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John Chapter 3

Before starting chapter 3 take a look again at the last verse of chapter 2:

"And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man." (John 2:25)

Now read the first verse of John 3:

"There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:" (John 3:1)

Compare the two verses:

"... he knew what was in man." (John 2:25)
"There was a man... " (John 3:1)

Can you see a connection between these two adjacent verses? Could the story of Nicodemus be an example of Jesus knowing what was in man?

At the end of chapter 2, we mentioned that there are different levels or degrees of faith:

Level of faith Basis for Example of
admission of truth facts Devils (James 2:19)
superficial miracles Nicodemus (John 3:2)
saving faith hope of reward Thief on the cross (Luke 23:42, John 3:16)
saving faith with deep trust intimate knowledge of what God is really like John, the beloved apostle (1 John 4:19 etc)

John used a form of the word believe (Greek: pisteuo) 98 times in his gospel. In chapters 3 and 4, we are going to see stories of three people that illustrate different levels of faith - Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well and the nobleman whose son was healed. There is a level of faith based on miracles:

"Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did." (John 2:23)

We might think that sounds like true faith but the next verse casts doubt on that:

"But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men," (John 2:24)

Many people later left Him. For example:

"From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." (John 6:66)

And these were even people called His disciples. So there can be a level of faith prompted by miraculous evidence. This, it seems, was the case with Nicodemus:

"The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." (John 3:2)

Nicodemus was motivated by the miracles he saw and perhaps also, as a teacher in Israel, the need to be informed of what was going on. His coming by night points to the peer pressure he may have feared had he come openly and also testifies to the degree of his faith.

"Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" (John 3:3-4)

Jesus did not rebuke him for coming by night and did not respond to what could be termed a compliment. He went straight to Nicodemus' need to be born again.

As a teacher in Israel and prominent member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus would have put a great deal of trust in his first birth as a Jew. His response expressed doubt and skepticism but he did state it as a question showing a willingness to hear an explanation.

Of course, we can only be born once physically. But we can be born again in terms of our character - it is simply referring to starting over.

Born Again
We inherit a fallen, sinful human nature from our parents because that is all they have to pass on to us.

"Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." (Psa 51:5)

The act of conception is not sinful; this is referring to being conceived with a sinful nature.

"Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." (Rom 8:7)
"Because a person who is carnally minded is at enmity against God because that person has no desire to follow the law of God, and can't with a mind with a bent towards self and against God." (Rom 8:7, my paraphrase)

Jesus took our place, our condition, which is fallen humanity with the ability to be tempted:

"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." (Matt 4:1)

In that humanity, as the Son of man, He overcame sin, living a sinless life.

"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Heb 4:15)

Jesus took our place (our condition, fallen humanity) and, in that humanity as the Son of man, He overcame sin, living a sinless life.

By taking on humanity and overcoming in that humanity it became possible for Him to identify with us and help us to be overcomers

"Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted." (Heb 2:17-18)
"For this reason, he had to become one of them-completely human in every way–in order to purge humanity of selfishness, enlighten the darkened minds of men with truth about God so they would trust him as the mediator of God's Remedy, and thus bring mankind back into unity with God in heart, mind and character. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, humanity will trust that he truly knows how to help those who are being tempted." (Heb 2:17, The Remedy, A New Testament Expanded Paraphrase)
"For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for [a solution to the problem of] sin, condemned sin in the flesh:" (Rom 8:3)

He "condemned sin in the flesh" by overcoming sin by living a perfect life and He did it as a human. We can, by our freewill choice, choose to be born again, born in our Spirit into God's family and when we do that we inherit what Jesus can give us - a new nature, His life that can and has overcome sin. In that process, He writes His law - the principle of other-centered of love - in our hearts.

"And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:" (Eph 2:16)
"And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." (2 Cor 5:18-20)
"Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:5-8)

Jesus said something to raise more questions in Nicodemus' mind. Jesus, the world's greatest teacher, was masterful at dealing with minds.

You can tell when a baby is born by the cry but can you tell when a person is reborn? Well there could and should be evidence that it has happened but it is a process and it may not be possible to identify an exact moment (and why would that be necessary?)

"Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?" (John 3:9-10)

"A master of Israel" or, more accurately, the teacher of Israel. He was in a top teaching position within Judaism, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin and well-respected.

"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven." (John 3:11-13)

We - people in general - speak of what they are familiar with, what they have witnessed. Jesus is saying that it is hard to believe heavenly things when you have not been there. "How shall ye believe" - it would have to be by faith, without personally-witnessed evidence. There is no man who can testify of such things but He who has been there and come down to testify. John's comments in verses 31-32 further support this.

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:14-15)

The background for this statement was an event that happened during Israel's wilderness wanderings:

"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. 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. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. 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. 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. 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. (Num 21:4-9)

It is good to remember for an incident like this that where scripture says "the LORD sent" it is a reference to Him withdrawing His protection in response to their rejection of Him - He had been protecting them all along from the serpents that were already there:

"Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint;" (Deut 8:15)

The "even so" of John 3:14 is pointing to a similarity between Jesus' statement and this earlier event. They were both (Jesus and the serpent on the pole) physically elevated, they were both meant to be seen, both required an attitude of faith to receive the intended benefit and both provided healing (physical or spiritual).

The serpent was meant to be a symbol of the coming Savior but instead, over time, became an object of worship:

"He [King Hezekiah] removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan." (2 Kings 18:4)

John records two further references by Jesus to being lifted up:

"Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things." (John 8:28)
"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die." (John 12:32-33)

Snake On a Pole

The crucifixion was meant to show something and do something.

  • to draw all men to Christ
  • to provide a means of reconciliation
  • to show the effects of sin
A serpent on a pole became a symbol of healing:

"God Loves You"
Mark was likely the first gospel written, with Matthew and Luke borrowing much information from Mark's gospel. Indications are that Luke's gospel was written no later than 63 AD with Acts being soon after. John's gospel was much later, probably about 90 AD.

It is interesting that the idea of God's love for us does not appear in the synoptic gospels - Matthew, Mark and Luke. They tell us to love God, our neighbors and even our enemies. While they use the word "love" in various ways, there is no place where the focus is on how much God personally loves us. Also, in the book of Acts, the account of the early church, there is no mention of the disciples preaching about love. The word "love" does not even appear in the book of Acts.

In contrast, John's gospel has lots of references to God's love for us, most notably, John 3:16. It is not surprising that we should get that from John who called himself the disciple whom Jesus loved.

"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)

Is that simple enough? What is required to be saved according to this verse? - belief, faith, trust - in Jesus.

Gospel

A few notes on words in John 3:16:
  1. "loved" - is the Greek word "agape," the completely other-centered form of love
  2. "world" is from the Greek "cosmos" which sounds like more than just this world."
  3. "gave" - Note that His Son was a gift, not a loan. He will ever be a part of the human race.
  4. "whosoever" - means anyone. We will see that Nicodemus and the woman at the well (John 4) are opposites in many ways. They point to two extremes, like two bookends to include everyone in between - whosoever.
  5. "believeth" - the faith referred to in this verse must be at least the level-three faith listed in the table at the top of this page.
  6. "not perish" - of course, since people still die, this is not referring to the first but, rather, to the second death

Here is a parallel verse:

"In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent (Strong's G649, apostello, from which comes the word apostle or sent one) his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him." (1 John 4:9)
"For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:17)

A point to make here is that if God sent His Son, He must have had a Son to send. Jesus did not become God's Son at His birth in Bethlehem. When it came time for the Father to say goodbye to Jesus as He was about to embark on His earthly experience the Father would not have said "it is time to go and become my Son" but rather "My Son, it is time to go."

The word "condemn" is from the Greek word "krino" which, in the KJV, is translated as: judge 88, determine 7, condemn 5, go to law 2, call in question 2, esteem 2, misc 8; total 114 uses. The word judgment in the New Testament is most often translated from the related Greek word "krisis." I wonder if that is related to the English word "crisis?"

Jesus did not come to judge. The question of who is judging or condemning is interesting. This verse says the Father does not judge:

"For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:" (John 5:22)

Jesus said of Himself:

"Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man." (John 8:15)
"And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world." (John 12:47)

We tend to think of Jesus as coming to judge at His Second Coming. However, He said that it is the words He has spoken that will judge:

"He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day." (John 12:48)

Here is a verse that seems to contradict John 12:47. It suggests that Jesus did come to judge.

"And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which [self-righteously think they] see might be made blind." (John 9:39)

This can be resolved by reasoning that Jesus came not to judge as in not to decide cases and pass judgment or sentence but to cause the sifting by bringing light that men might chose and, in choosing, essentially judge themselves.

The judgment of each person then is based on their reception of Christ, His message and His revelation of the Father.

Is there any verse that says: "whosoever keepeth the law should not perish, but have everlasting life"? Well, yes, there is:

"And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." (Matt 19:17)

Ultimately, a major goal in salvation is to keep the commandments. But how does one keep the commandments? They need the motivation of the love of Christ.

Who Judges/Condemns?

Does the Father judge?

No - "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:" (John 5:22)

"And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man." (John 5:27)

Does the Son judge?

No - "Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man." (John 8:15)

"And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world." (John 12:47)

Do we judge ourselves?

Yes, in a sense. Judgement is not some arbitrary decision on the part of God. We reap what we sow. By our own decisions we decide our own fate. God merely acknowledges (and respects) our free will.

Yes - "For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matt 7:2)

By what standard are we judged?

The words - "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day." (John 12:48)

It is a wonderful thing to know that God does not condemn us, that He freely forgives all our sins whether we confess them or not.

"And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;" (Col 2:13)

This verse is describing God freely forgiving all the sins of people who were in the condition of being dead in their sins. "Forgiven," in that verse, is from the Greek word "charizomai" which always refers to forgiveness in the heart of or from the perspective of the forgiver, the one doing the forgiving.

Here is the verse that most makes forgiveness sounds conditional:

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

But "forgive" in that verse is from the Greek word "apheimi" which always refers to forgiveness as received by the forgivee, the one being forgiven.

Understanding that God freely forgives us helps us to forgive others - and ourselves. Understanding God's attitude of charizomai helps us with receiving apheimi.

Sometimes people have a hard time feeling forgiven because they can't even forgive themselves - they don't feel worthy of being forgiven. They don't understand God's forgiveness. See more information about my book on this subject here.

"He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:18)

There are two very distinct categories:

He that believeth on him is not condemned
he that believeth not is condemned already

Both are forgiven by God so what is the difference? It is obviously linked to the belief or lack of it; belief or trust in Jesus - that He will forgive - and acceptance of that forgiveness. The word "condemned" is from the Greek verb "krino" meaning "to judge" as some versions render it:

"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 begotten Son of God." (John 3:18, New American Standard Bible)
"He who trusts in Him does not come up for judgement. He who does not trust has already received sentence, because he has not his trust resting on the name of God's only Son." (John 3:18, Weymouth New Testament)

It is often said that John 3:16 is the Bible's best-known verse. This may be true and the fact that it is important is underlined by the fact that its' message is basically repeated three times in a few verses. Look at the table below to see the emphasis by repetition.

vs 13-15 Son of man came down from heaven whosoever believeth not perish have eternal life
vs 16 gave His Son whosoever believeth not perish have everlasting life
vs 17-18 sent His Son he that believeth not condemned might be saved

Reaction to the Light

"And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved [exposed]. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God." (John 3:19-21)

What is the light that has come into the world? Jesus made that quite clear more than once:

"... I am the light of the world ..." (John 8:12, 9:5)

As we noted in John 1:3, that light might be related to the divine presence.

The word "light" and the concept of light as a spiritual metaphor is featured in John's gospel much more than in the others.

Light in the gospels

Let's compare the reactions to light like this:

People Reaction to Light Reason Emotions
evildoer does not come to the light lest deeds be reproved guilt, fear of punishment
truthdoer comes to the light that deeds be manifest gratitude, expectation of reward?

Are their reactions different? Let's recognize that all start from the same position:

"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" (Rom 3:23)

The difference seems to be mainly the attitude towards or understanding of God. People are separated by their reaction to light which is knowledge - knowledge of the gospel.

Judgment can be either good news or bad news. It is not a decree of God so much as a choice of people. Judgment is very positive for those that love God.

So how are people condemned? Because they did not trust.

Deeds Wrought in God

Verse 21 mentions "deeds ... wrought in God." Some versions have: "deeds ... wrought by God."

"Wrought in God" is not very clear. Just who is doing the deeds? Translations go two ways, for example:

"But anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God." (John 3:21, Holman Christian Standard Bible)
"But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may become evident that his actions have God's approval." (John 3:21, International Standard Version)

That the actions spoken of are not done by God but by the individual seems most consistent with other scriptures:

"For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Phil 2:13)_
"Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (Heb 13:21)
"If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him." (1 John 2:29)
"Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God." (3 John 1:11)

It is probably most accurate to see man as doing the good works but doing them as a result of the good work that God is doing on his heart. So God still gets the glory.

"After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison." (John 3:22-24)

According to John chapter 4:

"(Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)" (John 4:2)

So Jesus "baptized" but just did it through His disciples. Like saying God (the Father) created the world when He did it through His Son who was the active agent in creation.

"Much water" points to the practice of baptizing by immersion rather than by sprinkling which became a common custom only centuries later.

People were still coming to John for baptism.

"Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him." (John 3:25-26)

The Jews baptized as a purification rite for Gentile converts whereas John connected it to repentance.

John's followers resented the success of Jesus, similarly to what John (the apostle) expressed in Mark:

"And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us." (Mark 9:38)

John, however, understood his role and had the right attitude as he then expressed:

"John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:27-30)

John was saying, in essence, that he was happy to see the fulfilment of his own prophecy. He was claiming to be the friend of the bridegroom, what we would call the best man. It is interesting that this comes so soon after the account of the wedding at Cana.

"He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him." (John 3:31-34)

This passage refers to what we read in verses 11-13.

There appears to be a contradiction here:

v32 "no man receiveth his testimony"
v33 "He that hath received his testimony"

It is likely that "no man receiveth" is a rhetorical hyperbole; an exaggeration. Really most people did not receive His testimony but there were exceptions. This can be understood similarly to this verse:

"And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast." (Rev 13:3)

This, of course, means the vast majority of the world with the exception of the remnant.

"He whom God hath sent" is referring to the Messiah.

Jesus' testimony is what He has seen in heaven - what His Father is like.

"he who is receiving his testimony did seal that God is true;" (John 3:33, Young's Literal Translation)
"Whoever accepts His testimony has certified that God is truthful" (John 3:33, Berean Study Bible)
"The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." (John 3:35-36)

"Given all things into his hand" - many verses speak of the Father giving to the Son. The Father may be seen as the great source of all and He works through His Son Who is the channel of blessing.

"He that believeth" is really He that keeps on believing; it is not once saved always saved. The "wrath of God" is best understood as defined in Romans chapter 1. See also this explanation of the wrath of God.

Here is a version of verses 31-36 that sees things a little differently:

"Jesus, who comes from heaven and created everything, is above all that is created; I, a man who is from this earth, am simply a creature belonging to earth, and speak as one who has only an earthly perspective. Jesus reveals what he has seen and heard about God and God's heavenly kingdom, but no one believes or accepts what he reveals. But I have accepted what he has revealed, and certify that God is truthful and Jesus is a revelation of that truth. Jesus, the one God has sent, speaks only the words of God, for Jesus is God's thoughts made audible and visible, as God's Spirit is upon him without limit. The Father loves Jesus his Son and has placed all things, whether in heaven or on earth, in his hands. Whoever trusts in God's Son Jesus is recreated within and has eternal life, but whoever rejects God's Son will not see life because he rejects the only Remedy for his otherwise terminal condition, and God, sadly, grants him his free choice." (John 3:31-36, The Remedy New Testament)
  Go to John Chapter 4


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The Greek has multiple words for forgiveness? God forgives (charizomai) whether we ask or not. Receiving forgiveness (apheimi) is by our choice.
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