About the Gospel of John
The book of John is probably my favorite book of the bible and definitely my favorite Gospel account. The other Gospels provide excellent detailed accounts of the life of the man, Jesus Christ. John puts far more emphasis on the deity of Jesus. John was known as the one loved by Jesus. Of all the apostles, he alone stood with Jesus’ mother at the cross and held her while he died. John was the only apostle to live into old age and he was the one who received and recorded the visions we in the book of Revelation. The Gospel of John begins by confronting the reader with the true identity of Jesus – the son of God who is the Word, the doer of Creation, and the Almighty who became flesh and lived as a man to complete His own plan. A few chapters are spent on various acts and statements of Jesus, then the latter half of the book deals with the last week of Jesus’ life as a man, climaxing in His resurrection and the final instructions of Jesus to Peter before His ascension.
About Chapter 3
This is almost certainly the most quoted chapter of the New Testament, particularly verses 3 and 16. These verses are part of arguably the most famous conversation in the bible, Jesus and Nicodemus. This conversation certainly is important, but there’s a lot more to the conversation than just these two verses and there’s more to the third chapter than this conversation. The second half of the chapter contains John the Baptist’s testimony of Jesus. John’s words might not carry the weight of Jesus’, never the less his testimony is of great value.
The Wrong Question
Jn 3:1-3 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus was willing to admit Jesus was a teacher from God, but to say Jesus was a mere teacher was like saying the Space Shuttle is a mere glider. This admission wasn’t a direct question, but obviously he was seeking some response. Rather than debating his own identity, Jesus instead dealt with Nicodemus’ heart problem.
The Initial Confrontation
Jn 3:4-8 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” When most people read this part they think Nicodemus is receiving a grand revelation about something totally new. They forget from the first verse we learn Nicodemus was very well versed in scripture. The Pharisees dealt in theological hyperbole and symbolism all the time. Jesus statement was only a surprise because it boldly cut to the personal need of Nicodemus to open his heart to Jesus instead of satisfying his selfish agenda. Jesus was quoting and explaining Ezekiel 36:25-27 and 37:9, passages Nicodemus would have certainly been familiar with. As readers we benefit from this clarity, but to Nicodemus this was a direct confrontation which required him to either accept the authority of Jesus to make such an offer or deny him. Jesus confronts each of us and requires us to decide if we will accept, believe in and submit to His authority. This is exactly what Jesus was asking of Nicodemus when he spoke.
Jn 3:9-12 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? Perhaps Jesus’ boldness was shocking to Nicodemus or maybe it just took time to melt a hardened heart, but at this point Nicodemus was still not quite able to accept the full import of what Jesus was telling him. Fortunately Jesus didn’t just give up on Nicodemus when he resisted the Truth. Jesus continued to explain in terms Nicodemus could understand.
Jn 3:13-15 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. Jesus this time quotes and summarily explains the events of Nu 21. It would certainly have been clear in context to Nicodemus that Jesus was talking about Himself here as the ‘Son of Man’, especially since that is a term Ezekiel frequently used for the messiah and one which Jesus used publicly of himself. Here Jesus very plainly was telling him He was the source of eternal life. Jesus was telling Nicodemus to believe in Him.
Jn 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Jesus confronted Nicodemus with his need. Jesus addressed Nicodemus in language he could understand. Jesus revealed His superior position as Lord. Jesus confronted him with his disbelief, but instead of offering condemnation he offered Nicodemus hope for eternal life. By way of telling Nicodemus that the only requirement for eternal life is belief in himself as the Son of God Jesus revealed the depth of His compassion. Jesus laid out his whole plan in verse 17 when he explained God’s purpose in sending Jesus – to offer eternal life to people in the world thus saving them from the certain death of living “in” the world.
Jn 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. With the person and plan of God revealed, with hope given, Jesus forces Nicodemus to search his own heart and make a decision. A choice is offered – believe and enjoy eternal life or be condemned eternally for disbelief. This was no small decision. Jesus left no “outs” for Nicodemus. Either Jesus was Lord, or he was a liar or lunitic. Whenever Jesus opens a heart to His Truth He always gives us the choice and the choice is clear. The way of the Lord or the way of the world. Life or death. We all are confronted with choices and some of them aren’t easy. Choosing to believe in an unseen Lord and hoping for a life we cannot see while our flesh lives is fantastic. It defies the wisdom of the world. It confounds the world. Without the benefit of the Spirit to reveal Himself and the Truth of the Word it is irrational. But the Spirit is given. The Word is given. We have the testimony of those who saw Jesus risen, like the serpent described in Jn 3:14, and we have the testimony of the Spirit speaking in our hearts. So, will we believe? Whom do you choose?
Testimony of the Good News
A Jew asks John the Baptist what he thinks of Jesus taking over his ministry of baptism. John replies by saying he is not the Christ, but Jesus is. He compares himself to a friend of a groom, but not the groom himself. He rejoices with and for the groom, but it is the groom’s time for glory. John then goes on to explain what he means:
Jn 3:31-35 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. John admits Jesus is All Mighty. He admits he is merely like everyone else and not wise like God. He adds that Jesus gives the Spirit without limit and that through love it is given to Jesus to in turn give to all who would believe in Him.
John’s testimony climaxes with Jn 3:36 – Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John says almost exactly what Jesus himself said. Believe Jesus for eternal life or disobey God for wrath. To believe Jesus results in obedience which is righteousness. We are empowered to become righteous and obey only through belief and belief entails submission to the absolute authority of our risen Lord, Jesus. If we don’t believe it is impossible to obey. You don’t have to worry about obedience when you are born again as a believer because if your belief is genuine you will obey in faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t mean our flesh is made perfect, it means our Spirit is truly born into eternal life, in union with the Holy Spirit like the bride being joined to the groom in the consummation of marriage. You don’t need to be a “good person” to be saved. No one was ever saved by being good. You are saved by believing. Being good comes later, but it does come. Our hearts are convicted and we are dealt with over time, but this conviction and the process of growing our Spirit occurs after it is born when we choose to believe.