John 3:14: ‘As Moses Lifted Up the Serpent In the Wilderness.’

October 12, 2016 by David Farmer 0 comments

On five occasions in the gospel account given by Christ’s beloved disciple, John, do we encounter this terminology of Christ being ‘lifted up.’ Firstly, in our focus passage for the week, John 3:14, where it is actually employed twice;

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

The passage cited above containing both the first and second utterance of the term ‘lifted up,’ the third, and next occasion, is that found in John 8:28. In the context of having declared to His audience, I am the light of the world, John 8:12, along with the asseveration that His words have the authority of two witnesses, namely Himself and His Father, He further stated that while His detractors, the Jews, were ‘from beneath,’ He was ‘from above.’ In such an earth-shattering context, certainly for those Jews present at the time, Christ uttered perhaps, a yet more enigmatic pronouncement which we may read in the 28th verse of John’s 8th chapter:

Jesus therefore said, when ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself, but as the Father taught me, I speak these things.

The fourth and fifth times of Christ’s use of this expression, ‘lifted up,’ may be the most striking of all. It is very worthy of notice—if it has not already been noticed by our readers—that each of these five uses of this form of words, that is, of His being ‘lifted up,’ was spoken by our Savior Himself, and none other, excepting as they are being repeated verbatim by the multitude in John 12:34. The astonishing statement that Christ made which was then repeated by the multitude in the complete pericope found in 12:32-34 is as follows; it begins with an utterance from Jesus Himself:

And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself. But this he said, signifying by what manner of death he should die. The multitude therefore answered him, we have heard out of the law that the Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, the Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?

The synoptic gospels are so called “because these three seem to have the ‘same view’ on a lot of matters. For this reason Matthew, Mark, and Luke have been called the ‘synoptic’ Gospels, from the Greek syn (same) and optic (sight or view).”

These three seem to have the same view; yet John is remarkably distinct from them in many ways. And while all four biblical accounts of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, share in the common usage of the Greek word stauroo for ‘crucified’ in their descriptions of the manner of Christ’s death. Yet in this, John is once again distinct from the synoptics in that he alone has employed the expression from the lips of the Savior, that is, ‘being lifted up.’
While there are many different ideas of lifting up to be found in the Word of God, the utterances of Christ recorded by John are unique in their reference to a particular form of death, namely the cross. Scripture may speak of men lifting up their eyes to behold something; lifting up their voices to cry unto someone; even a lifting up of their own head in pride, yet Christ alone in John’s account makes use of the words with reference to His impending death upon a Roman cross. It is striking, most striking, that even in that which many are pleased to refer to as the ‘gospel of Isaiah’ in the prophet’s 53rd chapter, with its many a multiplicity of expressions and metaphors alluding to the vicarious death of the Servant of Jehovah, with His being led as a lamb to the slaughter and making his grave with the wicked, still there is not the least suggestion of His being lifted up. We are incidentally informed that He was whipped—with his stripes we are healed—that he was beaten—it pleased Jehovah to bruise him—but no reference to the means of His death. Yet, manifold are the implications of Christ’s being lifted up.
In John 3:14-15, Christ spoke most emphatically to His hearers. He said, in no uncertain terms, that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up. The Son of man MUST be lifted up! Jesus was lifted up upon a cross at Golgotha; He was lifted up when many received the spiritual sight to perceive that He was precisely who He said He was, the Son of man sent by His Father to reclaim His people through His death. He was so lifted up when the centurion acknowledged, Truly this was the Son of God, Matthew 27:54. He was further lifted up, drawing all men unto Himself. This was exemplified after it had been manifested to great numbers that He had been lifted up by way of the promised resurrection and appeared unto many:

And that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once.
—1 Corinthians 15:4-6

Yea, all these witnesses testified that He had been raised—lifted up—on the third day according to the Scriptures. He was subsequently lifted up through the preaching of the Word by Peter at Pentecost, Acts 2, when He once more drew many of His chosen unto Himself through the proclamation of the gospel. As He continues to be lifted up in the preaching of His gospel, so He continues drawing men unto Himself.
We are to lift Christ up every day of our lives. We are to lift Him up in our own hearts through every means of grace given to us; reading the Word, prayer, and meditation upon the things of Christ. We are to lift Him up before others; before our family, before our neighbors, and our fellow-men. We are to lift Him up by being what we have been made to be; salt and light in this present world. O that we would be given the vision of Isaiah again and again, in all of these matters, to behold our Savior as that prophet beheld Him, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.

David Farmer, elder
Fellowship Bible Church

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