If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught me anything, it has intensified my conviction that only the “things of God” really matter and will withstand the storms of life. In other words, there are earthly things that don’t really matter for eternity and there are spiritual things that do matter for eternity. Keeping this in mind, the passage for the Day 160 reading that stood out to me was John 3:14–15 (ESV), which reads:
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
The phrase that stood out was “whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
I initially thought my analysis would focus on the Old Testament passage to which Jesus referred and then make a comparison between the lifting up of the serpent and the lifting up of Jesus. While that comparison is important, what I found after spending some time in observing the intermediate literary context (John 3:1-21, see APPENDIX A) is the structure (flow of the text) and the contrasts.
The structure comprises three sets of statements or questions by Nicodemus and answers by Jesus where Jesus’ answers progressively become more expansive. Jesus begins with the teaching that a person must be “born again” to be saved. He then expands upon the spiritual birth explaining that there is a physical birth which is of man and a spiritual birth which is of the Spirit. Finally, Jesus rebukes Nicodemus (and the Jews) for rejecting Him and then expands upon the fact that believing in Jesus is necessary for salvation, i.e., being born again.
The contrasts I see from this text are the following: (1) earthly vs. heavenly things [v. 12], (2) physical (earthly) birth vs. spiritual (heavenly) birth [vv. 5-6], (3) descended from heaven vs. ascended into heaven [v. 13], (4) lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness vs. lifting up of the Son of Man [v. 14], (5) eternal life vs. perish [v. 16], (6) salvation vs. condemnation [v. 18], (7) belief vs. unbelief [v. 18], (8) wicked things vs. does what is true [vv. 20-21], (9) does not come to the light vs. comes to the light [vv. 20-21], and (10) works be exposed vs. works have been carried out in God [vv. 20-21]. One common thread is the contrast between God, through whom eternal life is available, and mankind, through whom condemnation is available.
This contrast manifests itself in that the way of salvation must be through Jesus and not something man-made which I believe verses 13-14 demonstrate. Since Nicodemus was an educated Jew, it is not a surprise that Jesus referred to Moses lifting up the serpent as recorded in Numbers 21:4–9 (ESV). In that account, we see that the Israelites spoke against God and against Moses causing God to send fiery serpents among the people. After recognizing their sin, the people asked Moses to pray to God to take away the serpents. Verses 7b-9 (ESV) reads:
7b So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
Here, if a person was bitten by a serpent so as to face death, he or she knew to look at the bronze serpent on the pole and they would live. This snakebite kit was manmade and temporary since it only protected a person from physical death (and gave temporary physical life) from a snakebite (i.e., a death sentence).
In contrast, the requirement “so must the Son of Man be lifted up” in order for salvation (i.e., eternal life) to be available for “whoever believes in him” protects from spiritual death and give spiritual life for eternity. One commentator (Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John (pp. 201–203). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans) writes:
By his being lifted up, Jesus the Son of Man will be returned to the glory he once shared with his Father, while those who turn to him, as the Israelites turned to the bronze snake, will experience new birth.
One lesson I take away from verses 13-14 when read in light of verses 1-21 is that every person has an eternal destiny meaning that he or she will spend eternity somewhere and that “somewhere” is either heaven or hell, which is the ultimate contrast. The way a person sees and enters the kingdom of God is by repentance from sin and trusting in what Jesus did by His life, death and resurrection is sufficient for forgiveness of sins and salvation to eternal life. Works of any kind cannot save a person.
If you are reading this post and have never experienced “whoever believes in him,” unless God intervenes, your eternal destination is hell. But, your destiny can change. Today can be the day of your salvation. Please see my blog (https://stevebelsheim.com/2020/04/20/for-god-so-loves-you-2/) for a description of how you can be saved.
The Professor Grant Horner Bible Reading System is a great 500 day Bible reading plan. The following link presents a description of the plan ( https://sohmer.net/media/professor_grant_horners_bible_reading_system.pdf). My goal has been to briefly share my thoughts on the passage that stands out the most for me each day.
John 3:1–21 (ESV) reads:
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
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