Speaking Sound Doctrine

Lifted Up – The Son Of Man

In John 3, Jesus, speaking to Nicodemus, uses a type of figurative language called double entendre that utilizes a play on words with multiple meanings.  First He says this:

John 3:3  Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

The word translated "again" can mean "over again, anew" or "from above."  Nicodemus is only thinking carnally, so he does not grasp the spiritual implication.  Then Jesus says more:

John 3:8  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.  So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.

Here, the words "wind" and "spirit" are translating the same original Greek word, so Nicodemus, still confused, just says to Jesus, "How can these things be?" (verse 9).

Finally, Jesus adds even more word-play with the following statement:

John 3:14  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.

The word translated "lifted up" means, literally, to be raised to a higher physical position, but figuratively, it means to be exalted to a position of honor.  However, as Jesus references the bronze serpent that Moses fashions and mounts to a pole in the wilderness, the literal or figurative word usages are not very revealing.  Speaking by euphemism, Jesus is here alluding to His being lifted up on a cross in crucifixion.  In the account concerning Moses, the Israelites speak against God and Moses, so God sends poisonous snakes upon them; some are bitten, and they die.  When they repent, God does not take away the serpents as they ask, but He provides a remedy:

Numbers 21:8, 9  Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live." 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

Jesus recognizes Nicodemus as a teacher of the people in verse 10, so He is expecting Nicodemus to at least make the spiritual assessment that sin is the poison viper that is killing men and will continue to plague the earth, but He is providing a plan from God to save men from the condemnation of sin.

Jesus develops the analogy more fully later in His ministry.  To the Pharisees in John 8, berating Him and accusing Him of being suicidal, He says,

John 8:28   …When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.

He is not saying this to suggest that the Pharisees are going to exalt Him or raise Him up in honor but to "lift Him up" on a cross.

In John 12, nearing the time of His crucifixion, Jesus, teaching His disciples, says:

John 12:23-28  …The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified….  27 Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say?  "Father, save Me from this hour"?  But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify Your name….

Then, He revisits the bronze serpent:

John 12:32, 33  "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself." 33 This He said, signifying by what death He would die.

Jesus is ultimately glorified by being "lifted up" in His resurrection and His ascension, but it is striking that Jesus includes His crucifixion in the progression of His glorification.  Consider the irony that lifting up the very likeness of the fiery serpent in the wilderness becomes the medium for relief from its deadly effect and likewise that the very sin of lifting up Jesus on a cross is the medium for salvation to all who look to Him in faith.

Something else needs to be said about the bronze serpent of Moses.  The nation of Israel eventually falls into false worship over it, treating it as an idol:

2 Kings 18:4  [Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it….

Still even this day among those practicing false religion without divine authority, crosses and other images, fashioned for the purpose of worship, are displayed and paraded as objects of reverence, much like Israel had done.  We must be careful that our worship be not in vain, following the precepts and traditions of men (Matthew 15:9).

It would not have been sufficient for Jesus to have died a natural or accidental death.  It was necessary for Him, pure and innocent as a perfect lamb, to endure a sacrificial death in order to secure our salvation from sin (Hebrews 9).

In the Lord's Supper, we have the privilege of lifting up the Son of Man once more but to the highest place of glory, honor, and esteem as a witness before men and God by commemorating His body in the unleavened bread and His life-giving blood in the fruit of the vine.  Let us do so discerningly, humbly, respectfully, and thankfully, according to His will (1 Corinthians 11:26-29).



Bible quotations herein are from the New King James Version.

Copyright 2023, Speaking Sound Doctrine