In His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus referenced the story of the snake in the desert and indicated that it foreshadowed Himself. How exactly does this story foreshadow Jesus?

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

6 Answers 6


Numbers 21:6-9 (NIV)

6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

I believe the key here is the type of action that was taken "raising up" and the result of that action "healing". If you recall the people of Israel were struck with a plague of snakes. To alleviate the plague Moses was instructed to raise up a bronze snake and all who looked at the snake were healed.

Jon 3:14-15(NIV)

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

We are bitten with a plague of sin, Christ was raised up on the Cross. Those who look to Christ are healed. I also don't think its a coincidence that the plague was snakes. This goes back to more snake imagery involving Jesus from Genesis:

Genesis 3:15(NIV)

15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Jesus' coming was foreshadowed with snakes as far back as Genesis, this is a continuation of that theme.

  • 4
    snake = sin. Jesus became a snake (sin) for us. Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 20:21
  • 3
    oh, and +1 for tying it back to the garden! Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 20:27
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    The snake on a stick the Christ on a cross. Is there a possible point to be made about the debate over wether Christ died on an upright stake or a cross here?
    – Kristopher
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 16:27

The snake being lifted up in the wilderness is a symbol of Christ 'becoming sin' and being 'lifted up' on the cross. Those who looked upon it lived even if they had the poison of the serpent in them, and in like fashion, those that look upon Christ crucified are saved from the venom of death. To understand what 'looking' means in this case you must consider that to accept the Gospel one must accept 'The Crucified God' - a big deal for pagans (and later, Muslims) who reject the idea of a God who would permit himself to be killed by men and actually die.


The snake was killed and hung up on a wooden pole. Jesus was killed and hung on a wooden cross. People looked to the snake to be cured from a physical plague. People looked to Jesus to be cured of the plague of sin.

Perhaps one could draw further analogies, but I think that's the essence of what Jesus was pointing out.

I made a comment on another question that I think Christians find too many parallels to Christ in the Old Testament. But this was is clearly spelled out by Jesus himself.

  • what you say here is good, but its already covered by RiverC and WaxEagle in their answers. Perhaps you could distinguish your answer somehow? Commented Apr 7, 2012 at 4:35

When the Israelites were bitten by serpents in the wilderness, God told Moses to put a bronze serpent on a pole. The pole represents the cross and bronze speaks of judgment. Those who beheld the serpent on the pole lived because they saw their problem — the deadly serpent — nailed and put to death on the cross. (Numbers 21:6–9)

  • Welcome to C.SE! When you get the chance, please check out our tour and specifically How we are different than other sites. This is 100% the right reference, but if you could add context and explanation, it would be more helpful. Remember - the Gospel is veiled to those who are perishing! Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 20:05

In the Old Testament the people were healed of sickness and death. In Jesus we are healed of sickness and death. As long as people keep believing that we are healed from sin alone Gods people are going to continue to die of sicknesses. My people perish from a lack of Knowledge, God says. When we look at a cross section of the Church we see that there is just as much sickness as the world, just as much cancer, obesity, diabetes, you mane it. It is time we allow ourselves to profit from Jesus in this life not just the next.

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    I don't see how this answers the original question - you don't mention the serpent at all.
    – James T
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 13:17
  • Welcome to the site! While I don't disagree with what you're saying, this doesn't answer the question. That's not uncommon for a first post, so I hope you don't take this negatively or as a discouragement. When you get a chance, you should check the Help center to get a feel for how this site differs from a typical discussion forum. Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 13:36

John 3:14 do not foreshadow jesus as the author would wish (probably the author is not Jewish to begin with?) Please read 2 Kings 18:4 (any Jewish can read Hebrew and is the only holy scripture is the OT during jesus time/period)

He destroyed the pagan places of worship, broke the stone pillars, and cut down the images of the goddess Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze snake that Moses had made, which was called Nehushtan. Up to that time the people of Israel had burned incense in its honor. 2 Kings 18:4 GNT

If King Hezekiah did what God see is right (religious reform aka against Idolatry):

Following the example of his ancestor King David, he did what was pleasing to the Lord. 2 Kings 18:3 GNT

then we have to be careful of the sins of Idolatry associated with jesus!

  • Saying that John wasn't Jewish is definitely factually incorrect. John subtly places himself in the Gospel many times and it's clear that he's Jewish as he is allowed in the temple and known to the elders and his mother is definitely Jewish.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 14:13
  • and John couldnt read hebrew during his greek writings? if John is jewish, then 2 Kings 18:4 would prevent him from his john 3:14 mistake. Logic? only those couldnt read hebrew commit this mistake...
    – VNPython
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 11:37

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