Lifted Up

In John 3:14-15 Jesus says: “And 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.” Again, in John 8:28 he says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” And once more in John 12:32 Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people unto myself.”

If popular Christian music is any indication, it’s easy to think of Jesus being lifted up in terms of the Isaianic uses (Isa. 6:1; 52:13; 57:15), which speak of the LORD and his servant as being exalted (high and lifted up). See, for example, Hillsong’s “High and Lifted Up” or the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s song of the same title.

Jesus’ uses of the term, however, bear a different connotation. When Jesus speaks of being lifted up he isn’t talking about being exalted, but rather of the death that he was going to die (see John 12:33). Paul tells us that this was not the height of Jesus’ exaltation, but rather the height of his humiliation, which led to his exaltation:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Phil. 2:5-11

Now this is an Incarnation passage. It’s also an atonement passage. And that shouldn’t surprise us since the two are inextricably linked. Note the way that Paul speaks of the Incarnation as an “emptying” and taking the “form of a servant.” Jesus “humbled” himself by becoming “obedient” to the point of death, but this is where it gets interesting (as if it wasn’t already interesting enough!); Paul says, “even death on a cross.” As if becoming obedient to death itself wasn’t bad enough, Paul sees fit to stress the particular kind of death that Jesus died. I don’t think that any of us are equipped to truly process just how horrible a death crucifixion was. All the re-creations in films and testimony from medical experts just won’t do the trick.

But as I noted in my last post, this is why the Son became incarnate. The Son descended from heaven (John 3:13) so that he could be lifted up on the cross (John 3:14; 12:32), which was the height of his humiliation (Phil. 2:8) that ultimately led to his being lifted up in exaltation (Phil. 2:9-11). And as great as this news is, it becomes even greater when we realize that he did it for us! He did it draw men unto him and grant eternal life to those who believe! That’s something worth meditating on as we honor his birth this Christmas.



One thought on “Lifted Up

  1. Colin Urquhart points out that the text usually translated, ‘God so loved the world’ is better translated, ‘In the same way, God loved the world’. Not that he loved it so much, rather that he loved it in the same way. In the same way as what?

    In the same way as the bronze serpent that Moses made and lifted up so that the people, when they were bitten by the snakes, could look at it and live. In the same way we can look at Christ crucified and live. Read the entire passage in John 3:13-16 and read Numbers 21:4-9.

    Isn’t that awesome? There is a mystery here, that it’s in seeing (understanding the significance of) Jesus lifted up on the cross that we receive spiritual life despite having been bitten by the snake who is the enemy, the evil one. He has no power to harm us any longer.

    HalleluYah! Thank you Father for sending your Son, thank you Jesus for offering yourself in our places, and thank you Holy Spirit for revealing these things to us. You are amazing!

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