Updated: Feb 3
Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
This is the Gospel selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B. It will next be read aloud in church by a priest on Sunday, February 11, 2018. This is important as it includes the well-known verse in John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world …”), but this reading has greater impact from the explanation Jesus gave about what the words in that verse mean.
Leading in to that famous verse, Jesus made the comparison to eternal salvation and the serpent lifted up by Moses in the wilderness. The Greeks called this symbol the Rod of Asclepius, which is associated with Asclepius the god of medicine.
Moses did not follow a Greek god, so this representation goes beyond recognition of Asclepius.
To understand the background story of Moses lifting up a serpent on a staff, the Israelites (the backsliders and complainers) were dying from poisonous snake bites. The one’s who were watching those deaths were worried it would happen to them, as punishment for sins. So, the elders asked Moses to talk to God and come up with a solution that would save them from that plight. The “bronze snake on a staff” symbolizes the capturing of a snake and milking its venom, in effect the value of using evil for good. That act is what we know today as the necessary step for antivenin that comes from the snake’s venom being milked from it. Therefore, the Israelites would be saved from the punishment of snakebite for sins by drinking serpent antivenin.
Of course, the metaphor of the serpent has to be seen as the influence of evil, going back to Adam and Eve in the heavenly realm of Eden. Adam and Eve were immortals then, as it was the bite of the snake’s suggestions that injected the poison of sin that caused Eve to bite the forbidden fruit and get Adam to do likewise. They were all three banished from eternal life in heaven, with God, sent as immortal souls in the land of death. However, because Adam was required to be sacrificed to save mankind, he was the first seeding of the Son of Man (the Fall from Grace) on Earth, so that soul could be “lifted up” as Jesus Christ.
If one takes a few moments of serious thought into that Fall from Grace, which (according to Biblical timeline calculators) is the cornerstone of the 6,000-year theory of the beginning of man, those numbers alone say that the soul of Adam was punished to 4,000 years of death and reincarnation (until Jesus was lifted up at the Ascension), simply because he ate a bite of fruit from a forbidden tree in Eden.
Consider in these few moments how your sins compare to Adam’s. Are they not more from adult cunning, than from childish disobedience? Are they not more numerous than one, too many to count? To think that God will allow just any old soul back into Heaven, simply from agreeing with the thought that Jesus is the “auto-save button” for all past, present, and future sins – forever washed clean by blind faith – makes as much sense as believing snake antivenin saves everyone from poisonous snake bites, without any need to swallow that medicinal liquid and have it course through one’s veins.
This means the depth of meaning in the translation “whoever believes in him may have eternal life,” says “belief” without action on that believed yields the promise of eternal soul-life in an eternally mortal body – birth, life, death, repeat eternally. However, “belief” through the rebirth of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, means acting to save one’s soul from eternal reincarnations, by living the way that is believed.
Seeing that duality in the ways that “eternal life” goes, the Israelites who were bitten by poisonous snakes in the wilderness died in body, but their eternal souls came back in the world as reincarnated souls in new bodies of flesh. An old soul in a new body must begin again one’s quest to find God and then stay away from snakes. The symbolism of Moses supplying the Israelites with an antivenin to avoid that recycling is parallel to what Jesus offers.
Physical fluids ingested (antivenin) was a blessed gift of salvation from God, through Moses. Physical medicine saved one soul in one body of flesh, so that body and soul could serve the LORD properly. Likewise, Jesus offers a God-given gift of Salvation for one’s soul, when the Spirit of Christ becomes infused into one body, thus enabling one to deny the desires of the flesh (snake bites). One gift is physical, while the other gift is Spiritual.
The Spiritual gift from God comes from love – “For God so loved the world” – where one’s heart is given to the LORD, so in return “He gave His only Son” for that love. To “believe” is best when one knows belief through direct contact with the Mind of Christ, as a reborn Jesus. That path of belief means one’s soul will not perish on Earth when its fleshy host body returns to dust.
This means that when Jesus said, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him,” the use of the conditional form of “to be” (as “might be”) makes that lack of condemnation optional, or dependent on the right choice being made. God did not love the world of sin so much that He was willing to let his boy Jesus die, so eternal sinners could be saved.
Man’s best friend … but not on man’s carpet before being washed clean! You think God accepts less?
That confirmation comes when Jesus then followed that up with the statement, “Those who do not believe are condemned already (thus already born to perish continually), because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Again, “not believed in the name of Jesus Christ” means a human has not become a reborn Jesus Christ (as an Apostle – Saint), so “belief” from personal experience is impossible.
When Jesus then spoke of the light and darkness, one has to recall John writing, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:4-5) These statements about Logos, where “the Word was God,” says “the Light of men” is God, with Jesus being the manifestation of “the Light” of God on Earth.
This then is seen where John recalled Jesus saying (to Nicodemus, who came after 6:00 PM to where Jesus and John were staying, following Jesus’ first Passover in his ministry), “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” Jesus said “the light has come into the world” as a statement of God’s presence; but the world is a place ruled by darkness, which rejects God (and thus it rejected Jesus of Nazareth, born of a woman in Bethlehem).
When Jesus told Nicodemus, “People loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil,” this was how many of the Israelites with Moses in the wilderness, with no outside influences of other people or other nations to tempt them, still loved the darkness rather than the light. They sinned among each other and were bitten by deadly snakes for their punishment. Those bites probably occurred under the cover of darkness came (after 6:00 PM), when their lusts overcame them and they thought they could go out unseen. Unfortunately, the snakes were less likely to be spotted in the darkness, and the light of God knew everything they did.
This makes Nicodemus a snake by comparison, as he went at evening to tempt Jesus to serve the evil of the Temple. The Pharisees and other Temple leaders of the Law, were the ones who bit the common Jews with their ignorance, killing their belief in God’s promise. The Jews pleaded with people like Nicodemus for a cure to their maladies, to no avail. However, Jesus was raised up as antivenin to the poison Nicodemus represented, as God’s promise delivered.
When Jesus told Nicodemus, “Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God,” this was after Jesus had told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” For one to “come to the light,” so that “their deeds have been done in God,” the requirement is to be born again to the light.
At that early stage of Jesus’ ministry, still a distance from his execution, his resurrection and his ascension, the only ones born again to the light, in God, were the great Patriarchs – the Holy lineage – reincarnated from Adam, the first seed of those who talked with God, who had seen God, as His Son, in His Kingdom. Therefore, Jesus was not the first to be born again to the light in God; he was the God-sent snake that would kill the evil of a building in Jerusalem, and who would then be raised up as the antivenin that would be “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
As a personal Lenten lesson, where one is tested in one’s complete devotion to God, through Christ, one must see oneself in the wilderness amid the snakes of sinful ways. One who is prepared for the test has learned that darkness serves no purpose but to ruin. Thus one has turned to the light, where one’s love of God in one’s heart blinds one’s eyes from the temptation of the world. The light of the Christ Mind exposes the dangerous influences the world offers, silencing their calls from the shadows.
Jesus Christ within becomes the name one takes on, as one is raised on the staff that reminds others of the dangers of sin.
This Lenten lesson tells one the wilderness is a land of One, where it is always day. Any dangers are clearly exposed; with the test being how one reacts. To pass the test, one’s deeds must be led by God, just as were those of Jesus Christ.