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.
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?