The Divine Liturgy Gospel Reading of John 3:13-17
Just prior to John 3:13-17, Nicodemus questioned Jesus about how a man can be born again. Jesus tells him that one must be born of water and the Spirit, born again, to enter the Kingdom of God. The birth of the flesh is the first birth; and, the second birth is born of water and the Spirit. In order to emphasize His message to Nicodemus, Jesus recalls the Old Testament passage in Number 21:4-9 about the serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness. In the Old Testament story, when it was time for Aaron for die (Aaron was Priest to the Israelites), the Israelites journeyed to Mount Hor. When Aaron died, his son was vested in his father’s robes and became Priest to the people. The Israelites then defeated the Canaanites who made war against them for journeying through their land to get to Mount Hor for Aaron’s death. After winning the war against the Canaanites, the Israelites left Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea and went around the land of Edom. Along the way, the people became discouraged because food and water were scarce and they sinned against God and Moses by blaming them for their misfortune. They were attacked by poisonous snakes and many people died. When the people felt sorry for blaming God and Moses for their misfortune, the Lord told Moses to make a serpent out of copper and put it on top of a signal pole and if someone was bitten, they were to look at the serpent on the pole and they would not die but live. The Holy Fathers of the Church (St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory Nazianzus, St. Ephram the Syrian and most biblical scholars), teach that the serpent on a pole is a type of crucifixion that is putting sin to death thereby saving the people from death – when Jesus Christ recalls the story to Nicodemus, He is foretelling the necessary events to come of His Crucifixion, Ascension, the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and Holy Baptism for the salvation of mankind.
References: The New Testament Johannine Writings, Paul Tarazi, St. Vladimer’s Seminary Press; The Gospel of John, Beholding the Glory, Lawrence R. Farley, Ancient Faith Publishing; Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, IVa John 1-10, Intervarsity Press; NKJV