As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him may not perish; but may have life everlasting. -John iii. 14, 15.
We may note here three things.
1. The Figure of the Passion. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert. When the Jews said, Our soul now loathe th this very light food (Num. xxi. 5), the Lord sent serpents in punishment, and afterwards, for a remedy, He commanded the brazen serpent to be made – as a remedy against the serpents and also as a figure of the Passion. It is the nature of a serpent to be poisonous, but the brazen serpent had no poison. It was but the figure of a poisonous serpent. So also Christ had no sin, which is the poison, but He had the likeness of sin. God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and of sin (Rom. viii. 3). Therefore Christ had the effect of the serpent against the movements of our blazing desires.
2. The Mode of the Passion. So must the Son of Man be lifted up. This refers to His being raised upon the cross. He willed to die lifted up, (i) To purify the air: already He had purified the earth by the holiness of His living there, it still remained for Him to purify, by His dying there, the air; (ii) To triumph over the devils, who in the air, make their preparations to war on us; (iii) To draw our hearts to His heart, I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself (John xii. 32). Since in the death of the cross he was exalted, and since it was there that He overcame his enemies, we say that he was exalted rather than that he died. He shall drink of the torrent by the wayside; therefore shall He lift up His head (Ps. cix. 7).
The cross was the cause of His exaltation. He became obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross, wherefore God hath exalted Him (Phil. ii. 8).
3. The Fruit of the Passion. The fruit is eternal life. Whence Our Lord says Himself, Whosoever believeth in Him, doing good works, may not perish, but may have life everlasting (John iii. 16).
And this fruit corresponds to the fruit of the serpent that foreshadowed Him. For whoever looked upon the brazen serpent was delivered from the poison and his life was preserved. Now the man who looks upon the Son of Man lifted up is the man who believes in Christ crucified, and it is in this way that he is delivered from the poison that is sin and preserved for the life that is eternal. (In John iii.)