Coptic_Crucifixion_IconNumbers 21:5

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.” 6 So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.
7 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.
8 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.” 9 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.”

Truly the ancient Scriptures of the Old Testament offer an amazing testimony towards Orthodox Christianity.  This particular event in the history of the ancient Hebrews bears witness to the coming of Christ as our Great High Priest.  Lets examine this a little deeper. 

The people spoke against God and against Moses and committed a great sin, which resulted in the LORD sending serpents among the people to bite them.  This brings to mind in reminiscience the ‘bite’ of that serpent of old, Satan, the great deceiver, whose venemous ‘bite’ lead to the fall of Adam and Eve from paradise.  Again now in the wilderness, the people spoke against God committing great sin in doing so, which lead to them suffering again from the bite of the serpent, this time leading to physical as well as spiritual death. 

Although many of the people died, a number repented and had enough wisdom to realise their poison from the bite of the serpent was a direct result of the blasphemous words spoken against God and His prophet Moses, so in repentance they approached Moses looking for mercy.  Note the people did not run off to the hills to seek forgiveness from God by themselves (as modern so called Christian sects would have us do because they believe we don’t need mediators), but they approached Moses whom God had appointed over the people, just as we approach the priests of Christ appointed by God through His Church when we seek forgiveness from sin today. 

His-Holiness-Moran-Mor-IgnaThen God commanded Moses to make an IMAGE of a serpent and set it upon a pole that all those bitten who look upon it shall live.  It is interesting to note that GOD COMMANDED MOSES TO MAKE AN IMAGE!  The same God who commanded the people not to make false idols to worship commands Moses to make an image of a bronze serpent.  There is an interesting disctinction here.  An idol is the image of a false god that is worshipped by people, who call the image god.  Yet as God commanded the image of cherubs to be placed on the ark of the covenant, so too He ordered Moses to make an image. 

In the Orthodox tradition we use icons or images in our worship.  Some icons are of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We venerate them as holy because of what they signify.  They lift our mind and hearts towards the One true living God of Israel, the Holy Trinity whom we worship and glorify.  We do not worship the images themselves, just as the ancient Hebrews did not worship the bronze serpent Moses lifted up before them, but yet by looking on the serpent hanging on the pole the people received healing.  (NB The picture shown of HH Mar Ignatius Zakka I Patriarch of Antioch and the Syrian Orthodox Church clearly shows the form of a serpent hung on a pole below the cross, a clear modern link to the sign of the crucifixion of Christ pointed to in the wilderness when Moses held aloft the staff with the bronze serpent.  The priesthood of the New Testament era in the Orthodox Church is clearly then not disjointed from the ancient faith of the Hebrews as its rightful successor through Christ our Lord – Furthermore, like the ancient Hebrews we too use signs and symbols in our Divinely ordained faith without forsaking the purity of our Monotheism as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, the exact image of the One Triune God {Hebrews 1:3}.) 

There is another who was hung on a tree, and as the bronze serpent is a symbol of sin and its punishment so too the Holy Cross of Christ Our Blessed Lord is a sign of healing and life; for truly He bore the weight of the sins of the world for those who would seek Him in repentance to receive healing and the cling to the hope of following Him to the promised land of paradise, as the Hebrews of the desert hoped for the promised land…

An Early Apostolic Hymn about the Lord Jesus Christ…circa 61AD…

ST PAULSt Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written approximately 61AD and scholars believe it was written in Rome during his captivity before his martyrdom.  It contains one of the most wonderful affirmations of Orthodox doctrine on the person of Christ – Christology – and may have been part of an early liturgical prayer – perhaps at baptism.  It is a wonderful picture of the Lordship of Jesus Christ over creation, and the mystical union between the Church and our incarnate Saviour, eternally begotten of the Father…

Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.

   
 16For by Him were all things created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions or principalities or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him.

   
 17And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.

   
 18And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He might have the preeminence.

   
 19For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell,

   
 20and having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself — by Him, I say, whether they be things on earth or things in heaven.