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Bible Commentaries

Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
John 3

 

 

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Verses 1-7

Ye must be born again

John 3:1-7

John 3:1. Nicodemus was a ‘ruler of the Jews,’ which probably means that he was a member of the Sanhedrin–Israel's highest religious court. As such, we can view him as a representative of all of them.

1. He came to the Lord Jesus ‘by night’ because he was ashamed to be seen coming to Him, and he was afraid of losing his position and power. Each time Nicodemus is referred to in the word afterwards, it is repeated that he came to Jesus ‘by night’ (John 7:50-51; John 19:39).

2. He was altogether lacking in spiritual understanding of the things of God, as most religionists are.

3. Although he was a ‘ruler of the Jews’ and a student of scriptures, he was dead in trespasses and sins and needing to be ‘born again.’

John 3:2. Nicodemus acknowledged that Jesus Christ was surely ‘a teacher come from God’ because the miracles of Christ differed radically from those performed by others before or since. But others did perform miracles and wonders, and this very fact warns us that we need to carefully examine the credentials of so-called miracle workers (1 John 4:1). If a man works wonders and miracles, is this a sure proof that he comes from God or that God is with him? Certainly not! We generally overlook the fact that Satan is able to work miracles and wonders, not like Christ, but enough to deceive the simple (2 Corinthians 11:13-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Matthew 24:23-24). Satan is able to work miracles and to deliver this power to others.

How are we to test those who come to us in the name of Christ? Not by their personal character or morality (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). Not by their power to work wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9). Here is the answer! Examine them by the word of God, by the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do they preach ‘thus saith the Lord’? Do they preach the gospel of God's free grace and glory in Christ Jesus? Do they exalt and glorify Christ in his redemptive work; or do they exalt themselves, the Holy Spirit, and the miracles? (Isaiah 8:20; 1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 1:10; John 16:13-14.)

John 3:3. Our Lord ignored Nicodemus' address with startling abruptness and said, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus called Christ ‘a teacher come from God,’ but it is not as a teacher that the sinner must first approach Christ. What the sinner (in the world or in religion) needs is to be ‘born again.’ In order to have this he must approach Christ as his Saviour. Of what value is teaching to one dead in sin, under the condemnation of God? A saved man is a fit subject for teaching, but the unsaved need preaching which will expose their depravity and reveal the one mighty to save (1 Corinthians 1:21). It is not how a man should live that is of first importance, but how dead sinners are made alive spiritually. A man cannot live to God nor for God until he is born spiritually (Ephesians 2:1). The kingdom of God cannot be ‘seen’ or understood until a man is born of God (John 1:12-13).

John 3:4. Nicodemus' reply is a verification that these Jewish leaders were altogether lacking in spiritual understanding, or the fall and its consequences, and of the nature of spiritual life and faith (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 2:14).

John 3:5. The word ‘water’ has no reference to the waters of baptism. The Lord Jesus used the word ‘water’ emblematically to refer to ‘the word of God.’ The word of God is always the instrument used by God in regeneration (Psalms 119:50; 1 Corinthians 4:15; James 1:18). The Holy Spirit is the begetter or the quickener, and the word of God is the seed (John 6:63; 1 Peter 1:23). By his first fleshly birth, a man enters this world a sinful creature. When a sinner is born again by the Spirit and the word of God, he enters the kingdom and family of God a new creature in Christ Jesus!

John 3:6. What then is the new birth? It is not the removal of anything from the sinner, nor the changing of anything physical or fleshly in the sinner; instead, it is the communication of something to the sinner. The new birth is the impartation of a new nature, When we were born the first time we received from our parents their nature; so when we are born again, we receive from God his nature. The Spirit of God begets within us a spiritual nature (2 Peter 1:4; Galatians 5:17). That which is born of man is human; that which is born of God is divine and spiritual.

John 3:7. Nicodemus was startled. He was amazed at the Saviour's words. Yet he ought not to have been. Man by birth and nature is blind and opposed to the things of God. No amount of religious training can change this evil nature. His chief need is a new nature or to be born again! It is a must! A man must have a spiritual nature before he can understand, enter, or enjoy the kingdom of God.


Verses 8-15

How can these things be?

John 3:8-15

John 3:8. A comparison is drawn here between the wind and the Spirit of God in the new birth.

1. The wind is invisible; one cannot see the wind but can certainly feel the effects. Even so, one cannot see the Spirit of God; but his power and the results of his work are evident.

2. The wind is sovereign in its actions. The wind is beyond man's control. The wind does not consult us nor can it be regulated. So it is with the Spirit of God! The wind blows when it pleases, where it pleases, and as it pleases. So it is with the Spirit (Exodus 33:19 : John 5:21).

3. The wind is irresistible. When the wind blows in its power, it sweeps everything before it. It is so with the Spirit of God. When he comes in the fullness of his power, he breaks down man's prejudices, subdues his will, and conquers him (Psalms 110:3). Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9).

John 3:9-10. ‘How can these things be?’ This question reveals the spiritual ignorance even of the religious natural man. It is true that Nicodemus was educated, religious, and doubtless of high moral character; but something more than education, morality, and sincerity are needed to understand the things of God. Even though God became incarnate and spoke in human language, men understood him not (Proverbs 4:19; Ephesians 4:18). Our Lord said unto him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel and yet untaught?’ Even a religious teacher may be ignorant of divine truth. The fact that a preacher has graduated with honors from some theological center is no proof that he is a man taught of God (John 6:44-45).

John 3:11. Our Lord did not deal in speculation nor theory, but spoke divine truth because he is the truth! In the preceding verse Christ chided 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 (John 5:40-44). If we believe not his word, we shall continue in darkness and ignorance. None are so blind as those who will not see! As we believe God's word, he honors that faith by giving us understanding of what we believe. Walk in the light revealed and receive more light.

John 3:12. ‘Earthly things’ are, in a sense, evident and in a measure comprehensible; but ‘heavenly things’ are invisible and altogether beyond our grasp until Divinely revealed to us. By ‘earthly things,’ which Christ had told him, we mean the new birth, which takes place on earth, and the Lord's reference to the ‘wind’ as an illustration of the Spirit's operation in bringing about the new birth through the word. These things Nicodemus ought to have known about from Ezekiel 36:24-27. If, then, he believed not God's word about these earthly things, of what avail would it be for Christ to speak to him about ‘heavenly things’ or things pertaining to the counsels of God, the mysteries of grace, and the things God has prepared for them that love him (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)?

John 3:13. The ‘heavenly things’ to which the Lord had referred had not until 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 is heaven, is qualified to reveal heavenly things. Our Lord did not say, ‘No man hath entered heaven,’ but ‘No man hath ascended up to heaven.’ This is an entirely different thing. Only he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven (even while here speaking to Nicodemus), knows the secrets and mysteries of his throne. No man ever has or ever will occupy this position but Christ.

John 3:14-15. Christ had been speaking to Nicodemus about the new birth. The new birth is the impartation of divine or eternal life; but for eternal life to be bestowed upon men, the Saviour must be lifted up. Eternal life must come out of his substitutionary death. The sacrificial work of Christ is the basis of the Spirit's operations and the ground of God's gift of life (Isaiah 53:4-6). It is the Son of man who must be crucified, for atonement could be made only by one in the nature of him who sinned. Only as man was Christ capable of taking upon himself our guilt and penalty. The Jews expected the Messiah to be lifted up or elevated to the throne of David; but before this, he must be lifted up on the cross of shame, enduring the judgment of God upon our sins.

To illustrate the character, meaning, and purpose of his death, he refers to the well-known incident in Numbers 21:6-9. The people were bitten by fiery serpents, dying and without hope. Moses made a serpent in the likeness of the cause and lifted it up. Those who looked in faith lived. Christ is made in the likeness of sinful flesh and crucified, and those who look to him in faith shall live.


Verses 16-21

The love of God

John 3:16-21

In the preceding verses our Lord had made mention of his death and had affirmed that the death of the cross was an imperative necessity. He did not say, ‘The Son of man shall be lifted up,’ but, ‘The Son of man must be lifted up.’ There is no other alternative if the claims of God are to be met, if the demands of justice are to be satisfied, if sin is to be put away, and if the elect are to be saved– Christ must die! (Romans 3:25-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21.) The law and justice of God demand it!

John 3:16. Someone once said, ‘Verse 14 is the remedy, John 3:15 is the result, and John 3:16 is the reason.’ There is more in the cross of Christ than an exhibition of the holiness of God; there is the display of his great love! John 3:16 takes us back to the very foundation of everything. His great salvation was provided by love. Christ came and died because God loved us and was determined to have a people like Christ, not in order to make the Father love us. There is no discord among the Godhead. The atonement was not the cause but the effect of God's love (1 John 4:9-10). In this verse there are seven things told us about God's love.

1. The tense of his love. ‘God so loved.’ He always has loved us. It is an everlasting love (Romans 5:8; Jeremiah 33:3).

2. The magnitude of his love. ‘God so loved.’ It is an infinite love (John 15:13).

3. The scope of his love. ‘God so loved the world.’ His love is not limited to the Jews only, but to all nations (Revelation 5:9).

4. The nature of his love. ‘God so loved...that he gave.’ Real love ever seeks the highest interest and well being of its object. Love is unselfish; it gives! God gave the greatest gift.

5. The sacrificial character of his love. He not only gave his Son to live on earth among men, but to die the death of the cross (Philippians 2:6-8).

6. The design of his love. ‘That whosoever believeth on him should not perish.’ God has a people who shall not perish. No condemnation nor judgment shall come to them (Romans 8:33-34).

7. The beneficence of his love. ‘But have everlasting life.’ This is what our Lord imparts to his own–eternal life and glory (1 John 3:1-3).

John 3:17. The coming of Christ was not to condemn the world; the world was already condemned (Romans 5:18). But he came that men and women of all nations might be saved. The word ‘might’ does not express any uncertainty about the fact of their being saved, but the word ‘might’ expresses design. He came ‘in order that’ the world might be saved. His person and work for sinners enabled God to be both just and Justifier of those who believe (1 Peter 3:18).

John 3:18. For the believer there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1) because Christ was condemned in our stead (Isaiah 53:4-6). But the unbeliever is condemned already. He enters the world with the curse of sin upon him. By nature he is a child of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). If he hears the gospel and believes not, he incurs a new and increased condemnation through unbelief (Matthew 11:21-24).

John 3:19. Here is the cause of man's unbelief–he loves the darkness and hates the light. It is not only that men are in darkness, but they love the darkness. They prefer ignorance, error, and superstition to the light of truth (John 5:40-44). What a proof of man's depravity! In the person of Christ perfect holiness, perfect love, and perfect truth came and dwelt among men. What was their reaction to him? ‘Crucify him! Crucify him! We will not have this man reign over us!’

John 3:20-21. Here is the final test. ‘Everyone that loves and practices evil hates the light (the truth of God), neither cometh to the light.’ Why? Lest his deeds, error, and sin should be revealed and judged. That is why men (religious and worldly) refuse the scriptures as they are. God's word condemns us! God's word convicts us! God's word shuts us up to the mercy of God in Christ!

On the other hand, ‘He that doeth truth,’ which describes what is characteristic of every believer, ‘cometh to the light.’ Note the present tense; he comes again and again to the word of God. And for what purpose? To learn of God, and of himself, and of his blessed Redeemer. The believer finds his comfort, strength, help, directions, and hope in the exceeding great and precious promises of the word (Psalms 119:9-11; Psalms 119:17-18; Psalms 119:49-50; Psalms 119:105).


Verses 22-36

He must increase, but I must decrease

John 3:22-36

John 3:22. This verse 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 himself (2 Corinthians 5:20; Luke 10:16).

John 3:23. This is one of the verses in the New Testament, which plainly teaches the proper mode of baptism. If baptism were by sprinkling or by pouring, ‘much water’ would not be required. The scriptural form of baptism is by immersion, for which ‘much water’ is needed. The very word ‘baptized’ (both in the Greek and the English) signifies to dip or to immerse. The example of our Lord himself ought to settle all controversy. No unprejudiced mind can read Matthew 3:16 without seeing that the Lord was immersed (Romans 6:3).

John 3:24. John's ministry had not yet been terminated by his imprisonment and death.

John 3:25. Some of John's disciples and the Jewish religionists were in conflict over purifying. The Jews had so many purifyings, some scriptural and some traditional. We really have no way of knowing what this was about, for it does not say.

John 3:26. But these same Jews (Read John 1:19) came to John and told him that Jesus of Nazareth, to whom he bore witness, was baptizing and that all men now were coming to Him, not to John! What was their motive? Were they seeking to make John jealous and envious? Were they seeking to divide John and Jesus Christ? Perhaps! This is a favorite device of Satan, to make one servant of the Lord envious of another. An example of this is found in Numbers 11:26-29. (Philippians 1:14-18; Ephesians 3:8.)

John 3:27. It is beautiful to see how John conducted himself on this occasion. His reply was most becoming of grace. He bows to the sovereign will of God! (1 Corinthians 4:7; 1 Corinthians 12:11; 1 Corinthians 12:18.) Like the Apostle Paul, he declares, ‘I am what I am by the grace of God.’

John 3:28. Continuing to reply to these Jews, John reminds his tempters of what he had told them before (John 1:20-23), that the only place he claimed was that of a voice sent by God before Christ to bear witness of him.

John 3:29. Continuing, John said, ‘He that hath the bride is the bridegroom.’ The bride is the church, the elect of all generations, the people of God; and they belong to the Bridegroom (given to him by the Father, redeemed by his blood, and brought to him by his Spirit). The friend of the Bridegroom is not jealous and envious. He is truly a friend and loves the Bridegroom, he rejoices in the happiness of the Bridegroom, and his joy is fulfilled when the Bridegroom is glorified. The servant of Christ is occupied with Christ and his glory.

John 3:30. Finally, John adds, ‘He must increase and I must decrease.’ Blessed climax this was to John's modest reply and well calculated to crush all petty feelings, ambitions, jealousy, and self-glory that may be found in our hearts. ‘He must increase.’ This is the will and purpose of the Father (Colossians 1:16-18). Therefore, I must decrease. The more I am occupied with Christ, the less I shall be occupied with myself. Humility is the by-product of a genuine faith in and love for Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

John 3:31. There are several contrasts between the Saviour and his servant given in John 3:28-31.

1. He is the Christ; I am only sent before him.

2. He is the Bridegroom; I am a friend.

3. He must increase; I must decrease.

4. I am of the earth and speak of those things, which pertain to the earth, but he is the Lord from heaven who has no limitations. He knows all things.

John 3:32. The testimony, which our Lord bore, was a perfect one! We know in part and preach in part; but our Lord Jesus knows all heavenly things by his own perfect knowledge, for he is God!

‘No man receiveth his testimony.’ This is not to be understood without qualification, for John 3:33 tells us some who did receive his gospel. John meant that comparatively, none received his testimony. Compared with the crowds, the nation Israel, and the world's population, those who believed were few! (John 1:10-11; 1 Corinthians 2:14; John 6:44-45.)

John 3:33. To ‘set to his seal’ means to certify and ratify. By faith in the Lord Jesus, the believer says God hath fulfilled in Christ all that he promised of the Messiah. Not one word of God has failed (1 John 5:10). Faith glorifies God; unbelief dishonors God.

John 3:34. The Father sent the Son, and the Son spoke only the words of the Father (Matthew 17:5). He differed from other messengers in that ‘In all things he has the pre-eminence.’ Others had the Spirit by measure, but the Spirit abode on him. The Lord Jesus knew the full truth, for he is the truth! (Colossians 2:9).

John 3:35. ‘All things’ here simply means all things – all things pertaining to the universe, to life, to the new heavens and new earth, to the church, and if there be anything else, to it.

John 3:36. Here is the inevitable alternative. All things are in Christ: all things are ours through union with Christ; that union with Christ comes through faith in Christ. Those who believe not shall not see life, nor enter in, nor enjoy it.

 


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Bibliography Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on John 3:4". Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hms/john-3.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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