Jesus refers to the lifting up of the bronze snake in the wilderness

John 3:14–21

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,

15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.”

14 Jesus refers to Numbers 21:8–9 and sees this action by Moses as a precursor or foreshadowing of His own call to self-sacrifice.

14–15 This is the first of three “lifted up” sayings of Jesus with a double meaning. The others are John 8:28, John 12:32. Hearers would probably recognise the language that Isaiah used, Isa. 52:13.

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

One of the best known and most quoted verses in the Bible, which may be Jesus’ words or John’s commentary on Jesus’ words. There is no equivalent of quotation marks in NT Greek, so we can’t be sure. But Scripture is Scripture.

“One and only Son” — also John 1:14, 1:18. The word is monogenēs which means the only one of its kind. In the Old Latin translation, monogenēs was translated unicus, the root of our word unique. The essential nature of Jesus as one and only Son, is the same nature as the Father’s

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 17 “For God did not send…” John designates Jesus as ‘the Son sent by the Father’ a number of times, which is the image of the shaliach, messenger or envoy, who is like the sender and able to represent exactly the sender’s interests with the sender’s message.

For further study see John 3:34–36; John 5:19–26; John 6:40; John 8:35–36; John 14:13; John 17:1

18 Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

18 John is speaking of settled convictions, not feelings of confidence or doubt which come and go. The “how to” of coming to that settled conviction has already been explained in John 3:5–9 in which Jesus explains to the well-read Pharisee Nicodemus that to perceive the kingdom of God one must have a new start and be born again of the Holy Spirit, and so gain eternal life in the One to be “lifted up” like the bronze snake lifted up by Moses in the wilderness. As God miraculously granted physical life to the dying through the bronze snake, Numbers 21:4–9, so God miraculously gives spiritual and eternal life through Jesus. Unlike the snake, Jesus has life in Himself, John 1:4, John 5:26.

18–21 Two groups of people are starkly contrasted:

Believe in the Son Do not believe in the Son Have eternal life Shall perish Are not condemned Are condemned already Love light Love darkness; hate the light Live by the truth Do evil

19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.

21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.


In this excerpt, we come in halfway, to a conversation between Nicodemus, a well-read and thinking man and Jesus. Jesus explains to him that seeing the kingdom of God is a spiritual perception enabled by the Holy Spirit. Entering into the kingdom of God is a spiritual renewal — a spiritual birth experience. This comes through recognising who Jesus is, a raising of perspective and diminishing of self which allows the Holy Spirit to connect with the human spirit.

We so easily slip back into seeing things from a worldly perspective (where Nicodemus started). The challenge is to be ready to move position, to change perspective, to see what is illuminated by the light.

In our politically-correct world where relativism reigns and absolutes are scorned, everyone wants to uphold their own path to their own ‘truth’. That clashes head-on with this stark black and white scenario, where we either do believe in the Son and have eternal life, or we do not believe and we perish. Stark or not, that’s what the Bible says. There is no assurance in anything else — or anyone else, but Jesus.

To stand with Jesus as one of His, is to see with His perspective. To look up at Jesus on the Cross or in our mind’s eye, in the heavenlies, is to recognise the severe limits of our own perspective and gain a higher one — with eternal benefits.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

3 “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned…” What do you believe about this, and how would you explain it to an enquirer in ordinary language?

Originally published at The Living Word.



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Ian Greig

Husband+Father | Missional Christian | Author+ Speaker+Creator — offering ‘Faith without the Faff’ to encourage those not attracted to a formal club-like church