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Bible Commentaries
John 3

Pink's Commentary on John and HebrewsPink's Commentary

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Verses 1-8

Exposition of the Gospel of John


Christ and Nicodemus

John 3:1-8

We begin with the usual Analysis of the passage that is to be before us:

1. The Person of Nicodemus, verse 1.

2. The official Position of Nicodemus, verse 1.

3. The Timidity of Nicodemus, verse 2.

4. The Reasoning of Nicodemus, verse 2.

5. What did Nicodemus’ ignorance demonstrate? verse 4.

6. The Stupidity of Nicodemus, verse 4.

7. The Instructing of Nicodemus, verses 5-8.

"There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 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 3:1 , John 3:2 ). Nicodemus was a "ruler of the Jews," which means, most probably, that he was a member of the Sanhedrin. As such, he is to be viewed here as a representative character. He gives us another phase of the spiritual condition of Judaism. First, he came to Jesus "by night" (verse 2); second, he was altogether lacking in spiritual discernment (verses 4, 10); third, he was dead in trespasses and sin, and therefore, needing to be "born again" (verse 7). As such, he was a true representative of the Sanhedrin Israel’s highest ecclesiastical court. What a picture, then, does this give us again of Judaism! For the Sanhedrin it was nighttime, they were in the dark. And like Nicodemus, their representative, the Sanhedrin were devoid of all spiritual discernment, and had no understanding in the things of God. So, too, like Nicodemus, his fellow members were destitute of spiritual apprehension. Again we say, What light does this cast upon Judaism at that time! So far, we have seen a blinded priesthood (John 1:21 , John 1:26 ); second, a joyless nation (John 2:3 ); third, a desecrated Temple (John 2:16 ); and now we have a spiritually dead Sanhedrim

"The same came to Jesus by night." And why did Nicodemus come to the Lord Jesus by night? Was it because he was ashamed to be seen coming to Him? Did he approach Christ secretly, under cover of the darkness? This is the view generally held, and we believe it to be the correct one. Why else should we be told that he came "by night?" What seems to confirm the popular idea is that each time Nicodemus is referred to in the Gospel afterwards, it is repeated that he came to Jesus "by night." In John 7:50 , John 7:51 we read, "Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,) Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?" And again in John 19:39 we are told, "And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight." What is the more noticeable is that something courageous is recorded of Nicodemus: his boldness in reprimanding the Sanhedrin, and his intrepidity in accompanying Joseph of Arimathea at a time when all the apostles had fled. It seems as though the Holy Spirit had emphasized these bold acts of Nicodemus by reminding us that at first he acted timidly. One other thing which appears to confirm our conclusion is his use of the personal pronoun when Nicodemus first addressed the Savior: "Rabbi," he said, "we know that thou art a teacher come from God." Why speak in the plural number unless he hesitated to commit himself by expressing his own opinion? and so preferred to shelter behind the conclusion drawn by others, hence the "we."

"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 ). This was true, for the miracles of Christ differed radically from those performed by others before or since. But this very fact warns us that we need to examine carefully the credentials of other miracle-workers. Is the fact that a man works miracles a sure proof that he comes from God, and that God is with him? To some the question may appear well-nigh superfluous. There are many who would promptly answer in the affirmative. How could any man perform miracles "except God be with him?" It is because this superficial reasoning prevails so widely that we feel it incumbent upon us to dwell upon this point. And it is because there are men and women today that work miracles, who (we are fully persuaded) are not "sent of God," that a further word on the subject is much needed.

In these times men and women can stand up and teach the most erroneous doctrines, and yet if they proffer as their credentials the power to perform miracles of healing, they are widely received and hailed as the servants of God. But it is generally overlooked that Satan has the power to work miracles, too, and frequently the great Deceiver of souls bestows this power on his emissaries in order to beguile the unstable and confirm them in error. Let us not forget that the magicians of Egypt were able, up to a certain point, to duplicate the miracles of Moses, and whence obtained they this power unless from that old Serpent, the Devil! Let us not forget the warning of the Holy Spirit in 2 Corinthians 11:13 , 2 Corinthians 11:14 , "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light." And, finally, let us not forget it is recorded in Scripture that of the Antichrist it is written, "Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders" (2 Thessalonians 2:9 ). Yes, Satan is able to work miracles, and also to deliver this power to others. So, then, the mere fact that a certain teacher works miracles is no proof that he is "come from God."

It is because we are in danger of being beguiled by these "deceitful workers" of Satan, who "transform themselves into the apostles of Christ," that we are exhorted to "believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1 ). And it should not be forgotten that the church at Ephesus was commended by Christ because they had heeded this exhortation, and in consequence had "tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars" (Revelation 2:2 ). "But," it will be asked, "how are we to test those who come unto us in the name of Christ?" A most important and timely question. We answer, Not by the personal character of those who claim to come from God, for as 2 Corinthians 11:14 , 2 Corinthians 11:15 tells us, "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness." And not by their power to work miracles. How then? Here is the Divinely inspired answer, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20 ). They must be tested by the written Word of God. Does the professed servant of God teach that which is in accord with the Holy Scriptures? Does he furnish a "Thus saith the Lord" for every assertion he makes? If he does not, no matter how winsome may be his personality, nor how pleasing his ways, no matter how marvelous may be the "results" he "gets," God’s command is, "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine (this teaching), receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed" (2 John 1:10 ). Let us emulate the Bereans, of whom it is recorded in Acts 17:11 , "they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."

And how did the Lord receive Nicodemus? Notice, He did not refuse him an audience. It was night-time, and no doubt the Savior had put in a full day, yet He did not seek to be excused. Blessed be His name, there is no unacceptable time for a sinner to seek the Savior. Night-time it was, but Christ readily received Nicodemus. One of the things which impresses the writer as he reads the Gospels, is the blessed accessibility of the Lord Jesus. He did not surround Himself with a bodyguard of attendants, whose duty it was to insure his privacy and protect Him from those who could be a nuisance. No; He was easily reached, and blessedly approachable quite unlike some "great" preachers we know of.

And what was Christ’s response to Nicodemus’ address? This "ruler of the Jews" hailed Him as "a teacher come from God," and such is the only conception of the Christ of God. But it is not as a Teacher the sinner must first’ approach Christ. What the sinner needs is to be "born again," and in order to do this he must have a Savior. And it is of these very things our Lord speaks to Nicodemus see verses 3 and 14. Of what value is teaching to one who is "dead in trespasses and sins," and who is even now, under the condemnation of a holy God! A saved person is a fit subject for teaching, but what the unsaved need is preaching, preaching which will expose their depravity, exhibit their deep need of a Savior, and then (and not till then) reveal the One who is mighty to save.

Christ ignored Nicodemus’ address, and with startling abruptness said, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." This brings us to the central truth of the passage before us the teaching of our Lord upon the new birth. Here we find that He speaks of first, the supreme Importance of the new birth (verse 3); second, the Instrument of the new birth "water" (verse 5); third, the Producer of the new birth "the Spirit" (verse 5); fourth, the imperative Necessity of the new birth a new nature, "spirit" (verse 6); sixth, the obvious Imperativeness of the new birth (verse 7); seventh, the Process of the new birth (verse 8). Let us consider each of these points separately.

1. The supreme Importance of the new birth. This is exhibited here in a number of ways. To begin with, it is profoundly significant that. the new birth formed the first subject of the Savior’s teaching in this Gospel. In the first two chapters we learn of a number of things He did, but here in John 3:0 is the first discourse of Christ recorded by this apostle. It is not how man should live that we are first instructed by Christ in this Gospel, but how men are made alive spiritually. A man cannot live before he is born; nor can a dead man regulate his life. No man can live Godwards until he has been born again. The importance of the new birth, then, is shown here, in that the Savior’s instruction upon it is placed at the beginning of His teaching in this Gospel. Thus we are taught it is of basic, fundamental importance.

In the second place, the importance of the new birth is declared by the solemn terms in which Christ spoke of it, and particularly in the manner in which He prefaced His teaching upon it. The Lord began by saying, "Verily, verily," which means "Of a truth, of a truth." This expression is employed by Christ only when He was about to mention something of a momentous nature. The double "verily" denoted that what He was about to say was of solemn and weighty significance. Let the reader learn to pay special attention to what follows these "Verily, verily’s" of the Savior, found only in John.

In the third place, Christ here plainly intimated the supreme importance of the new birth by affirming that "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (verse 3). If then the kingdom of God cannot be seen until a man is born again, the new birth is shown to be a matter of vital moment for every descendant of Adam.

"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3 ). There is some doubt in our mind as to exactly what is referred to here by "the kingdom of God." In the first place, this expression occurs nowhere else in this Gospel but here in John 3:3 , John 3:5 . In the second place, this fourth Gospel treats of spiritual things. For this reason we think "the kingdom of God" in this passage has a moral force. It seems to us that Romans 14:17 helps us to understand the significance of the term we are here studying. "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." In the third place, the kingdom of God could not be "seen" by Nicodemus except by the new birth. We take it, then, that the "kingdom of God" in John 3:0 refers to the things of God, spiritual things, which are discerned and enjoyed by the regenerate here upon earth (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:10 , 1 Corinthians 2:14 ). The word for "see" in the Greek is "eidon,’ which means "to know or become acquainted with." The full force, then, of this first word of Christ to Nicodemus appears to be this: "Except a man be born again he cannot come to know the things of God." Such being the case, the new birth is seen to be a thing of profound importance.

"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 3:4 ). What a verification was this of what the Lord had just told Nicodemus. Here was proof positive that this ruler of the Jews was altogether lacking in spiritual discernment, and quite unable to know the things of God. The Savior had expressed Himself in simple terms, and yet this master of Israel altogether missed His meaning. How true it is that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14 ), and in order to have spiritual discernment a man must be born again. Till then he is blind, unable to see the things of God.

2. The Instrument of the new birth. "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" (verse 5). Regeneration is a being born "of water." This expression has been the occasion of wide difference of opinion among theologians. Ritualists have seized upon it as affording proof of their doctrine of baptismal regeneration, but this only evidences the weakness of their case when they are obliged to appeal to such for a proof text. However, it may be just as well if we pause here and give the scriptural refutation of this widely held heresy.

That baptism is in no wise essential to salvation, that it does not form one of the conditions which God requires the sinner to meet, is clear from many considerations. First, if baptism be necessary to salvation then no one was saved before the days of John the Baptist, for the Old Testament will be searched from beginning to end without finding a single mention of "baptism." God, who changes not, has had but one way of salvation since Adam and Eve became sinners in Eden, and if baptism is an indispensable prerequisite to the forgiveness of sins, then all who died from Abel to the time of Christ are eternally lost. But this is absurd. The Old Testament Scriptures plainly teach otherwise.

In the second place, if baptism be necessary to salvation, then every professing believer who has died during this present dispensation is eternally lost, if he died without being baptized. And this would shut heaven’s door upon the repentant thief, as well as all the Quakers and members of the Salvation Army, the vast majority of whom have never been baptized. But this is equally unthinkable.

In the third place, if baptism be necessary to salvation, then we must utterly ignore every passage in God’s Word which teaches that salvation is by grace and not of works, that it is a free gift and not bought by anything the sinner does. If baptism be essential to salvation, it is passing strange that Christ Himself never baptized any one (see John 4:2 ), for He came to "save his people from their sins." If baptism be essential to salvation, it is passing strange that the apostle Paul when asked point blank by the Philippian jailer, "What must I do to be saved?" answered by saying, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." Finally, if baptism be essential to salvation, it is passing strange the apostle Paul should have written to the Corinthians, "I thank God I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius" (1 Corinthians 1:14 ).

If then the words of Christ "born of water" have no reference to the waters of baptism, what do they signify? Before replying directly to this question, we must observe how the word "water" is used in other passages in this Gospel. To the woman at the well Christ said, "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14 ). Was this literal "water?" One has but to ask the question to answer it. Clearly, "water" is here used emblematically. Again, in John 7:37 , John 7:38 we are told, "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." Here, too, the word "water" is not to be understood literally, but emblematically. These passages in John’s Gospel are sufficient to warrant us in giving the word "water" in John 3:5 a figurative meaning.

If then the Lord Jesus used the word "water" emblematically in John 3:5 , to what was He referring? We answer, The Word of God. This is ever the instrument used by God in regeneration. In every other passage where the instrument of the new birth is described, it is always the Word of God that is mentioned. In Psalms 119:50 we read, "For Thy word hath quickened me." Again, in 1 Corinthians 4:15 we find the apostle saying, "I have begotten you through the gospel." Again, we are told "Of his own will begat he us with (what? baptism? no but with) the word of truth" (James 1:18 ). Peter declares, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Peter 1:23 ).

The new birth, then, is by the Word of God, and one of the emblems of the Word is "water." God employs quite a number of emblems to describe the various characteristics and qualities of His Word. It is likened to a "lamp" ( <19B9105>Psalms 119:105 ) because it illumines. It is likened unto a "hammer" (Jeremiah 23:29 ) because it breaks up the hard heart. It is likened unto "water" because it cleanses: see Psalms 119:9 ; John 15:3 ; Ephesians 5:26 : "Born of water" means born of the cleansing and purifying Word of God.

3. The Producer of the new birth. "Born of water, and of the Spirit" (John 3:5 ). The Holy Spirit of God is the Begetter, the Word is the "seed" (1 John 3:9 ) He uses. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh: and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6 ). And again, "It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6:63 ). Nothing could be plainer. No sinner is quickened apart from the Word. The order which is followed by God in the new creation is the same He observed in the restoring of the old creation. A beautiful illustration of this is found in Genesis 1:0 . The opening verse refers to the original creation of God. The second verse describes its subsequent condition, after it had been ruined. Between the first two verses of Genesis 1:0 some terrible calamity intervened most probably the fall of Satan and the fair handiwork of God was blasted. The Hebrew of Genesis 1:2 literally reads, "And the earth became a desolate waste." But six days before the creation of Adam, God began the work of restoration, and it is indeed striking to observe the order He followed. First, darkness abode upon "the face of the deep" (Genesis 1:2 ); Second, "And the Spirit of God moved upon (Hebrew ‘brooded over’) the face of the waters"; Third, "And God said, Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3 ); Fourth, "And there was light." The order is exactly the same in the new creation. First, the unregenerate sinner is in darkness, the darkness of spiritual death. Second, the Holy Spirit moves upon, broods over, the conscience and heart of the one He is about to quicken. Third, the Word of God goes forth in power. Fourth, the result is "light" the sinner is brought out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. The Holy Spirit, then, is the One who produces the new birth.

4. The imperative Necessity of the new birth. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5 ). By his first birth man enters this world a sinful creature, and because of this he is estranged from the thrice Holy One. Of the unregenerate it is said, "Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart." Unspeakably solemn is this. When Adam and Eve fell they were banished from the Paradise, and each of their children were born outside of Eden. That sin shuts man out from the holy presence of God, was impressively taught to Israel. When Jehovah came down on Sinai to give the Law unto Moses (the mediator), the people were fenced off at the base of the Mount, and were not suffered to pass on pain of death. When Jehovah took up His abode in the midst of the chosen people, He made His dwelling place inside the holy of holies, which was curtained off, and none was allowed to pass through the veil save the high priest, and he but once a year as he entered with the blood of atonement. Man then is away from God. He is, in his natural condition, where the prodigal son was in the far country, away from the father’s house and except he be born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

"Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." This is not an arbitrary decree, but the enunciation of an abiding principle. Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. And this is the very nature of the case. An unregenerate man who has no relish at all for spiritual things, who is bored by the conversation of believers, who finds the Bible dull and dry, who is a stranger to the throne of grace, would be wretched in heaven. Such a man could not spend eternity in the presence of God. Suppose a fish were taken out of the water, and laid upon a salver of gold; suppose further that the sweetest of flowers surrounded it, and that the air was filled with their fragrance; suppose, too, that the strains of most melodious music fell upon its ears, would that fish be happy and contented? Of course not. And why not? Because it would be out of harmony with its environment; because it would be lacking in capacity to appreciate its surroundings. Thus would it be with an unregenerate soul in heaven.

Once more. The new birth is an imperative necessity because the natural man is altogether devoid of spiritual life. It is not that he is ignorant and needs instruction: it is not that he is feeble and needs invigorating: it is not that he is sickly and needs doctoring. His case is far, far worse. He is dead in trespasses and sins. This is no poetical figure of speech; it is a solemn reality, little as it is perceived by the majority of people. The sinner is spiritually lifeless and needs quickening. He is a spiritual corpse, and needs bringing from death unto life. He is a member of the old creation, which is under the curse of God, and unless he is made a new creation in Christ, he will lie under that curse to all eternity. What the natural man needs above everything else is life, Divine life; and as birth is the gateway to life, he must be born again, and except he be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. This is final.

5. The Character of the new birth. But what is the new birth? Precisely what is it that differentiates a man who is dead in sins from one who has passed from death unto life? Upon this point there is much confusion and ignorance. Tell the average person that he must be born again and he thinks you mean that he must reform, mend his manner of life, turn over a new leaf. But reformation concerns only the outer life. And the trouble with man is within. Suppose the mainspring of my watch were broken, what good would it do if I put in a new crystal and polished the case until I could see my face in it? None at all, for the seat of the trouble is inside the watch. So it is with the sinner. Suppose that his deportment was irreproachable, that his moral character was stainless, that he had such control of his tongue that he never sinned with his lips, what would all this avail while he still had (as God says he has) a heart that is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked?" The new birth, then, is something more than reformation.

Others suppose, and there are thousands who do so, that being born again means becoming religious. Tell the average church-goer that "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God," and these solemn words afford him no qualms. He is quite at ease, for he fondly imagines that he has been born again. He will tell you that he has always been a Christian: that from early childhood he has believed in Christianity, has attended church regularly, nay, that he is a church-member, and contributes regularly toward the support of the Gospel. He is very religious. Periodically he has happy feelings; he says his prayers regularly, and on Sundays he reads his Bible. What more can be required of him! And thus many are lulled to sleep by Satan. If such an one should read these lines, let him pause and seriously weigh the fact that it was man eminently religious that the Savior was addressing when He declared, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Nicodemus was not only a religious man, he was a preacher, and yet it was to him Christ said, "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again."

There are still others who believe that the new birth is a change of heart, and it is exceedingly difficult to convince them to the contrary. They have heard so many preachers, orthodox preachers, speak of a change of heart, that they have never thought of challenging the scripturalness of this expression, yet it is unscriptural. The Bible may be searched from Genesis to Revelation, and nowhere does this expression "change of heart" occur upon its pages. The sad thing is that "change of heart" is not only unscriptural, but is it antiscriptural, untrue, and therefore, utterly misleading. In the one who has been born again there is no change of heart though there is a change of life, both inward and outward. The one who is born again now loves the things he once bated, and he hates now the things he once loved; and, in consequence, his whole line of conduct is radically affected. But, nevertheless, it remains true that his old heart (which is "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked") remains in him, unchanged, to the end.

What, then, is the new birth? We answer, It is not the removal of anything from the sinner, nor the changing of anything within the sinner; instead, it is the communication of something to the sinner. The new birth is the impartation of the new nature. When I was born the first time I received from my parents their nature: so, when I was born again, I received from God His nature. The Spirit of God begets within us a spiritual nature: as we read in 2 Peter 1:4 , "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature."

It is a fundamental law which inheres in the very nature of things that like can only produce like. This unchanging principle is enunciated again and again in the first chapter of Genesis. There we read, "And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind" (John 1:12 ). And again, "And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind" (John 1:21 ). It is only the blindness and animus of infidelistic evolutionists who affirm that one order of creatures can beget another order radically different from themselves. No; that which is born of the vegetable is vegetable; that which is born of the animal is animal. And that which is born of sinful man is a sinful child. A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. Hence, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." It cannot be anything else. Educate and cultivate it all you please, it remains flesh. Water cannot rise above its own level, neither can a bitter fountain send forth sweet waters. That which is born of flesh is flesh; it may be refined flesh, it may be beautiful flesh, it may be religious flesh. But it is still "flesh." On the other hand, "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit." The child always partakes of the nature of his parents. That which is born of man is human; that which is born of God is Divine. That which is born of man is sinful, that which is born of God is spiritual.

Here, then, is the character or nature of the new birth. It is not the reformation of the outward man, it is not the education of the natural man, it is not the purification of the old man, but it is the creation of a new man. It is a Divine begetting (James 1:18 ). It is a birth of the Spirit (John 3:6 ). It is a being made a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17 ). It is becoming a partaker of the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4 ). It is a being born into God’s family. Every born again person has, therefore, two natures within him: one which is carnal, the other which is spiritual. These two natures are contrary the one to the other (Galatians 5:17 ), and in consequence, there is an unceasing warfare going on within the Christian. It is only the grace of God which can subdue the old nature; and it is only the Word of God which can feed the new nature.

6. The obvious Imperativeness of the new birth. "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again" (John 3:7 ). Without doubt, Nicodemus was startled. The emphatic statements of Christ staggered him. The vital importance and imperative necessity of the new birth were points which had never exercised his conscience or engaged his serious attention. He was amazed at the Savior’s searching declarations. Yet he ought not to have been. Really, there was no cause for him to stand there in openmouthed wonderment. "Marvel not," said Christ. It was as though the Lord had said, "Nicodemus, what I have said to you should be obvious. If a man is a sinner, if because of sin he is blind to the things of God, if no amount of religious cultivation can change the essential nature of man, then it is patent that his deepest need is to be born again. Marvel not: it is a self-evident truth."

That entrance into the kingdom of God is only made possible by the new birth, that is, by the reception of the Divine nature, follows a basic law that obtains in every other kingdom. The realm of music is entered by birth. Suppose I have a daughter, and I am anxious she should become an accomplished musician. I place her under the tuition of the ablest instructor obtainable. She studies diligently the science of harmony, and she practices assiduously hours every day. In the end, will my desire be realized? Will she become an accomplished musician? That depends upon one thing was she born with a musical nature? Musicians are born, not manufactured. Again; suppose I have a son whom I desire should be an artist. I place him under the instruction of an efficient teacher. He is given lessons in drawing; he studies the laws of color-blending; he is taken to the art galleries and observes the productions of the great masters. And what is the result? Does he blossom out into a talented artist? And again it depends solely on one thing was he born with the nature and temperament of an artist? Artists are born, not manufactured. Let these examples suffice for illustrating this fundamental principle. A man must have a musical nature if he is to enter the kingdom of music. A man must have an artistic nature if he is really to enter the realm of art. A man must have a mathematical mind if he is to be a mathematician. There is nothing to "marvel" at in this: it is self-evident; it is axiomatic. So, in like manner, a man must have a spiritual nature before he can enter the spiritual world: a man must have God’s own nature before he can enter God’s kingdom. Therefore "Marvel not . . . ye must be born again."

7. The Process of the new birth. "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 3:8 ). A comparison is here drawn between the wind and the Spirit. The comparison is a double one. First, both are sovereign in their activities; and second, both are mysterious in their operations. The comparison is pointed out in the word "so." The first point of analogy is found in the word "where it listeth" or "pleaseth"; the second is found in the words "canst not tell."

"The wind bloweth where it pleaseth... so is every one that is born of the Spirit." The wind is irresponsible: that is to say, it is sovereign in its action. The wind is an element altogether beyond man’s control. The wind neither consults man’s pleasure, nor can it be regulated by his devices. So it is with the Spirit. The wind blows where it pleases, when it pleases, as it pleases. So it is with the Spirit.

Again; the wind is irresistible. When the wind blows in the fulness of its power it sweeps everything before it. Those who have looked upon the effects of a tornado just after it has passed, know something of the mighty force of the wind. It is so with the Spirit. When He comes in the fulness of His power, He breaks down man’s prejudices, subdues his rebellious will, overcomes all opposition.

Again; the wind is irregular. Sometimes the wind moves so softly it scarcely rustles a leaf, at other times it blows so loudly that its roar can be heard miles away. So it is in the matter of the new birth. With some the Holy Spirit works so gently His work is imperceptible to onlookers; with others His action is so powerful, so radical, revolutionary, His operations are patent to many. Sometimes the wind is only local in its reach, at other times it is widespread in its scope. So it is with the Spirit. Today He acts on one or two souls, tomorrow, He may as at Pentecost "prick in the heart" a whole multitude. But whether He works on few or many He consults not man; He acts as He pleases.

Again; the wind is invisible. It is one of the very few things in nature that is invisible. We can see the rain, the snow, the lightning’s flash; but not so the wind. The analogy holds good with the Spirit. His Person is unseen.

Again; the wind is inscrutable. There is something about the wind which defies all effort of human explanation. Its origin, its nature, its activities, are beyond man’s ken. Man cannot tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth. It is so with the activities of the Holy Spirit. His operations are conducted secretly; His workings are profoundly mysterious.

Again; the wind is indispensable. If a dead calm were to continue indefinitely all vegetation would die. How quickly we wilt when there is no wind at all. Even more so is it with the Spirit. Without Him there could be no spiritual life at all.

Finally, the wind is invigorating. The life-giving properties of the wind are illustrated every time a physician orders his sick patient to retire to the mountains or to the seaside. It is so, again, with the Spirit. He is the One who strengthens with might in the inner man. He is the One who energizes, revives, empowers. How marvelously full was the figure employed by Christ on this occasion. How much is suggested by this single word "wind." Let the above serve as an example of the great importance and value of prolonged meditation upon every word of Holy Writ.

God has thrown an impenetrable veil over the beginnings and processes of life. That we live we know, but how we live we cannot tell. Life is evident to the consciousness and manifest to the senses, but it is profoundly mysterious in its operations. It is so with the new life born of the Spirit. To sum up the teaching of this verse: "The wind bloweth" there is the fact. "And thou hearest the sound thereof" there is evidence of the fact. "But knowest not whence" there is the mystery behind the fact. The one born again knows that he has a new life, and enjoys the evidences of it, but how the Holy Spirit operates upon the soul, subdues the will, creates the new life within us, belongs to the deep things of God.

Below will be found a number of questions bearing on the passage which is to be before us in the next chapter. In the meantime let each reader who desires to become a "workman that needeth not to be ashamed" diligently study the whole passage (John 3:9-21 ) for himself, paying particular attention to the points raised by our questions: [1]

1. What does verse 9 go to prove?

2. What solemn warning does verse 10 point?

3. What is the force of the contrast between earthly things and heavenly things in verse 12?

4. How are we to understand verse 13 in view of Enoch’s and Elijah’s experiences?

5. What Divine attribute of Christ is affirmed in verse 13?

6. What is the connection between verse 14 and the context?

7. Why was a "serpent" selected by God to typify Christ on the Cross? verse 14. Study carefully the first nine verses of Numbers 21:0 .


[1] (No doubt the reader will be glad to know that the Author has published a booklet containing the substance of the above entitled The New Birth, which the Lord has been pleased to own in blessing to many. Price 15 cents per copy. Order from the Bible Truth Depot, Swengel, Pa. I. C. H.).

Verses 9-21

Exposition of the Gospel of John


Christ and Nicodemus (Concluded)

John 3:9-21

We begin with an Analysis of the passage which is before us:

1. The Dullness of Nicodemus, verses 9, 10.

2. The Unbelief of Nicodemus, verses 11, 12.

3. The Omnipresence of Christ, verse 13.

4. The Necessity of Christ’s Death, verses 14, 15.

5. The Unspeakable Gift of God, verse 16.

6. The Purpose of God in sending Christ, verse 17.

7. Grounds of Condemnation, verses 18-21.

In our last chapter we dealt at length with Nicodemus’ interview with Christ, and sought to bring out the meaning of our Lord’s words on that occasion. We saw how the Savior insisted that the new birth was an imperative necessity; that, even though Nicodemus were a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, nevertheless, unless he was born again he could not see the kingdom of God, i.e. come to know the things of God. We also saw how the Lord explained the character of the new birth as a being "born of water (the Word) and of the Spirit"; that regeneration was not a process of reformation or the improving of the old man, but the creating of an altogether new man. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and no artifices of men can ever make it anything else. If a sinner is to enter the kingdom of God he must be born again. Finally, we saw how the Savior likened the operations of the Spirit in bringing about the new birth to the sovereign but mysterious action of the wind. The Savior had used great plainness of speech, and one had thought it impossible for an intelligent man to miss His meaning. But observe the next verse.

"Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?" (John 3:9 ). How this reveals the natural man! It is true that Nicodemus was an educated man and, doubtless, one of exemplary moral character; but something more than education and morality are needed to understand the things of God. God has spoken plainly, and in simple terms, yet notwithstanding, the natural man, unaided, has no capacity to receive what God has recorded in His Holy Word. Even though God became incarnate and spoke in human language, men understood Him not. This is demonstrated again and again in this Gospel. Christ spoke of raising the temple of His body, and they thought He referred to the temple standing in Jerusalem. He spoke to the Samaritan woman of the "living water," and she supposed Him to be referring to the water of Jacob’s well. He told the disciples He had meat to eat they knew not of, and they thought only of material food (John 4:32 ). He spoke of Himself as the Living Bread come down from heaven which, said He, "is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world," and the Jews answered, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (John 6:51 , John 6:52 ). He declared, "Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto Him that sent me. Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me; and where I am, thither ye cannot come," and His auditors said, "Whither will he go, that we shall not find him? Will he go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles?" (John 7:33-35 ). Again, He said, "I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come"; and the Jews replied, "Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come" (John 8:21 , John 8:22 ). He declared, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," and they answered, "We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how mayest thou, Ye shall be made free?" (John 8:31-33 ). And so we might continue through this Gospel. What a commentary upon human intelligence; what a proof of man’s stupidity and blindness!

And Nicodemus was no exception. Master in Israel he might be, yet he was ignorant of the ABC of spiritual things. And why? What is the cause of the natural man’s stupidity? Is it because he is in the dark: "The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble" (Proverbs 4:19 ). The testimony of the New Testament is equally explicit: "Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Ephesians 4:18 ). How humbling all this is. How it exposes the folly of the proud boasting of men upon their fancied wisdom and learning! The natural man is in the dark because he is blind. Yet how rarely is this stressed in the modern pulpit. How very rarely do most of the Bible teachers of the day emphasize and press the blindness of natural man, and his deep need of Divine illumination! These things are not palatable we know, and a faithful exposition of them will not make for the popularity of those who preach them: yet are they sorely needed in these days of Laodicean complacency. Let any one who desires to follow the example which our Savior has left us, read through the four Gospels at a sitting, with the one purpose of discovering how large a place He gave in His preaching to the depravity of man, and most probably the reader will be greatly surprised.

"How can these things be?" Nicodemus was at least honest. He was not ashamed to own his ignorance, and ask questions. Well for many another if they would do likewise. Too many are kept in ignorance by a foolish pride which scorns to take the place of one seeking light. Yet this is one of the prime requirements in any who desire to learn. It applies as much to the believer as to the unbeliever. If the Christian refuses to humble himself, if he disdains the attitude of "What I see not, teach thou me" (Job 34:32 ); if he is unwilling to receive instruction from those taught of God, and above all, if he fails to cry daily to God "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law" (Psalms 119:18 ), he will not, and cannot, grow in the knowledge of the truth.

"Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?" (John 3:10 ). It is to be noted that our Lord here employed the same term in interrogating Nicodemus as this ruler of the Jews used at the beginning when addressing Christ, for in the Greek the word for "teacher" in verse 2 is the same as the one rendered "master" in verse 10. It is exceedingly striking to observe that in the brief record of this interview we find the Lord employing just seven times the very expression used by Nicodemus himself. We tabulate them thus:

1. Nicodemus declared, "We know," verse 2.

Christ said, "That which we know we speak" (Gk.), verse 11.

2. Nicodemus said, "Thou art a teacher," verse 2.

Christ said, "Art thou a teacher?" verse 10.

3. Nicodemus said, "Except God be with him," verse 2.

Christ said, "Except a man be," verse 3.

4. Nicodemus asked, "How can a man be born?" verse 4.

Christ answered, "Except a man be born," verse 5.

5. Nicodemus asked, "Can he enter?" verse 4.

Christ answered, "He cannot enter," verse 5.

6. Nicodemus asked, "How can?" verse 9.

Christ asked, "How shall?" verse 12.

7. Nicodemus asked, "How can these things be?" verse 9.

Christ asked, "knowest not these things?" verse 10.

It is really startling to behold this remarkable correspondency between the language of Nicodemus and the words of the Savior, and surely there is some important lesson to be learned from it. What are we to gather from this employment by Christ of the terms first used by Nicodemus? Does it not illustrate a principle and teach a lesson for all Christian workers? Let us state it this way: Christ met this man on his own ground, and made his own language the channel of approach to his heart. How simple, yet how important. Have we not often been puzzled to know how to approach some person in whose soul we were interested? We wondered just where was the place to begin. Well, here is light on the problem. Make his own utterances the starting point of your address. Turn his own words around against him, and whenever possible, invest them with a deeper meaning and a higher application.

"Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?" What a rebuke this was! It was as though the Lord had said, "You a teacher, and yet untaught yourself? You a lightholder, and yet in the dark! You a master of Israel, and yet ignorant of the most elementary spiritual truths!" How searching, and how solemn! To what extent is this true of the writer and the reader? Ah, must we not all of us hang our heads in shame? How little we know of what we ought to know. How blind we are! So blind that we need to be guided into the truth (John 16:13 )! Is not our sorest need that of going to the great Physician and seeking from Him that spiritual "eyesalve," so that He may anoint our eyes that we can see (Revelation 3:18 )? God forbid that the haughtiness of Laodicean-ism should prevent us.

Ere passing on to the next verse let us point out one more lesson from that now before us verse 10. Even a religious teacher may be ignorant of Divine truth. What a solemn warning is this for us to put no confidence in any man. Here was a member of the Sanhedrin, trained in the highest theological school of his day, and yet having no discernment of spiritual things. Unfortunately he has had many successors. The fact that a preacher has graduated with honors from some theological center is no proof that he is a man taught of the Holy Spirit. No dependence can be placed on human learning. The only safe course is to emulate the Bereans, and bring everything we hear from the platform and pulpit, yes, and everything we read in religious magazines, to the test of the Word of God, rejecting everything which is not clearly taught in the Holy Oracles.

"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness" (John 3:11 ). As pointed out above, this was Christ’s reply to what Nicodemus had said in his opening statement. "We know that thou art a teacher come from God" declared this representative of the Sanhedrin. In response, our Lord now says, "We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen." At a later stage in the conversation, Nicodemus had asked, "How can these things be?" (verse 9). What Christ had said concerning the new birth had struck this ruler of the Jews as being incredible. Hence this solemn and emphatic declaration "We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen." Christ was not dealing with metaphysical speculations or theological hypotheses, such as the Jewish doctors delighted in. Instead, He was affirming that which He knew to be a Divine reality, and testifying to that which had an actual existence and could be seen and observed. What an example does our Lord set before all His servants! The teacher of God’s Word must not attempt to expound what is not already clear to himself, still less must he speculate upon Divine things, or speak of that of which he has no experimental acquaintance. Bather must he speak of that which he knows and testify to that which he has seen.

"And ye receive not our witness." There is an obvious connection between this statement and what is recorded in the previous verse. There we find Christ chiding Nicodemus for his ignorance of Divine truth; here He reveals the cause of such ignorance. The reason a man does not know the things of God, is because he receives not God’s witness concerning them. It is vitally important to observe this order. First receiving, then knowledge: first believing what God has said, and then an understanding of it. This principle is illustrated in Hebrews 11:3 "Through faith we understand." This is the first thing predicated of faith in that wonderful faith chapter. Faith is the root of perception. As we believe God’s Word, He honors our faith by giving us a knowledge of what we have believed. And, if we believe not His Word we shall have no understanding whatever of Divine things.

"If I have told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you heavenly things?" (John 3:12 ). This is closely connected with the previous verse. There, the Lord Jesus lays bare the cause of man’s ignorance in the things of God; here He reveals the condition of growth in knowledge. God’s law in the spiritual realm corresponds with that which operates in the natural world: there is first the blade, then the ear, and last the full corn in the ear. God will not reveal to us a higher truth until we have thoroughly apprehended the simpler ones first. This, we take it, is the moral principle that Christ here enunciated. "Earthly things" are evident and in measure comprehensible, but "heavenly things" are invisible and altogether beyond our grasp until Divinely revealed to us. As to the local or immediate reference, we understand by the "earthly things" the new birth which takes place here upon earth, and the Lord’s reference to the "wind" as an illustration of the Spirit’s operations in bringing about the new birth. These were things that Nicodemus ought to have known about from Ezekiel 36:25-27 . If, then, Nicodemus believed not God’s Word concerning these earthly things, of what avail would it be for Christ to speak to him of "heavenly things?" We pause to apply this searching principle to ourselves.

Why is it that our progress is so slow in the things of God? What is it that retards our growth in the knowledge of the truth? Is not the answer to these and all similar questions stated above: "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you heavenly things?" The earthly things are things pertaining to the earthly realm. They are the things which have to do with our present life here upon earth. They are the commands of God which are for the regulation of our daily walk down here. If we believe not these, that is, if we do not appropriate them and submit ourselves to them, if we do not receive and heed them, then will God reveal to us the higher mysteries the "heavenly things?" No, indeed, for that would be setting a premium on our unbelief, and casting pearls before swine.

Why is it that we have so little light on many of the prophetical portions of Scripture? Why is it that we know so little of the conditions of those who are now "present with the Lord?" Why is it that we are so ignorant of what will form our occupation in the eternal state? Is it because the prophecies are obscure? Is it because God has revealed so little about the intermediate and eternal states? Surely not. It is because we are in no condition to receive illumination upon these things. Because we have paid so little earnest heed to the "earthly things" (the things pertaining to our earthly life, the precepts of God for the regulation of our earthly walk) God withholds from us a better knowledge of "heavenly things," things pertaining to the heavenly realm. Let writer and reader bow before God in humble and contrite confession for our miserable failures, and seek from Him that needed grace that our ways may be more pleasing in His sight. Let our first desire be, not a clearer apprehension of the Divine mysteries, but a more implicit obedience to the Divine requirements. As we turn to God’s Word, let our dominant motive be that we may learn God’s mind for us in order that we may do it, and not that we may become wise in recondite problems. Let us remember that "strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses (spiritual senses) exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14 ).

"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 3:13 ). The connection between this verse and the preceding one seems to be as follows. The "heavenly things" to which the Lord had referred had not till then been clearly revealed to men. To ascend to heaven, and penetrate the hidden counsels of God, was an utter impossibility to fallen man. Only the Son, whose native residence was heaven, was qualified to reveal heavenly things.

But what did the Lord mean when He said, "No man hath ascended up to heaven?" This verse is a favorite one with many of those who believe in "Soul Sleep" and "Annihilation." There are those who contend that between death and resurrection man ceases to be. They appeal to this verse and declare it teaches no man, not even Abel or David, has yet gone to heaven. But it is to be noted that Christ did not say, "no man hath entered heaven," but, "no man hath ascended up to heaven." This is an entirely different thing. "Ascended" no man had, or ever will. What is before us now is only one of ten thousand examples of the minute and marvelous accuracy of Scripture, lost, alas, on the great majority who read it so carelessly and hurriedly. Of Enoch it is recorded that he "was translated that he should not see death" (Hebrews 11:5 ). Of Elijah it is said that he "went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (2 Kings 2:11 ). Of the saints who shall be raptured to heaven at the return of Christ, it is said that they shall be "caught up" (1 Thessalonians 4:17 ). Of Christ alone is it said that He "ascended." This at once marks His uniqueness, and demonstrates that in all things He has "the pre-eminence" (Colossians 1:18 ).

But observe further that the Lord said, "even the Son of man which is in heaven." In heaven, even while speaking to Nicodemus on earth. This is another evidence of His Deity. It affirmed His Omnipresence. It is remarkable to see that every essential attribute of Deity is predicated of Christ in this Gospel, the special object of which is to unveil His Divine perfections. His eternality is argued in John 1:1 . His Divine glory is mentioned in John 1:14 . His omniscience is seen in John 1:48 and again in John 2:24 , John 2:25 . His matchless wisdom is borne witness to in John 7:46 . His unchanging love is affirmed in John 13:1 . And so we might go on indefinitely.

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up" (John 3:14 ). Christ had been speaking to Nicodemus about the imperative necessity of the new birth. By nature man is dead in trespasses and sins, and in order to obtain life he must be born again. The new birth is the impartation of Divine life, eternal life, but for this to be bestowed on men, the Son of man must be lifted up. Life could come only out of death. The sacrificial work of Christ is the basis of the Spirit’s operations and the ground of God’s gift of eternal life. Observe that Christ here speaks of the lifting up of the Son of man, for atonement could be made only by One in the nature of him who sinned, and only as Man was God’s Son capable of taking upon Him the penalty resting on the sinner. No doubt there was a specific reason why Christ should here refer to His sacrificial death as a "lifting up." The Jews were looking for a Messiah who should be lifted up, but elevated in a manner altogether different from what the Lord here mentions. They expected Him to be elevated to the throne of David, but before this He must be lifted up upon the Cross of shame, enduring the judgment of God upon His people’s sin.

To illustrate the character, the meaning, and the purpose of His death, the Lord here refers to the well-known incident in Israel’s wilderness wanderings which is recorded in Numbers 21:0 . Israel was murmuring against the Lord, and He sent fiery serpents among the people, which bit them so that some of the people died and many others were sorely wounded from their poisonous bites. In consequence, they confessed they had sinned, and cried unto Moses for relief. He, in turn, cried unto God, and the Lord bade him make a serpent of brass, fix it on a pole, and tell the bitten Israelites to look to it in faith and they should be healed. All of this was a striking foreshadowing of Christ being lifted up on the Cross in order that He might save, through the look of faith, those who were dying from sin. The type is a remarkable one and worthy of our closest study.

A "serpent" was a most appropriate figure of that deadly and destructive power, the origin of which the Scriptures teach us to trace to the Serpent, whose "seed" sinners are declared to be. The poison of the serpent’s bite, which vitiates the entire system of its victim, and from the fatal effects of which there was no deliverance, save that which God provided, strikingly exhibited the awful nature and consequences of sin. The remedy which God provided was the exhibition of the destroyer destroyed. Why was not one of the actual serpents spiked by Moses to the pole? Ah, that would have marred the type: that would have pictured judgment executed on the sinner himself; and, worse still, would have misrepresented our sinless Substitute. In the type chosen there was the likeness of a serpent, not an actual serpent, but a piece of brass made like one. So, the One who is the sinners Savior was sent "in the likeness of sin’s flesh" (Romans 8:3 , Gk.), and God "made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21 ).

But how could a serpent fitly typify the Holy One of God? This is the very last thing of all we had supposed could, with any propriety, be a figure of Him. True, the "serpent" did not, could not, typify Him in His essential character, and perfect life. The brazen serpent only foreshadowed Christ as He was "lifted up." The lifting up manifestly pointed to the Cross. What was the "serpent?" It was the reminder and emblem of the curse. It was through the agency of that old Serpent, the Devil, that our first parents were seduced, and brought under the curse of a Holy God. And on the cross, dear reader, the holy One of God, incarnate, was made a curse for us. We would not dare make such an assertion, did not Scripture itself expressly affirm it. In Galatians 3:13 we are told, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." There was no flaw, then, in the type. The foreshadowing was perfect. A "serpent" was the only thing in all nature which could accurately prefigure the crucified Savior made a curse for us.

But why a "serpent" of brass? That only brings out once more the perfect accuracy of the type. "Brass" speaks of two things. In the symbolism of Scripture brass is the emblem of Divine judgment. The brazen altar illustrates this truth, for on it the sacrificial animals were slain, and upon it descended the con suming fire from heaven. Again; in Deuteronomy 28:0 , the Lord declared unto Israel, that if they would not hearken unto His voice and do His commandments (verse 15), that His curse should come upon them (verse 16), and as a part of the Divine judgment with which they should be visited, He warned them, "Thy heaven that is above thy head shall be brass" (verse 23). Once more, in Revelation 1:0 , where Christ is seen as Judge, inspecting the seven churches we are told, "His feet were like fine brass" (verse 15). The "serpent," then, spoke of the curse which sin entailed; the "brass" told of God’s judgment falling on the One made sin for us. But there is another thought suggested by the brass. Brass is harder than iron, or silver or gold. It told, then, of Christ’s mighty strength, which was able to endure the awful judgment which fell upon Him a mere creature, though sinless, would have been utterly consumed.

From what has been said, it will be evident that when God told Moses to make a serpent of brass, fix it upon a pole, and bid the bitten Israelites look on it and they should live, that He was preaching to them the Gospel of His grace. We would now point out seven things which these Israelites were not bidden to do.

1. They were not told to manufacture some ointment as the means of healing their wounds. Doubtless, that would have seemed much more reasonable to them. But it would have destroyed the type. The religious doctors of the day are busy inventing spiritual lotions, but they effect no cures. Those who seek spiritual relief by such means are like the poor woman mentioned in the Gospel: she "suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse" (Mark 5:26 ).

2. They were not told to minister to others who were wounded, in order to get relief for themselves. This, too, would have appealed to their sentiments as being more practical and more desirable than gazing at a pole, yet in fact it had been most impracticable. Of what use would it be for one to jump into deep water to rescue a drowning man if he could not swim a stroke himself! How then can one who is dying and unable to deliver himself, help others in a similar state. And yet there are many today engaged in works of charity with the vain expectation that giving relief to others will counteract the deadly virus of sin which is at work in their own souls.

3. They were not told to fight the serpents. If some of our moderns had been present that day they would have urged Moses to organize a Society for the Extermination of Serpents! But of what use had that been to those who were already bitten and dying? Had each stricken one killed a thousand serpents they would still have died. And what does all this fighting sin amount to! True, it affords an outlet for the energy of the flesh; but all these crusades against intemperance, profanity and vice, have not improved society any, nor have they brought a single sinner one step nearer to Christ.

4. They were not told to make an offering to the serpent on the pole. God did not ask any payment from them in return for their healing. No, indeed. Grace ceases to be grace if any price is paid for what it brings. But how frequently is the Gospel perverted at this very point! Not long ago the writer preached on human depravity, addressing himself exclusively to the unsaved. He sought by God’s help to show the unbeliever the terribleness of his state and how desperate was his need of a Savior to deliver him from the wrath to come. As we took our seat, the pastor of the church rose and announced an irrelevant hymn and then urged everybody present to "re-consecrate themselves to God." Poor man! That was the best he knew. But what pitiful blindness! Other preachers are asking their hearers to "Give their hearts to Jesus"- another miserable perversion. God does not ask the sinner to give anything, but to Receive His Christ.

5. They were not told to pray to the serpent. Many evangelists urge their hearers to go to the mourners bench or penitent form" and there plead with God for pardoning mercy, and if they are dead in earnest they are led to believe that God has heard them for their much speaking. If these "seekers after a better life" believe what the preacher has told them, namely, that they have "prayed through" and have now "got forgiveness," they feel happy, and for a while continue treading the clean side of the Broad Road with a light heart; but the almost invariable consequence is that their last state is worse than the first. O dear reader, do not make the fatal mistake of substituting prayer for faith in Christ.

6. They were told not to look at Moses. They had been looking to Moses, and urging him to cry to God on their behalf; and when God responded, He took their eyes from off Moses, and commanded them to look at the brazen serpent. Moses was the Law-giver, and how many today are looking to him for salvation. They are trusting in their own imperfect obedience to God’s commandments to take them to heaven. In other words, they are depending on their own works. But Scripture says emphatically, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us" (Titus 3:5 ). The Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, and Christ alone can save.

7. They were not told to look at their wounds. Some think they need to be more occupied with the work of examining their own wicked hearts in order to promote that degree of repentance which they deem a necessary qualification for salvation. But as well attempt to produce heat by looking, at the snow, or light by peering into the darkness, as seek salvation by looking to self for it. To be occupied with myself is only to be taken up with that which God has condemned, and which already has the sentence of death written upon it. But, it may be asked, "Ought I not to have that godly sorrow which worketh repentance before I trust in Christ?" Certainly not. You cannot have a godly sorrow till you are a godly person, and you cannot be a godly person until you have submitted yourself to God and obeyed Him by believing in Christ. Faith is the beginning of all godliness.

We have developed the seven points above with the purpose of exposing some of the wiles by which the Enemy is deceiving a multitude of souls. It is greatly to be feared that there are many in our churches today who sincerely think they are Christians, but who are sincerely mistaken. Believing that I am a millionaire will not make me one; and believing that I am saved, when I am not, will not save me. The Devil is well pleased if he can get the awakened sinner to look at anything rather than Christ good works, repentance, feelings, resolutions, baptism, anything so long as it is not Christ Himself.

Turning now from the negative to the positive side, let us consider, though it must be briefly, one or two points in the type itself. First, Moses was commanded by God to make a serpent of brass it was of the Lord’s providing and the spiritual significance of this we have already looked at. Second, Moses was commanded to fix this brazen serpent upon a pole. Thus was the Divine remedy publicly exhibited so that all Israel might look on it and be healed. Third, the Lord’s promise was that "it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live" (Numbers 21:8 ). Thus, not only did God here give a foreshadowing of the means by which salvation was to be brought out for sinners, but also the manner in which the sinner obtains an interest in that salvation, namely, by looking away from himself to the Divinely appointed object of faith, even to the Lord Jesus Christ. How blessed this was: the brazen serpent was "lifted up" so that those who were too weak to crawl up to the pole itself, and perhaps too far gone to even raise their voices in supplication could, nevertheless, lift up their eyes in simple faith in God’s promise and be healed.

Just as the bitten Israelites were healed by a look of faith, so the sinner may be saved by looking to Christ by faith. Saving faith is not some difficult and meritorious work which man must perform so as to give him a claim upon God for the blessing of salvation. It is not on account of our faith that God saves us, but it is through the means of our faith. It is in believing we are saved. It is like saying to a starving man, He that eats of this food shall be relieved from the pangs of hunger, and be refreshed and strengthened. Eating is no meritorious performance, but, from the nature of things, eating is the indispensable means of relieving hunger. To say that when a man believes he shall be saved, is just to say that the guiltiest of the guilty, and the vilest of the vile, is welcome to salvation, if he will but receive it in the only way in which, from the nature of the case, it can be received, namely, by personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which means believing what God has recorded concerning His Son in the Holy Scriptures. The moment a sinner does that he is saved, just as God said to Moses, "It shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live."

"Every one that is bitten." No matter how many times he may have been bitten; no matter how far the poison had advanced in its progress toward a fatal issue, if he but looked he should "live." Such is the Gospel declaration: "whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." There is no exception. The vilest wretch on the face of the earth, the most degraded and despised, the most miserable and wretched of all human kind, who believes in Christ shall be saved by Him with an everlasting salvation. Not sin but unbelief can bar the sinner’s way to the Savior. It is possible that some of the Israelites who heard of the Divinely appointed remedy made light of it; it may be that some of them cherished wicked doubts as to the possibility of them obtaining any relief by looking at a brazen serpent; some may have hoped for recovery by the use of ordinary means; no matter, if these things were true of them, and later they found the disease gaining on them, and then they lifted up a believing eye to the Divinely erected standard, they too were healed. And should these lines be read by one who has long procrastinated, who has continued for many long years in a course of stout-hearted unbelief and impenitence, nevertheless, the marvelous grace of our God declares to you, that "whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." It is still the "accepted time"; it is still "the day of salvation." Believe now, and thou shalt be saved.

Man became a lost sinner by a look, for the first thing recorded of Eve in connection with the fall of our first parents is that "The woman saw that the tree was good for food" (Genesis 3:6 ) In like manner, the lost sinner is saved by a look. The Christian life begins by looking: "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else" (Isaiah 45:22 ). The Christian life continues by looking: "let us run with patience the race which is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of faith" (Hebrews 12:2 ). And at the end of the Christian life we "re still to be looking for Christ: "For our conversation (citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20 ). From first to last, the one thing required is looking at God’s Son.

But perhaps right here the troubled and trembling sinner will voice his last difficulty "Sir, I do not know that I am looking in the correct way." Dear friend, God does not ask you to look at your look, but at Christ. In that great crowd of bitten Israelites of old there were some with young eyes and some with old eyes that looked at the serpent; there were some with clear vision and some with dim vision; there were some who had a full view of the serpent by reason of their nearness to the uplifted type of Christ; and there were, most probably, others who could scarcely see it because of their great distance from the pole, but the Divine record is "It shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live." And so it is today. The Lord Jesus says, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." He does not define the method or the manner of coming, and even if the poor sinner comes groping, stumbling, falling, yet if only he will "come" there is a warm welcome for him. So it is in our text: it is "whosoever believeth" nothing is said about the strength or the intelligence of the belief, for it is not the character or degree of faith that saves, but Christ Himself. Faith is simply the eye of the soul that looks off unto the Lord Jesus, Do not rest, then, on your faith, but on the Savior Himself.

"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 ). Christ had just made mention of His death, and had affirmed that the Cross was an imperative necessity; it was not "the Son of man shall be lifted up," but "the Son of man must be lifted up." There was no other alternative. If the claims of God’s throne were to be met, if the demands of justice were to be satisfied, if the sin was to be put away, it could only be by some sinless One being punished in the stead of those who should be saved. The righteousness of God required this: the Son of man must be lifted up.

But there is more in the Cross of Christ than an exhibition of the righteousness of God; there is also a display of His wondrous love. Verse 16 explains verse 14, as its opening word indicates. Verse 16 takes us back to the very foundation of everything. The great Sacrifice was provided by Love. Christ was God’s love-gift. This at once refutes an error that once obtained in certain quarters, namely, that Christ died in order that God might be induced to pity and save men. The very opposite is the truth. Christ died because God did love men, and was determined to save them that believe. The death of Christ was the supreme demonstration of God’s love. It was impossible that there should be any discord among the Persons of the Godhead in reference to the salvation of men. The will of the Godhead is, and necessarily must be, one. The Atonement was not the cause, but the effect, of God’s love: "In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:9 , 1 John 4:10 ). From what other source could have proceeded the giving of Christ to save men but from LOVE pure sovereign benignity!

The Love of God! How blessed is this to the hearts of believers, for only believers can appreciate it, and they but very imperfectly. It is to be noted that here in John 3:16 there are seven things told us about God’s love: First, the tense of His love "God so loved." It is not God loves, but He "loved." That He loves us now that we are His children, we can, in measure, understand; but that He should have loved us before we became His children passes knowledge. But He did. "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8 ). And again: "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee" (Jeremiah 31:3 ). Second, the magnitude of His love "God so loved." None can define or measure that little word "so." There are dimensions to the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of His wondrous love, that none can measure. Third, the scope of God’s love "God so loved the world." It was not limited to the narrow bounds of Palestine, but it flowed out to sinners of the Gentiles, too. Fourth, the nature of God’s love "God so loved the world that he gave." Love, real love, ever seeks the highest interest of others. Love is unselfish; it gives. Fifth, the sacrificial character of God’s love "he gave his only begotten Son." God spared not His Best. He freely delivered up Christ, even to the death of the Cross, Sixth, the design of His love". That whosoever believeth on him should not perish." Many died in the wilderness from the bites of the serpents: and many of Adam’s race will suffer eternal death in the lake of fire. But God purposed to have a people who "should not perish." Who this people are is made manifest by their "believing" on God’s Son. Seventh, the beneficence of God’s love "But have everlasting life." This is what God imparts to every one of His own. Ah, must we not exclaim with the apostle, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us"! (1 John 3:1 ). O dear Christian reader, if ever you are tempted to doubt God’s love go back to the Cross, and see there how He gave up to that cruel death His "only begotten Son."

"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 ). This verse enlarges upon the beneficient nature and purpose of God’s love. Unselfish in its character for love "seeketh not her own" it ever desires the good of those unto whom it flows forth. When God sent His Son here it was not to "condemn the world," as we might have expected. There was every reason why the world should have been condemned. The heathen were in an even worse condition than the Jews. Outside the little land of Palestine, the knowledge of the true and living God had well nigh completely vanished from the earth. And where God is not known and loved, there is no love among men for their neighbors. In every Gentile nation idolatry and immorality were rampant. One has only to read the second half of Romans 1:0 to be made to marvel that God did not then sweep the earth with the besom of destruction, But no; He had other designs, gracious designs. God sent His Son into the world that the world through Him "might be saved." It is to be remarked that the word "might" here does not express any uncertainty. Instead it declares the purpose of God in the sending of His Son. In common speech the word "might" signifies a contingency. It is only another case of the vital importance of ignoring man’s dictionaries and the way he employs words, and turning to a concordance to see how the Holy Spirit uses each word in the Scriptures themselves. The word "might" as a part of the verb expresses design. When we are told that God sent His Son into the world that through Him "the world might be saved," it signifies that "through him the world should be saved," and this is how it is rendered in the R. V. For other instances we refer the reader to 1 Peter 3:18 "might bring us to God" implies no uncertainty whatever, but tells of the object to be accomplished. For further examples see Galatians 4:5 ; Titus 2:14 ; 2 Peter 1:4 , etc., etc.

"He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18 ). For the believer there is "no condemnation" (Romans 8:1 ), because Christ was condemned in his stead the "chastisement of our peace" was upon Him. But the unbeliever is "condemned already." By nature he is a "child of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3 ), not corruption merely. He enters this world with the curse of a sin-hating God upon him. If he hears the Gospel and receives not Christ he incurs a new and increased condemnation through his unbelief. How emphatically this proves that the sinner is responsible for his unbelief!

"And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19 ). Here is the cause of man’s unbelief: he loves the darkness, and therefore hates the light. What a proof of his depravity! It is not only that men are in the dark, but they love the darkness they prefer ignorance, error, superstition, to the light of truth. And the reason why they love the darkness and hate the light is because their deeds are evil.

"For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God" (John 3:20 , John 3:21 ). Here is the final test. "Every one that doeth (practices) evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light," and why? "lest his deeds should be reproved." That is why men refuse to read the Scriptures. God’s Word would condemn them. On the other hand, "he that doeth truth," which describes what is characteristic of every believer, "cometh to the light" note the perfect tense he comes again and again to the light of God’s Word. And for what purpose? To learn God’s mind, that he may cease doing the things which are displeasing to Him, and be occupied with that which is acceptable in His sight. Was not this the final word of Christ to Nicodemus, addressed to his conscience? This ruler of the Jews had come to Jesus "by night," as though his deeds would not bear the light!

For the benefit of those who would prepare for the next lesson we submit the following questions:

1. What does the "much water" teach? verse 23.

2. What was the real purpose of the Jews in coming to John and saying what is recorded in verse 26?

3. What is the meaning of verse 27?

4. What vitally important lesson for the Christian is taught in verse 29?

5. What is the meaning of verse 33?

6. What is meant by the last half of verse 34?

7. How does verse 35 bring out the Deity of Christ?

Verses 22-36

Exposition of the Gospel of John


Christ Magnified by His Forerunner

John 3:22-36

We give first a brief Analysis of the passage which is to occupy our attention. Here we see:

1. The Lord Jesus and His Disciples in Judea, verse 22.

2. John baptizing in Aenon, verses 23, 24.

3. The attempt to provoke John’s jealousy, verses 25, 26.

4. The humility of John, verses 27, 28.

5. The joy of John, verse 29.

6. The preeminence of Christ, verses 30-35.

7. The inevitable alternative, verse 36.

Another typical picture is presented in the passage before us, though its lines are not so easily discernible as in some of the others which we have already looked at.

The spiritual state of Judaism as it existed at the time of our Lord’s sojourn on earth is revealed in three pathetic statements; first, the Jews were occupied with the externals of religion (verse 25); second, they were envious of the results attending the ministry of Christ (verse 26); third, they rejected the testimony of the Savior (verse 32). How pointedly did these things expose the condition of Israel as a nation! With no heart for the Christ of God, and ignorant, too, of the position occupied by His forerunner (verse 28), they were concerned only with matters of ceremonialism. Religious they were, but for a Savior they felt no need. They preferred to wrangle over questions of "purification," rather than go to the Lord Jesus for the Water of life. But this was not all. They were jealous of the outward success that attended the ministry of the Lord Jesus in its early stages. How this revealed their hearts! Plainer still is what we read of them in verse 32 the testimony of Christ they "received not." The Savior was not only "despised" by them, He was "rejected," too. Once more, then, is the awful condition of Judaism made manifest before our eyes.

"After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized" (John 3:22 ). This must be read in the light of John 4:2 . By linking these two verses together an important principle is established: what is done by the servants of Christ by His authority is as though it had been done by Christ immediately. It is the same as what we read of in 2 Corinthians 5:20 : "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." It is the same in prayer. When we really pray to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ, it is as though Christ Himself were the suppliant.

"And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized" (John 3:23 ). The meaning of the names of these places like all others in Scriptures are deeply significant. Aenon signifies "place of springs," Salim means "peace." What a blessed place for John to be in! These names point a striking contrast from "the wilderness of Judea" and "the region round about Jordan" (cf. Matthew 3:1 , Matthew 3:5 ), which speak of drought and death. Surely there is a most important lesson taught us here, and a most precious one too. The place of drought and death was where God had called the forerunner of Christ to labor, and as he there bore faithful witness to the Lord Jesus it became to him a place of "springs" (refreshment) and "peace!" Such is ever the experience of the obedient servant of God.

"John also was baptizing." There is a word of great practical importance here for many a servant of God. The Lord Jesus was there in Judea in person, and His disciples were with Him, baptizing. The crowds which at first attended the preaching of John had now deserted him, and were thronging to Christ (verse 26). What then does the Lord’s forerunner do? Does he decide that his work is now finished, and that God no longer has need of him? Does he become discouraged because his congregations were so small? Does he quit his work and go on a long vacation? Far, far from it. He faithfully persevered: "John also was baptizing." Has this no message for us? Perhaps these lines may be read by some who used to minister to big crowds. But these are no more. Another preacher has appeared, and the crowds flock after him. What then? Must you then conclude that God has set you aside? Are you suffering this experience to discourage you? Or, worse still, are you envious of the great success attending the labors of another! Ah, fellow-servants of Christ, take to heart this word "John also was baptizing." His season of popularity might be over: his light might be eclipsed by that of a greater: the crowds might have become thin; but, nevertheless, he plodded on and faithfully persevered in the work God had given him to do! "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Galatians 6:9 ). John performed his duty and fulfilled his course.

"John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there." This is one of the many verses in the New Testament which plainly intimates the mode of baptism. If baptism were by sprinkling or by pouring, "much water" would not be required. The fact that John baptized in Aenon "because there was much water there" strongly implies that the scriptural form of baptism is immersion. But the one who desires to know and carry out God’s mind is not left to mere inferences, forceful though they may be. The very word "baptized’’ (both in the Greek and in English) signifies "to dip or immerse." The Greek words for sprinkling and pouring" are entirely different from the one for baptize. Again; the example of our blessed Lord Himself ought to settle all controversy. No unprejudiced mind can read Matthew 3:16 without seeing that the Lord Jesus was immersed. Finally, the testimony of Romans 6:0 is unequivocal and conclusive. There we read, "We are buried with Him by baptism into death" (verse 3).

"Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying" (John 3:25 ). The "Jews" mentioned here are the same as those we read of in John 1:19 , who sent a delegation unto the Baptist to inquire who he was. There is a slight difference between the ancient Greek MSS, and following a variation of reading the R.V. says, "There arose therefore a questioning on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purifying." But we are thoroughly satisfied that here, as in the great majority of instances, the A.V. is preferable to the R.V. Clearly it is "the Jews" of John 1:19 who are before us again in John 3:25 . This is seen from what we read in verse 28: "Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him." The Baptist reminds them of the testimony he bore before their representatives on the previous occasion, for John 3:28 corresponds exactly with John 1:20 and 23.

"And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou bearest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him" (John 3:26 ). What was the object of these Jews? Was not their motive a malicious one? Were they not seeking to make John envious? It would certainly appear so. Why tell him of the outward success of Christ’s ministry if it were not to provoke the jealousy of His harbinger? And cannot we detect the Enemy of souls behind this! This is ever a favorite device with him, to make one servant of the Lord envious at the greater success enjoyed by another. And alas! how frequently does he gain his wicked ends thus. It is only those who seek not honor of men, but desire only the glory of their Lord, that are proof against such attacks.

A striking example of the above principle is found in connection with Moses, who "was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3 ). In Numbers 11:26 , Numbers 11:27 we read, "But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp. And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp." Now notice what follows "And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them." Even Joshua was jealous for his master’s sake. But how blessedly did Moses rebuke him: "And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!"

The same unselfish spirit is seen in that one who referred to himself as "less than the least of all saints" (Ephesians 3:8 ). While the beloved apostle was a prisoner in Rome, many of the brethren waxed confident, and were bold to speak the word without fear. True, some preached Christ of envy and strife, and some also of good will. How then did the apostle feel? Did he think these others were seeking to take advantage of his absence? Was he jealous of their labors? Not so: he said: "Notwithstanding... I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice" (Philippians 1:14-18 ). So, again, he learns of the ministry of Philemon in refreshing the saints, and to him he writes, "we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother" (Philemon 1:7 ). May more of this spirit be found in us and in other of the Lord’s servants as we learn of how God is using them.

"John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven" (John 3:27 ). It is beautiful to see how John conducted himself on this occasion. His reply was most becoming. First, he bows to God’s sovereign will (verse 27). Second, he reminds his tempters of his previous disclaimer of any other place being his save that of one "sent before" the Lord (John 1:28 ). Third, he declared that Israel belonged to Christ, not to himself (verse 29). Fourth, he affirms that his own joy was fulfilled in seeing men turning to the Lord Jesus (verse 29). Finally, he insists that while Christ must "increase," he must "decrease" (verse 30). Blessed self-abnegation was this.

"John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven." John was not at all surprised at the lack of spiritual perception in these Jews. The things of God cannot be discerned by the natural man. Before a man can even "receive" spiritual things they must first be "given him from heaven." And in the bestowment of His gifts God is sovereign. We are fully satisfied that the contents of this twenty-seventh verse contains the key to much that is puzzling. There are some brethren, beloved of the Lord, who do not see the truth of believer’s baptism; there are others who stumble over the subject of predestination. What may be as clear as sunlight to us, is dark to them. But let us not be puffed up by our superior knowledge. Let us remember the admonition of the apostle Paul, "For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory (boast), as if thou hadst not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7 ).

But on the other hand, there is no excuse for ignorance in the things of God. Far from it. God has plainly made known His mind. His blessed Word is here in our hands. The Holy Spirit has been given to us to guide us into all truth. And it is our responsibility to believe and understand all that is recorded for our learning: "And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know" (1 Corinthians 8:2 ). Nevertheless, there is the Divine side, too; and this is what is before us here in John 3:27 . What did the Lord Jesus say in response to the unbelief of the cities wherein His mightiest works were done? "Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight" (Matthew 11:25 , Matthew 11:26 ). What did He say to Peter, when that apostle bore such blessed testimony to His Messiahship and Deity? "Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17 ). And what is recorded of Lydia? "And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, THAT (in order that) she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul" (Acts 16:14 ).

And yet God is not capricious. If it is not "given" to us the fault is all our own. We "have not" because we "ask not" (James 4:2 ). Or, we "find" not, because we are too lazy to "search" diligently for the precious things of God. Here is His sure promise, provided we meet the conditions annexed to it: "My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God" (Proverbs 2:1-5 ).

"Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him" (John 3:28 ). John now announces what he was not, and what he was. He was but the messenger before the face of Christ, His forerunner. A subordinate place, therefore, was his. How blessed was this. These Jews were seeking to stir up the pride of John. But the Lord’s servant takes his proper place before them. He reminds them that he was only one "sent before" Christ.

"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" (John 3:29 ). The first thing which claims our attention here is the opening sentence of this verse. Who is meant by the "bride" which the Lord Jesus even then was said to "have?" In seeking the answer to this question, particular attention should be paid to the connection in which this statement is found, the circumstances under which it was made, and also to the person who uttered it. The connection in which this occurs is discovered by going back to John 3:22 , John 3:23 . The disciples of Jesus, as well as John himself, were "baptizing." This was not Christian baptism, for that was not instituted until after the death and resurrection of the Savior. This baptism, therefore, was kingdom baptism, and was one of the conditions of entrance into it (cf. Matthew 3:0 ). The circumstances under which this statement was made is seen in that John 3:29 formed part of the Baptist’s reply to those who were seeking to arouse his envy over the fact that the crowds were now flocking to Christ. The person who uttered it was not Paul the apostle to the Gentiles, but John the Baptist, whose ministry was confined to Israel, and who here styles himself "the friend of the Bridegroom."

When the Baptist said "He that hath the bride, is the bridegroom," he was not referring to the Church, the Body of Christ, for of that he knew nothing whatever, nor did any one else save the Triune God. At that time Christ was not forming a church, but as "the minister of the circumcision" He was presenting Himself to Israel. A repenting and believing few gathered around Him. That the twelve apostles are connected with Christ in an earthly relationship (though also, of course, members of the household of faith, and of the family of God) is clear from the words of the Savior: "Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19:28 ). This is something which the apostle Paul the apostle of the Gentiles, the one through whom God made known the truth of one Body will never do.

"He that hath the bride" was the language of faith. The company who will form the "bride" was then far from being complete; only a nucleus was there, but faith viewed the purpose of God concerning Israel as already accomplished. But "he that hath the bride" rules out the one body, for that did not begin to be formed until several years later. If further proof of the correctness of what we have written be asked for, it is at once forthcoming in the very next sentence: "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.’’ Without a doubt this refers to John the Baptist himself. But in no possible sense was he associated with heralding the truth of the Church which is the Body of Christ. His own language, as recorded in John 1:31 is final: "But that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore, am I come baptizing with water."

Let it be clearly understood that in this chapter we are neither denying nor affirming that the Body of Christ will be His heavenly bride. That does not fall within the compass of the present passage. What we have attempted to do is to give a faithful exposition of John 3:29 , and the "bride" there plainly refers to a company of regenerated Israelites, a company not yet completed. The work of gathering out that company has been interrupted by the rejection of Christ by the Jewish nation as a whole, and this has been followed by the present period. But after the Body of Christ has come "in the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13 ) God will resume His work with Israel and complete that company which is to be gathered out from them.

"But the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice" (verse 29). This is very blessed. Notice first, how we have repeated here what we called attention to when considering John 1:35-37 : the two disciples of John "stood" before they heard their master "speak" and say "Behold the lamb of God." The order is the same in the verse now before us "Which standeth and heareth him." Standing signifies the cessation of activity: it denotes an act of concentrated attention. The principle illustrated is a deeply important one. It is one which needs to be pressed in this day of hustling and bustling about, which is only the product of the energy of the flesh. We must "stand" before we can "hear Him."

"This my joy therefore is fulfilled" (verse 29). How precious is this! Joy of heart is the fruit of being "occupied with Christ!" It is standing and hearing His voice which delights the soul. But again we say that the all-important prerequisite for this is a cessation of the activities of the flesh. His voice cannot be heard if we are rushing hither and thither in fellowship with the fearful bedlam all around us. The "better part" is not to be like Martha "cumbered about much serving" but is to "sit" at the feet of the Lord Jesus like Mary did, hearing His word (see Luke 10:38-42 ). Notice, too, the tense of the verbs in John 3:29 : "standeth and heareth." The perfect tense expresses continuous action: again and again, daily, this must be done, if our joy is to be filled full. Is not our failure at this very point the explanation of our joyless lives?

"He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30 ). Blessed climax was this to the lovely modesty of John, and well calculated to crush all party feeling and nip in the bud any jealousy there might be in the hearts of his own disciples. In principle this is inseparably connected with what he had just said before in the previous verse. The more I "decrease" the more I delight in standing and hearing the voice of that blessed One who is Altogether Lovely. And so conversely. The more I stand and hear His voice, the more will He "increase" before me, and the more shall I "decrease." I cannot be occupied with two objects at one and the same time. To "decrease" is, we take it, to be less and less occupied with ourselves. The more I am occupied with Christ, the less shall I be occupied with myself. Humility is not the product of direct cultivation, rather it is a by-product. The more I try to be humble, the less shall I attain unto humility. But if I am truly occupied with that One who was "meek and lowly in heart," if I am constantly beholding His glory in the mirror of God’s Word, then shall I be "changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18 ).

The passage now before us contains the final testimony of the Baptist to the Lord Jesus Christ. In it the Savior and His servant are sharply contrasted. In witnessing to the manifold glories of his Master, John the Baptist draws a seven-fold contrast. First, John was one who could receive nothing, except it were given him from heaven (verse 27); where as Christ was the One to whom the Father "hath given all things" ( verse 35). Second, Jesus was the Christ, whereas John was only one "sent before Him" (verse 28). Third, Christ was the "bridegroom," whereas John was but the "friend" of the Bridegroom (verse 29). Fourth, Christ must "increase," whereas John himself must "decrease" (verse 30). Fifth, John was "of the earth," whereas the Lord Jesus had come "from above," and "is above all" (verse 31). Sixth, John had only a measure of the Spirit, but of Christ it is witnessed, "God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him" (verse 34). Seventh, John was but a servant, whereas the Savior was none less than the Son of the Father (verse 35). What a blessed and complete testimony was this to the immeasurable superiority of the Lord of Glory!

"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" (John 3:31 ). John now witnesses to the person, the glory, and the testimony of Christ. It seems to us that John is here giving point to one of the seven contrasts contained in this testimony which he here drew between Christ and himself. "Earth and earthly" must not be understood to signify "world and worldly." John was of the earth, and spoke of things which pertain to the earth. But the Lord was from heaven, and is above all. All other messengers that God has sent had much earthiness about them, as those of us who are His servants now have much of it. We are limited by our finite grasp. The bodies of death in which we dwell are a severe handicap. Our vision is largely confined to the things of earth. But there were no limitations to the Lord Jesus: He was the Son of God from heaven, pure, perfect, omniscient.

"And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth" (John 3:32 ). The testimony which Christ bore was a perfect one. The prophets received their message from the Holy Spirit, and they spoke of things which they had not "seen" see Matthew 13:17 . There are things which the angels desire to look into, but they were too mysterious for them to fathom see 1 Peter 1:12 . But our Lord Jesus Christ knows "heavenly things" by His own perfect knowledge, for He hath ever dwelt in the bosom of the Father. He knew the mind of God for He is God.

"And no man receiveth his testimony" (John 3:32 ). How radically different was this word of John from that of the Jews who declared "all men come to him," verse 26! One lesson we may draw from this is the unreliability of statistics which seek to tabulate spiritual results. Those Jews were looking at the outward appearance only, and from that point of view the cause of Christ seemed to be prospering in an extraordinary way. But the Lord’s forerunner looked beneath the surface, at the true spiritual results, and his verdict was "no man receiveth his testimony." Beware then of statistics, they depend largely on the one who compiles them. Some who are sanguine, will say everything that is pleasing and encouraging; others, who are more serious and severe in their judgment, will say much that is depressing.

"No man receiveth his testimony." This is not to be understood without qualification, for the very next words declare "he that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true." It is evident that what John meant was that comparatively none received the testimony of Christ. Compared with the crowds which came to Him, compared with the nation of Israel as a whole, those who "received" Christ’s testimony were so few, that they were as though none at all received it. And is it not the same today? In this favored land Christ is preached to multitudes, and many there are who hear about Him; but, alas! how few give evidence of having really received His testimony into their hearts!

And why is it that men receive not the testimony of this One who "cometh from heaven" (verse 31), who testifies of what He has seen and heard (verse 32), and who has the Spirit without measure (verse 34), yea, who is none other than the Son beloved of the Father (verse 35)? It is because they are earthly. The message is too heavenly for them. They have no relish for it. They have hearts only for things below. Others are too learned to believe anything so simple: it is still to the Jews a stumblingblock, and to the Greeks foolishness. They will not believe God; and how can they while "they receive honor from men!" With others it is wide that hinders. They think themselves good enough already. They are pharisaical. They are too high-born to see their need of being born again. They are too haughty to take the place of empty-handed beggars and receive God’s gift. But the root reason for rejecting the testimony of Christ is that, "men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19 ). Men are so depraved their hearts are hardened and their understandings are darkened, and therefore, do they prefer the darkness to the light.

"He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true" (John 3:33 ). To "set to his seal" means to certify and ratify. By faith in the Lord Jesus the believer has come to know God as a reality. Hitherto he heard of and talked about an unknown God, but now he knows God for himself, and declares his faith in His fidelity. God says, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life," and the believer finds that God is true, for he lives now in newness of life. The Lord says, "He that believeth on him is not condemned," and the believer knows it is so, for the burden of guilt is gone from his conscience. Those who receive Christ’s testimony as true, take it unto themselves. They rest their souls upon it. They make it their own. They allow nothing to make them doubt what He has said. No matter whether they can thoroughly understand it or no; no matter whether it seems reasonable or unreasonable, they implicitly believe it. Whether their feelings respond or not, makes no difference the Son of God has spoken, and that is enough.

"For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him" (John 3:34 ). The Lord Jesus Christ was sent here by God, and He spoke only the words of God. Testimony to this fact was borne to Him by the Father on the Mount of Transfiguration: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased: hear ye him" (Matthew 17:5 ). And Christ differed from every other messenger sent from God in all things He has "the pre-eminence." Others had the Spirit "by measure." They knew but fragments of the truth of God. To them the Spirit came and then went again. Moreover, their gifts varied: one had a certain gift from the Spirit, another an entirely different gift. But God gave not the Spirit by measure unto Christ. The Lord Jesus knew the full truth of God, for He Himself is the Truth. On Him the Spirit did not come and go; instead, we read, He "abode upon him" (John 1:32 ). And further: Christ was endowed with every. Divine gift. In contrast from the fragmentary communications of God through the prophets (see Hebrews 1:1 ), Christ fully and finally received the mind of God. We believe that the full meaning of these words that Christ had the Spirit "without measure" is a statement that is strictly parallel with what we read in Colossians 2:9 , "For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily."

"The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his band" (John 3:35 ). What a glorious testimony was this! Christ was more than a messenger or witness for God, He was the "Son" beloved of the Father. Not only so, He was the One into whose hand the Father had "given all things." How this brings out, again, the absolute Deity of Christ! To none but to One absolutely equal with Himself could the Father give "all things."

"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 3:36 ). Here is the inevitable alternative. Salvation comes through believing, believing on the Son. How Divinely simple! Those who believe on the Son have "everlasting life" as a present possession, though the full enjoyment as well as the full manifestation of it are yet future. But those who believe not the Son "shall not see life," neither enter into it nor enjoy it; instead, the wrath of a sin-hating God "abideth" on them. It is upon them even now, and if they believe not, it shall abide on them for ever and ever. How unspeakably solemn! How it behooves every reader to seriously and honestly face the question To which class do I belong? to those who believe on the Son, or to those who believe not on the Son?

The following questions concern the next lesson:

1. What are we to learn from the statement that "Jesus himself baptized not"? John 4:2 .

2. Why did the Lord "leave Judea" when He knew the Pharisees were jealous? John 4:3 .

3. What prophetic foreshadowing do we have in John 4:3 , John 4:4 ?

4. Why was it that Christ "must needs" go through Samaria? John 4:4 .

5. What are we to learn from the fact that the meeting between Christ and the Samaritan woman occurred at a "well?" John 4:6 .

6. Why are we told that it was "Jacob’s well"? John 4:6 .

7. What is suggested by the "sixth hour"? John 4:6 .

Bibliographical Information
Pink, A.W. "Commentary on John 3". "Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/awp/john-3.html.
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