What does John 3:14 mean?
ESV: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
NIV: Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,
NASB: And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
CSB: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,
NLT: And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,
KJV: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
Verse Commentary:
"Lifted up" was a polite way of referring to crucifixion. In that culture, this method of execution was so vile that it was often mentioned using substitute phrases. "Son of Man" is a title Jesus applies often to Himself. This name refers to an Old Testament prophecy of the Messiah. Both of these points, and the reference to the serpents, Nicodemus would have recognized easily.

The Old Testament book of Numbers records the incident Jesus is referring to (Numbers 21:4–9). This incident paints a vivid picture of how salvation would be brought to mankind, through Christ. The people of Israel were attacked by poisonous snakes, as a result of their own disobedience. The people went to Moses for help, and Moses consulted with God. God instructed Moses to make an image of a snake and mount it on a pole. Anyone who looked at the snake was cured from their bite, and lived.

This event was meant to foreshadow the sacrifice of Christ, as verses 14 and 15 explain. The people in Numbers 21 are suffering as a result of their own failings, and the end result is death. Their only hope is to trust in something beyond themselves. The idea of being healed simply by looking at the bronze snake left no doubt that it was God's power, not their own, that brought healing. In the same way, all people suffer as a result of sin (Romans 5:12), and the end result is death (Romans 6:23). The only hope is trusting in something beyond ourselves (Romans 5:6). The fact that salvation comes entirely by faith leaves no doubt: we can't earn our redemption (Titus 3:5). Faith in Christ is not a "work," or something we do, any more than choosing to look at the serpent on the pole was. Both are available, to anyone, and only those who refuse to look are going to miss out on being rescued.
Verse Context:
John 2:24–3:15 describes a meeting between Jesus and a Pharisee. The last two verses of chapter two highlight the fact that Jesus knew men better than they knew themselves. Nicodemus was the ancient equivalent of a politician, priest, and professor all rolled into one. Jesus proves that this man doesn’t understand religion as well as he’d like to think. In contrast to the loud, public spectacle of clearing the temple, this encounter is a private, night-time meeting. Their actual conversation was probably longer than the brief summary recorded here.
Chapter Summary:
John chapter 3 is one of the most important in the entire gospel. Many crucial ideas are explained in this passage, including the role of Jesus as Savior. After the loud, public commotion at the temple, John transitions to a quiet, nighttime discussion. These verses make it clear that Christ—and Christ alone—is the means of salvation for the entire world. This text also states that those who reject Jesus are rejecting God.
Chapter Context:
The gospel of John is meant to prove that Jesus is God. Chapter 3 contains some of the most direct, most important concepts in Christianity. The ideas of spiritual rebirth, and the need to believe in Christ, are reinforced by the rest of the information in this gospel. John continues to use contrast, moving from the loud and public temple cleansing to the quiet of this conversation. After Jesus injects humility into a powerful leader, chapter 4 will transition again, as Jesus gives dignity to an outcast stranger.
Book Summary:
The gospel of John was written by the disciple John, decades later than the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The author assumes that a reader is already familiar with the content of these other works. So, John presents a different perspective, with a greater emphasis on meaning. John uses seven miracles—which he calls “signs”—in order to prove that Jesus is, in fact, God incarnate. Some of the most well-known verses in all of the Bible are found here. None is more famous than the one-sentence summary of the gospel found in John 3:16.
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