Snakes on a pole

Back when the famous movie that never really became famous came out, I wrote a song for a "Get your song in the movie" competition. It didn't win or even come close to winning. But I sold a bunch (by that I mean a few hundred) copies of it on itunes, napster etc.

This week I'm taking liberty with the title of the movie and hoping that a few people will read this entry about Jesus and Nicodemus from John 3:1-17. Here's this week's Bible study blog entry from i.ucc.org

Nicodemus came to Jesus to find out more about the things he’d been talking about with the crowds. While Jesus was telling Nicodemus about God’s saving through Jesus, he used the imagery of snakes:

“as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

And then the snake talk was followed by what is likely often quoted verse in the Bible. (And the one that still keeps appearing in end zones of football games!)

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

The two verses before John 3:16 aren’t quoted quite as often. Here’s where they come from:

In a scene from Numbers 21:4-9– poisonous snakes were biting and killing the Israelites after they had whined and whined to Moses. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” (think in a very whiny tone) Of course, their attitudes changed after the snakes started biting. “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” (think in a less whiny, more frightened tone)
So God had Moses make an image of the poisonous snakes and put it on a pole and everyone who was bitten would look at the snake on the pole and they would be healed.

I think this whole snake on a pole/Jesus on the cross comparison is strange. I get that both are about healing and life - but Jesus and a snake?

But here’s what I think:

  • As the snake was lifted up on the pole, Jesus Christ was lifted up on the cross.
  • As the Israelites were to look at the snake image on a pole, so we look to Christ for salvation.
  • God provided no other remedy than looking for the bitten Israelites and God has provided no other way of salvation than Jesus. (Let the discussions begin!)
Crucifixion was a sign of a curse. Therefore, just as the Israelites had to look on the repugnant, uplifted image of a serpent to be saved, we today look at the uplifted image of Jesus on the cross. (Hmmm – in protestant churches we look at an empty cross in celebration of the resurrection. In the Roman Catholic Church the uplifted image of Jesus provides a much closer comparison with the imagery in John 3.)

What are your thoughts?

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