The Gospel of John, Jesus' first sign, part 8
Oct 16, 2019
Jesus was lifted up on the cross, not only as a sign of His death but also of His ascension and glorification (John 3:13). Later, on the night before He was to be crucified, His prayer equated His crucifixion with being glorified by His Father (John 17:5). Being lifted up on the cross was the ultimate way in which He manifested God’s name (John 17:6) to His disciples and the world as a whole.
If Jesus had been killed with a sword, or if He had been stoned, He would not have been “lifted up” in His death. The “ascension” theme would have been missing or lost. Neither would He have fulfilled His prophetic role as the serpent in the wilderness.
Yet because He was indeed lifted up and glorified in His death, He was able to save the world from the painful bite of the serpent that had brought death to all men. The incongruity between crucifixion and glorification is explained by the story of the fiery serpents in Numbers 21:6, where the term used is seraph nachash. The Hebrew word seraph is singular for seraphim. It literally means “to burn.”
The Burning Fire is His Glory, Not Hell
In Isaiah 6:1-3 the prophet saw seraphim around the throne of God, each having six wings. They were declaring, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” These burning ones were manifestations of the glory of God. When Jesus was lifted up on the cross as the antidote to the fiery serpents in the wilderness, He was being manifested as a seraph and as nachash at the same time. He became sin for us, yet in so doing, He declared God’s fire and glory.
Another feature of this burning fire was that it fulfilled the principle of sacrifice, especially the burnt offerings in the law, which were burnt up entirely upon the altar. While some have misunderstood the law of sacrifice to mean that the penalty for sin is a burning hell, I see the fire as a manifestation of the glory of God in the seraphim.
If the fire were meant to teach us about an unending fiery judgment, then of necessity Jesus would still be in hell today to pay the penalty for sin. But instead, we find that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Death and hell are not the same thing, because “hell” is the grave and is translated correctly in the only passage in all of Paul’s writings where the word is used: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave [hades, or “hell”], where is thy victory” (1 Corinthians 15:55 KJV).
Paul was not a hellfire and brimstone preacher. Instead, he presented Christ as “the Lord of glory” in His crucifixion, and the spiritual “fire” seen in the seraphim. For example, 1 Corinthians 2:8 says,
8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
As for the “fire,” we find that the angels of God minister as “a flame of fire” (Hebrews 1:7). All of our works will be tried in the fire of His holy standard, and if they fall short of His glory, they will be burned up. 1 Corinthians 3:13 says,
13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.
So when Jesus fulfilled the prophetic type of the seraph nachash (“fiery serpents”), He was lifted up on the cross not only to take upon Himself the penalty for man’s sin but also to manifest His love, His mercy, His heart, and His glory.
Salvation, Not Endless Punishment
John 3:16 continues this thought, saying,
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Putting this verse in context, we see that Christ was lifted up on the cross to die and to manifest the heart of God toward His creation, so that they may “have eternal life.” The next verse completes the thought, for we read in John 3:17,
17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.
Christ did not abolish judgment, for that, in effect, would disrespect the law of God, which defines His holiness. Instead, He took upon Himself the full penalty of the law so that the world would not be lost. To use the previous metaphor, God did not tell Moses to put the bronze serpent on a cross to judge or condemn those who had sinned; the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness “that the world should be saved through Him.”
Such is the love of God. What seemed to apply mainly to the Israelites in Moses’ day had a greater application for the entire world in Christ’s fulfillment of this prophetic type. As we see in the time of Moses, many Israelites experienced the judgment of God in that they were bitten by the fiery serpents; yet that judgment was designed to motivate the people to look upon the serpent that was lifted up for all to see, thereby healing them.
Christ’s Irresistible Love
The universal application of this prophecy is seen more clearly later when Jesus again refers to the serpent in the wilderness. John 12:32, 33 says,
32 “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” 33 But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.
In other words, being lifted up was not so much a matter of praising Him, as so many have interpreted it today, but was rather to show the manner of His death by crucifixion above the earth. It was to manifest the glory of the seraphim, the burning fire of God’s holiness, set above the earth as a flaming torch by which men might be drawn to the light.
The success of this plan is assured, for the result is that He would draw “all men” to Himself. The word “draw” is from the Greek word helko, “to drag.” The word does not mean “to woo” or “to entice,” as if the result were uncertain. This statement is actually a preview of the final result seen in the eighth sign in John 21:11,
11 Simon Peter went up and drew [helko] the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three, and although there were so many, the net was not torn.
When fish are caught in a net, they are dragged to the boat according to the will of the fisherman. The fishermen (or fishers of men) do not ask the fish for their opinion, for they fully intend to overrule the will of the fish. Hence, the 153 fish, representing the sons of God, are brought to Christ, as we read in John 1:13, not “of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
The will of the fish is not abolished, but it is certainly overruled by a stronger will. So also, because Christ was indeed “lifted up” on the cross, He will drag all men to Himself. He does not abolish their human will, but He certainly overrules the will of all flesh and all men in the end. This ensures success in His plan to save “the world” and “all men.”
Paul tells us that “love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). Imperfect love fails to achieve full success, but the love of God never fails. In the end, He will drag all men to Himself at the Great White Throne. He will summon all who have ever lived to appear before Him, and when He manifests His love and His glory, every knee will bow and every tongue will profess Him as Lord (Philippians 2:10, 11).
In other words, all will experience His irresistible and unfailing love. and all will then know the truth. As Spirit-filled believers, they will then enter a time of judgment wherein the baptism of fire works within their hearts to cleanse and purify them of the “chaff” (flesh) that John the Baptist talked about in Matthew 3:11, 12. This is the “river of fire” in Daniel 7:10 as those resurrected from the dead are judged by God’s verdict, based on the standard of His own holiness seen in the seraphim. When His sentence, the river of fire, has been issued, it forms the “lake of fire” in Revelation 20:14, 15, for it is the outworking of the divine sentence over a period of time.
To become a believer is only the first step toward full salvation. It is a salvation on a Passover level. To be Spirit-filled is salvation on a Pentecostal level, and this is what takes time to bring men to spiritual maturity. So also those who bow their knees and profess Christ will not receive immortality until they have grown to maturity in that final Age. That Age will end with the Creation Jubilee, where any remaining debt to sin will be cancelled by grace alone, and all men will finally return to their lost inheritance.
But the final Jubilee is yet a long way off. Meanwhile, there is indeed judgment through God’s “fiery law” (Deuteronomy 33:2 KJV). Judgment is the process by which God drags all men to Himself. The “fish” do not like it at all, for it causes them fear, but the love of God continues to drag them to Christ in spite of their opposition.
John 3:18 says,
18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
This is why we ought to believe in Christ now, rather than waiting for the Great White Throne. Those who believe in this lifetime may avoid the judgment altogether. Those who do not believe, who do not claim the death of Jesus Christ as payment for their own sin, are responsible and liable to pay for their own sin. In other words, “he who does not believe has been judged already.” These carry the liability for Adam’s sin, which is why they are born mortal; and they are also liable for their own sin.
John 3:19-21 continues by defining the reason for this judgment:
19 This is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.
In the end, the love of God will save all men and drag them to Himself. Meanwhile, however, the will of man opposes the love of God for as long as it can withstand His irresistible love. Jesus said that their motivation is that their deeds are evil, so they do not want those deeds to be exposed by the light of truth. Hence, they prefer darkness. The “fish” try to avoid the net for as long as they are able.
But those who love truth are drawn to the light. This too is a fishing metaphor. The disciples often fished at night (Luke 5:5), using a lamp to attract the fish to the boat. In John 21:3, 4, the disciples caught nothing all night, but as the day dawned, Jesus told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. Then they caught 153 large fish.
Such night fishing provided the metaphor of men who are drawn by the light of truth, men who do not love darkness, men who know that their deeds are “wrought in God.” These are the sons of God, represented by the 153 fish.
Jesus’ teachings in John 3 (in connection to the story of Nicodemus) are explanations of the first sign that Jesus did to manifest the glory of God. It is all about the manner in which the sons of God are transformed into the image of Christ. They are transformed from water to wine. These sons of God are those who, even now, are attracted to the light of truth. They no longer avoid the net but willingly come to the disciples in the boat who are shining the light of Christ across the sea of humanity.
These sons of God will not be judged. They are the first fruits of creation (James 1:18), for we know that all of creation is awaiting the manifestation of the sons of God (Romans 8:19). The first fruits always sanctify the whole harvest, and when creation as a whole sees the first fruits presented to God, it rejoices, because this is the signal to begin the greater harvest of saving the whole world.
This is part 8 of a series titled "Jesus' First Sign" To view all parts, click the link below.