“Jesus – lifted up”

Jun 26, 12 “Jesus – lifted up”

“The Son of Man must be lifted up”




Old Testament or OT, the canonized (approved) religious writings of the Jewish people.  The first five (5) books are referred to as the Torah.  The Torah is also referred to as the Law, because it includes the history of the great prophet Moses, who speaks on behalf of God, and shares God’s law, the 10 Commandments, with mankind.  Christians refer to the Torah and the other religious Jewish writings as the Old Testament (OT).  Jewish people refer to the OT as the Hebrew Scriptures.


New Testament or NT, the Christian part of the bible or scripture.  This is all about Jesus, called the Christ/Messiah, which means God’s anointed/Savior of Mankind.


“The Son of Man must be lifted up” – Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus said this over and over again1, referring to his self, as Son of Man and that he must be lifted up.  But what DOES that mean?  To be lifted up – Is it to be put on a pedestal, exulted, adored…?


If you are a Christian, you probably know what this expression refers to, but if you weren’t raised in a Christian church, or if you did attend church, but weren’t really paying attention, or perhaps missed that particular sermon, if your pastor even mentioned it, this expression is totally lost on you as it was on me.  Unless we have someone to explain 1st century idioms, we stay in the dark.  We instead interpret it through our cultural worldview and it sounds like Jesus is stating that he must be over-esteemed by us, which couldn’t be further from the truth.


If we don’t understand why Jesus made a point to say this repeatedly, we will totally miss another point, which is central to Christianity: Jesus was born to die and he wanted to make sure that anyone in his proximity, understood this.  Are you wondering: Wow, how did I get that out of “lifted up”?  Or perhaps, you are thinking, duh, we all are born & die so of course, Jesus was born to die, like any human.  But as stated, death is the reason Jesus was born.  Death on so many levels: mankind’s spiritually dead condition and Jesus’ very necessary death, (murder really), to rectify that.


To be lifted up was a 1stcentury idiom, which meant to be crucified.  Crucifixion was a mode of death practiced by the ancient Romans.  They used it as capital punishment and a deterrent from insurrection by Revolutionists.  It was a particular nasty form of dying which required its own word to describe its horror, shame & pain: “excruciating”.  When a person was crucified, it meant (after torture) to be nailed through especially vulnerable areas in your forearms onto a crossbeam, and then to have the crossbeam raised and placed onto a pole in the ground, which is standing in an upright, vertical position; thus now the wood configuration forms a cross.  Lastly your feet are nailed in place.  You eventually died usually from suffocation.

When Jesus referred to “lifted up” to his audiences, they knew exactly what he was talking about and they thought it was absolute crazy talk because if he was the Messiah, he was supposed to reign forever.  Jesus took what at first appears to be a detour: death on a cross.


But, as already mentioned, it WAS the reason Jesus was born: to be lifted up.  Because he wasn’t an insurrectionist, it was murder.  He was falsely accused of sedition against the Roman government, so he was wrongfully put to death and he KNEW that this is what HAD to happen.  It wasn’t a mistake.  He had a date with death.


When you read the four (4) gospels (about Jesus earthly ministry), found in the NT, it helps to be aware of this so that you can see that he continually, gauged his activities against the chance that he might be thwarted before it was time for him to be crucified, whether he thwarted the people who wanted to force him to rule on earth as King or his enemies who wanted to kill him.  He’d slip out of (sometimes dangerous) crowds, travel to other and less populated regions, or arrive unannounced to important celebrations.  The writers in the gospels refer to Jesus eventually “turning his head” or “setting his face” toward Jerusalem, which are other ways of saying that it was now time for him to travel to his destination, the city of Jerusalem, where he would be killed.


But why?  Why his date with death?  The answer is throughout the bible (OT and NT) but I think this reference is most apropos.  It is when Jesus refers to another instance of “lifted up” because it was a foreshadowing example of Jesus’ reason for dying.  In John 3:14, Jesus states to a secret follower “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”


Yeah, it’s amazing how bible-knowledge clarifies tough to understand bible passages.  Jesus is referring to Numbers 21:4-92, found in the OT.  (Jesus referred to the OT constantly.)


In this instance, the people are being particularly and relentlessly selfish.  They finally suffer the consequences of their selfish behavior, reaping what they have sown, and they are now perishing.  In order to save them, at God’s direction, Moses sets a bronze serpent onto a pole, so that if a perishing person would raise his eyes to the serpent, he would no longer be perishing.  This was a foreshadowing (God loves to do this and this is just one example) of God’s grand design to restore us to a right-standing before Him, in order to save us, death-riddled, IF we will only look to what is on the pole: Jesus, who died & conquered death, & who offers us salvation.  If we believe/have faith/have relationship in & with Him, Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God, we are saved.


For God so loved the world that He gave (Note: sent him to his death) His only begotten (Note: unique & like no other) Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 NKJV


If this information was all new to you, I hope that this has been helpful to you to understand that Jesus intended to die.  It was helpful to me when I learned about this and other meanings behind bible references I had misunderstood for YEARS. 


I find that some of the most helpful things, which insure that I have a good & solid biblical understanding, are:


READ.  Read a good study bible, which explains/expounds difficult verses/passages (which for me, when I first started, was pretty much all of them).  Read bible studies; I highly recommend: The Smart Guide to the Bible series, published by Thomas Nelson, which I think can be read by preteens on up (I’ve already gone through their series books for: “Romans”, “Hebrews”, & I am nearly finished with “John” and I’m about to order “Revelations” – wahoo!). 


GO to a good church, which means it not only operates by a correct Mission statement3 about their belief in Jesus but is also one that has a pastor who not only preaches good sermons but also teaches the bible in his sermons; unfortunately, a seemingly good sermon is not synonymous with biblically-based.  If I had had this last one, I think, even though I was a stealth New-ager4 attending church, it would have really helped me perhaps come to Christianity sooner.  I don’t recall pastors going through the bible.  They might have referenced it but they did not TEACH it.


God bless you as you learn more about our amazing triune Creator-God: Father, Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit.





John 3:13-15: No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish buthave eternal life. (New King James Version or NKJV)


John 8:28: Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. (NKJV)


John 12:32-34: And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” This He said, signifying by what death He would die. The people answered Him, “We have heard from the law (OT books) that the Christ (God’s anointed) remains forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” (NKJV)




Numbers 21:4-9

The Bronze Serpent

Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way.  And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.


Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.


Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.



If you aren’t sure what a correct Christian Mission statement is, please refer to mine on web page:




New-ager: a person who believes in “Spirituality” as it pertains to a broad range of philosophies and practices traditionally viewed as occult (magic, astrology, or any system claiming use or knowledge of secret or supernatural powers or agencies), metaphysical (Philosophy concerned with abstract thought or subjects, regarding our existence, or truth), or paranormal (outside normal experience i.e. supernatural experiences).





1 Comment

  1. Meredith & Luis

    We found it very interesting and learning the first century meaning of “lifted up”. It puts a new spin on it.
    Thanks for the blog.


  1. New Age Bible verses | Blogging with Elaine - […] (To read about the meaning of the rest of this passage when Jesus references Moses lifting up the snake…

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