In John 3:14 the Lord Jesus reveals that the bronze serpent, which was the way of salvation for the children of Israel in Numbers 21:4-9, is a type of Himself. Because the people of Israel spoke against God and Moses, God sent serpents which bit them, causing many to die. After their repentance, Moses made a bronze serpent according to Jehovah’s instruction and lifted it up on a pole. Whenever an Israelite was bitten, if he looked at the bronze serpent, he would be saved and live. This was a wonderful picture of Christ as man’s salvation.
Because Satan is called “the serpent” in Genesis 3 and “the ancient serpent” in Revelation 12:9 and 20:2, some may be surprised that Christ is typified by a serpent. However, it was necessary for Christ to come in the form of man, who in the fall was injected with Satan’s poisonous, evil nature of sin. This transmuted man’s body into “the flesh” (Rom. 7:14, 17-18, 23; Gen. 6:3, 12). In the eyes of God, not only is Satan the serpent but also all fallen men are serpents with the poison of sin in their nature (cf. Matt 3:7; 12:34; 23:33). Just as in Numbers 21, the issue of this poison is inevitably death (primarily spiritual).
When Christ became a man, he became flesh, and he came in the “likeness of the flesh of sin” (John 1:14; Rom. 8:3). In a definite sense, he came having the form of a serpent without its poison—that is, in the likeness of the flesh of sin but without the sin of the flesh (Heb. 4:15). As such, He was “lifted up” on the cross and judged by God as the unique sinner and, mysteriously, even as sin itself (2 Cor. 5:21; Matt. 27:45-46). There the totality of the serpent was categorically dealt with under God’s judgment, which judgment is signified by the bronze of the serpent (cf. Rev. 1:18; Num. 16). As the bronze serpent, Christ was judged as man’s genuine Substitute and Replacement. In other words, man’s fallen and serpentine being was judged and terminated in Christ as the bronze serpent. At the same time, the ancient serpent Satan was also judged, condemned and destroyed in the very human flesh that he had corrupted and inhabited as indwelling sin (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14; John 12:31-33), even though this sinful nature was not in Christ’s flesh. As in Numbers 21:9, the end of this wonderful accomplishment is salvation and life to all who look at Christ in faith. Praise Him for His death as the bronze serpent, which dealt with the serpent and his poison that we may enjoy eternal life!
Witness Lee, Truth Lessons, Level 3, Volume 2 (Print).
(Most references in the Further Reading can also be viewed on www.ministrybooks.org.)