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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
John 3

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-21

John 3:1-21. The Conversation with Nicodemus.—Nicodemus is an example of those to whom the Lord could not trust Himself. The story shows how He tried to bring those whom His teaching had impressed to a truer conception of the Messianic kingdom. Here as in all the Johannine speeches the conversation is recorded in terms which reflect later thought, and it passes out into more general thoughts and ideas Nicodemus disappears, and before the end the author is teaching the men of his own time. We cannot satisfactorily separate speech from comment. And yet throughout the subjects and thoughts have naturally grown out of the historical situation. The author is not simply developing, in the light of later Jewish controversy, his views on the necessity of Christian baptism, and the spiritual character of Christian Messianic expectation. A leader of the "Jewish" party, favourably disposed by what he has seen and heard of Jesus' works in the capital, comes to make further inquiries. What has the now Rabbi to teach about the kingdom? [The "kingdom" is mentioned elsewhere in Jn. only in John 18:36, "my kingdom."] He is not encouraged. A complete change of view, comparable to nothing less than being born over again, is needed before he and his friends can understand the true character of the kingdom. Nicodemus' answer is not the mere stupidity of misunderstanding which the author is supposed to attribute in this gospel to the opponents of the Christ. He refuses to admit that the religious leaders can need so complete a change. Jesus answers that John's baptism of purification and the Messianic baptism of the Spirit are the necessary preparation for admission to the kingdom. The capacity to enter into the things of the Spirit must be created in a man by the Spirit of God. Nicodemus' surprise is rebuked, with special emphasis on the "You." The people perhaps, but not the rulers, is his obvious unspoken thought. Then the question "How?" is answered. Like the wind, the workings of God's Spirit cannot be traced. They are known by their effects. They follow His will. The play on two meanings of the same word (pneuma), "wind" and "spirit," is possible in Gr. It is more natural in Heb. (ruah) or Aram. To Nicodemus' repeated "How?" Jesus expresses surprise that a religious leader should have failed to see the teaching of Scripture, and contrasts the consciousness of certainty, born of experience, with which He and John can speak, though the "religious" refuse to hear. Perhaps, however, John 3:11 b is the author's comment on his own generation. If the "earthly" teaching about the need of new birth is unintelligible, how can the higher teaching of God's purposes for the kingdom be grasped? Only the "Son of Man" (p. 670), who is in touch with heaven, can reveal them. Compare Deuteronomy 30:12; Deuteronomy 30:4, Ezra 4:1-11, a passage which offers several interesting parallels to this section. Though "Jews" reject, God will exalt His Messiah so that all must see and acknowledge. Clearly the author puts his own meaning on "exaltation." The word must have had to Nicodemus a different and simpler sense. In what follows (John 3:16) the author's own thoughts and theology become more apparent, but the subject is the natural sequence to what has been said. In popular Messianic expectation Messiah's function is to judge. The Lord teaches that His primary work is to save, not to judge. For those who accept Him the need of judgment is over. For those who reject, their refusal is their sentence. But how can Messiah judge and yet not come to judge? Judgment, i.e. separation, is the necessary result of the coming of light which evil shuns but good men welcome. Judgment is a revelation of character, inevitable and self-working when once the "Son" has set the true standard (cf. Luke 2:34 f.). [The Synoptic counterpart of Nicodemus is the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22). We may also compare the injunctions to "turn and become as little children," and Paul's doctrine of the old and the new man. Note that the belief of John 3:15-21 is much deeper than that of John 2:23-25—A. J. G.]


Verses 22-36

John 3:22-36. The Last Appearance of the Baptist.—Convinced that the nation is not ripe for Messianic teaching, Jesus falls back on preparatory work similar to that of John, who was continuing his work at Ænon near Salim. In Eusebius' time this was identified with a place on the borders of Galilee and Samaria not far from Bethshan. Modern explorers favour a place called ‘Aynun, north of the Salim near Nablus. The evangelist notes that John's imprisonment did not take place, as the earlier gospels (Mark 1:14) seem to imply, before the beginning of Jesus' public work. A dispute arose between John's disciples and a "Jew" about purification, probably leading to a comparison of the cleansing power of the two baptisms. The disciples of John are jealous for their master's honour, hardly an impossibility (Wellhausen) after the witness borne by him to the superiority of Jesus. The splendid answer of self-denial will always appeal to men. The success of Jesus comes from above. John reminds his disciples that he himself has borne witness to his greater Follower. His own duty is that of the bridegroom's friend, to bring the bride Israel to the bridegroom. His joy will be full when that is done. It belongs to the necessity of God's plan that the forerunner should give way before the Christ. The section John 3:31-36 has so many points of connexion with the account of Nicodemus that it has been plausibly supposed to have been accidentally transferred to its present position (cf. John 2:12*). In its present context it must be understood as (giving) the writer's reflections on the Baptist's words. John could not have spoken John 3:32 b after John 3:26. The heavenly character of Messiah's work is contrasted with the earthly nature of John's. He that comes from heaven speaks from certain knowledge, though few care to listen. John and those who accepted the Christ asserted the truth of God. For God's truth is spoken by God's Messenger. He received in full the gift of the Spirit, in contrast to the partial inspiration of the men of old. He has His Father's love, which has given Him all. So he that believes on the Son has the higher fife, which the disobedient shall never even see. As with Nicodemus, so here, the Baptist has disappeared and the writer speaks. But the view which sees in the whole paragraph nothing but a scene invented to get one more occasion for the Baptist's "witness," and to justify the use of Christian baptism, is an impossible explanation of its origin. To invent a scene in which Jesus falls back on the lower plane of the Baptist's work is not the custom of the Christian apologist.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/john-3.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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