Yeah, I know it is a provocative title, but I honestly think this is a very important question and I'd like some serious exploration. The question is "has Jesus become an idol like the serpent from the wilderness did?" I have done a bunch of thinking on this as well. Here's what I have:

First, I don't think I need to go through the many Torah prohibitions against idols from the ten commandments and then on through the prophets. Most of my thoughts on this follow from the two verses preceding the most popular verse in the bible.

John 3:14-16, And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

So this wilderness story is from numbers 21 and Michelangelo painted it on the Sistine Chapel ceiling because of its influence on Christianity. There is a ton of compelling art on it including a stained glass in St Marks Church, Gillingham, UK (see below).

Numbers 21:7-9, the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous[d] serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Moses' Serpent on the Sistine Chapel Ceiling St Marks Church, Gillingham, UK

Pope Benedict XVI also writes about how the serpent and christ are antitypes. (meaning they can be matched up between OT and NT). For those "looking for Jesus in the old testament" it seems that this is a great candidate for it.

But here's the problem... It was pointed out by Hezekiah

2 Kings 18:4, He removed the high places, broke down the pillars, and cut down the ashera pole. He broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it; it was called Nehushtan.

Now, assuming that God did not tell Moses to make an idol against his own law. The serpent seems to be an empty sign of obedience. If you look at it, you live. If you don't, you die. This was a commandment given by God. The serpent doesn't do the healing, God does.

But people started a cult around it, and sometime between Solomon (c930 BC, built the temple) and Hezekiah c700 BC), there was a 230 year window where the upraised serpent was possibly worshiped in the temple as central to Israelite worship.

In John, there are several themes of Jesus' will not being his own:

John 5:19, "Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise." John 5:30, “I can do nothing on my own. ... I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me. John 14:10b, I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

There are plenty others. There is also a criticism of the synoptic's narrative that Jesus had tension between his own will and God's will in Gethsemane.

John 12:27, "“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour."

There seems to be a transparency to Jesus. No will of his own.

Question So all that being said, have we all begun "offering incense/offerings" to our version of the upraised serpent? Did the protestants get it right by dragging the image of christ off the cross, as Hezekiah did, and eliminating the crucifix icon worshipped by the Catholic church? Is Jesus, as a being in himself, with separate will, and separate existence (e.g. people look for him walking around in the old testament)... Is that Jesus an idol? Is trinitarianism Idolatry in this sense?

  • That Jesus had a will that was evidently contrary to God is a main pointer that he was a man and not God at all. Hence he learned obedience leading to the greatest test of all at the end! It was a final temptation... but of course God cannot be tempted...
    – Steve
    May 24, 2020 at 21:47
  • To the extent that we are all human and understand God imperfectly and incompletely, we are all guilty of believing in a false version of God in some sense. But God "winks at our ignorance" (Acts 17:30), so I struggle to understand this question properly.
    – Dottard
    May 25, 2020 at 0:38

4 Answers 4


Idols are man-made objects fashioned from created material:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (Exodus 20:4) [ESV]

Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the LORD your God.
(Leviticus 19:4)

“You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 26:1)

As Jesus came in human form, He was not an idol:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The bronze serpent is symbolic of the type of death Jesus would die. However, when He died, the people were not looking at an idol or a man-made object. They were looking at the Son of God who was crucified:

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10 cf. John 19:37)

The Letter to the Hebrews explains in detail:

5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” 8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10)

  • What if someone worships the Sun without making an image of it?
    – Perry Webb
    May 25, 2020 at 1:55

NO. Jesus is not an idol because he points to God - everything he does or says is for and toward his Father, doing his Father's will with every breath. He is the image of God so that all who know Jesus may know the Father also.

An idol on the other hand points away from God. Even if it intends (with the best intentions) to point toward God, if it is of men, it is basically of the devil, distracting, deceiving etc to draw men away from God.

Making up any kind of God not revealed through scripture is an idol. You do the math.

  • I like this take, but is he a pointer to God like the serpent in the wilderness? Or is he (treated as) God. There is an important difference between an icon and an idol. Is trinitarianism (in this sense) idolatry? People send up prayers to Jesus or through Jesus. Is there anything there in Jesus? Is he a pointer? Is he empty? Is he solid?
    – Gus L.
    May 24, 2020 at 18:38
  • As Israel took gods from gentiles, so the church (spiritual Israel) has done the same - taken another god not revealed in the word. There is a great power of deception that firmly infiltrated the church around the 4th century - at the point of a sword! (or with a fire)
    – Steve
    May 24, 2020 at 21:40
  • He's solid. He's pointing. And God points to Him. Given Him the name above all names, Philip 2, made Him Lord and Christ, Ac 2. God has filled Him and God is Him. That's the difference between His old covenant and new. Having spoken of old in many ways, God's spoken to us in the last of these days in the Son, who, being the effulgence of His glory and the impress of His substance and upholding and bearing all things by the word of His power, having made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, Heb 1. Unlike Judaism, Islam, Jehovah Witnesses: God Himself came
    – Walter S
    May 25, 2020 at 1:25
  • :) the Jesus I know can die. Can yours? Did God send only 1/2 His son?
    – Steve
    May 25, 2020 at 1:32
  • I'm glad you know Jesus. I pray you'd know Him,
    – Walter S
    May 25, 2020 at 3:05

That was Athanasius's argument for Christ being God:

  1. Christ is worshiped in Christian churches, including churches following the teaching of Arius. How could the church rightfully worship Christ if Christ was not God? Athanasius asked. Did the Arians not realize what they were doing in their worship services, at least if their theology was correct? To worship a creature was to commit terrible blasphemy. In fact, Athanasius would contend, Arius and his followers committed blasphemy on two counts: they worshiped a creature as God and called God incarnate a mere creature. Arius’s desire for, as C. S. Lewis calls it, a “ ‘sensible,’ synthetic” religion had led him into a rationalistic cul-de-sac.

Hall, C. A. (1998). Reading scripture with the church Fathers (p. 61). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

  • To the Arians, Jehovah's-Witnesses, and the 'Jesus is only man' folks, we whose God is Christ are idolaters. To us, those religious are the worst heretics
    – Walter S
    May 25, 2020 at 0:10
  • It's just like the 4th century, they killed (closed) those who disagreed with the new theology which departed from the word of God. Indeed, they disputed the very WORD of God who was flesh and beat the devil on just terms, making him a mystery and a liar.
    – Steve
    May 25, 2020 at 1:18

The serpent was never intended to be worshiped. Once Israelites began worshiping it, it became an idol. Christ being God (John 1:1), it's impossible that He is an idol or can be made an idol. Notice in John 20:28 when Thomas calls Jesus "my Lord and my God", Jesus does not rebuke him.

That being said, I think this is a great place to mention that we have a habit of building our own idea of who Jesus is, and worshiping that. I can't count the number of times I've been told "MY Jesus would do this" or "MY Jesus would never do/say that". I don't care what someone's "Jesus" thinks -- what about the one true Jesus? I think that's akin to the Israelites forging a molten calf and calling it Yahweh (Exodus 32:4-3). In this case we're ascribing the name of Jesus to an idol, rather than making an idol of Jesus... but I think it's relevant.

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