John 3:14

John 3:14-15 (see also John 1:29; Numbers 21:6-9; 1st John 2:2; 2nd Corinthians 5:14-15)
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.”

Numbers 21:6-9:The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.’ And Moses interceded for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.’ And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.

From the Arminian perspective, if a snake-bitten person had refused to look upon the serpent on a standard, then they perished, and that is exactly how the provision was designed to operate. So if Numbers 21:6-9 is analogous to John 3:14, as per Jesus’ illustration, then the person for whom Jesus died, purchased and bought (2nd Peter 2:1), and who died in a state of rebellion and rejection of Christ, will perish, and instead of meaning that the atonement failed, the atonement is actually operating exactly according to specs. The atonement was intentionally designed to only become effective in those who look upon Christ, analogous to Numbers 21:6-9. I think that this illustration of Jesus represents exactly what Arminians believe about the atonement. So although God is not happy when someone perishes, preferring instead that they turn back to Him and live (as per Ezekiel 33:8), He is nonetheless pleased with the way that His gospel was set up to operate, insomuch as being redemptive of only those who repent and turn back to Him. I think that that’s divine sovereignty in action, because God choose it, God designed it, and God accomplished it at Calvary.

The key difference between a 4-Point Calvinist and a 5-Point Calvinist is over the Calvinist doctrine of a Limited Atonement, which teaches that Jesus did not die for all man, but only for those of the alleged, eternal flock of the Father. While 4-Point Calvinists completely agree with the 5-Pointers over the existence of the alleged, eternal flock of the Father, as it relates to the Calvinist doctrine of Unconditional Election, they disagree with the 5-Pointers on the extent of the atonement. 4-Pointers teach that people become redeemed only when they believe in Jesus. 5-Pointers argue that those of the eternal flock of the Father, were all secretly redeemed 2,000 years ago at Calvary. 5-Pointers argue that you do not choose to become redeemed, but are either born redeemed or are born passed-by. To the 5-Pointer, either you are born loved like Jacob, or your are born hated like Esau. The Hyper Calvinist adds that if you were not drafted into the alleged, eternal flock of the Father, then you were created for Hell. They call this the doctrine of Unconditional Reprobation. Other Calvinists, horrified by this doctrine, prefer another doctrine called Preterition, where God simply leaves the Esau-class to fend for themselves, such that in passing by them, they are abandoned to their own miserable state of depravity.

Due to the negative connotation of the term Limited Atonement, perhaps giving the false impression that God is somehow limited in power to save all men, 5-Point Calvinists prefer to call it the doctrine of Particular Redemption, that is, the particular redemption of the alleged, eternal flock of the Father. However, Arminianism also teaches a Particular Redemption, that is, the universal purchase of all men, but the particular redemption of only those who are in Christ by faith.

Numbers 21:6-9: The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.’ And Moses interceded for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.’ And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.

4-Point Calvinist, Ron Rhodes, writes: “John 3:16 cannot be divorced from verses 14-15, wherein Christ alludes to Numbers 21 with its discussion of Moses setting up the brazen serpent in the camp of Israel, so that if ‘any man’ looked to it, he experienced physical deliverance. In verse 15 Christ applies the story spiritually when He says that ‘whosoever’ believes on the uplifted Son of Man shall experience spiritual deliverance.” (The Extent of the Atonement: Limited Atonement Versus Unlimited Atonement)

John Calvin comments: “Just as it was only a snake in appearance and possessed no venom or poison, so Christ clothed himself in the form of sinful flesh, which was pure and free from all sin, so that he might cure in us the deadly would of sin.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.75, emphasis mine)

Calvinist, D. James Kennedy, writes: “Our faith and our repentance are the work of God’s grace in our hearts. Our contribution is simply the sin for which Jesus Christ suffered and died. Would you be born anew? There has never been a person who sought for that who did not find it. Even the seeking is created by the Spirit of God. Would you know that new life? Are you tired of the emptiness and purposelessness of your life? Are you tired of the filthy rags of your own righteousness? Would you trust in someone else other than yourself? Then look to the cross of Christ. Place your trust in him. Ask him to come in and be born in you today. For Jesus came into the world from glory to give us second birth because we must--we MUST--be born again.” (Why I Believe, p.140, emphasis mine)

Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, writes: “This simply means that Christ did not die for all men in general but gave himself only for the church, the elect.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.183, emphasis mine)

Lutzer adds: “If God from all eternity purposed to save one portion of the human race and not another, the purpose of the cross would be to redeem these chosen ones to himself. We can know whether we belong to that number.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.187, emphasis mine)

It is for this reason that some Calvinists advise not to just randomly tell people that God loves them because Jesus may not have died for them, if they are not one of the alleged, eternal flock of the Father. However, Jesus did die for “all men” (1st Timothy 2:5-6), and He does love “the world.” (John 3:16)

Calvinist, James White, writes: “Of course it should be noted in passing that everyone who is not a Universalist limits the atonement. The evangelical who thinks he is honoring the atonement by making it universal in scope needs to realize the cost of his position. If Christ died in the place of every man and woman in all of history (universal scope and intention), the atonement must be limited in its power and efficacy, for it does not actually result in the salvation of many of those God intended it to save.” (Debating Calvinism, p.171, emphasis mine)

Its a provision, and just like at Numbers 21:6-9, its efficacy is restricted to those who look upon it.

John Calvin comments: “So it should be inferred that Christ is clearly shown to us in the Gospel -- so that nobody can complain that he cannot see Christ, that this revelation is available to everyone, and that as faith looks to him Christ is present.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.75, emphasis mine)

Commenting on John 6:51, Calvin writes: “There he delivered himself up to death for the life of men, and now he invites us to enjoy the fruit of his death.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.168, emphasis mine)

Calvin adds: “It is incontestable that Christ came for the expiation of the sins of the whole world.”  (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.148, emphasis mine)

As Calvin appears to agree, John 3:14-15 eliminates any chance of the Lords atonement being limited in scope, and properly restricts the benefit of the Cross to those who look upon Christ in faith. No one can say that Jesus didn’t die for them. Jesus takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), and His flesh gives life to the world (John 6:51), because He is the Savior of the world. (John 4:42) He died for all. (2nd Corinthians 5:14-15), having given Himself as a ransom for all. (1st Timothy 2:5-6) His grace abounds to all. (Romans 5:15) He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. (1st John 1:1-2)

A satirical look at the Calvinist interpretation: The Bronze Serpent Explained: A Monergist View of Divine Healing.

Question:  For whom was the fiery serpent, set on a “standard” erected?

Answer:  Those who were “bitten.” This answers, For whom did Christ die?” It is for everyone who has been bitten by sin. Therefore, just as “if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived,” so too, if sin has bitten any man, when he looked to the Cross of Christ, he spiritually lived.
Question:  Were only certain people given the ability to look to the standard?

Answer:  If that was the case, then why is there no record of it in this passage? Or perhaps we were not told that Moses carefully instructed the priests not to randomly just tell “any” man bitten, that God loved them and provided the standard for them, because it was only meant for some people. We don’t know who those people are, says the Calvinist. This passage brutalizes Calvinism.
Question:  Would God be a failure if “any” man bitten, chose not to look to the standard and live? If no one looked to the standard, and all died, would God have built the standard for nothing?

Answer:  Then God would have started over with Moses: The Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.’ (Numbers 14:11-12) God, in one instant, foresaw a whole new nation, but deferred to the intercession of Moses.
Clearly, the standard was unlimited in scope to “any” man bitten, while the efficacy of its healing power was restricted to only those who looked upon it.
Question:  After the atonement of the serpent on the standard was erected, was there anyone who was bitten, who did not have an atonement availed to them, for which they could look upon and live?

Answer:  Neither Jesus nor the Numbers 21 passage gives such an impression.
If by fiery serpents bitten,
only look upon the pole;
He who was for sinners smitten,
freely heals the poisoned soul.

We, like Moses, now invite you,
Sinners, come and go with us;
You will gain a crown of glory;
You will shun an endless curse.

Why put off until tomorrow,
Works that should be done today,
This will fill your hearts with sorrow,
When your souls are called away.

Lingering souls, how can you slumber,
When the storm is at the door ?
Hark ! and hear the rumbling thunder;
Soon the storm of fire will pour.

O repent, and seek salvation,
Christ stands waiting to redeem;
He will every sinner pardon,
Who believes and trusts in him.

If you feel your hearts lamenting,
If your wills are rightly bent,
If you come to Christ repenting,
As the leprous sinner went,
You will find a gracious Saviour,
Full of pity, love, and grace;
He will take you into favor,
And salute with words of peace.

I am Jesus, I will save you;
All my blood your souls have cost,
Power and grace shall cleanse and keep you,
None that come shall eer be lost,
Go and tell to all around you,
What the Lord has done for you;
Tell them if their hearts are broken,
They will find a Saviour too.

(The writings of the late Elder John Leland, edited)
The Simplicity of Salvation -- by Christopher Skinner

We cannot save ourselves from Gods wrath but God has provided salvation for us. It is easy to be saved. 

4 And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. 5 And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. 6 And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much 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 thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. 9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. (Numbers 21)

The Lord Jesus used this as an illustration of the sacrifice of himself:

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16). 

Just as the Israelites had to look on the serpent to be healed, we have to look upon Christ to be healed of our sin. Gods provision requires a response - even though God had provided the remedy, it is ineffectual if it is not applied. The response is to trust in him. The gift of Gods one and only Son is sufficient to save all and effective only for those who believe. 

Some Israelites may have failed to look at this provision and tried to find their own remedy. Today many religious ignore Gods provision and focus their efforts on good works and fail to come by the means God has provided. If the Israelite failed to look at the serpent and instead focused their attention on their wounds, they would have perished. Many believers today are likewise very introspective and focus on their sins and how to do better. This is not the solution. 

Just one look was all that was required for healing. Likewise, when someone throws themselves on Gods mercy and trusts in The Lord Jesus as the lamb of God who takes away their sin, they are forgiven once and for all time. Salvation is not reversed when we take our eyes off the Lord, but we are preserved by him and disciplined by him that we may grow in grace and righteousness (John 6:47-40, Hebrews 12). 

When Satan tempts me to despair
and tells me of the guilt within
upward I look and see him there
who made an end of all my sin

Because the sinless saviour died
My sinful soul is counted free
for God the just is satisfied
to look on him and pardon me

(The Simplicity of Salvation, emphasis mine)
Question:  What is Jesus referring to when He cites the serpent in the wilderness?

Answer:  Numbers 21:6-9.
Many analogies are used to explain the Atonement of Calvary, but what could be better than an illustration that Jesus used? Well here it is!

Numbers 21:6-9.

Calvinists try to evade one simple fact. This was a real Atonement, and rather than being monergistic, it is synergistic, and Calvinists must ultimately bow to God’s sovereign choice.
Question:  Relative to the Atonement of Calvary, as per Jesus’ own illustration, was the atoning provision automatic without having to exercise any autonomous libertarian free will to actually “look” upon it? In other words, before one actually looked upon it, was it already fully effective in the individual?

Answer:  No. If a person did not look upon it, then the provision did not heal them. So even though the atoning provision of the “serpent on a standard” was: (1) made for “everyone who was bitten,” as per Numbers 21: 8, and (2) fully satisfied God’s wrath for murmuring against Moses, it nonetheless was not automatic, unless and until a snake-bitten-person actually “looked to the bronze serpent.” So if someone perished, then it’s not the atonement that “failed,” because the atonement was operating exactly according to divine specifications, which was intentionally designed to become in force only when a person submitted to it. As an illustration, if a soldier aims his rifle, but fails to pull the trigger, then the gun didn’t fail, but the solider who failed to pull the trigger. The gun is operating according to specs. The individual messed it up, and is solely accountable. The gun manufacturer is exonerated from all blame, liability and assertions of error.