A SIGN OF OUR SERPENTINE NATURE
The point we are emphasizing here is that the brass serpent in 3:14 is a sign not only to Nicodemus, but to us all. In John 3 the Lord seemed to be telling Nicodemus, “Nicodemus, you are a serpent. Don’t think of yourself as a gentleman, and don’t expect to be changed or improved through teachings. Moses taught you many things, but that did not change the fact that you are a serpent. Now you come to Me, regarding Me as a rabbi and thinking that I may give you some better teachings so you may be improved. No, Nicodemus, you are wrong. You are a serpent. Nicodemus, I am not your rabbi; I am your substitute. You are a poisonous serpent, but I am a ‘brass serpent’ willing to be judged by God in your place so that you may have eternal life. If you believe in Me as the One judged by God in your place, My divine life will be released into you. After this divine life has been imparted to you, you will be made alive. Nicodemus, you are dead. What you need is eternal life to enliven you. You don’t need teachings, and you don’t need a rabbi. You need a substitute to be judged by God in your place. As this substitute, I have the life within Me to release into your being to make you living.” This is the sign of the brass serpent.
In our preaching of the gospel, we need to declare the truth of 3:14. The Lord’s word to Nicodemus here is part of the gospel. However, there are many believers who do not understand what the Lord Jesus is saying here. Certainly those in the Lord’s recovery are no longer ignorant of the significance of the type of the brass serpent and the Lord’s word concerning it in 3:14. I believe that even the young people are able to understand what I am saying about the sign of the brass serpent.
We all must realize that, in the sight of God, we are serpents full of the poison of the Devil, the old serpent. As the offspring of Satan (Matt. 3:7; 12:34; 23:33), we are little serpents brought forth by the old serpent. Perhaps you think of yourself as a refined lady or gentleman. But God sees you as a serpent. I must tell you the truth and point out that in the sight of God we, as fallen beings, are all serpents. You may be highly educated, and you may have a gentle disposition and an excellent character. Nevertheless, your sinful nature is serpentine in the eyes of God. Do not think that criminals are serpentine but that you are not. It is a fact that we all are serpentine, for we all have been bitten by that poisonous old serpent.
Because we all are serpentine, what we need is not the teachings of a philosopher or a rabbi. We need a “brass serpent” to be our substitute to bear God’s judgment for us, to redeem us, and to release His saving, divine life into our inner being.
RECEIVING ANOTHER LIFE
The sign of regeneration indicates that we need to become a new being. This is the main significance of the first sign in John 3. The second sign, that of the brass serpent, indicates that our old being is serpentine and that this serpentine being must be replaced so that we may receive another life, eternal life, in order to become a new being with a new life and a new nature.
Let us consider the Lord’s word in 3:14 and 15: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” The Greek word rendered “that” at the beginning of verse 15 is better translated “so that” or “in order that.” This indicates the goal of the lifting up of the Son of Man. The Son of Man was lifted up in order that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. Therefore, the goal of the lifting up of the Lord Jesus as a “brass serpent” is that everyone who believes in Him may receive another life, eternal life, divine life.
We should not separate or divide verse 16 from verse 15. The word “for” at the beginning of verse 16 indicates that it is a word of explanation. Why did the Lord Jesus become a “brass serpent” to be lifted up on the cross for us so that we may have eternal life? The answer, revealed in verse 16, is that it was because God loves the human race. According to 3:16, “God so loved the world.” The “world” here does not refer to the globe; it denotes the human race. The human race is called the world because it has become a part of the system of Satan. (The Greek word for “world,” kosmos, means a system.) The fallen human race has become a part of Satan’s world system. Nevertheless, God loves the satanic human race; in this sense He loves the world.
The entire satanic, human world has become serpentine. Everyone in it, including philosophers such as Confucius and Plato, is serpentine. Of course, we also are serpentine. Nevertheless, God loves us and He gave His Son to become a “brass serpent” judged on the cross in our stead. The result is that everyone who believes in Him does not perish but has eternal life. In verse 16 also the word “that” means “in order that.”
The sign of the brass serpent indicates that Christ was lifted up for us and judged by God so that by believing in Him as our substitute we may have eternal life. Hallelujah for the sign of the brass serpent!
(The Fulfillment of the Tabernacle and the Offerings in the Writings of John, Chapter 7, by Witness Lee)