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‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life’ ~Jn 3:14-15

What does it mean to believe in Jesus? What is “saving faith” all about? When we talk about “belief” and “faith,” these are two abstract ideas difficult to be explained clearly. If we were to say that to qualify for salvation is perhaps a hundred good deeds or to attend church services for a year, it would definitely be much easier to grasp. To tell someone to receive salvation by “faith,” does cause some difficulties in understanding.

To help us in our understanding, the Lord used the example of how Moses lifted up the bronze snake in the desert, where all who looked upon the snake lived; to compare to how He was lifted up on the cross, so that all who looked upon Him received eternal life. Let us look at what happened during the time of Moses, to understand what it means to believe in Jesus and receive eternal life.

The Israelites then grumbled against God and Moses when the journey became weary and burdensome, so the Lord sent fiery snakes among them and many of the Israelites who were bitten died. The dead could have easily numbered several thousands or even tens of thousands. They started to come before Moses to confess their sins and pleaded with Moses to intercede with the Lord for them. When Moses prayed for them, God forgave their sins, and He instructed Moses how he could save the people who were bitten by the snakes. God told Moses, “make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” Moses followed the instructions of God and made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole, so that anyone who was bitten could look at the bronze snake and live.

The fiery snakes were probably a species of venomous snakes with very lethal poison such that those who were bitten were as good as dead. Those who had a stronger physique or were not so seriously poisoned probably took a longer time before they succumbed to the effects of the poison. But regardless, the results were the same for those who had been bitten; it was just a matter of time before they too died from the poison. However, we know that the people who had been poisoned did not die immediately, otherwise God would have just driven away the snakes and did not have to erect a bronze snake to heal the people. When the people were bitten by the snakes, they did not seek Moses for help straightaway, because by the time they came to Moses, many of the Israelites had already died. It is not hard for us to comprehend why they did this, for their hearts must have been filled with anger and discontentment against God. In their anger, it was natural for them not to seek immediate help from Moses. They would have also tried their own ways and means to treat the poisoning, through herbal remedies or the bleeding away of the poison. However, no matter what methods they used, they were unable to stop the poison from overpowering them one by one. As time passed, their loved ones started dying and the sound of crying and wailing filled the air. When all hopes were gone, they finally decided to send representatives to Moses, because they knew that only God was able to save them now.