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Shadow and Substance


As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

—John 3:14 15

The brazen serpent was an antetype (earlier type) of Christ. Put another way, the serpent was the shadow, Christ is the substance. Smeaton compares the two.


1. The raising of the brazen serpent on the pole or banner-staff, and the lifting up of Christ upon the cross. These two are related as shadow and substance—the one being prophetic of the other. Nor is this by any means to be regarded as a subordinate point, as certain expositors suppose. For, in the first place, the repetition of the verb “lifted up” in the two contrasted clauses, and then the correlation of the two particles, as and so, unite to prove that the one is to be viewed as type, and the other as [antetype].

2. The two objects here named were, in two different respects, according to the appointment and command of God, to be regarded with a trustful and confident look. Men were directed to look to them with unhesitating confidence, according to the divine appointment, for salvation.

3. The instant effect of that look was to bring deliverance and health. This is the direct and obvious point of comparison, into which the whole statement is naturally to be resolved. It takes for granted believing confidence in the divinely appointed remedy, but implies that there is an instant communication of life in connection with a look at the crucified One.

4. . . . the brazen serpent was only made like the poisonous serpents, yet without their poison, and that Christ was in all points made like unto His brethren, yet without sin. It is not only warrantable to add this further point of resemblance with many of the best commentators, but it is necessary. It is true, the great point . . . of the comparison is, that the lifting up of the brazen serpent healed the wounded Israelite, and that Christ crucified delivers perishing men from eternal death. But we must also take in this point. The serpent was only in appearance like the noxious creatures that had caused lamentation and woe in the camp of Israel, but not one of them; and, in like manner, Christ was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, or made in all points like the brethren, yet without sin.

—George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 261–262.

Posted 2018·05·29 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Atonement · Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement · George Smeaton · Old Testament Gospel

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