John Chapter 3
John 3:3 - "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.'"
John 3:17-18 - "'For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotteen Son of God.'"
John 3:27 - "John answered and said, 'A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven.'"
John 3:30 - "He must increase, but I must decrease."
1. In verses 1 and 2, Nicodemus gives the reason He believes Jesus has "come from God." What is that reason? What does this say about the Jewish rulers? What is the basis for your belief in Jesus?
2. What did Jesus mean when He said we must be "born of...the Spirit?"
3. "The wind blows where it wishes" is an apt description of how God moves in the world and in our lives. What other things do you learn about God from this chapter?
4. The "Son of Man" being "lifted up" refers to what event that would later occur in the Gospel story? How does this relate to when "Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness (cf. Numbers 21:4-9)?" How does this relate to our salvation?
5. What reason does Jesus give for God sending His Son into the world?
6. Non-Christians, and even some "Christians", often make statements like, "I can't believe that a loving God would condemn people just because they don't believe in Jesus." Does God condemn people for not believing in Jesus (cf. vs. 18 and 36)? Explain why you arrived at your answer.
7. In verse 27, John the Baptist says that, "A man can receive nothing, unless it is has been given him from heaven." What does this reveal about John's perspective on life? How does that affect your perception of your life and possessions?
8. Who did John the Baptist say he was in relation to Jesus (cf. vs. 28-30)? In saying these things, how does this set an example for our lives?
9. It is clear from this chapter that receiving Christ means receiving God. Form verses 31-36, what else do you learn about Jesus' relationship to the Father?
(Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the NASB)
In verse 1, we meet Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish rulers. In verse 2, we find that he and the rest of the Jewish rulers knew that Jesus came from God. This is seen not only in his statement of the fact, but also in his use of the title "Rabbi." Rabbi was a title used specifically for legitimate teachers; a ruler of the Jews would certainly not use this title for anyone who did not earn or deserve it. Nicodemus acknowledged Jesus as someone who has "come from God as a teacher..." because of the miracles that Jesus performed. This gives us another little tidbit - Jesus' miracles attest to His identity (i.e. He did not perform them just to perform them, they have a purpose).
In verse 3, Jesus tells us what it takes to get into heaven - we must be "born again" (or from above). Nicodemus, not understanding, asks Jesus how this is possible. Jesus proceeds to tell him that we must be "born of water and the Spirit." Many have misunderstood verse 5 to be implying that one must be baptized ("born of water") in order to be saved. It could probably be better understood if the word "and" were stressed. The first part of the verse states an understood fact; the fact that people are born - it refers to natural, or fleshly birth. The "AND the Spirit" (emphasis mine) states that just being born is not enough, you must be born of the Spirit as well. Verse 6 clarifies the issue. Rather than meaning baptism, Jesus is speaking of our physical birth. Verses 5 and 6 have a parallel construction. When verse 5 says we must be "born of water and the Spirit," verse 6 clarifies with "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." The "water" in verse 5 is a parallel to the "flesh" of verse 6, just as "Spirit" in verse 5 is parallel to "Spirit" in verse 6. The new birth comes by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit upon receiving Jesus. When the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us, He makes our spirits new. This concept will be more fully developed in the discussion of verses 16-20.
Verses 7 and 8 show us that the Holy Spirit is not under any man's control, nor do we necessarily understand Him. However, those who are saved are moved and controlled by the Spirit; the Holy Spirit leads us, even though others may not understand.
Even though Jesus explained these things, Nicodemus still does not understand (vs. 9). Jesus seems almost sarcastic in verse 10 when He says, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?" It's almost like saying, "how can you call yourself a teacher if you do not understand this?" Jesus continues by explaining that He and His disciples ("we") speak and testify to what they have seen and know, and scolds Nicodemus for not receiving that testimony (especially since Nicodemus and the others knew who Jesus was). He then repeats his attitude from verse 10 by asking how they (the Jewish leaders) would be able to accept or understand spiritual things that Jesus teaches if they will not believe the earthly things He speaks of.
Now it starts to get real good. In verse 13, Jesus says, "no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man." Jesus here explicitly claims to have come from heaven. The claim that "no one has ascended into heaven" except Him, is an interesting statement as well. First, it is a claim to the uniqueness of Jesus. Also, this is an obvious contradiction to anyone who would claim to have died and gone to heaven, and subsequently returned (usually with some "message" from God). Luke 16:19-31 also verifies this, especially verse 31.
Verses 14 and 15 make reference to Numbers 21:4-9 and is a picture of how Jesus will die, and a picture of saving faith. If you look at Numbers 21:4-9, the Israelites were grumbling against God for bringing them out into the desert "to die." As punishment, God sent "fiery serpents among the people" that bit the people and those who were bitten died. When they repented, Moses prayed for them and he was told by God to make a fiery serpent (which Moses made from bronze) and "set it on a standard" (or a pole - this is what Jesus refers to in verse 14 when he speaks of being lifted up). Those who looked upon the snake on the pole when bitten by a snake were spared from death. This was because looking upon the snake was an act of faith in God (which is what Jesus is referring to when He speaks in verse 15 of those who believe in Him receiving eternal life). Looking to Jesus is also an act of faith, not only in Jesus, but also in God. Verse 15 contains another interesting point. Here, recorded again, is the salvation transaction - "...whoever believes in Him [Jesus] may have eternal life." There is the key - belief, faith. This leads us to verse 16.
Again, the salvation transaction is seen in verse 16, probably the most popular, famous, and quoted verse of the New Testament. What a statement of love it is, to be willing to sacrifice your one and only son for the benefit of others. But this wasn't a simple sacrifice. This sacrifice paid for the sins of the world, and bought eternal life for those who believe in Him. How was this sacrifice able to pay for the sins of all, when other sacrifices could not? Jesus lived a perfect life in our place (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Hebrews 4:15, 7:28, 9:14). He was the PERFECT sacrifice, unlike the sacrificed animals which only temporarily covered sin (cf. Hebrews 9:11-10:14). We saw this in chapter 1 when He was called "the Lamb of God," and we will see this explained later in this book and in other books of the Old and New Testaments.
Verse 16 is also a wonderful example of the idea of salvation by faith alone. No works are involved in this statement - only belief; "...whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." Realize that eternal life does not just mean living forever. All human spirits have a beginning but then exist eternally. The difference between eternal life and eternal death is existing for eternity in the presence of God or separated from God. In John 17:3, Jesus says, "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent."
Verse 17 continues the loving thought of verse 16, stating that Jesus' purpose was not to condemn ("judge"), but to save the world. Verse 18 follows up the salvation experience with a couple of very important subtleties. The thoughts of this verse are echoed in verse 36. Let me begin with the second half of the verse. This part of the verse shatters the preconceptions behind the statement made by many that "I just can't believe that God would send people to hell (condemn people) for not believing in Christ." Well, they are right, but they still do not understand; however, this verse helps to clarify. God does not condemn people for not believing in Christ. What is interesting is that here it states that "whoever does not believe stands condemned already" (NIV). The end of that statement is key - "stands condemned ALREADY" (emphasis mine). Without Christ, man is already condemned. It is because of faith in Him that people are not condemned. To give an illustration, consider having a deadly illness. Essentially, you are condemnded to death. If you found that there was one and only one medication that could cure the illness and save your life, would you take it? If you choose not to take it, you remain condemned to die. Could then not receiving the medication be blamed for your death? It could have saved you, but it is not responsible for your death, nor did not taking the medicine cause your death. Not taking the medication allowed to happen what was already happening - it allowed the illness to continue along it's course, ultimately ending in death. So, if not believing in Christ is not the cause of mans' condemnation, why then are men condemned?"
In Romans 3:23, Paul tells us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," and in Romans 6:23 he tells us that "the wages of sin is death." Therefore, men are condemned because of their sin; sin is the deadly illness in the illustration. This started back with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Though God forbade them to eat of the fruit of "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," warning that the day they ate of it they would "surely die," Eve was tempted by the serpent and in turn encouraged Adam to eat this forbidden fruit. Before this, Adam and Eve knew nothing of death and disease; but from that day forth, they and all their descendants were condemned to sin (cf. Romans 5:12), and therefore, to die. Not only were they condemned to physical death, they were condemned to spiritual death, or separation from God as well.
This spiritual death has its end in eternal separation from God, described in Revelation 20:14 as "the second death."
This is a good place to bring up a very sobering and humbling point that will serve as a reminder of God's infinite love for us. Because all men sin, we too were "dead in [our] trespassess and sins "(Ephesians 2:1). We were (and are) because of our sin, deserving of death. However, God in His infinite wisdom, by His incredible love for us, through His great mercy and unfathomable grace, saw fit to provide salvation for those who would believe (Ephesians 2:4-10). As Paul tells us in Romans 5:8, "God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." We too "...were by nature children...of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3). So let us not forget that we deserve condemnation. This would be justice from a perfectly just God. We do not deserve, nor can we do anything to deserve, "the free gift of God [which] is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23), which He has given us by His grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).
In verses 19-20, Christ further clarifies this distinction - "this is the judgement, that the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds be exposed." This is why men loved darkness: because the darkness concealed their evil deeds, because the darkness accepts and promotes the evil deeds of men. Verse 21 continues, "But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." Christ is the light, and sin is darkness. Those who sin hide from the light because they do not want their sin exposed. Those who come to Christ must be willing to have their sin exposed and to make known that their living by the truth isnot of their own accord, but by the power of the Holy Spirit (God) living within them. When we received Christ, "He who...anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge" (2 Cor. 1:21-22, also cf. Ephesians 1:13-14). "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body...and we were all made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13). By this baptism, we become "new creature[s]; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor. 5:17). This is the new birth Christ spoke of in verse 3.
Verses 22 through 24 are mainly historical. Probably the most important points made in them is that both Jesus (His disciples - see John 4:1) and John were baptizing, and that people were constantly coming to be baptized. Baptism was a form of ceremonial cleansing among the Jews. It was also a ritual required of any gentile wishing to become a Jew. The baptism that John performed was a "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4); it was a way for people to express their desire to turn from their sin and turn back to God, and it was simply a water baptism. Baptism is also compared in several ways to circumcision. In the Old Testament, circumcision was a sign to seal the covenant that God made with the Israelites through Abraham. Each male was required to be circumcised to show that he was under that covenant. However, circumcision, like water baptism, was simply an outward sign. This outward sign was meant to signify an internal change, a change of the heart to live by God's ordinances. In the same way, water baptism is for Christians an outward sign of an inward change; the inward change comes from our rebirth, the receipt of the Holy Spirit. The water baptism, the outward sign, is a declaration by the person being baptized that they are now in relationship with Christ. Through baptism the Christian is symbolically buried and resurrected with Christ, a spiritual reality that is the result of baptism with the Holy Spirit. This is the real baptism, the one spoken of in 1 Cor. 12:13. This is what John the Baptist spoke of when he said, "I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:8).
The rest of the chapter presents us with some more practical application. Verse 26 shows that John's disciples recognized Jesus as the man about whom John had "borne witness," but still did not realize what John meant. John's reply in verse 27 is very important for us.
John states that "'A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven.'" Here is revealed an incredible truth. All that we have is "given [us] from heaven." Nothing we have is of our own. Therefore, we should not be prideful of our possessions, thinking that what we have is by our power. This can be seen also in Deuteronomy 8:10-20. John follows this with another wonderful example of humility and understanding (verses 28-36).
In verse 28, we see John's humility in again recognizing/acknowledging his role as a forerunner to the Christ, and in putting Christ above himself (since this is the continued response to his disciples' concern about people going to Jesus to be baptized instead of coming to John).
John gives us more than just his humility in verse 29, though that is certainly there. The picture of Christ as a bridegroom and the church as His bride is one that will be seen throughout the New Testament. We, the Church, all believers, are symbolized as the bride of Christ. John taking the status of "the friend of the bridegroom" gives the picture of him being a groomsman. This implies a special relationship to Christ, and as we have seen, that is as Christ's emissary. John's pointing out the fact that Christ is the bridegroom and not he, shows John's humility. Also, just as John, now that we have heard the bridegroom's voice, we should be full of joy. That joy comes from our relationship with Christ and the hope of our future with God.
I don't think we will find a more humble statement than John's proclamation in verse 30 - "He must increase, but I must decrease." John again shows that he recognizes his own place in the scheme of things, as we should also, and that all glory belongs to Christ. We should always strive to turn attention from ourselves and to Christ, giving Him the glory in all things.
In verse 31, we get a bit more theology. As Christ did in verse 13, John here points out that Jesus came from heaven. John further develops this concept in telling us that Jesus is above all, and he says this not once, but twice for emphasis. Again, we also see John's recognition of man's position/condition when he says that "he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth."
John agrees with Christ's statement of verse 11, when in verse 32 he says, "What He has seen and heard, of that He bears witness; and no man receives His witness." Christ's testimony is of the Father and the Father's will, and it is true since He came from God and "has explained Him" (John 1:18).
"He who has received His witness has set his seal to this, that God is true." Receiving Christ's testimony is the same as receiving God's testimony, and thus setting a seal or believing that God is truthful. The following verse tells us why - "For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God..." (John 3:34).
Verse 35 tells us that all things are in Christ's hands. It also is another example of John calling Jesus the Son of God. There is an additional subtlety here in the statement "The Father loves the Son...." This statement shows a distinction between the Father and the Son, for it would be na´ve to make such a statement if Jesus were simply a manifestation of the Father; that would imply that the Father loves the Father, which is a meaningless statement. Since we have also seen that Jesus is God (John 1:1), and we know that there is only one God (Isaiah 43:10), this statement is a building block towards understanding the doctrine of the Trinity. It shows that Jesus and God are separate "persons," yet they are one in essence; the two constitute one "being" or "God." This helps to solidify the argument regarding the Trinity seen in the study on John Chapter 1.
Verse 36 repeats a couple of the thoughts that we saw in verses 16 - 19, with one additional nuance. The nuance comes at the beginning of the verse - "He who believes in the Son HAS eternal life...." First, this verse makes the point that eternal life comes by belief/faith. Also, as with the ending of condemnation (vs. 18), we see that possession of eternal life begins now, at the time of belief/faith, not at some future time (also vs. 18). This is also a practical nuance - since our eternal life begins NOW, we should be living that way, we should have an eternal perspective (as John the Baptist in part demonstrates in verses 27-31).
The rest of the verse repeats (and clarifies somewhat) the theme of men already being condemned. John here states that in the case of those who reject Jesus, "...the wrath of God abides on him." The fact that John uses the word "abides" implies that it is already there; as we saw previously, Paul tells us that all men, before receiving Christ, are "by nature children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3). This is essentially the same point that was made in Jesus' saying that those who don't believe stand "judged ALREADY" (vs. 18 - emphasis mine). "Shall not see life..." again implies the condemnation through God's wrath and eternal separation from God.