And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. — John 3:14−15
Belief in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice is essential for salvation.
Moses and the brazen serpent
Following Israel’s liberation from Egypt, the king of Edom refused to give Israel the right of passage through his territory, which meant that they had to walk around it. This detour really discouraged the people. What is more, they began to complain about the manna, calling it “worthless bread”. Then the Lord sent fiery serpents and the people feared for their lives. So Moses prayed for the people, his brothers and sisters. God ordered Moses to make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. Anyone who had been bitten by a snake and looked up to this bronze serpent lived (Numbers 21:4–9). God provided the means of deliverance. The only thing one had to do was look up to it.
The lifting up of Jesus on the cross
Jesus alluded to this incident in order to explain to Nicodemus that His being lifted up on the cross was the means to salvation (John 3:14−15).
The snake bite is an image for sin, which leads to spiritual death: separation from God (Catechism-QA 89). By looking up to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, human beings are able to escape spiritual death (Catechism-QA 90). This also applies to the departed (Catechism-QA 543).
With respect to the departed let us follow the example of Moses and
- Intercede in prayer for those who face spiritual death because they do not know Jesus Christ or do not believe in Him. They must also grasp the sacraments (Catechism-QA 544, 546).
- Lift up the Lord so that they can see Him. This we can do by speaking about His work and activities, by professing our faith, and behaving accordingly.
Under the sign of the cross
Departed souls can be saved by looking up to Christ on the cross (Catechism-QA 547).
The suffering of the Lord teaches us that
- The love of His Father did not spare Him from suffering, but it enabled Him to be victorious and to resurrect through the power of God (Colossians 2:12). God’s love for us is manifested in the same way.
- Jesus trusted His Father even though He did not answer His question of why (Mark 15:34). God redeems those who humbly trust Him.
- Although Jesus was condemned to death despite being innocent, He found the strength to forgive those who were to blame (Luke 23:34). With God’s help we can forgive those who have wronged us, our “debtors”.
In our prayers we can intercede for the departed before God.
* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for divine service held on 06 November 2016 at Midrand Congregation.