on a Pole from the book of Numbers, chapter 21, is a compelling story. If we understand that every narrative of the ancient Hebrew scriptures were written for the purpose of revealing the future Messiah, then it is very easy to perceive what Moses wrote as breadcrumbs to lead us to Jesus.

When we arrive at John chapter 3 in his gospel, we se that Jesus assumed for Himself, the object of Moses bronze serpent as a harbinger for His arrival. Jesus said that Moses constructed this serpent on a pole as an illustration of the time when He would be lifted up on the cross.

Numbers 21:9 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.

New Testament Fulfillment:

John 3:14-15 (Jesus Speaking) “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 12:32 “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”

Signs

In this prophecy from Moses, we see the ingenuity and forethought of the Father in engineering the events of the Old Testament to coincide perfectly with the work which Jesus would accomplish, once He came to earth.

Who could have imagined that the circumstances surrounding Numbers Chapter 21 would be a representation of what Jesus would accomplish for us at the Cross? Those bitten by a serpent were able to prevent their death by simply lifting up their eyes to look at the serpent on the pole, which Moses had made.

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Numbers 21:5-9 And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” 6 So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. 7 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. 8 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.” 9 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.

Today, all that anyone must do to be delivered from hell and eternal punishment for his sins is to lift up his eyes and look to Jesus on the Cross for his salvation.

John 3:14-15 (Jesus Speaking) “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 12:32 “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”

No one reading the description of Numbers Chapter 21 would have imagined that these events were prophetic. When we arrive at the New Testament, we clearly see that Jesus intended that Moses’ serpent-pole and those who were saved by looking to it, were a prophetic prediction of what He would do when He offered up His life for us. We can all be saved today by simply looking up at Jesus as He is dying for us on the cross and believe that His sacrifice has paid for our sins. If we do this in sincerity, God will save us.

What is the process that God requires to truly save a person? As we examine the moments of Jesus’ crucifixion, we remember that one of the thieves on a cross next to the Lord was also dying for his sins. He looked up at Jesus on the cross and said to Him, Lord, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

When we examine the New Testament description of this event, we find that there were two thieves that were also condemned to die by crucifixion along with Jesus. They are placed on either side of the Lord. At first, it seems that both condemned men ridicule Jesus for also being crucified along with them. After one of these men witnesses the grace and the love with which Jesus endures His suffering, praying for those who placed Him on the Cross, this dying criminal has a change of heart. He cries out to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” A subtle statement of salvation in the final moments of life from a man condemned to die. Though his confession is short and subdued, it is sufficient to move Jesus to pronounce him— forgiven and worthy of eternal life.

Luke 23:39-43 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

This encounter by a repentant, dying, criminal, is forever; a testament to anyone who comes to the end of his life with the belief that it is too late for him to change his life. Anyone can come to God at any time and find salvation. This thief had so thoroughly destroyed his life that he was dying for his many sins. In a single declaration, Remember me, Jesus pronounces that he would be with Him, on that day, in paradise.

As Jesus will, Himself, die in just a short time, the prophecies state that He will descend into the lower parts of the earth where Abraham’s Bosom, also called Paradise, is located.

This criminal was saved by Jesus with no altar call, no opportunity to be baptized in a particular style, no church membership, or speaking in tongues; only his sincere  request of Jesus: Remember me. Immediately, and without hesitation, the Lord declared that today his sins are forgiven and he will be with Jesus in paradise.

Even the slightest movement towards Jesus in sincere repentance, will be enough for Him to grant a person forgiveness and eternal life.

For more information on this thief who died on the cross next to Jesus and in the final moments of his life when he found salvation, see: “Condemned with criminals.”

The Messiah will be numbered with others, also called criminals at His death.

Isaiah 53:12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.

When Jesus was lifted up on the cross, it was His intention to draw every person to Himself. As we see how much Jesus suffered for us and understand that He was not dying for anything that He had done, our hearts are compelled to follow after Him.

This prophecy of the serpent on a pole is a stunning example of how the prophecies of the Old Testament are placed in the Bible as signs to lead us to Jesus. It is difficult to miss the vivid depiction of Moses actions when we read that Jesus believed that His death on the cross was the fulfillment of Moses prophecy, found in Numbers 21:9.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up…


[1] Illustration by Rob Robinson