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The "Look and Live" Object Lesson

The dictionary defines an object lesson as a concrete illustration of a moral or principle. The object lesson is one of the most powerful and effective tools available for communicating profound spiritual truth! It is therefore no surprise that the Lord Jesus employed object lessons on a regular basis throughout His teaching ministry.

One of the key recipients of an object lesson was Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, who came to Jesus by night to express his personal conviction regarding the divine origin of His ministry. In the one-on-one discourse that ensued, Jesus focused upon the new birth as a requirement for kingdom entry. Nicodemus, who held the rank of master (teacher) within the religious hierarchy of Israel, struggled unsuccessfully to grasp the spiritual significance of the words “ye must be born again” (John 3:7). In an effort to build a bridge of understanding, Jesus cited an OT incident recorded in Numbers 21:5-9 to illustrate the God-ordained means whereby a spiritually dead man might experience spiritual birth. Nicodemus was no doubt familiar with this historical event.

The object lesson was stated as follows: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:14-15). Three observations are in order. First, the brass serpent was clearly intended to foreshadow Christ on the cross. The snake-bitten Israelites who looked upon the brass serpent were required to behold the very image of that which was the cause of their impending death. Likewise, he who beholds Jesus on the cross is brought face to face with his own sins inasmuch as Jesus was made sin for us, who knew no sin (II Corinthians 5:21), and his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree (I Peter 2:24).

Secondly, the remedy was put in place to benefit every Israelite who suffered from the deadly venom. None of them was excluded! Reformed theologians argue that, because the remedy was limited to the nation of Israel, the atonement of Christ on the cross was therefore limited to the elect. This spurious analogy breaks down simply because none of the surrounding nations suffered from the same plague, and no evidence exists that every Israelite had been bitten.

Thirdly, a distinction must be made between the cure provided and the cure appropriated. The Lord instructed Moses, saying, “It shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8). The cure for snakebite was set in place when Moses lifted up the brass serpent on a pole. The cure saved no one! The Lord required a look of faith in order for the cure to become effectual in those who were snake-bitten. The fact that “much people of Israel died” (21:6) indicates that many of the snake bitten, for whatever reason, failed to appropriate the cure. The only limitation placed upon the cure was lack of faith in those for whom it was provided. No theologian in his right mind would argue that the cure was irresistible, or that those who perished from snakebite suffered from a total inability to look upon the brass serpent!

The word so is an adverb used twice in our text. It can refer either to the extent (degree) of an action or to the manner of an action as compared to another. The first usage clearly signifies comparative manner. The lifting up of the Son of man would take place in like manner as the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness. The second usage has been seen traditionally as signifying the extent or degree to which God loved the world; that is, he loved so much that he gave his unique, one-of-a-kind Son. If Jesus, however, used the adverb in both instances to signify likeness of manner, then his purpose would have been to impress upon Nicodemus the similar manner in which God, who acted out of loving compassion for snake bitten Israelites, was preparing to act in behalf of all men, both Jew and Gentile, who were under condemnation and wrath because of sin and unbelief!

In this object lesson, the Lord clearly intended to draw a parallel between snake-bitten Israelites and sin-bitten humanity as a whole! In his two usages of the phrase whosoever believeth, Jesus established a distinct class of individuals who will experience the new birth and everlasting life! The world represents the larger class for whom a sin cure has been provided. The ones who believe represent the sub-class that appropriates the cure! The fact that Nicodemus later defended the ministry of Jesus (John 7:50-52), and assisted Joseph of Arimathaea with his burial (John 19:39-40), is a good indicator that the object lesson worked!

Brethren, could the Lord Jesus have made the means to the new birth any clearer? A lost sinner who is dead in sins is born again by looking in faith to the Christ Who died for his sins and rose again the third day. It is all a matter of grace through faith! By using this object lesson, Jesus established for all time the principle of look and live as the way of salvation and the means to the new birth. May the Lord grant to all of us this week an opportunity to share the truth of this object lesson with someone who has yet to appropriate the cure for sin!


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