Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” 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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 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. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 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. —John 3:14-21
“What do they mean, as Moses lifted up the serpent”? In Numbers 21:6-9, we read that the Israelites were speaking out against God, so God set out poisonous snakes among them. When a bunch of people began dying from the snakes’ bites, they asked Moses to pray to God to take them away. So God told Moses to “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to the top of a pole. Those who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!”…so whenever someone was bitten by a poisonous snake, all they had to do in order to live is simply look at the bronze snake that was up on the pole. Similarly, when we believe and look upon the Lord Jesus who died on the cross, we too will live, as well as receive ETERNAL life.
John 3:16: The original Orthodox understanding was that Christ’s death on the cross changed God’s attitude towards His creation so that God may once again approach us. But in 1872, Dr. P.P. Waldenstrom, an ordained clergyman of the Swedish state church and professor in Christianity at Gavle College, declared in a sermon just the opposite: that Christ didn’t die to change God’s heart towards sinners, but to change the hearts of sinners towards God. In other words, it wasn’t God who needed reconciliation with us, it was we who needed to be reconciled with God, and this realization was the turning point of all denominations. Waldenstrom realized from John 3:16 that it was in fact the other way around…for God loved us, FIRST, while we were still sinners. And He made the first move to be near us (while we were still covered with sin). I know it sounds simple, but it really was a huge turning point in the faith for all the denominations at that time.
Also on that note, something a Pastor-friend and I had once pointed to is the fact that the English translation mentions, “God so loved the WORLD”. But the Greek uses “Kosmos”, which means “all of creation” or “The entire universe”. So God so loved ‘everything that He created’, that He gave His one and only Son, so that whomever should believe in Him may not perish, but have eternal life. Remember? When Adam and Eve sinned, it wasn’t only humans that were affected, but also the animals (now they’re eating each other), and the land itself was cursed.
John 3:15-18 support a sequence of verses that I often use for evangelism: Rev. 3:20 –> John 1:12 –> Romans 10:9 –> 1 John 5:11-12. But John 1:12 was the one that people often have difficulties with, since it’s saying that you can’t be a child of God unless you receive Jesus (people want to believe they’re a child of God through Adam and Eve). But it’s actually reinforced by the John text you’re reading.
John 3:19-21 can turn back around to the serpent on the pole. Those who believed in it regained their lives, but those who thought it was foolish, perished. It might be good to mention why the people were being bitten in the first place (Numbers 21:4-9)
Notice, it was God’s own people…people walking with Him, who were speaking these things against Him. They were impatient, and longing to go back to slavery (sin) where they were able to live in bondage, yet royalty compared to how they were living (in terms of food, housing, etc.) But the Lord was bringing them up to be HIS people.
Ever see those old Jackie Chan Kung-Fu movies, the ones from the 70s, where it showed him as a young trouble-maker? He would get into trouble with his attitude and Kung-Fu, then was often sent to somebody to train and discipline him. (A great one is the original “Drunken Master”). He didn’t like it, and often whined, complained about the pain and difficulties, didn’t understand why he had to do everything he was being forced to do, etc….That’s how the Israelites were behaving…complaining about the food, quality of living, walking in the desert, remembering how “great” things were back in Egypt (not remembering the bad things, but only the good…which is also a tactic of the evil one). Or, you could relate John 3:20 to a child who does something wrong, then hides so that they won’t get into trouble. Notice also that whatever their wrong, the parent often notices it, whether or not the child is hidden. So the “sin” is revealed, but the “sinner” does not want to be seen, so they hide (or like Adam and Eve…when they bit into the fruit, and their eyes were opened…God was walking through the garden, and they hid. God knew already what had happened, but played it off like He didn’t know. But still, they hid in the dark cover of the trees so that they wouldn’t be found, because they knew they did something wrong).
Going back to the text, notice its placement. Before it, Nico is asking Jesus about eternal life, and Jesus mentioned being born again (baptized, etc.) After the text, we read about both Jesus and John the Baptist baptizing, and an argument arises between some of John’s disciples and some Jews (or a certain Jew) about baptism. Interesting how this story of judgment, God’s redemption, believing in Jesus, coming into the light from the darkness, etc., is surrounded by the theme of Baptism. Hmm…believing in Jesus, stepping out of the light, letting others see your deeds that have been done in God, and being baptized…you think there’s something about that?