By Daniel Bobinski
Editor’s note: CLM contributor Daniel Bobinski completed his study of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 in his column titled, “Choosing to Love.” In this issue, he launches a new ongoing column on “Symbolism & Salvation.”
In the 21st chapter of the Book of Numbers, we find an odd story. The Israelites had been grumbling against God and Moses, and in response, God sent poisonous snakes to their camp. People who were bit by snakes were dying, and people went running to Moses, saying, “Tell God we’re sorry!”
And so, God had Moses make a snake out of brass and hang it up on a pole in the camp. From there, the instruction was that if anyone bit by a snake simply looked at the snake Moses had hung up on the pole, they would not die from their snakebite.
What an odd set of instructions. All one had to do was look at the snake and “death-by-snakebite” did not happen. How weird!
If that’s all we knew, we might ask, “What was the deal with the snake?” But hundreds of years later, the third chapter of the fourth Gospel quotes Jesus as saying, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” If Jesus didn’t say anything about what happened in Numbers 21, that incident would have been some strange Old Testament story. But if we take a deeper look at the circumstances, it all makes sense.
In the Book of John chapter 3, Jesus is talking to a teacher of the law named Nicodemus. Jesus tells him, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
As a teacher of the law, Nicodemus would have understood the story. People doomed to death from snake poison were spared death simply by believing that God would heal them if they merely looked at the snake.
But for Jesus, that story served as a symbolic analogy. He knew that people doomed to hell (which is a suffering called the Second Death in the Book of Revelation) would be spared that fate if they simply looked to Jesus on the cross.
Then, as if to underscore his point, Jesus uttered what has become the most famous verse in the Bible (John 3:16) – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
“Believes” is better translated “Trusts”
As I’ve mentioned in this space before, the word “believes” is more accurately translated “trusts.” In other words, it’s not just a matter of saying we believe in Jesus. In the Book of James, chapter 2, we’re told that even the demons believe – and they tremble.
Said another way, demons can believe that Jesus died for the sins of mankind all they want, it’s not going to get them a ticket to eternal life in Heaven with the Lord. Their fate is sealed.
For us, our “belief” must be a trust – a trust that Jesus’s blood pays the price for our sins.
More symbolism in “The Lamb of God”
Another symbolic event occurred in Exodus chapter 12, and it leads some to ask, “Why paint a lamb’s blood on the doorframe of your house?”
When He was getting ready to free the nation of Israel from captivity in Egypt, God had people bring a perfect, unblemished lamb into their homes for three days. Then, on the third day, the lamb was slaughtered and its blood was to be painted onto the frame of the door. That night, God brought judgment on Egypt, and the firstborn male of every species in every household was struck down.
But God had a symbolic plan. In verse 13 of that chapter, God says, “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood I will pass over you.”
That was the first Passover. If God saw the lamb’s blood on a house, He did not strike anyone down in that house.
In the same way, Jesus is “the Lamb of God” (John 1). If we have the blood of the Lamb on us BY FAITH (trust), then when we stand before God, He will see the blood and “pass over” us when it comes to sending people to the second death.
Symbolism and salvation
These are just two symbolic events orchestrated by God to point us to Jesus. But Jesus didn’t come to earth just to die by Himself. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Ephesians chapter 2 also contains some powerful verses, starting with verses 8 and 9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Many people stop there, but if they keep reading, verse 10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
If a super simplified translation existed, verses 8 – 10 might read, “You’re not saved by your works, you’re saved for your works.”
In other words, yes, Jesus died so we can have eternal life. We can look at what Jesus did on the cross and trust that His blood covers our sins to get us in the door. But once we have that, Jesus has important things He wants each of us to do – things that will change the world. We’ll talk more about that in the next issue.
Daniel Bobinski, Th.D., is an award-winning and best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at [email protected] or (208) 375-7606.