Nehushtan | John 3.13-15
No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 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 3:13-15 | ESV
This is me, now, the narrator, talking. Let me add this:
No one can talk about that World except the One who’s been there and has come here to talk about it – and that’s the Ultimate Human Being – the Son of Man. Now, rewind. Moses. In the desert. Hoisting up that brass snake on a stick. That’s what had to happen to the Ultimate Human Being – the Son of Man, so that everyone who counts on him may do more than recover from a temporal snake bite; they’ll experience life. To the max. Forever. MAV
Somewhere along here, most scholars concur, John as narrator breaks in with his own commentary and explanation. Some think it happens at verse 13. Others at verse 16. (The reason there’s debate is that there were no punctuation marks or parentheses in ancient Greek manuscripts; the reader is expected to sort that out for himself – Bible authors expect us to think and catch the flow for ourselves! Imagine that.) I’m opting for verse 13 this time through, though you are free to disagree or even conclude that all the letters should be “red” all the way through verse 21. Regardless, the conversation with Nicodemus is left hanging without resolution. I personally like the image of the speechless scholar left with the unanswered question and comeback of Jesus in verse 12, with John’s head then popping up and off he goes with a his own mini-sermon (he just can’t help it!). And where does the Narrator take us? To the desert where we watch Moses hoist a bronze snake for a rebellious people beleaguered by lethal snake bites (read the tale in Numbers 21:4-9). The snake on a stick became a means of healing for those who had the mustard seed of faith to look at it (and ultimately it became a symbol of our medical profession, yes?). After this incident, we lose sight of the bronze snake on a stick. Until some 800 or so years later. A much later Hebrew king named Hezekiah was cleaning house in Jerusalem’s temple, clearing out idols and their altars, and then we see the snake. What had been a means of healing, a sacrament of grace, had become nothing more than another idol – no longer pointing to the Healer, but seen as a source of healing in itself and worshiped accordingly. Hezekiah broke the snake in pieces and called it “Nehushtan” essentially meaning “brass thingy.” Lessons abound in this tale of the bronze snake. But John would have us see in that snake yet another telling picture of Jesus, the Son of Man, the “Ultimate Human Being,” being lifted up on a stick for our healing. Biblically, the snake is a cursed being. The Son becomes a snake lifted up on cursed stick (biblically, bronze frequently symbolizes judgment, wrath), and all are invited to look and to receive healing, wholeness, Life. The metaphorical parallels are simply too great to resist. The Son from above has come down, only to be lifted up as a cursed and despised object. And we are healed.
How does this story of “Nehushtan” speak to you? What do you see? How have you experienced healing through encountering Jesus? Where do you still seek healing?
Lord, draw my eyes away from the snake pit of life. Draw them up to you, and to the healing, wholeness and life that you would give in the midst of it. Fill me with your Life – and let me pass it on. Through Christ.
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