Everyone knows John 3:16, but what is much less known (in the world and religious community) is the context of John 3:16. In John 3:14 a comparison is made, not between Moses and Jesus, but what Moses lifted up and what God lifted up.
In Numbers 21:4-9 we have the historical account of the Israelite people in which they became impatient with God and rebelled against Him. As a result, God sent “fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” (Numbers 21:6) The people confessed their sin and repented of it before Moses and so God commanded Moses to “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live.” (Numbers 21:8) We see from the corresponding verses that the serpent which Moses made was a bronze serpent, and the Lord, true to His promise, healed all those who were bitten and looked upon the bronze serpent that Moses had lifted up.
Likewise, we see in John 3 that “…the Son of Man” was to “be lifted up” (v.14). The teaching of the passage as it relates to Israel is that healing would be found in Christ. Not physical healing like in the case of Israel, but the spiritual healing of the soul from sin and death “… that whoever believes in Him (Jesus Christ) may in Him have eternal life.” (v.15) “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It’s a message of truth and hope that unfortunately (like in the time of the Israelites) has been disgracefully turned into an opportunity for blasphemous idol worship.
The Israelites were given the command to have no gods before God, and not to worship any idols (Ex. 20:3-4). However, in II Kings 18:4 we learn that the bronze serpent Moses had made in Numbers 4:9 had been turned into an idol of worship called “Nehushtan”, and that the Israelites offered incense to this manmade object. They had turned to serve the bronze rather than the bronze-creator. King Hezekiah is praised by the Holy Spirit in II Kings 18:4 for destroying this idol that God’s people had vainly worshiped for centuries. But so it is today, that man have chosen to serve the visible insignificant over the supreme almighty God who is the Creator of all.
Jesus Christ was raised up on a cross, but rather than turning entirely to worship Christ today; instead, millions will turn to worship the “cross” on which He hung as an idol. In all types of churches, from Catholic to nondenominational mega-churches, millions will bow down and offer incense (prayers) to the image of a cross on which Jesus hung, instead of bowing to serve God according to His will. People wear crosses around their necks and place crosses in their homes, which can (and unfortunately often does) amount to idolatry - the way the worship the cross. There are millions more who will bow down to the statue of a “virgin Mary” rather than bow their hearts down before the Savior that came from her womb. And every December 25th there will be still millions more who worship a depiction of a manger, rather than worship the birth of salvation through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. These modern day idols, like the idols of old, are adored by man, but hated by God.
These are the modern day “Nehushtan”(s), and they deserve nothing more than the treatment of Hezekiah, to be broken into pieces and destroyed; and exchanged for true and undefiled worship, to a true and undefiled God. (Jn 4:23-24) Let us not be deceived into worshiping these idols of men, but rather, let us dedicate ourselves to serving the true God of heaven, in the manner and likeness in which He has chosen.