The Serpent, the Curse: Jesus Lifted Up
as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so
must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever
believeth may in him have eternal life" (John
the Old Testament background, which we have in the
twenty-first chapter of the Book of Numbers. There the
incident begins in this way: "The people
spake against God, and against Moses... our soul
loatheth this vile bread" (Numbers 21:5 -
R.V. margin). They used very strong words about the
manna, the food from heaven. They spoke against God and
Moses and said: 'We hate the thing God has provided.'
remember that God, in all that He did, always had His Son
in view, and this was so when He gave the children of
Israel the manna from heaven (as we shall see when we
come to John 6). The manna was a type of Christ, who
said: "The bread of God is that which
cometh down out of heaven, and giveth life unto
the world... I am the bread of life"
(John 6:33,35). The people of Israel said: 'We loathe
this vile bread'... and you can hear the Jews in Christ's
day speaking like that: 'We hate this man!' That
was their spirit.
the spirit of these people in the wilderness. How
antagonistic it was to Him and to what He gave! Therefore
"the Lord sent fiery serpents
among the people, and they bit the people; and much
people of Israel died" (Numbers 21:6).
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the
wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted
there are deep and terrible things here! From the
beginning to the end of the Bible the serpent is ever and
always the symbol of a curse, of the judgment of God. You
know that from the very first mention of the serpent in
the Bible. This serpent lifted up in the wilderness was
the symbol of the judgment of God. The judgment and curse
of God which rested upon the rebellious people were
transferred to that serpent. It was transfixed to the
cross, carrying the curse and the judgment of God upon
itself for the people, and whosoever looked to the
serpent was saved.
that bit of the Old Testament, the Lord Jesus was only
saying: 'I am going to be made a curse for you. When I am
lifted up I shall bear YOUR judgment upon Myself.
I shall carry YOUR sins in My body on the tree.'
There is deliverance in Christ crucified from the curse
and from the judgment, and whosoever will look shall
live. And here comes in the greatest Scripture that we
know! "For" (I like the
conjunction. Conjunctions are always significant things
in the New Testament. When you get a 'for', 'wherefore'
or 'therefore', always look all round) "God so loved
often quote John 3:16 without the context. Ah, what a
tremendous thing this is! God has laid on His
only-begotten Son the iniquity of us all, allowing Him,
His well-beloved Son, to be made a curse for us. Why? "For
God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten
Son, that whosoever believeth on him
should not perish, but have eternal life."
You have to lift that out and put it right into Numbers
21, or take Numbers 21 and put it right into John 3:16.
the background and here is the foreground, the transition
from the old to the new. The new heavenly Israel is built
upon this ground: "Whosoever believeth
may in him have eternal life."
lot more we could say about that! But we must pass on.
The Opened Way to the Springing Well
another unfortunate dividing of chapters. For spiritual
purposes it is a great pity that John 3 and John 4 are
Reading: John 4:1-42
heart of the whole talk between the Master and the woman
of Samaria is in verse 14:
"Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall
give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall
give him shall become in him a well of water springing up
unto eternal life."
just said that there ought to be no division of chapters
here, because the twenty-first chapter of the Book of
Numbers is not divided. Immediately after the incident of
the serpent being lifted up there comes the incident of
the springing well: "Then sang Israel
this song: Spring up, O well:" (Numbers 21:17).
When the Cross has done its work, when Christ has borne
the judgment and the curse resting upon us, then the Holy
Spirit is released and springs up as the well of eternal
then, in chapter four is the background of Numbers 21 -
the springing well following immediately upon the serpent
being lifted up. In John 3 and 4 you have these two
things: Jesus lifted up, being made a curse for us (for
it is written: "He that is hanged is accursed of
God" (Deuteronomy 21:23)), and bearing the
judgment of our rebellious hearts. Then, when He has done
that, He has made a way for the springing well of eternal
Spirit makes a wonderful connection in the Bible, does He
not? How He brings things together! We would, perhaps,
have never thought of finding the third and fourth
chapters of John in the twenty-first chapter of Numbers,
but there they are.
The Word of Life and the Law of Death
have the incident of the nobleman and his dying son. He
has come all the way from Capernaum to find Jesus and to
persuade Him to go home with him and heal his son. Jesus
tested his faith, and, finding that it was quite genuine,
said: "Go thy way. Thy son liveth."
The man believed Him, went home and discovered that
it was just at the very moment that Jesus said: "Thy
son liveth" that the boy began to get better.
at the heart of this incident? Why did Jesus not go to
Capernaum with that man? He went there on another
occasion and healed a lot of people. Why did He not say:
'Well, I have to return to Capernaum at some time and do
a lot of works there. I may as well go now. Here is the
opportunity. It is an invitation and I suppose I ought to
take all invitations'?
did not do that. He stayed where He was and sent the man
home all those miles. It took from twelve noon until the
close of that day, and then on into the next day, for the
man to get home. Why was it that Jesus adopted this
method on this particular occasion?
a Jewish background. What is it? It is the background of
the law: "The letter killeth" (II
Corinthians 3:6). Jesus said: "The words
that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are
life" (John 6:63). It does not matter how far
away the case may be, if He speaks His word is spirit and
Testament speaking of the law brought death. "The
letter killeth" (that is, the letter of the
law). "The spirit giveth life" (II
Corinthians 3:6) and "the words that I have
spoken unto you are spirit, and are life." Jesus
had only to speak and He reversed the effect of the law.
The law could never have done this. You may bring all the
scribes and Pharisees down from Jerusalem to this boy and
they can recite all the law of Moses, and nothing will
happen. He will die right enough, and probably all the
quicker because of their reading of the law! Jesus had
only to open His mouth and speak a word, and the boy many
miles away began to get better from that moment.
Jesus is saying that the law of His mouth is life. The
transition is so clear - from death unto life in the
The Release from the Bondage to Self
Reading: John 5:1-9
story of the impotent man the heart of the matter is in
verse five: "And a certain man was there, which
had been thirty and eight years in his infirmity."
the Jewish background? There is very little doubt that it
was Israel's journey in the wilderness, the thirty-eight
years of their wanderings. What cripples they were! They
could have made the journey from Egypt to Canaan in
eleven days, but it took them thirty-eight years and
during that time they were really making no progress at
all. They were in bondage to their own self-life. They
were impotent, helpless cripples because the self-life
was in the place of mastery. You have no need for me to
tell you how that self-life governed them in the
wilderness. They never looked at anything in the light of
how it served God and how far it satisfied His interests.
They looked at everything in the light of how it affected
them. All their murmuring and rebellion was because THEY
were not getting what THEY wanted. It was
never what God wanted. They were just a self-centered
people, and the self-life was their bed, and they were
cripples lying on that bed. They were never really able
to get up and march straight forward into God's purpose.
that is the Jewish background, and Jesus takes up an
illustration of that right in the presence of the Jews
when He puts this man on his feet.
members of the new heavenly Israel are people who have
been delivered from self-interest into God's interest,
who have been put on their spiritual feet by Jesus Christ
and are walking in strength in the way of the Lord.
not think it is a very significant thing that the first
miracle after the Day of Pentecost was the raising of an
impotent man at the gate of the temple in Jerusalem?
These are not just pretty stories put together to make an
interesting book. God knows what He is doing, and when He
makes the first miracle of the Christian era the raising
of an impotent cripple, He is saying that the people of
this new Israel are people who have been delivered from
this impotence and put on their feet spiritually.
are a lot of Christian cripples about! They cannot get on
their own feet, nor can other people put them there. You
try to pick them up! They may take a step or two, and
then down they go again. There are many like that, and
you can spend your life trying to get them up on their
feet. What is it that is eating the very life out of
them? What is it that is making them such helpless
cripples that they cannot walk? It is self-centeredness.
Make no mistake about it, it is self in some form. It is
self that wants to be taken notice of. It is self in the
form of pride. This poor man was delivered because he
knew his own helplessness and he believed what Jesus
said. He believed on to Jesus Christ, which means that he
believed out of himself. Yes, that is the secret - that
we shall turn from our miserable selves and cease to be
occupied with them, saying once and for all: 'I am done
with you, wretched self. I throw myself on to Jesus
Christ. I take the one great step of committal.' Jesus
never lets such a person down.
(10) The Miracle and Mystery of
Reading: John 6
already said something about this. The Jewish background
comes in verse thirty-two: "It was not
Moses that gave you the bread out of heaven; but my
the presence of the Jews, Jesus is saying: "The
bread of God is that which cometh down out of heaven,
and giveth life unto the world... I am the bread of
John's extensive context of the manna in the wilderness
covering seventy-one verses there is one issue which
plainly arises. It is the issue of divine sustenance in
humanly impossible conditions. That this matter is taken
out of the natural into the super-natural realm is clear.
Nicodemus - that representative of Israel - had
confronted a demand made by Christ with a mighty 'How?' "How
can a man he born when he is old?'' That
question postulated the miracle of the beginning of the
Christian life. In the chapter now before us the Jews
raised another question: "How can this man give
us his flesh to eat?" (verse 52). This
question - with the context of the feeding of the
multitude in the wilderness - postulates the miracle of
the continuance and support of the Christian life in
naturally impossible conditions. That Christ Himself as
"The Bread of Life" maintains the life of God's
people when there is nothing but spiritual desolation all
around is, firstly, a miracle; secondly, a fact; and
thirdly, a test of the reality of union with Him. This
miracle and fact are attested by a long history of the
stamina and persistence of so many who have had no
EARTHLY means of spiritual support. If our life is
centered in Christ Himself, and not merely in religious
things, it will be a miracle how we go on.
this is one of the ways in which the manifold wisdom of
God is made known, by the Church, unto principalities and
powers, and we are 'unto the glory of His grace'.
All Sacrifices and Offerings fulfilled
Reading: John 7:1,2,14,37-39
We are here in the presence of the feast
of tabernacles and that goes back to the twenty-ninth
chapter of the Book of Numbers. If you look there you
will see what led up to this great day of the feast. All
the different kinds of offerings had been presented to
the Lord (I need not enumerate them - they are all
mentioned in the chapter), and then came the last great
day of the feast. It is called the 'feast of
tabernacles', but it is also called 'the feast of
trumpets'. On the last great day the priests brought out
great vessels of water and poured it out on the top of
the steps of the temple in Jerusalem so that it flowed
down in great volume.
Jesus stepped forward at that time. In Him
all the offerings are presented to God. He in person is
the embodiment of all the sacrifices and all the
offerings and He, as the completeness of all God's
requirements, presents Himself to the Lord. Then He comes
to this day of the feast of tabernacles. In Numbers it
says: "It is a day of blowing of
trumpets unto you". Jesus, so to speak, took the
trumpet and 'cried with a loud voice'. Here, in figure,
is the trumpet of the feast of tabernacles. In Him all
the offerings are perfected. God is fully satisfied and,
therefore, He can pour out His Spirit in fullness. Jesus
cried like a trumpet: "He that believeth on me...
out of him shall flow rivers of living water."
the heritage of all who are of the new Israel. It is your
inheritance. If the Word of God is true, if what Christ
has said is true (and He wanted it to be known that it
was true by crying with a loud voice), and if you and I
will accept Jesus Christ as God's full satisfaction on
our behalf, as the One who has brought every offering
that God has stipulated to God Himself, who has answered
to every sacrifice and every offering, then His great cry
is true for us. Rivers of living water can flow out of us
and others can receive His life through us, who are His
channels. That is how it ought to be with every true
believer, and Jesus has made it possible by satisfying
God completely on our behalf.
people of the new Israel ought to be people with a river
flowing out of them. Believe, proclaim your faith, do not
be silent, take the trumpet and let people hear, and you
will be surprised that, when you begin to testify to the
Lord Jesus, other people will receive life. Something
will happen to them. If you keep your mouth closed and
refuse to testify to the Lord Jesus in your home, in your
village and in your work, then you are holding up the
river of the Spirit. You are checking the flow of the
river that ought to be flowing out from you.
you have never done it, you try it! I want to tell you
that the first soul who comes to the Lord Jesus through
your testimony will release something in you, so that you
will never want to keep your mouth closed again. There
are a lot of miserable Christians who will keep their
mouths closed. I know there are those who talk too much,
but there are quite a lot who do not talk enough and so
they are spoiling their own Christian life. Take the
trumpet of the Lord Jesus and cry with a loud voice and
the rivers will begin to flow.
We - the
new Israel - must keep the feast of tabernacles by
proclaiming the all-sufficiency of Jesus, to God for us;
from God to us!