Rebellion against God and unbelief in His promises caused the Israelites to stay in the desert for 40 years.
Now the moment approaches that the young generation may enter the Promised Land.
But then, due to the hardships of the desert, combined with an attack of the Canaanites, it all becomes too much for them. They start to murmur against God and against Moses, despite the manna, and complain about the lack of water.
Then God sends fiery snakes among the people, and many are bitten and die. The people confess their sin and Moses prays for them. The Lord then gives a means to stay alive after being bitten by a snake. He commands Moses to make a bronze snake, set it on a pole, on a high place, so that anyone can see it. If anyone who is bitten by a snake looks to the bronze snake, he will live.
Jesus mentions this story in His conversation with Nicodemus.
John 3 verse 14 to 17:
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. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.
‘Be lifted up’ refers to the crucifixion of Jesus.
John 8 verse 28.
Satan, who is called ‘that ancient serpent’ in Revelation 12 verse 9, tempted man to sin.
Since that moment, every descendant of Adam is born as a sinner. This condition is comparable with the Israelite who is bitten by a fiery snake. Like the Israelite who could only be saved by looking to the bronze snake, so we can only be saved and have eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
As the bronze snake looked like the poisonous snake, so Jesus, the Son of God, became like a human, except for sin.
2 Corinthians 5 verse 21.
In 1 Corinthians 10 verse 9 to 12 Paul reminds the Corinthians of this story:
We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
The reason Paul warned them was that some Corinthians failed to esteem the Lords Supper. Bread and wine point to the body and blood of Christ. It should be seen as spiritual food to strengthen faith in Him.
In Numbers 21 the Israelites despised the manna the Lord had given them, and grumbled about the lack of water in the desert. The manna and the water from the rock were spiritual food and drink. It pointed to Christ, the Bread from heaven, and the Rock from which flows living water. John 6 verse 30 to 35.
1 Corinthians 10 verse 4.
John 3 verse 36:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
John 6 verse 40:
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.