Biblical Symbols

The Bronze Serpent

In America you may notice a symbol on the back of ambulances containing a snake on a rod inside a red cross. That symbol comes from something Jesus said in the gospel of John.

John 3:14,15
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

What Jesus was alluding to was an event recorded in the book of Numbers when the people of Israel were traveling around the desert on their way to the promise land.

Number 21:4-9

They  traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!" Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people. 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 up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.


The danger of using symbolism is when people confuse symbolism with substance. For example concerning the bronze serpent God told Moses to make and which Jesus used in John chapter 3 to illustrate the gospel, Israel later ended up worshipping the serpent. "Hezekiah removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan." 2Kings 18:4

Likewise God ordained that Israelite are to be circumcised. But circumcision was never to be taken as a means to attaining righteousness. However later in New Testament time Judaizers tried to impose circumcision on the general Christian community as a requirement for salvation. Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." Acts 15:1 The apostles taught that this was false. For nothing done to a person's flesh can make him righteous.

However many Christians never embraced this concept and so the heresy of sacramentalism took hold in historic post-Biblical Christianity and can be found in various sects today that place symbolism on the level of substance. i.e. those who hold a sacramental view of baptism and communion. Sacramentalism is "belief in the efficacy of sacraments; esp., the doctrine that the sacraments are necessary to salvation" &
So beware of sacramentalism. It's a form of idolatry.

Shadows of The Law

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming— not the realities themselves. Heb 10:1 

There's a difference between a regulation and a principle. The Law of Moses contains many regulations. There are regulations concerning food, religious ceremonies, special holy days, sacrifices. Likewise there are regulations concerning moral behavior. Regulations concerning sex, speech, the treatment of other people, and regulations concerning the punishment for crimes committed, and many other regulations.

Now while Christians are to follow the spirit of the law - namely to love God and one's neighbor - Christians are not bound to follow the particular regulations found in the Law. By his blood, Christ "canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross." Col 2:14 And Paul goes on to say, "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." Col 2:16,17

Nonetheless there are shadows in the Law which reflect reality.


"Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth." 1Cor 5:7-8

The ordinance of communion which Christ established is directly related to the passover meal celebrated by the Jews, which was also the Last Supper. Paul writes, "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me."  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes." 1Cor 11:23-27

Unleavened Bread

The passover meal was part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread God established in the Law of Moses. It was a remembrance of the time in which God delivered Israel out of the bondage of Egypt. Leavened Bread had a negative connotation. As it contained yeast it represented something impure, and as the yeast caused it to be "puffed up", it represented that which was false. Jesus said, "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." Luke 12:1b Paul displeased at their proudful toleration of a sinful Christian said to the Corinthians, "Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?" 1Cor 5:6 And Paul speaking of a cult which had infiltrated the Galatian churches said, "You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 'A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.'" Gal 5:7-9  Paul derived the last expression from a parable Jesus told, and his interpretation reveals to us the sense in which Jesus was speaking.  Jesus said, ""The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."" Mt 13:33 Note also that this parable is immediately followed by the parable of the Wheat and Tares in which we hear of the devil sowing weeds among God's crop. Thus we learn that the woman represents the devil. Consequently the visible kingdom of God at the present - namely Christendom - is a mixture of true and false Christians - those who are children of God and those who are children of the devil.

The Blood of the Lamb

On the passover God separated out his people and God's wrath passed over them and fell upon the Egyptians. As a sign of allegiance to God he had them sacrifice a lamb and paint the blood on their door posts. In the New Testament we learn that that blood symbolized the blood of Christ which now saves us. "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." 1Peter 1:18,19 And John the Baptist said of Jesus, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:29  "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!" Rom 5:9


The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jan 29,2022