A Quick Look – John 3:1-21

“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” (John 3:14-15 NIV).

These verses from John 3 record the well-known story of the conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish ruling council. This story contains what are probably two of the most recognizable verses in the New Testament: John 3:7 – “You must be born again” and John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son….”

Although the illustrious verses 7 and 16 usually draw most of the expository attention in the Nicodemus story, the more obscure verses 14 and 15 are actually the focus of this discussion. In these verses Jesus refers to an event in Numbers 21 in the Old Testament and uses it as a lead-in to His dramatic pronouncement in John 3:16.

When I was in seminary, one semester I signed up for a course entitled “The Old Testament in the New Testament” (or was it “The New Testament in the Old Testament”). At the time I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the course content nor eager to hear from the professor that taught it. I needed the course to fill a vacancy in my schedule and it was the only one available. Yet, it turned out that what I learned from that course greatly influenced my approach to understanding and interpreting the Bible. And, the professor became one of my favorites and I signed up for several other courses under him!

A couple of premises from that course are applicable to this discussion. First, the theology of the New Testament is entrenched in the theology of the Old Testament. Second, the interpretation of Old Testament theology, symbols or events is more trustworthy or reliable when it is noted by a New Testament writer or through the spoken words of Jesus.

In Numbers 21:4-9 the Israelites became disenchanted with the route they were taking during their wilderness wandering. They rebelled against Moses and God so God sent a plague of venomous snakes against them. When many began to die from snake bites, the Israelites repented and asked Moses to ask God to stop the plague. God told Moses to make a bronze snake and mount it on a pole and when any of the Israelites who were bitten by a snake looked at the bronze snake on the pole they would live.

In verses 14 and 15 Jesus draws a theological equivalency between the symbolic meaning of the bronze snake on the pole that Moses crafted in Numbers 21 and the cross on which He would be crucified.

Recently, I watched an inspirational film in which the opening scene was Moses working at a forge hammering out and shaping a strip of metal. When he finished forging the metal, he draped it over a wooden pole that was constructed in the form of a cross. As Moses stood the pole upright it became clear that the metal was shaped in the form of a semi-coiled snake. Then, in a stunning and quite moving scene the pole was raised for the Israelites to view and from a distance the bronze snake on a pole was quite similar in appearance to a man hanging on a cross.

Jesus said in John 3:14 that is exactly what the bronze snake on the pole symbolizes and foretells–the Son of God crucified on a cross.

But, Jesus isn’t necessarily referring to the visual resemblance between the Old Testament bronze snake on a pole and the New Testament Jesus hanging on a cross. Rather, it’s the equivalency between the faith of the Old Testament Israelites that gazed upon the bronze snake on the pole and the New Testament believers that look to the cross.

When the Israelites looked at the bronze snake, they lived: “When anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived “(Numbers 21:9, NIV). When New Testament believers look to the cross, they live: “That everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:15, NIV).

All it takes is one look, one quick look in faith at the cross of Jesus and you can live–eternally!

Because…. “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.”

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” (Galatians 3:13, NIV)

End Game: Part 15, Eden Reopened – Revelation 21-22

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Revelation 21:1-2, NIV).

The beginning of Chapter 21 reveals the conclusion of the book of Revelation. God has accomplished His purpose in saving his people and this is the fitting consummation to the story of redemption: God has brought His people home and He will dwell with them. Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3, NIV).

We have now arrived at the cosmic event that divides time and eternity–the point in time where heaven and earth conjoin to bind the future to the present.

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End Game: Part 14, Pan-Millenialism – Revelation 20

“And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4, NIV).

The litmus test by which we classify our interpretation of Revelation is how we interpret Revelation 20:1-10., which highlights the thousand-year (millennial) reign of Christ. Our interpretation of the whole book seems to depend on when the millennium occurs in our end-time chronology.

Premillennial, amillennial or postmillennial are the eschatological labels some evangelical institutions and individuals use to define themselves or their eschatological belief system. The three terms come from the word millennium, meaning a period of a thousand years. Pre- and postmillennialism divide over the question of whether the second coming of Christ will take place before or after the thousand years mentioned repeatedly in these verses.

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Representing God – Matthew 18:3-4

Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4, NIV).

“He represented God extremely well,” the preacher said in his eulogy at a funeral I attended recently. Many other words were used to describe this honorable, Christian man–faithful, dependable, kind, caring, loving–all of which were quite true. But, to me no description of this man’s life was as appropriate and relevant as, “He represented God extremely well.”

After all, isn’t that what Christians are supposed to do–represent God? And represent Him extremely well because we know Him personally?

That’s certainly an epitaph I aspire to! Unfortunately, more often than not, my life doesn’t represent God extremely well. In fact, sometimes I don’t even represent Him well! Especially when things in my life don’t go my way.

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End Game: Part 13, Armageddon, Evil’s Last Stand – Revelation 15-19

“And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” (Revelation 16:16, ESV).

After the trumpet judgments, the focus of Revelation changed from a somewhat chronological account to descriptions of certain events and people including a woman clothed with the sun, the Antichrist, the False Prophet, and the mark of the Beast.

In Chapter 15 John sees one final vision before he is shown the rest of the tribulation judgments, represented by bowls. The first vision John sees here is that of seven angels. These carry the last judgments God will use during the tribulation. The scene is one of celebration as redeemed believers sing a song of worship to God echoing similar songs of praise offered by Israel after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt in Exodus 15.

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End Game: Part 12, Cosmic Conflict – Revelation 12-14

“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” (Revelation 12:10-11, NIV).

The main figures described in these chapters are commonly interpreted like this: The woman symbolizes Israel. The dragon symbolizes Satan. The man-child refers to Jesus. The angel Michael is head of the angelic host. The offspring of the woman symbolizes Gentiles who come to faith in the Tribulation. The beast out of the sea symbolizes the antichrist. The beast out of the earth symbolizes the false prophet who promotes the antichrist.

These chapters describe a rebellion against God that is certainly of epochal or universal proportions. This world and humanity are the battleground for this cosmic conflict (see Revelation 13:6-8). Some biblical scholars and commentators even interpret the dragon’s defeat and ejection from heaven as referring to the incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus (cf. Luke 10:18, John 12:31).

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Beyond Logic – A Commentary on Christmas

The word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14, ESV).

Harry Reasoner was a broadcast journalist for CBS Radio in the early 1960s. He teamed up with Mike Wallce in the 1970s to create the CBS news magazine show, 60 Minutes. He later became anchor of the ABC Evening News, but after two years went back to CBS and 60 Minutes where he remained until he retired. Mr. Reasoner died in 1991.

Reasoner delivered a commentary on Christmas on his early radio program that he later delivered to a national audience on 60 Minutes and then later on ABC Evening News. This commentary has been reprinted many times and in several versions.

During this 2020 Christmas season I would like to share this Christmas commentary from the 20th century broadcast journalist Harry Reasoner:

It’s so revolutionary a thought that it probably could only come from a God that is beyond logic, and beyond theology.”

HARRY REASONER
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End Game: Part 11, A New Sheriff in Town – Revelation 11

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small—and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” (Revelation 11:17-18, NIV).

In the series of judgments described in Revelation 5-16– the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls of the wrath of God– there is always a break or intermission between the sixth and seventh judgment (Chapter 7-seals; Chapters 10-11-trumpets; the Chapter 12-14 interlude is before the sixth and seventh bowls in Chapter 16). Revelation 11 is a further elaboration of the interlude beginning in Chapter 10.

Chapter 11 opens with the measuring of the Temple of God. The idea of measuring communicates ownership, protection, and preservation. When this Temple is measured, it shows that God knows its every dimension.

It establishes that God is in charge of all things and all events on Earth now and in the future!

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End Game: Part 10, Good News/Bad News – Revelation 10

“So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, ‘Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey” (Revelation 10:9, NIV).

Inserted between the sixth and seventh trumpets is an interlude in Chapters 10-11. In the series of judgments described in Revelation 5-16– the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls of the wrath of God– there is always a break or intermission between the sixth and seventh judgment (Chapter 7-seals; Chapters 10-11-trumpets; the Chapter 12-14 interlude is before the sixth and seventh bowls in Chapter 16).

In the first part of this interlude John saw an angel he called a mighty angel coming down from heaven. The mighty angel planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land and gave a shout like the roar of a lion. John’s description of this mighty angel–rainbow above his head, face like the sun, shout like the roar of a lion–certainly represents the power of God and dominion over all creation in a way that is distinctive from most other angelic appearances.

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End Game: Part 9, Literally True – Revelation 8-9

“The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the side. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed” (Revelation 8:8-9, NIV).

The devastation caused by the eruption of the Laki volcanic fissure in Iceland in 1783 was felt globally for years after the event. The Laki eruption lasted for 8 months, emitting toxic gases that poisoned crops and killed 60 per cent of Iceland’s grazing livestock. The volcano released enough SO2 to cause acid rain and global temperatures to drop.

The eruption resulted in a famine that killed over 10,000 Icelandic people, roughly a quarter of the country’s population at the time. As Laki’s toxic eruption traveled south, it killed 23,000 in Britain and caused a famine in Egypt. Some environmental historians believe the European famine caused by the eruption may have been a catalyst for the French Revolution.

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