Before I leave the discussion of Jesus with Nicodemus, I wish to consider again John 3:14. Here Jesus made reference to Numbers 21:4-9. What an odd reference to compare with Jesus! The serpent is often a figure of the Enemy—Satan. It has been since Genesis 3 where man fell into rebellion against God. There God promised that the Seed of the woman would be at war with the seed of the ‘serpent.’ In this battle the ‘serpent’ would receive the death blow (to the head) but the Seed of the woman would be wounded (per the heal).
Numbers 21:4-9 depicts judgment. It is the judgment of God foretold in Genesis 3 against man’s rebellion towards him. However the Glory of God connected with that judgment has been misinterpreted often by men. Men find dubious glory in the battles of war—one nation rising up against another. We have applied this to God, as he concerns himself in the work of the Messiah. The Messiah was thought to be a conquering hero, setting the captives free from their conquerors. Yet, this is not how God played it out in his Shekinah Presence in the form of the Man made flesh (John 1:14). The people in Moses day were dying of poison inflicted by serpents, and this due to their unbelief expressed toward God. Moses caused the people to look to a brass serpent upon a pole, saying whoever looks to this serpent raised up on the pole would live, showing there salvation demanded faith or trust in what Moses claimed.
As I said above, this is such an odd portrayal of the work of Christ, but upon close consideration of all the facts, it is very much in line with the whole Gospel preached out of the Old Covenant. The coming Savior was to be thought of as the very One judged by God (Isaiah 53:4). God’s judgment upon the ‘serpent’ of Genesis 3 was perceived by all to be the fate of the One whose murder would save all (Isaiah 53:5). He was innocent and became our Sin Offering (Isaiah 53:9-10). Most translations have Paul saying in 2Corinthians 5:21 that Christ was made ‘sin’ for us, but this is a wrong understanding. Jesus was made our Sin Offering as shown here:
(2 Corinthians 5:21 CLV) For the One not knowing sin, He makes to be a sin offering for our sakes that we may be becoming God’s righteousness in Him.”
(2 Corinthians 5:21 WORNT) For He hath made Him, who knew no sin, to be a sin-offering for us, that in Him we might be made righteous before God.
The translators’ error is clearly seen in understanding Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 5:2). Jesus was never made ‘sin’ for us, which implies ugliness and hatred from God, but he was our Sin Offering, which was a sweet savor to God.
Jesus received the judgment of Adam’s race—eternal death, but he rose again, showing his death was a ‘wound’ and not a permanent death blow as was the judgment of the serpent. And, just as faith was required in Moses’ day of the people in order to be saved from death, so too, today, it is required of us, if we wish to enter into life (eternal), to trust in Jesus—the Glory of the Shekinah Presence of God-made-flesh, high and lifted up upon a tree (John 1:14; cp. John 3:14). I often wondered if Nicodemus remembered this conversation, as he and Joseph of Arimathaea three years hence cast their two votes against the majority who condemned Jesus to die. I have heard that it was required in Jewish law that the condemned could not be killed, if the court (Sanhedrin) was unanimous in its verdict. It was required (or so I am told) that two votes were needed to be cast in favor of the accused in order to show the court was not overly biased against the One it condemned. If this is so, and I do not remember my source, then Jesus was preparing at least one of those witnesses at this time, in order that God’s will could be accomplished for the good of mankind.