The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it upon a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived (Numbers 21:8, 9 NIV).
Jesus referred to this (John 3:14, 8:28, 12:32). This incident is a very early reference to Jesus and His death on the cross. God, through this incident was making it clear that salvation comes through Him alone.
As you look at what happened, you will note that it was impatience that led the people to talk against God and Moses. And God sent venomous snakes among them; which bit them and killed many of them. Surely God was telling them that the “wages of sin is death.” But others took note of what was happening. They understood that their lives too were in danger. So they asked Moses to pray for them. God used this occasion to teach them that salvation came through Him alone.
The pole here is a symbol of the cross. The bronze snake was made and put up on this pole. Thus it symbolized the kind of death that Jesus would die. The cross thus becomes a sign of God’s judgment on sin. Jesus who knew no sin was made sin on man’s behalf. The bronze snake on the pole is a representation of God’s judgment that fell on sinless Jesus. That happened as a direct consequence of your sin and my sin.
Now, it should be noted that there is no medical power associated with a bronze serpent. But the people looked at it and lived! It should have told the people that it is not man-made methods that would bring salvation; but God’s method which was hanging Jesus on the cross. So the bronze serpent on the pole was symbolic of God’s method of bringing salvation–the death of His Son Jesus on the cross.
Finally, man had to do something to benefit from the bronze serpent on the pole. He had to look at it. Even today, God does not demand from anyone anything more than a look of faith at Jesus on the cross. A look of faith at Jesus can bring you salvation. For making salvation possible He was lifted up. Therefore, look to Jesus, and live!