John 3

The Son of God bringing Life to Man
John 3 – 7
John 3 – 7. This great section of John 1 through 7, which focuses on the element of “life”, we find that, after the introduction (ch.1-2), the Lord Jesus is presented as the surpassing replacement for Judaism in John 3 – 7. These chapters each begin with some event, or personal interaction of the Lord, followed by teaching that is somehow connected with the event. These five chapters take up principles relating to new birth and eternal life. The theme is the greatness of the Person of the Son in contrast with Judaism. In John 3, the lesson is that no teaching of the law is sufficient to reform the first man; all must be born again! In John 4 the lesson is that natural religion is unable to satisfy the human heart and produce true worship. Christ is sufficient for both! In John 5 the lesson is that the law is utterly futile to meet man’s need. The sovereign grace of the Son of God can meet that need! In John 6 the lesson is that the natural man is incapable of living without an object. The Son of man is presented to be the object of faith! In John 7 that lesson is that man’s religion is unable to bless. The Son’s promised return to the Father and sending of the Holy Spirit makes believers into channels of blessing.
Nicodemus: Man’s Spiritual Condition, New Birth, and Eternal Life
John 3

Man’s Dark Condition & Christ’s Perfect Knowledge of it (2:23-25)

¶ 23 And when he was in Jerusalem, at the passover, at the feast, many believed on his name, beholding his signs which he wrought. v.23 These were people that were impressed by what was outward, but there was no inward work of faith in their souls. There is a great difference between human belief and real faith. For example, I read in the news that a certain country has gone to war… and I give mental assent to the fact. That is belief, but it is different than faith. Faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8). Faith simply receives God’s testimony (John 3:33), even without evidence. Those in moral darkness can receive something about the news, but they cannot receive the things of God.
24 But Jesus himself did not trust himself to them, because he knew all menvv.24-25 This is evidence of the Lord’s omniscience. Even as a man on earth, Jesus knew everything! God did not need to test man to see what was in man, because God already knew. But the dispensational testing of the first man occurred to show us our utter failure, and puts us into a guilty place before God. Jesus “did not commit Himself” to those who required evidence to believe, because that is not genuine faith. Their belief was founded on the wrong thing, and the Lord would not have fellowship with that.
25 and that he had not need that any should testify of man, for himself knew what was in man. v.25 He didn’t need anyone to tell Him about man in the flesh… He was the omniscient Logos! And what was in man that Jesus knew was there? A little smidgen of good? A spark of “preparatory light”? (See note on “lighteneth every man”, John 1:9). No. He knew that in man was spiritual darkness without any light whatsoever. This is the prerequisite fact to the teaching of New Birth. We must accept that man is without hope in himself, apart from the sovereign work of God.

Nicodemus: Man’s need for New Birth, and the Work of the Cross

Nicodemus came to Jesus thinking that his real need (and Israel’s real need) was for better teaching. He could see that the state of Israel was one of apostasy. But the Lord Jesus shows him that no amount of teaching could improve the first man, and instead man needs to be born again, as does the nation of Israel. New birth is a sovereign work of God to impart spiritual life where there was none before. It is striking that God uses Nicodemus to bring out the truth of new birth. He could have used a heathen (Rom. 1), but instead He used the most upright of men to teach man’s need of new birth. If this man needed to be born again, then what about the rest of us? No doubt the Lord’s words continued to work in Nicodemus’s soul, and we read of him again in John 7:50, taking a cautious but decided step toward the light. A work was going in in Nicodemus that drew him to Jesus, although it was mixed with fear of man. He was “born again” at some point, but perhaps the full work described in this chapter was not completed until Nicodemus had stood at the foot of the cross (John 19:39), where he could have recalled the Lord’s words; “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, thus must the Son of man be lifted up that every one who believes on him may not perish, but have life eternal” (John 3:14-15). When the Spirit of God was sent, Nicodemus could have the enjoyment of that life.
New Birth.

New birth or quickening refers to the sovereign action of God to impart spiritual life to a person where there was none before. The expression "born anew" does not merely mean "a fresh start". Nicodemus contemplated entering into his mother’s womb to be born a second time (John 3:4). If that were possible, the rebirth would only result in another fallen human life, no different than the one he had. Rather, new birth is "new" in that it comes from a wholly new and different origin. It is life from God. The new life has a new nature with new desires. A person without new birth has one nature: a fallen human nature. A person with new birth has two natures: the old nature and a new nature (Romans 7). There is nothing but spiritual death apart from the life God gives (Eph. 2:1). The new nature has the capacity for “faith". Faith and life come together. You cannot have life without faith, and you cannot have faith without life. If someone has faith, it is because they are born again. New birth or quickening takes place by the water of the Word and the Spirit of God (John 3:5; Jam. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23). New birth is not accomplished through human will or effort (John 1:13). It is the sovereign grace of God to quicken a dead sinner!

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John 2 & 3. John 2 presents the untrustworthiness of the flesh. God isn’t going to start in ch.3 with the flesh, and try to improve it. Rather He is going to start with something new. Chapter 3 really begins the main division of the book, which is the Son of God presented to meet man’s need. John 3 describes the work of God in the soul from new birth to eternal life. It supposes the man’s condition is totally ruined and without hope in himself. New Birth is the very first step in bringing man to God. Man’s side comes in later, but it begins with God’s work.
The Doctrine of New Birth in John 3. Jesus taught on the subject of New Birth extensively in John 3. The Lord makes the following arguments:
  • (vv.1-3) Man needs new birth in order to ever see (or perceive) the things of God. Without new birth man is totally helpless.
  • (vv.4-6) The New Birth is caused by a sovereign action of the Spirit of God, using the Word of God.
  • (vv.7-10) The subject of New Birth is not unique to Christianity, in fact Israel as a nation is in need of New Birth, and the prophets speak of the day when Israel will be born again!
  • (vv.11-13) The Father and the Son desire believers to have something more than New Birth. New Birth is an earthly thing, but it is God’s desire to tell us of heavenly things; specifically Eternal Life. Eternal life is a higher and greater thing than New Birth!
Jesus often taught by contrast. In ch.3, Jesus used the one of the most educated and upright of pharisees to teach man’s need of new birth. In ch.4, Jesus used an immoral Samaritan woman to teach the privileges of Christian worship. In ch.5, Jesus used an impotent man to teach His life-giving power. In ch.6, Jesus used a hungry crowd to teach that He alone can satisfy the needs of man’s soul.

Man’s Need of New Birth (vv.1-3)

But there was a man from among the Pharisees, his name Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; v.1 The chapter begins with but. The condition of man is one of utter darkness, but nevertheless God had begun to work in a single man, and he came to Jesus. Nicodemus was a ruler“, which means he was part of the Sanhedrin, which made the decisions for the nation, etc. But the Sanhedrin was corrupt, and later would crucify their own Messiah (Matt. 26:59). God worked in certain of the Sanhedrin to draw them to Jesus, such as Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and later Saul of Tarsus.
2 he came to him by night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that thou art come a teacher from God, for none can do these signs that thou doest unless God be with him. v.2 He came by night because he did not want the Sanhedrin to know. He knew that to come to Jesus would incur the hatred of the world, which is always opposed to God. How much of his motivation was to investigate his human curiosity (John 2:23-25), or was there a deeper desire in Nicodemus to come to the light (v.21)? It is better to come by night than to not come at all. Perhaps Nicodemus was being drawn by the Father (John 6:44), but in either case he was in earnest. He did not yet know the extent of his own lost condition, nor his own need of a Savior. The miracles had proven that Christ was a teacher come from God. His admission “we know” proved the guilt of the Sanhedrin; down deep they knew that Jesus was real. But to know something is true is not faith; “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19). Nicodemus thought that what man needed was better teaching, perhaps coupled with signs, but the Lord corrects him. The point at which Jesus interrupts Nicodemus is where he speaks of the signs. The outward signs that impressed man in the flesh would never bring about the change that was needed.
3 Jesus answered and said to him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except any one be born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God. v.3 Man is not merely in need of good teaching. Man needs a new beginning: a new life and nature. Often gospel preachers use this verse as if Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he must rise up a do something. Really, Jesus is telling Nicodemus that there is nothing the flesh can do… the first man is bankrupt. The only hope for man is a new impartation of life from God, called New Birth. Just as we had nothing to do with our natural birth, so man has no part in spiritual birth. He says, without new birth, you can’t even “see” (perceive/understand) the kingdom of God. Seeing is a metaphor for spiritual eyesight, or discernment. When a person is born again they begin to discern God’s moral kingdom, and they come to see their own moral condition (beyond just a guilty conscience).
The Kingdom of God refers to a moral kingdom of those who own the authority of Christ. the kingdom was “come” when Christ is personally with his people, whether at his first coming (Mark 1:15, Matt. 12:28) or his second coming (Luke 22:18). Read more… However, in the intervening time, the kingdom of God exists in a mystery phase, and the subjects of the kingdom participate in its principles of: “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). In this way, a person can be “in the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Only those who are born again can “see” (perceive/understand, v.3) or “enter” (be saved, v.5) the kingdom of God.

How the New Birth is Caused (vv.4-6)

4 Nicodemus says to him, How can a man be born being old? can he enter a second time into the womb of his mother and be born? v.4 Nicodemus was totally blocked. To him our Lord’s words are incomprehensible. He knew that his own question was ridiculous, as to one having a second birth from his natural mother. Not only was it physically impossible, but also it was even more impossible morally for a corrupted source to generate anything other than a corrupted life.
5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except any one be born of water and of Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. v.5 Natural birth is “of blood and of the flesh.” We know this because “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11). The new birth is “of water”, not physically (baptism), but spiritually, as a symbol of the Word of God (Eph. 5:26). The waters of baptism speak of death, not life. If the water here was baptism it would make new birth the result of man’s will, which runs contrary to John 1:13. Some contest that the “water” here symbolizes the Word of God, and instead argue that it means the amniotic fluid of natural birth. To answer this, read Jam. 1:18 and 1 Pet. 1:23 which both insist on the role of the Word of God in causing the new birth. There is a moral cleansing associated with new birth, that puts us into a new moral position before God, hence the figure if water is used (the “sanctification of the Spirit”, 1 Pet. 1:2). But the moral cleansing does not justify us; so Christ came not by water only, but by water and blood (1 John 5:6), and the blood meets the judicial need. New birth is also by the power of the Spirit of God, for it is the Spirit that gives life. Therefore, the Word of God and the Spirit of God work in perfect harmony to cause the new birth. The water cleanses and the Spirit gives life. The nation of Israel needs to be reborn as well, see v.7, Ezekiel 36:24-32, and Isa. 44:3.
Can people be quickened without the written Word of God? There is some disagreement among Bible students as to the "water" of the Word (John 3:5) that is required for new birth. Clearly, the word of God is what the Spirit normally uses in the act of new birth (James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23). But is it restricted to the written Word? That would mean that all those without access to the written Word are never quickened. I think we can set this aside easily by looking at the Patriarchs, who never had the written Word, and yet many of them were certainly born again. What did they have? There was no written Word until Moses. The Patriarchs had the Word passed down orally, and they had various appearances of God in dreams, visions (Job 33:15-29), or pre-incarnate appearances (theophanies).
What about the limited, general revelation of God in creation? Psalm 19:3-4 says that God's voice in creation has gone over the whole world; "There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." In Romans 1 we read that the creation demonstrates God's "power and divinity". In Acts 14:17 we find that creation also demonstrates the goodness of God. In Psalm 147:5 it demonstrates God’s wisdom; that He is “infinite in understanding”. Is the witness of creation something that the Spirit has used in the past to quicken someone without access to the oral or written Word? We are not told explicitly, and we should not add to the Word of God. Certainly, a strong connection is made in Psalm 19 between the witness of creation and "the Law of the Lord". However, Psalm 19 also draws a strong contrast between the two, highlighting that while the glory of God is made known universally through creation, it is by the Law of the Lord that men's eyes are enlightened. It is clear from Romans 1 that creation is enough to make the heathen responsible to believe God, but we have no examples of individuals who believed on the basis of creation alone. In fact, the point in Romans 1 is that, though creation makes even the heathen responsible, in general that witness is rejected. Perhaps we cannot know for sure this side of heaven.1 In Revelation 14:6 we get an indication that God will use creation in some way to cause men to receive the "everlasting gospel" in the Great Tribulation. Perhaps the witness of creation is instrumental in redeeming some from "every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" (Rev. 5:9), although no doubt the gospel of the kingdom (a special revelation) will be carried to every nation.
In either case, I think it is important to see that a person cannot be "saved" in the full sense of salvation through creation alone, without knowing Jesus, and the Father, and without being sealed by the Spirit. Furthermore, there is nothing good in the fallen human nature that can be improved. Quickening is absolutely required for there to be any movement in the soul toward God, and the Christian gospel must be believed for a person to have eternal life.2
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. v.6 The Lord now makes it very clear that the two natures (born “of flesh” and born “of the Spirit”) are altogether distinct and never merge into one another. The new nature (“spiritual”) takes its character from the Holy Spirit, and the old nature (“fleshly”) takes its character from the corrupted flesh.

Israel’s Need of New Birth (vv.7-10)

7 Do not wonder that I said to thee, It is needful that “ye” should be born anew. v.7 It is not now “a man” (v.3) only that needs to be born again, but plural, ye must”, referring to the nation of Israel. A mere reformation or revival of Israel would not solve their issues. Nicodemus had been fooling himself. As a nation, they need to be reborn (v.10). It was not a band-aid they needed, but a heart-transplant. This is God’s sovereign work.
8 The wind blows where it will, and thou hearest its voice, but knowest not whence it comes and where it goes: thus is every one that is born of the Spirit. v.8 The Lord uses the wind as an illustration of the Spirit of God; one of seven in John’s Gospel. In fact, “wind / breath” and “spirit” are the same Greek word (G4151, Pneuma)… an invisible and powerful force, outside of the control of Man. The wind “blows where it will”, a proof of the sovereignty of God in New Birth. The “sound” or effect is heard, but there is a mystery to the working of the Spirit of God that no one can pin-point. New Birth is no less mysterious than the miracle of natural birth! We cannot pinpoint when and where a person is born again. The immediate effects of new birth are: (1) sorrow for sin, (2) repentance, and (3) seeking for more light; but NOT joy yet… that comes later.
9 Nicodemus answered and said to him, How can these things be? v.9 Nicodemus responds, but more softly this time. How difficult it is for the religious man to accept that New Birth is the sovereign action of God. It seems contradictory to the whole framework of man’s soteriology; but that is because man’s system is contrary to the Word of God (v.10).
10 Jesus answered and said to him, Thou art the teacher of Israel and knowest not these things! v.10 Properly translated, Jesus was calling Nicodemus “the teacher” in Israel. In other words, Nicodemus was the best and greatest teacher they had. If anyone should have, he ought to have understood from the Old Testament the truth that Israel needed new birth. See Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 11:19; 36:24-32; Hos. 6:2; & Isa. 44:2-3, etc.
— we are getting a contrast between new birth and eternal life —

The Father & Son’s Desire to Testify of Heavenly Things (vv.11-13)

11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that which we know, and we bear witness of that which we have seen, and ye receive not our witness. v.11 When He says “we”, Jesus is speaking on behalf of the Father and Son. The things that Jesus spoke were absolute truth, known by the Father and Son. The Old Testament was a limited revelation of God, and “the teacher” in Israel did not know those scriptures. Now Jesus was here to fully reveal the Father, and “ye” (the nation of Israel, particularly the leaders) refused that witness (John 1:11). On account of their rejecting it, the offer would now go to “whosoever” (vv.14-17).
12 If I have said the earthly things to you, and ye believe not, how, if I say the heavenly things to you, will ye believe? v.12 The Lord had been speaking of “earthly things” when He spoke of New birth – earthly because it was a matter necessary for the earthly restoration of Israel, and it was contained in Old Testament prophecy. But He had been sent from the Father to reveal “heavenly” blessings never known in the Old Testament, which are connect with Eternal life. Since Israel could not receive the earthly, much less the heavenly.
13 And no one has gone up into heaven, save he who came down out of heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven. v.13 “No man other than the “Son of man” could be a competent witness of heavenly things, for two reasons. First, because He was sent from heaven. Even though Enoch and Elijah had ascended to heaven, they had never come down from heaven, as the Lord had. Secondly, the Son of man “is in heaven” at the same moment He was personally on earth. This proof of His omnipresence. He alone was fully acquainted with all that heaven held! This is one of the mysteries of John’s gospel, and it shows the uniting of Godhead and Manhood in the blessed person of Christ. As the Son of man who is in heaven Jesus was competent to speak of earthly and heavenly things.

The Cross: God’s Sovereign Provision for Man’s Salvation (vv.14-17)

vv.14-15 The Cross meeting Man’s Need – The Death of the Son of Man

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, thus must the Son of man be lifted up, v.14 The Lord teaches Nicodemus about the cross using the Old Testament type of the brazen serpent. The Son of man “must” be lifted up… it was a moral necessity. The Son of man “lifted up” in death accomplished two things for us: (1) it takes the guilt of our sins away, and (2) it makes Him the object for our faith. It is the Son of man lifted up because it was as man that Christ was made sin for us. In v.16, we find that the Son of God was given. Scripture never says that the Son of man was given, because God didn’t have a man to give! That is why the Son was given, who became a man, and then was lifted up on the cross. I cannot help but think of Nicodemus standing at the foot of the cross (John 19:39), recalling these words. He was a “bitten” Israelite, looking up at the anti-type of the serpent of brass… perhaps at that moment he believed in the lifted up Son of man.
The Brazen Serpent. In vv.14-15 the Lord now uses an Old Testament type to illustrate two things: (1) the necessity of the cross in order to save man, and (2) the Son of man lifted up is the proper object of faith. In the type given in Num. 21:5-9, the people sinned against the Lord, and the result was fiery serpents sent among them. When bitten, a person would die. This corresponds with 1 Cor. 15:56, “the sting of death is sin” because sin leads to death. But it goes on to say “the strength of sin is the law” because the law occupies a person with themselves, and only can result in the inflammation of the sin nature (Rom. 7:7-11). In order to “live” and “not perish” the children of Israel needed two things: (1) they needed to be healed of the snakes’ venom, and (2) they needed an object to look to. God told Moses to make a brazen serpent. Brass in scripture is a type of Christ under the judgment of God. But the brass was made into the shape of a serpent, fashioned like the ones that had bit the people. We might wonder why a serpent, which is connected in scripture with the Devil, is used as a type of Christ. I believe it is a type of Christ “made sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21); made to be the expression of that which God abhors. In this sense also Christ was “made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13). The expression “lifted up” foreshadows the crucifixion, where the Lord was literally lifted up. In conclusion, we see two great things in the cross:
  • Christ’s death puts our sins away (1 Pet. 2:24)
  • Christ becomes the object of our faith (John 12:32, Gal. 2:20).
Lifted up. Not only was the Lord physically lifted up, but He was put in a place outside the earth in judgment. Rejected ignominiously by man, at the same time He was presented as a victim on the altar to God.
Son of Man.

"Son of man" is a title Christ has in special connection with mankind; as either the rejected sufferer at the hands of mankind and on behalf of mankind as the one who assumes the responsibilities of the whole human race, or as exalted heir and head of all that God has purposed for mankind. The Old Testament spoke of a coming "Son of Man" that would reign over all creation and have an everlasting kingdom (Psalm 8:4-8; Daniel 7:13-14). But "Son of man" is a title Christ took in rejection as well as in glorification. The connection between the suffering and glory of the Son of man is beautiful.

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15 that every one who believes on him may not perish, but have life eternal. v.15 Now we get that wonderful word “everyone” or “whosoever”, an expression that goes beyond the limits of Israel to include the poor Gentiles. New birth was required to “see” the kingdom of God, but eternal life is a gift to those who believe on the Son of Man lifted up. What does it mean to “believe on him?

In scripture there is a difference between "believing", "believing in", and "believing on". If you "believe" someone, you accept what they say as truth. If you "believe in" someone, you have confidence in their character; i.e. it has to do with who they are, although it also includes that they are honest. If you "believe on" someone, they become an object for your faith, and this also includes both confidence in their character and in their words, but goes far higher.

We must believe on a Person (Rom. 3:22), on Jesus Christ as the sin-bearer (v.15). Furthermore, we must also believe on Him as the Son of God given (v.16). Then the Person becomes the object of our faith. These two components are vital to a soul’s salvation: the Person and work of Christ.
Eternal life.

The term "eternal life" is commonly translated “everlasting life” or “life eternal”. The term is used in two different ways in scripture. In the Old Testament (e.g. Psa. 133:3; Dan. 12:2) and the synoptic gospels (e.g. Mark 10:30) eternal life refers to the Millennial kingdom. But in the other New Testament books, and especially John's writings, "eternal life" refers to a life the Christian possesses now. The word “eternal” does not define the duration of the life, but it defines the character of the life; "the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). It couldn’t be the idea of "living forever" because eternal life pertains to believers, and even the unsaved live forever in eternal fire. What is implied in "eternal life" is the possession of divine life in communion with the Father and the Son by the Holy Spirit; "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3).3 Old Testament saints had divine life, but not in the character of "eternal life" because they did not know God as Father, since the death and resurrection of Christ was not complete (John 20:17). Eternal life is the highest character of life that one can ever know, because it is the same life that the Father and Son enjoy together (1 John 1:3), and which had existed from eternity to eternity (John 1:2). All that God is as light and love are enjoyed by the believer, who is brought into fellowship with Divine Persons through the indwelling Spirit, such that he enjoys common thoughts and feelings with God! In 1 John we find that Christ Himself personally is that eternal life. He is also the perfect expression of that life; the Word of Life. God purposed in His eternal counsels that the fellowship of the Father and the Son would be shared with the sons of men! Read John 14:18-20. We are brought into this fellowship through the gift of eternal life. It is the greatest blessing that God can bestow on man, as it is the very same life of Christ! This eternal life, which He shares with others, is "in His Son" (1 John 5:11) meaning it cannot be possessed apart from Him, and that "he that hath the Son hath life" (1 John 5:12).4

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vv.16-17 The Cross Manifesting God’s Heart – the Gift of the Son of God

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him may not perish, but have life eternal. v.16 God’s heart of love for this world was finally displayed when He gave His only begotten Son. He “so loved” the world that He gave. The measure of God’s love is evidenced by and commensurate with the greatness of the gift, His only-begotten Son. There is no higher measure of love than what God gave. This is the love of compassion.5 Compare v.16 with v.35. There is no qualifier on the Father’s love for the Son, even though He loves us with the same love (John 17:23). Those who believe on the Son will: (1) not perish, because our sins are gone, and (2) have eternal life, a life that is characterized by fellowship with divine Persons, bringing us into the sphere of heavenly blessing. The word “perish” here is used in the sense of the “second death”, and therefore means eternal separation from God. Eternal separation from God is contrasted with eternal communion with God.
John 3:16. This verse is the gospel in a nutshell. Martin Luther called John 3:16 the “miniature gospel”. Only 25 words long, it is the most famous verse in the Bible. The first half of the verse describes God’s part: the “loving” and the “giving”… twelve words. The second part of the verse describes man’s part: the “believing” and the “having”… also twelve words. … twelve words. The central word is “Son”. This great gospel text can be compared with Job 34:14 (see critical translations), which is the “opposite” verse to John 3:16. Job 34:14 says what would have happened if God only thought of Himself; John 3:16 says what did happen because God so loved the world.
17 For God has not sent his Son into the world that he may judge the world, but that the world may be saved through him. v.17 God was now manifesting Himself as a Savior God in His Son. As such, He sends the gospel to the whole world, although not all will believe (see vv.18-21). This is what Paul means when he says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). God’s purpose in sending the Son at His first coming is for salvation to the world. At His second coming, it will be for judgment on the world.
— It is unclear whether Jesus spoke the following words to Nicodemus, or if they were added by John the Evangelist —

Faith: Man’s Responsibility to Believe on the Son of God (vv.18-21)

18 He that believes on him is not judged: but he that believes not has been already judged, because he has not believed on the name of the only-begotten Son of God. v.18 The point of this verse is that believing or not believing on the Son of God is the criteria for judgment. Notice that it is “the Name of” the only-begotten Son. A name stands for a person in their revealed character. In other words, to be saved a sinner needs to believe on the Person of Christ in the character of His Divine Sonship. It isn’t enough to believe that Jesus was a good person… you must believe that He is the Son of God. One who refuses to believe is “already judged”. Man puts himself in the place of judgment by his action of rejecting the gospel. Note that the word “condemned” here should be “judged”. It is impossible to be “condemned already”.
Christ is now the hinge-point. Those who reject are “already judged”… a Christ rejector puts himself in the place of judgment by his action of rejecting the gospel. Man is no longer on probation, as was Israel under law. The coming of Christ changed everything. The Law had proven man guilty, and Christ has taken the place of the guilty under judgment at the cross. If one therefore receives Christ, he is saved: if he refuses Christ, he refuses salvation, and chooses to be left under the judgment he deserves. God has made faith in His Son to be the hinge-point that determines man’s blessing or destruction. He is the stone of stumbling and rock of offense to those who reject Him, but the corner-stone to those who believe. You cannot pass Him by without a decision.
What think ye of Christ?
by John Newton
What think ye of Christ? is the test
To try both your state and your scheme;
You cannot be right in the rest,
Unless you think rightly of him;
As Jesus appears in your view,
As he is beloved or not,
So God is disposed to you,
And mercy, or wrath are your lot.
Judgment vs. Condemnation. Judgment means that a sentence has been passed, condemnation means the punishment has been executed. Condemnation is final, permanent, and irrevocable. A believer was never under condemnation, “and shall not come into condemnation” (John 5:24, Rom. 8:1). Unfortunately, the authorized translation confuses them, as do a number of hymns (see L.F. #200). Unbelievers are under the judgment of God today, but will only come under condemnation when they are cast into the lake of fire. Judgment precedes condemnation. Rom. 5:16 says “the judgment was of one to condemnation.” Remaining under the judgment of God will result in condemnation.
19 And this is the judgment, that light is come into the world, and men have loved darkness rather than light; for their works were evil. v.19 What is the judgment (or, conclusion) about a person as a result of their rejecting the gospel? It is the following: (1) light has come into the world in the Person of the Son of God, but (2) faced with the choice of believing on Him, they refused, which revealed that people were not just ignorant of the light, they actually loved darkness (v.19) and hated the light (v.20).
20 For every one that does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light that his works may not be shewn as they are; v.20 Those who refuse to come to the light do so not because they are ignorant, but because they want to keep practicing evil. Light manifests man’s true moral condition (Eph. 5:24), and this is why men hate it. It proves that God is just in judging evildoers, because their course is not a “mistake”, but a conscious preference of darkness over light, so that they can continue in their sin.
21 but he that practises the truth comes to the light, that his works may be manifested that they have been wrought in God. v.21 If one has nothing to hide, then he does not fear the light. Nathanael illustrates this in John 1:47-48. Having “no guile,” or deceitful covering up of evil, he could come with confidence to the Lord Jesus. Perhaps even Nicodemus was one who “came to the Light” even though he “came by night”. Perhaps this statement is a subtle encouragement to Nicodemus.

John the Baptist’s Testimony of The Son (3:22-36)

John the Baptist. In order for John’s mission to be complete, it was fitting that his own lips should give utterance to the incontestable supremacy of the Lord Jesus in presence of his own disciples. John’s disciples were very loyal to him, and their loyalty was dimming their eyes to the greatness of Christ, although even they could not altogether miss the obvious truth. He gives a faithful and beautiful treatise on the superiority of Christ and His heavenly ministry, and this fittingly closes the ministry of John the Baptist.

Simultaneity of John’s Baptism and Jesus’ Baptism (vv.22-24)

¶ 22 After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he abode with them and baptised. v.22 These verses give us a view of what was going on previous to the public Galilean ministry of our Lord, which is covered in detail in the three Synoptic Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not touch on any ministry of the Lord before John’s imprisonment. Between verses 21 and 22 some time has evidently elapsed, during which the Lord and His disciples had left Judea, and now return there. This baptism by the Lord must have been of the same character as that of John, that is, “unto repentance,” (Mark 1:4) outwardly separating a person from the apostate nation of Israel. They were not two different baptisms.
23 And John also was baptising in Aenon, near Salim, because there was a great deal of water there; and they came to him and were baptised: 24 for John was not yet cast into prison. vv.23-24 We see that John’s ministry overlapped with the Lord’s. The Lord’s Public ministry did not properly begin until John is off the scene. John was not the sower (Matt. 13), but rather the plowman. Plowing in scripture is often a picture of the work of repentance. It is been said that John’s hand held the plow, but not the seed. The Lord was the sower, and we can see how His ministry dovetailed perfectly with John’s.

A Question raised about the greatness of Jesus (vv.25-26)

25 There was therefore a reasoning of the disciples of John with a Jew about purification. v.25 The Jews rightly connected baptism with purifying, although baptism is only outward purifying. We do not know exactly what the question was. Perhaps this question was not directly answered, or perhaps the question was with regard to the legitimacy of the Lord’s baptism. We also do not know for what reason these disciples had not left John to follow Jesus.
26 And they came to John and said to him, Rabbi, he who was with thee beyond the Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, he baptises, and all come to him. v.26 The disciples of John were somewhat alarmed, not only by the Lord’s growing ministry, but by His attractive power… “all men come to him”. The Jews together with John’s disciples took occasion to apprise John of this activity of the Lord, attempting to incite some jealous rivalry in John. John’s response is beautiful. He never wavers, always taking the low place, always pointing to the light, and insisting on the greatness of Christ’s Person.

A Sevenfold vindication of the Lord’s Ministry (vv.27-35)

#1 – John could take no credit for his ministry as it was given to him of God.

27 John answered and said, A man can receive nothing unless it be given him out of heaven. v.27 Whether it was John or any other man, true ministry is given to a man from God. This simple fact sets aside all strife, envy, jealousy, and pride! This is a helpful lesson for Christian ministry as well.

#2 – The ministry of Jesus didn’t contradict John’s, but complemented it.

28 Ye yourselves bear me witness that I said, I am not the Christ, but, that I am sent before him. v.28 John had never claimed to be the Christ. He had claimed to be the forerunner of the Messiah. John’s ministry was designed by God to be left unfinished by him, and to be resumed by Jesus, who would unfold heavenly things.

#3 – John felt about Jesus as a friend of a bridegroom.

29 He that has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices in heart because of the voice of the bridegroom: this my joy then is fulfilled. v.29 John knew that they were missing the whole point, so he uses the illustration of a wedding. The bride here is the faithful remnant of Israel! John was witnessing, and even helping facilitate, the calling out of the Jewish remnant to receive the Messiah. John was the most favored of a whole class of prophets that looked forward to this day (Matt. 11) and so is called “the friend” of the Bridegroom. It is not only right and proper for the bridegroom to “have the bride” but it is a source of joy to all his friends! Completely selfless, John’s joy was fulfilled to see the remnant flocking to Christ, and to anticipate being present at the earthly wedding.
The Bridegroom in the Gospels. The Lord Jesus is presented as the bridegroom of earthly Israel in every case except one (Matt. 25) where the context is the Kingdom in Mystery… and even there, notice that the Bride isn’t mentioned. We need to remember that the mystery of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:25) had not been revealed yet.
  1. The Sons of the bridechamber (Matt. 9:15, Mark 2:19-20, Luke 5:34-35). In this case Christ is the bridegroom of Israel, and the sons of the bridechamber are the faithful remnant. 
  2. The Ten Virgins (Matt. 25:1-10). In this case Christ is the bridegroom of the Church, but the bride isn’t mentioned. Instead, the ten virgins are a picture of the Christian testimony through the ages. See also Matt. 22:1-14.
  3. The marriage of Cana (John 2:9). This is a Millennial picture, and Christ is the bridegroom of restored Israel. The bride isn’t even mentioned. 
  4. The friend of the bridegroom (John 3:29). Christ is the bridegroom of Israel, and the faithful remnant is the bride.

#4 – John knew the relative greatness of Jesus demanded a change.

30 He must increase, but I must decrease. v.30 It was not that John had a premonition of the coming change. Rather, he knew the greatness of Jesus’ person demanded that He would increase, and that John would fade in proportion. What a spirit for John to have! To be willing to see himself diminish, that Christ might be glorified. May we have that attitude as well.

#5 – John’s ministry was earthly, the Lord’s was heavenly, thus far greater.

31a He who comes from above is above all. He who has his origin in the earth is of the earth, and speaks as of the earth. v.31a The point John makes next is that the origin of the ministry defines its greatness. John (and all of Adam’s race) was of the earth, and therefore his ministry to do with Israel and their earthly blessings. The Lord was from heaven, and He spoke of heavenly blessings (vv.12-13).
31b He who comes out of heaven is above all, 32a and what he has seen and has heard, this he testifies; vv.31b-32a As a result of coming from heaven to earth, Jesus was a valid “eye witness” of heaven (see v.13). John understood that the incarnation made Jesus the one and only witness of heavenly things.
32b and no one receives his testimony. 33 He that has received his testimony has set to his seal that God is true; vv.32b-33 There were two responses to the Lord’s ministry:
  1. The general response (v.32b). “No one receives his testimony”. Though crowds may have flocked to Him, the Lord’s testimony was generally not received (see John 6:66). But there were some individuals who believed…
  2. The response of faith (v.33). “He that has received his testimony” was anyone who (by sovereign grace) did receive His testimony. They simply and honestly from the heart attested that God is absolutely true; taking God’s side regardless of my will or understanding (c.p. John 2:22-25). This verse has been rightly called “a definition of faith”!

#6 – God had specially marked Jesus out by permanent sealing of the Spirit.

34 for he whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives not the Spirit by measure. v.34 The words of Jesus were the words of God, because He was “the sent one”. He was marked out as such by God’s gift of the Spirit… not a partial measure (as in Old Testament times) but the full demonstration of the Spirit’s power.
God giveth not the Spirit by measure. Note that “unto Him” is in italics in v.34. The sealing of the Spirit was of course true of our Lord, but not only of Him. It is the character of the order introduced by the Son of God, true of all those who receive the Spirit to indwell them. The sealing of the Spirit in the New Testament is not a partial measure as in Old Testament times when the Spirit would “come upon” a person for a season, even when:
  • someone was going on well, like Gideon (Jud. 6:34) or Jephthah (Jud. 11:29) or David (1 Sam. 16:13), or 
  • someone was going on poorly, like Samson (Jud. 14:19), or
  • someone was not even a believer but was being used by God, like Balaam (Num. 24:2) or Saul (1 Sam. 10:10).
But the Spirit of God in the New Testament comes not “upon us” but “into us” and takes up a permanent dwelling place (1 Cor. 6:19). The Spirit will not indwell a person until they have “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1-11). The Spirit will be in us until the Rapture, because “the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come'” (Rev. 22:17).
— In the following verses, the writer John the Evangelist interposes and completes the seventh and final point where John the Baptist left off —

#7 – the Father’s disposition toward “the Son” is unmatched and incalculable.

¶ 35 The Father loves the Son, and has given all things to be in his hand. v.35 Not only is Christ the Messiah, the Bridegroom, and the heavenly Prophet, but rising far above all that, He is “the Son,” the special object of Divine affection and honor. The Father’s love for the Son is manifested in making Him heir of all things. Notice, there are no qualifiers on the Father’s love for the Son (c.p. v.16).

Conclusion: What does all this mean for man? (v.36)

36 He that believes on the Son has life eternal, and he that is not subject to the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides upon him. v.36 The consequences of believing on or rejecting the Son are eternal. There is no chance for those who hear the gospel to take a middle ground. You either “believe on”, or you “believe not on” (reject) the Son. The results are given as follows:
  1. Believers – have eternal life as a present possession. 
  2. Rejecters – remain in their guilt awaiting eternal punishment. 
John the Evangelist’s words in vv.35-36. It is fitting that:
  • The earthly man, John the Baptist, yet with a ministry from God, would stop his testimony with what he had heard, read in the prophets, and saw (vv.27-34).
  • The apostle John, a Christian, himself sealed with the Holy Ghost, would interpose and conclude this section. Only a person with eternal life could speak about eternal life.
Summary of this section. The important points in this section are the following:
  1. John could take no credit for his ministry.
  2. The ministry of Jesus didn’t contradict John’s.
  3. John felt about Jesus as a friend of a bridegroom.
  4. The relative greatness of Jesus demanded a change.
  5. John’s ministry was earthly, the Lord’s was heavenly.
  6. God marked the Son out by permanent sealing of the spirit.
  7. The Father’s disposition toward “the Son” is unmatched and incalculable.
Conclusion. What does all this mean for man? Jesus is now the hinge point of man’s salvation, and the choice each must make has eternal consequences.
  1. Personally, I tend toward thinking that the Spirit has quickened people who never had access to the written word, but only had either the witness of creation or else dreams from God. This is based in part on Psalm 19, and also on general principles concerning the character of God. For example, Paul quoted Psa. 19 in Romans 10:18 to show God’s desire for all men to receive a testimony of Himself, showing that God's heart is no less toward the Gentiles as the Jews. Would God give His testimony to every nation, and then not use it for the blessing of at least some? We have also the statement of Peter to Cornelius (Acts 10:35), showing that God is no respecter of persons.
  2. It is good to see the hand of God in creation, but this will never save the soul; God's power unto salvation is not in the message of creation, but in the word of the Gospel. Many vainly imagine that the recognition of God in His creation, in the beauties of nature, in the glories of the heavens, and in other works of His hands, is sufficient to secure a passport to heaven; but unless they believe in the Gospel of God concerning His Son, they can never have the blessing of God. - William C. Reid. Divine Power in Romans 1. An Outline of Sound Words Magazine.
  3. Another has stated that eternal life is... "the possession of divine life in fellowship with the Father and the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit." - Anstey, B. The First Epistle of John.
  4. A deeper blessing it is impossible for God to bestow or for man to receive; for it is exactly what characterised the Lord Himself, Who is the eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us. Only Christ could be said to be that life; we as believers are not, but we have it in Him; and as by faith alone it is received, so in faith it is exercised, sustained, and strengthened. - Kelly, W. Exposition of the Gospel of John.
  5. One of four kinds of love.