For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God… (Jn 3:16-21)
This is the continuation of yesterday’s reading. Jesus was lifted up on the cross for the salvation of all, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert. This is God’s love. Jesus’ death on the cross is the display of God’s love for the mankind. Jesus death was not an accident. It was not God letting the worst happen to someone else. The cross is at the heart of the new picture of God which John is painting.
But evil is not healed automatically. Since evil is deep within each one of us, we need to be involved in the process of healing. What we have to do is simple. Just like the Israelites who looked at the snake and trusted in God, so too we have look at the one crucified for the sake of love and believe in him.
Believing in Jesus means coming to the light, the light of God’s new creation. Not believing in Jesus means remaining in the darkness. Darkness is condemned because evil is destroying the present world. It is preventing the people from coming into God’s new world. To be healed or to be saved one has to believe and live.
… If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." (Jn 3:7-15)
In many cultures, the serpent is seen as positive and powerful, though dangerous. In some other cultures they are worshiped. In Jewish and Christian traditions, the serpent is as a strong negative force, symbolizing the evil in the world and in all of us.
The present passage looks back to the incident described in Numbers 21,5-8. When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, they grumbled against Moses. So they were punished by poisonous snakes which killed many men. Moses was asked to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. Anyone who looked at the serpent on the pole would live. This was the remedy proposed by God. The bronze serpent was stored in the Tabernacle as a sacred object. It was King Hezekiah, who discovered that the people were worshiping it and broke it to pieces. (2Kg 18,4)
Here, in the gospel passage, it points clearly to the death of Jesus. Mankind is saved only by looking at the man dying on the cross. John is not saying that Jesus is like the poisonous snake that killed many people. John is saying that the evil that was and is in the world, was allowed to take full force on Jesus. What we look at the cross is the result of the evil in which we are all stuck. We see what God has done about it. When Jesus died on the cross, what we see is the dramatic display of God’s love. In the cross we realize who God is. The cross is the ladder set up between heaven and earth.