Life or Death: the “Snake Bite” Moment.
Updated: Apr 26
What drives a man to believe in Jesus Christ, as Lord and Savior? Some people come to Jesus in search of wealth and prosperity, when Jesus clearly said "...it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." (Luke 18:25). Jesus also said "do not lay up for yourselves treasures on the earth," but to lay up for yourselves "treasures in heaven." (Matthew 6:19-21). Jesus put it simply: we can't serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24). If you're coming to Jesus in search of money or worldly gain, you're sure to be disappointed. There are others who come to Jesus in search of influence, when Jesus clearly said: "deny yourself, take up your cross, and then follow me." Jesus didn't come to 'feed' man's 'ego,' rather, He came to feed man's soul - eternally - through His flesh crucified for us, and His life giving blood, poured out for us on the cross. If you come to Jesus to try to create more influence for yourself, you will find yourself teaching a very different Gospel than what our Lord Jesus Christ gave to His followers. The list of reasons goes on, as to why people come to our Lord, but there is only ONE true reason, that people turn to Jesus and follow Him. This may be why Jesus said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23. 1 John 3:4 tells us that lawlessness, is sin. This means that many people will come to Jesus, in various forms, THINKING they are doing the will of God, when they really have continued in the way of sin with a dose of superficial religiosity. Why then ought a man seek Jesus? What does genuine repentance, and faith in Jesus Christ, look like? The answer is a lot more simple than you might imagine.
Jesus gave us a vivid illustration of how and why a man or woman ought to come to Him, and it is simply a matter of 'life' or 'death.' Coming to Jesus for anything else, other than 'life' through the forgiveness of sins, dangerously borders lawlessness, which is sin. In John chapter 3, verses 14 and 15, Jesus indirectly communicates the primary reason and motivation that one should come to Him, and it is to have life, in order to be saved from death: period. This is the "simple Gospel."
"...Jesus indirectly communicates the primary reason and motivation that one should come to Him, and it is to have life, in order to be saved from death..."
Jesus gives two alternatives: life, or death. You choose. Jesus eludes to a powerful story, that illustrates the fatal condition of sin, and the cure that God offers. Jesus compares sin to a deadly venom, that will eventually kill the one it has entered into. To put it into context, because of your sin, you have been diagnosed with a fatal condition, and if you do not do something about it, the venom of sin will - eventually - take your life. The path to life - the cure - is simple: if you want life, run to Jesus as fast as you can, and receive Him as the cure for the venom of sin, because sin left untreated will lead to death. This teaching is often overlooked in modern Western Evangelical Christianity, and it is absolutely essential, in order for one to have a proper understanding of the Gospel! The central text that we're focusing on, comes from John 3:14-15:
"And 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." John 3:14-15
The story of Moses lifting the serpent in the wilderness, is found in the book of Numbers, chapter 21, and is a type and shadow of Jesus's crucifixion, and the forgiveness of sins. Understanding this story, in light of Jesus's words in John chapter 3, is absolutely critical in the formation of right understanding. In Numbers 21:4-9 we find the Israelites wandering through the desert, in hopes of being lead to the promised land, but their unbelief lead them to a harsh trial:
"From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against 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 loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 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.” 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." Numbers 21:4-9 (emphasis added)
Repentance: Recognizing Your Condition
This was a plague of venomous serpents that God sent to the Israelites, as a divine judgement, to ultimately glorify His Son, Jesus Christ. The reason Jesus uses this story in the midst of discussing the new birth (in John Chapter 3), is to indicate that He is the only way to life, as well as demonstrate the type of repentance and faith that drives one to believe in Him. This story, vividly illustrates the manner in which we ought to come to Him, which should be with life-threatening urgency! In this story, the fiery serpents are likened to 'death,' and their venomous bite is likened to 'sin.’ A snake's 'bite' could be considered its sting, since the venom is delivered through their bite. This language is consistent with Paul's letter to the Corinthians, when said that "The sting of death is sin..." (1 Corinthians 15:56). Elcott's commentary Bible says, of death and its sting:
"Death is pictured as a monster, and it is armed with a sting. Its sting is sin. If there were no sin, death would not be capable of inflicting pain, and the strength of sin springs from the fact that it is a violation of God's law."
In this Old Testament story, the only way to live after being bitten by a fiery serpent, was to look upon the the bronze serpent that Moses had made, and set on a pole. What Jesus is telling us, is to recognize our condition! We all have been bitten by the fiery serpent of death, and death’s ‘venom‘ or death‘s 'sting' - is sin - and it is coursing through our veins! It is only a matter of time before death‘s sting seizes upon us, and if not taken care of with a sense of life-threatening urgency, we are not only risking our lives, but we are risking our eternity! If a person dies without dealing with the venom of sin, they will die in their sins, forever separated from the presence of almighty God, because of our unrighteousness, due to sin.
"...What Jesus is telling us, is to recognize our condition! We all have been bitten by the fiery serpent of death, and death’s ‘venom‘ or death‘s 'sting' - is sin - and it is coursing through our veins! It is only a matter of time before death‘s sting seizes upon us, and if not taken care of with a sense of life-threatening urgency, we are not only risking our lives, but we are risking our eternity..."
The only reason an Israelite would run to the bronze serpent for healing, was if they had recognized their fatal condition. Would a man seek a physician to save their life, if they thought that nothing was wrong? The answer is no, of course not, a healthy person wouldn't seek a doctor to save their life if they sense no mortal peril! We can see, in the text, that many of the Israelites died before asking Moses to pray to God for help. This could imply a sense of self-sufficiency, suggesting that the stricken Israelite pridefully assumed the venom (aka sin) could be taken care of in their own strength or understanding. One could imagine, that as the bodies of their fellow Israelites started falling around them, one by one, when they discovered that nobody could recover from the venom (aka SIN) of the fiery serpent on their own- did they finally realize that they needed God's help. One could infer, that due to their hearts being set against God, the Israelites stubbornly thought that running to God for help, would do them no good. Similarly, if one doesn't recognize that the sin in one's life will lead to death, one will not seek Jesus for healing, and forgiveness of sin! The only reason one would authentically come to Jesus, is if one recognized the need for one's sins to be forgiven, in order that they may have life - and live - understanding that the wage of sin is death, considering that once bitten by death, sin courses through the veins, flowing through, and filling the heart; realizing the NEED for someone who understands how to heal the heart, inside and out: submitting to the fact that they NEED a "physician!" Jesus recognizes that His audience are those who know they are dead in their sins, those who are seeking life, restoration, reconciliation, healing and forgiveness. The Gospel of Mark uses consistent language to authenticate Jesus's call to those who recognize their own fatal condition, when He was questioned by certain scribes of the Pharisees as to why He spent his time in the presence of the seemingly unrighteous, who sought after Him. Mark 2:17 says, 'And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”' Jesus didn't come to heal those who think they need no healing - after all - why would a person who thinks they're healthy seek a physician to save their life? They wouldn't! Why would an Israelite seek God after being bitten by a fiery serpent, if he thought that he was going to survive? He wouldn't! Why would YOU seek Jesus, if you didn't think your sins were leading you to death? You wouldn't!
Have you recognized the severity of your sins? Have you understood that sin is like a deadly venom, that if left unchecked and untreated, it will claim your life, forever? If it is starting to settle in, get ready to run to the cure, through Jesus Christ!
The text says that after many Israelites had died, the people recognized the error of their ways. Their response to Moses was a plea for help, and a confession that started with "we have sinned..." There was a recognition of sin, and a need for divine intervention! The Lord in His grace and mercy, responded to the Israelites' cries, by giving them ONE WAY to life, through the instruction of His word, this is the type and shadow of the one way of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord instructed Moses to set a bronze serpent on a pole, that whoever looked upon it, would be healed. Again, only those who recognized their fatal condition - and their need for healing and life - would ever come to the bronze serpent for healing. There is an element of trusting God's word, that must be recognized in this story: that is a picture of faith! Jesus compares himself to the serpent being put on the pole, in reference to His eventual death on the cross, for the sins of the world. The first mention of a serpent, in scripture, comes from the garden of Eden, from the tempter. Jesus was indicating that He would be putting to death, the works of the enemy, on the cross. This is the great exchange: Jesus became sin on the cross, so that we might become His righteousness! The Apostle Paul wrote, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Corinthians 5:21. All one must do to receive forgiveness of sins, and receive eternal life, is to run to Jesus as if it were a matter of life and death, and look upon Jesus's blood soaked sacrifice on the cross, as if He were the only way to life, because that is the truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6. Genuine repentance is recognizing the sin coursing through your veins, and in your heart, understanding that if left untreated, will lead to death. Genuine repentance is a decision to choose life over death. 'Saving faith,' in Jesus Christ, is trusting the cure for death, that is Jesus's atoning sacrifice on the cross! You must trust that Jesus's sacrifice on the cross, is enough to cleanse you of your sins, granting you eternal life. You must look upon Jesus, as the Israelites looked upon the bronze snake, desperately hoping and trusting that by looking upon what God instructed them to fix their gaze upon, they would be healed completely. One will not come to Jesus, with the right heart, if one doesn't recognize the fatal condition caused by sin. We must look upon Jesus, in faith, that His sacrifice on the cross cleanses us of our sins. There are no ‘works’ involved, only trusting God’s word, that the one way to life that He has provided, through Jesus Christ, is sufficient!
Have you understood that Jesus has removed the sting of death, which is sin? Like removing the venomous fangs of a fiery serpent and extracting all traces of venom from the serpent: Jesus has caused death to lose it's sting! When a believer's time on this earth is over, they will be taken into the presence of the Lord, to eternal and everlasting life: no more pain, no more tears, no more suffering through death. Death merely becomes the door to everlasting life, and the next step toward our heavenly dwelling place with our Lord. But when an person dies in their sins, if they haven't ran to Jesus and received Him, to be healed of the venom of sin: they are condemned forever, because they have rejected the only way to life through Jesus Christ. I plea with you to recognize that through your sin - the sin that you commit everyday - you are on a fatal timeline, and you must act NOW! Run to Jesus, and gaze upon His nail pierced hands. Look into His eyes and see the love that He has for you. Hear His voice when He says: "IT IS FINISHED." The debt has been paid for the sins you have committed, by faith in Jesus's atoning sacrifice for your sins. He died on the cross to save you from the sting of death, which is sin. Come to Jesus for life, before the cold grip of death snuff the last bit of life from you. Jesus was buried after His death, and was resurrected from the grave, ascending to the right hand of God, with angels, authorities and powers having been subjected to Him. He is risen, He is alive. We serve the Living God, and He is calling out to you today, to trust in Him to receive life. You have been bitten - by death - the fatal venom of sin courses through your veins, the cure of Jesus Christ has been given to you. The Gospel is a matter of life or death. Look upon Jesus, believe in Him and you may have eternal life.