And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
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Augustine of Hippo
Many dying in the wilderness from the attack of the serpents, Moses, by commandment of the Lord, lifted up a brazen serpent and those who looked upon it were immediately healed. The lifting up of the serpent is the death of Christ; the cause, by a certain mode of construction, being put for the effect. The serpent was the cause of death, inasmuch as he persuaded man into that sin, by which he merited death. Our Lord, however, did not transfer sin, i.e. the poison of the serpent, to his flesh, but death; in order that in the likeness of sinful flesh, there might be punishment without sin, by virtue of which sinful flesh might be delivered both from punishment and from sin.
As then formerly he who looked to the serpent that was lifted up, was healed of its poison, and saved from death; so now he who is conformed to the likeness of Christ’s death by faith and the grace of baptism, is delivered both from sin by justification, and from death by the resurrection: as He Himself said; That who...
And if we owe our lives to the brethren, and have made such a mutual compact with the Saviour, why should we any more hoard and shut up worldly goods, which are beggarly, foreign to us and transitory? Shall we shut up from each other what after a little shall be the property of the fire? Divinely and weightily John says "He that loveth not his brother is a murderer"
Him should not perish but have eternal life. Having explained sufficiently, and set before him the reason, why His Word of teaching does not run forth into the boundless and supernatural, but descends again to those things that were typically done by Moses of old, knowing that he could by leadings by means of figures scarce arrive at knowledge of the truth, rather than by the exactitude of spiritual inspirations, He saith He must surely be lifted up, as the serpent was by Moses, shewing that search of history is most necessary, and all but saying to this man of no understanding, Search the Scriptures, for they are they which testify of Me. For serpents were springing upon them of Israel in the wilderness, and they, falling like ears of corn, and not a little distressed at this danger unexpectedly visiting them, with most piteous cry called for salvation from above and from God. But He, since He was Good and full of compassion, as God, commands Moses to set up a brazen serpent; and comm...
This comparison of the serpent lifted up in the desert, upon which whoever looked was immediately cured from the bite of the fiery serpents, is a figure of the crucifixion of Christ on Calvary. And we remark, that our divine Saviour makes use of these words, the Son of man must be lifted up or exalted; (exaltari) by which form of expression he would teach us, that he does not consider the cross as a disgrace, but as a glory; (Theophylactus and St. Chrysostom) and moreover, that as the Israelites, bitten by the fiery serpents, were cured by looking upon the brazen serpent, so are Christians cured by looking up with an active faith, replete with love and confidence, on Jesus Christ crucified.
That men can be saved in no other way from the old wound of the serpent than by believing in Him who, in the likeness of sinful flesh, is lifted up from the earth upon the tree of martyrdom, and draws all things to Himself,
This again seems to depend upon what has gone before, and this too has a very close connection with it. For after having spoken of the very great benefaction that had come to man by Baptism, He proceeds to mention another benefaction, which was the cause of this, and not inferior to it; namely, that by the Cross. As also Paul arguing with the Corinthians sets down these benefits together, when he says, Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul? for these two things most of all declare His unspeakable love, that He both suffered for His enemies, and that having died for His enemies, He freely gave to them by Baptism entire remission of their sins.
2. But wherefore did He not say plainly, I am about to be crucified, instead of referring His hearers to the ancient type? First, that you may learn that old things are akin to new, and that the one are not alien to the other; next, that you may know that He came not unwillingly to His Passion; and again, besides ...
Having made mention of the gift of baptism, He proceeds to the source of it, i.e. the cross: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.
Wherefore He does not say, The Son of man must be suspended, but lifted up, a more honorable term, but coming near the figure. He uses the figure to show that the old dispensation is akin to the new, and to show on His hearers 'account that He suffered voluntarily; and that His death issued in life.
Observe; He alludes to the Passion obscurely, in consideration to His hearer; but the fruit of the Passion He unfolds plainly; viz. that they who believe in the Crucified One should not perish. And if they who believe in the Crucified live, much more shall the Crucified One Himself.
And it seems that the type and sign, which was erected to counteract the serpents which bit Israel, was intended for the salvation of those who believe that death was declared to come thereafter on the serpent through Him that would be crucified, but salvation to those who had been bitten by him and had betaken themselves to Him that sent His Son into the world to be crucified.
I say nothing of what was figured by this cure.
Christ Himself (they say further) in His gospel imitates Moses' serpent's sacred power, in saying: "And as Moses up reared the serpent in the desert, so it behoveth the Son of man to be up reared."
Seethen the aptness of the figure. The figure of the serpent has the appearance of the beast, butnot its poison: in the same way Christ came in the likeness of sinful flesh, being free from sin. By Christ’s being lifted up, understand His being suspended on high, by which suspension He sanctified the air, even as He had sanctified the earth by walking upon it. Herein too is typified the glory of Christ: for the height of the cross was made His glory for in that He submitted to be judged, He judged the prince of this world; for Adam died justly, because he sinned; out Lord unjustly, because He did no sin. So He overcame him, who delivered Him over to death, and thus delivered Adam from death. And in this the devil found himself vanquished, that he could not upon the cross torment our Lord into hating His murderers: but only made Him love and pray for them the more. In this way the cross of Christ was made His lifting up, and glory.