25 Sep Quarter Three Lesson Nine
Overcoming Through Seeing the Mystery of Christ
In our last lesson, we learned from Colossians 2 that we are to “reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2). This implies ongoing learning, continual study, and growth in both knowledge and understanding.
The Christian life is one of continual learning, of sitting at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:39), eagerly desiring the “pure milk of the Word” (1 Peter 2:2) and rooting and building ourselves up in Jesus (Colossians 2:7).
Seeing this “mystery” concealed in the Old Testament and revealed in the New Testament is one of the greatest ways to “reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and knowledge.” Each time we see Jesus in another story it builds our faith and provides assurance of the truth of the gospel. This is the topic of our lesson today.
There are literally thousands of places that the gospel of Jesus Christ is hidden as a mystery in the Old Testament. We could start right at Genesis chapter 1 and see that the newly created earth was in darkness, empty, and submerged in the water, until the third day when the waters were parted and the earth was raised out of its watery tomb and began producing fruit. We get further clues of the mystery when we read of Adam being placed into a deep sleep and having his side opened that he might have a bride, and even more when we see Adam and Eve clothed with their substitutional sacrifice which makes them fit for God’s presence. We also remember that Abraham was to sacrifice his son, his only son whom he loved, on a particular hill. His son, Isaac, carried the wood up that hill of sacrifice, and then the father received his son back “as from the dead” on the third day. Or consider Joseph (Genesis 37-50) who was loved by his father but hated by his brothers. His brothers sold him into the hands of gentiles for pieces of silver, where he was placed between two criminals. Then he was raised up and highly exalted to the right hand of Pharaoh where he became “lord of all” and savior to all who came to him.
Question 1. Are you seeing the “mystery” of the gospel revealed in the above Bible stories? Please share your thoughts:
As we contemplate how God concealed the gospel in thousands of stories, we grow in our faith and assurance when we find these gospel glimpses in our study of the Scriptures. In other words by seeing Jesus hidden in the Old Testament our faith is strengthened, and we become fully assured that the accounts of Christ and the gospel are not only true, but they were planned from the beginning.
Before Jurassic Park 4 came out, many of the details were leaked to the media. This kind of thing happens fairly often, and the name for this kind of activity is “spoilers”, meaning the movie could be spoiled by reading the details in advance.
Well, God “leaked the details” of the gospel thousands of years in advance, and contrary to the leaked details spoiling the story they confirm the gospel. They actually demonstrate and verify the accuracy of the gospel, all the while increasing our faith and providing us the much needed evidence on which to rest, in the hands of Jesus, our eternal life.
So for this lesson we are going to look at one such story in which the “leaked details” of the gospel are clearly seen. Please read the following passage of Scripture and answer the questions below:
“They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” 6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.” Numbers 21:4-9 (NIV)
Question 2. What were the Israelites doing wrong in Numbers chapter 21?
The Israelites “grew impatient” and so they “spoke against God and against Moses”, their leader. They complained about their conditions and detested their provisions. This is sin, and God punished their sin in a dramatic way.
Question 3. How did God punish the Israelites in Numbers chapter 21?
We remember that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and God sent venomous snakes among them, and the Israelites were dying from snakebite.
Question 4. What did the people do when they discovered they were being bitten by snakes and that they were dying?
The people cried out to Moses and asked him to intercede for them, to pray that God would take the snakes away so that they could live.
Question 5. What solution did God provide when the Israelites cried out to Him?
God told Moses to make a snake and put it on a pole so that anyone who was bitten could look at it and live. What an odd solution this was!
We can imagine the situation pretty easily: it was scorching hot in the desert and the Israelites had not had water in days. They were growing weary of the food God was providing for them daily (called “manna”—a wafer like bread that rained down from heaven miraculously every morning), and they were not happy with Moses’ leadership. So they began complaining and murmuring against God and His chosen leader. They simply did not trust God to provide for them, they were weary, hot, thirsty and angry.
God took their sinning seriously and sent serpents among them as punishment. People were now dying from snakebite, which is a horribly painful way to die. No doubt shrieks of pain could be heard all throughout the camp. Until finally, the Israelites came to their senses and asked Moses to pray that the Lord would take the snakes away.
Here is where the story gets very interesting. God did not provide anti-venom for snakebites, He did something far more interesting. He told Moses to put a snake on a “pole” (the Hebrew word used here is for a “banner staff”, which is a pole in the shape of a cross) and invite people to look at it. Everyone who would look at the snake on the cross pole would be cured and live. In doing this, God was displaying the gospel for all the world to see.
Question 6. How can we see the gospel in the above story? Please share your thoughts here:
There are lots of stories in the Old Testament part of the Bible that point forward to Jesus but don’t have a direct New Testament chapter or verse telling us to see Jesus and the gospel in them. However, this particular story in Numbers 21 does have New Testament confirmation.
In John chapter 3, a religious teacher by the name of Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, and Jesus told Nicodemus that in order to see the kingdom of God he had to be “born again” (John 3:3). Nicodemus did not understand the metaphor so Jesus used an illustration. Jesus said, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:15).
In light of John 3:15, we can see more clearly how the gospel details were “leaked in advance” in the Numbers 21 account of the Israelites and the snakes. As our understanding increases, we can begin to apply the story to our own lives and have our hearts touched by the gospel once again. Friend, we are people who have sinned against God, who have been “bitten” by the great serpent Satan. The venom of sin is running throughout our entire system, and we know “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Question 7. Have you come to believe that you have, in a sense, been “bitten” by the serpent and have the venom of sin running throughout your system? Explain.
Question 8. Remembering the story in Numbers chapter 21, what were the Israelites told to do when Moses lifted up the snake on the pole?
Just as God provided a way for the Israelites to be healed, so He made a way for us as well. Here we are, sinners through and through, but God has established a cross-like pole, and on that pole He put not a serpent but a Savior. And all we have to do is turn, look, believe and live.
This story teaches us that it is not what we do that gets us eternal life, it is where we look. “Look unto me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” Isaiah 45:22 (KJV)
We are to turn to Jesus, look and believe. We are to believe that, against all odds, Jesus is the solution for our problem. We are to believe that Jesus took the punishment of our sin, died in our place and gave us His righteousness and eternal life.
It is as if the Israelites who believed the good news about a snake on an uplifted pole were given a new life, like they were born again. Where just a moment before this they were dying from snakebite in their sin, now by faith in the good news, and obedience to turn and look, they are given life, a new start, a fresh beginning.
Can you just imagine the joy they had at being near death and then given new life? This is the same joy that we can have as we kneel at the foot of the cross and look up into our Savior’s face. “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,” 1 Peter 1:8 (NIV)
But there is one difficulty in this story that should cause us to stop and consider. Have you figured it out yet? Let us read what Jesus said about this story again:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:14-15 (ESV)
Moses was told to lift up a snake on a pole, and Jesus compared Himself to that snake and said He must likewise be lifted up. But this seems totally incongruent. How can Jesus, the “Lamb without spot or blemish” (1 Peter 1:19) be represented by a snake? A snake has always represented sin and Satan as it brings death. Jesus, on the other hand, brings life. How can this be?
The answer is readily found as we study the Bible, and the answer brings wonderful “riches of full assurance” of the mystery of the gospel. Please notice this passage of Scripture:
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)
When Jesus was on the cross He had taken the sin of all of humanity on Himself. But even more than that, He Who was perfect and spotless literally became sin for us. God the Father made Jesus the Son to be sin “for our sakes.” And what a better representation of sin could there be than a snake?
Dear friend, can you imagine Christ on the cross dying for you? He has not only taken your sin on Himself, He has literally become sin for you. He is being treated as a snake, as Satan should have been, suffering the penalty of wrongs He did not commit, dying for you because of God’s love for you:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:14-17 (ESV)
Question 9. What was used in the wilderness as a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ? What kind of problems do you see that this presents?
Can you believe this? Do you believe this? That Jesus did not come to condemn you but rather to be condemned instead of you so that you may live forever?
And so we see from this story in Numbers chapter 21 that the “mystery” of the gospel is hidden in story form. We see God “leaked the details” of the gospel thousands of years in advance.
In July of 2015, an American led coalition of aircraft dropped new leaflets over the Islamic state de facto capital of Syria, promising those below that “freedom will come” to the region. Those on the ground would no doubt have read that good news and been very hopeful to be delivered from the extreme cruelty and brutality of ISIS.
Similarly, God “dropped the leaflets” of the Old Testament to those in bondage to sin, to those enslaved to the very cruel and harsh taskmaster called Satan. They would have then read that good news and been anticipating the coming Messiah, and their deliverance through Him. God told the gospel thousands of years in advance.
And why did He do this?
“That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,” Colossians 2:2 (ESV)
Friend, we grow in our faith and gain the wealth of understanding that the gospel provides as we read each and every story in the Bible. The Holy Spirit shows us our Savior in it, we become fully assured, based on evidence, of the gospel. We become secure in the knowledge that we are forgiven, that our sins are paid for, and that we will live forever. This is true growth in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
Question 10. Are you growing in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Please share your thoughts here with us: