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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
John 3

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

§ 21. JESUS’S DISCOURSE WITH NICODEMUS 1-21.

1. There was a man—John now proceeds to give a specimen of the many mentioned at the close of the last chapter (see our note John 2:23) who were converted by Jesus’s miracles, but not trustworthily converted at heart, in order to show how Jesus would deal with such a case. Thereby a believer by logic is guided to a faith of the heart.

Nicodemus—Josephus, the historian, had a brother named Nicodemus Ben Gorion, (as the tradition reports,) who was a member of the Sanhedrim, and counted one of the three richest men of Jerusalem. He was able, say they, to have maintained the city for ten years; and marvelous account are given of the dowry of his daughters. But it is said he afterwards became poor; and his daughter was seen by another rabbi gathering barley corns for food from under the horses’ feet. Some have conjectured that this was the result of the persecutions he received for having embraced Christianity. This Nicodemus, it was said, was found living at the destruction of Jerusalem.

A ruler of the Jews—He was one of the Sanhedrim, which consisted of priests, Levites, elderly men, and rabbis.


Verse 2

2. By night—Night studies of the law were a great merit with the rabbis. “Around him who studies by night,” was their maxim, “God draws a thread of mercy by day.” But fear for the Jews and a regard for his reputation no doubt were the cause of this nightly visit. Compare notes on John 19:38-39. He had a head conviction, but little of the martyr spirit. He could not trust God, because he feared man.

Rabbi—Nicodemus addresses him as a teacher, yea, a God-sent teacher, but not as the Messiah.

We know—This we includes the class of thinkers to which he belonged, namely, the many specified in John 2:23. See notes.

Come from God— Not as the scribes and doctors, with mere human authority; but with a commission fresh from Jehovah, and so at least a prophet, if not the Messiah.

Miracles… except God be with him—For these miracles are too great to be done by man, and too good to be done by devils.


Verse 3

3. Except a man—Our Lord’s reply seems abrupt; but it was perfectly suited to the case. Nicodemus was a logical believer upon the ground of miracle. Jesus forthwith proceeds, therefore, to lead him from that starting-point, to the full heart reception of the deeper spiritual truths of Christianity, and to the full experience of their truth and power. His deeper points are, original sin, regeneration by the Spirit, atonement, salvation by faith, condemnation by unbelief.

He cannot see—Same as cannot enter, John 3:5. So to see life, John 3:36. Compare to see good days, Psalms 34:12; also Ecclesiastes 6:6; Hebrews 12:14.

It is not to be supposed that John has here given anything more than a very brief and free, though symmetrical, summary of this conversation. It would take an ordinary reader not more than two or three minutes to utter the whole; and it is not to be imagined that an interview so carefully sought should be so briefly transacted.

We need feel no perplexity about the question proposed by sceptics, How did John come by his report of this secret conversation? If we are to suppose that Nicodemus came perfectly alone (which cannot conclusively be shown) we need not therefore conclude that Jesus was himself alone. Nicodemus may have been afraid to bring companions; but he could not have been afraid of John and his four fellow disciples, had he or they been present.


Verse 4

4. How… be born—To be born again was a figure familiar with the Jews, even, it is said, of our Lord’s day. When a proselyte was admitted into Judaism, so new were his relations and feelings that he was said to be a newborn babe. Abraham when circumcised was “born again.” It applied not only to a change of relations, (like our American naturalization of a foreigner,) but to his opinions and feelings.

Hence, many modern commentators endeavour to so interpret Nicodemus’s words as not to imply that he imagined Jesus to refer to a bodily new birth. But it is clear, from his very explicit language, that he thought our Lord’s description of this being born again to be so radical and absolute as to suggest and justify the query whether it did not include a re-birth of body. He did so, perhaps, from three reasons. 1. The words of Jesus seem to imply, not merely, as among the Jews, a change of relations, feelings, or opinions; but some renovation of nature deeper and underlying all these, and coming from an external agent. 2. The kingdom of God, of which this renovation was necessary to the seeing, is to be itself brought in by a renovation, which was held by most Jews to include a physical renewal of the earth. How physical and bodily, then, might not the regeneration it required of its individual subjects be? 3. This regeneration was a new and unheard-of one; required, not like Jewish regeneration, of Gentiles alone, but a regeneration even of the chosen seed. How deep then is it, and how can it be brought about? Is it bodily, and if so, how can it be effected?

When he is old—As Nicodemus himself may have been; though this is not so certain as commentators seem to imply. He may have been as young as John himself, and like him have survived the destruction of Jerusalem. See note on John 3:1.


Verse 5

5. Jesus now proceeds to tell the

how. Of water and of the SpiritOf water, as the external indication of the external kingdom; of Spirit, as the internal induction into the internal kingdom. The former supposes the latter as its previous condition, and is its external profession or sign. Those who refuse to perform and accept the sign, do wilfully exclude themselves from the kingdom of God. Yet, although the conditional duty, it does not stand on the same ground of an absolute condition without which salvation is in itself impossible, as is the case in being born of the Spirit. This we see intimated in Mark 16:16, where baptism is required; but there is a careful avoidance of saying that he that is not baptized shall be damned. Baptism may in many eases be impossible. There are many, however, who by gross negligence or for other reasons stay out of the Christian Church; abandoning thereby the ordinances of God both of baptism and communion, and yet suppose themselves to be justified Christians. For aught they do the rites of baptism and the Lord’s Supper would die out. How they will answer this contempt of the solemn requirements of Christ at the judgment-day, is for themselves to answer. Except a man be born of water as well as of Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

The term regeneration is seldom used in the Bible; but the words that express it are used often. All those expressions that embrace the idea of renovation, renewal, being created anew, being begotten anew, come under the collective term regeneration. As being born again is here spoken of water, there is some excuse for the early Fathers who called baptism regeneration, and spoke of baptismal regeneration; provided the water regeneration be not confounded with that real regeneration, of which the water regeneration is but the symbol.


Verse 6

6. Flesh… Spirit—Flesh is not synonymous with body. The word is used in the Old Testament to designate the entire transient, perishable, fallen, and corrupt nature of man, both in body and soul. Hence the meaning of the first clause of this first verse is: That which is generated of fallen and depraved humanity, is itself fallen and depraved humanity. Like produces like. Through all the productive, procreative kingdoms, whether animal or vegetable, no offspring is of a higher species than its parentage. On the other hand, Spirit here refers to the Holy Spirit as so operating upon the human spirit, and so changing its nature, as to be said to beget it anew. For as generation is a modifying of substance or being, imparting to it a new principle of life, conforming it, as living being, to the likeness of the generator, so regeneration is a modification of the human spirit by the Holy Spirit, conforming the temper of the human to the Holy.

Is spirit—As flesh signifies a depraved nature, so spirit in this verse signifies a pure nature.

For it is a pure and holy Spirit which is the generator, and it must be a pure and holy spirit which is generated. The whole text then is: As a depraved nature generates a depraved nature, so the holy nature generates a holy nature. And as we are first born of a depraved nature, and therefore depraved, so we must be born (or rather begotten) from a holy nature, and so be renewed.


Verse 7

7. Marvel not—When, in John 3:4, Nicodemus in surprise demands how a man could be born again, Jesus in John 3:5 reiterates the statement, and in John 3:6 explains it: but so explains it as to leave it in its own true mystery. It is by nature indeed a second birth; not of body, but something in itself quite as wonderful and far more radical; namely, a second birth of spirit, and by the Spirit. Nicodemus pauses in an utter marvel! Jesus then finally and calmly utters this Marvel not; and then proceeds to reaffirm the doctrine, with an illustration intended to soothe his perturbation.

Ye must Must, and not ye, is the emphatic word. The protest of Nicodemus is not (as Alford imagines) against his own being born again; whether as an old man, or as a doctor, or as a duly circumcised Jew. It is against a renovation of the soul by the Holy Spirit in ANY case. This is clear from the fact that the illustration which now follows touches not merely the regeneration of a Jew, but of a human being.


Verse 8

8. The wind—In primitive times the air is the most natural symbol of spirit. It is the breath of God. And so in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew the word for spirit is the same as the word for breath. But, specially, like spirit, we know that the air is, though our senses may not behold it. It tells the simplest barbarian that there may be existence which is beyond the reach of his perceptions. At the present day we might take electricity, or magnetism, or oxygen, to show how the mightiest agencies are beyond the reach of our senses.

Bloweth where it listeth—Where it pleases or wills. By a beautiful touch the volitional power, that is, the will, belonging to spirit, is here attributed to the wind. The Divine Spirit acts by its own supreme, and supremely wise, will. Yet, as modern science has discovered in some degree the laws of winds and storms, it is demonstrated that the wind, however capricious it may seem, is as truly under law as the solar system. And so the Spirit is not capricious—a powerful and arbitrary sovereign— but acts freely in accordance not with fixed laws, but with wise and wisely adapted principles and reasons.

Thou hearest the sound—Its substance is beyond the reach of our senses; it presses upon us by its weight, unfelt. If it were always perfectly still, men would be insensible of its existence. It discovers its insensible existence by its effects. So marvel not that there is an unseen Spirit, whose substance is unseen, whose weight is unfelt, whose existence can be known to mortal sense only by its effects. It has indeed its own rules and reasons of action; but these rules are to us unknown.

Every one… born of the Spirit—He experiences the effects of a power which sense cannot reach. He cannot tell how, or why, or whence it acts.


Verse 9

9. How—Nicodemus here does not so much ask the manner as imply that it cannot be in any manner. He is too respectful to give his doubt in any stronger form than a question.

Our Lord has now firmly maintained the doctrine of regeneration propounded in the third verse, but his listener is in doubt. Jesus, therefore, in the following verses, First grounds himself on his own authority as a teacher, acknowledged by Nicodemus himself to be from God, affirming in the sublimest terms his own absolute knowledge, 10-13. Second, To this doctrine of regeneration he adds the second great spiritual truth of the kingdom of God, the doctrine of universal atonement, 14-17. Third, He affirms that upon faith depends our justification or condemnation, assigning for that doctrine its proper reason, 18-21.

Rationalists boldly assert that the doctrines contained in 14-21 were not, according to the other Evangelists, advanced by Jesus so early in his ministry. Yielding to this claim, commentators like Tholuck and Olshausen maintain that the passage was not spoken by Jesus, but is our Evangelist’s own additional comment. This we may answer in the course of our notes, but we here say: Since Nicodemus has acknowledged Jesus, on ground of miracles, to be a God-sent teacher, there was a perfect wisdom in our Lord’s forthwith pushing him individually into the deeper truths of the Gospel, however much in advance of his teaching to a world less prepared and committed. You admit, Nicodemus, my mission from God. You are bound then to stop not there. Your next steps are renovation, (which you should accept on my authority,) atonement, and salvation by faith in the Son of God.

Jesus maintains that the doctrine of regeneration should be accepted upon his own divine authority, 10-13.


Verse 10

10. Knowest not these things?—Jesus here affirms all that rationalists claim; namely, that, both as a reader of the Old Testament and a rabbi, Nicodemus ought to have known better than to put a bodily construction on the Lord’s words. He implies such an inconsistency to be surprising, and yet strange to say, evangelical commentators, (as Alford, Tholuck, and Lange,) in compliment to their objectors, explain away Nicodemus’s inconsistency, and show that there is nothing surprising about it! That a man may be, in a period of religious declension, as ignorant as Nicodemus on this deep subject, even under a brighter dispensation, and with this third chapter of John to instruct him, may be illustrated by the following passage from the Life of Summerfield, p. 350: “During one of his illnesses he was visited by two highly respectable clergymen, one of whom inquired, ‘How old are you?’ The suffering saint replied, ‘I was born at Preston, in England, in 1798, and born again at Dublin, in Ireland, in 1817.’ The visitor expressed at once his surprise and curiosity at what, to him, was so strange a declaration. Mr. Summerfield rejoined, in the language of Jesus to Nicodemus, ‘Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?’ and then related to him the history of his own conversion.” The reverend gentleman, after departing, inquired of his clerical companion whether or not he knew anything about this strange doctrine; and finding that he too was the subject of the same happy change, sought and obtained the like blessing.


Verse 11

11. We… we… we—Jesus in the next verse speaks of himself in the singular. Who then is this we? “Himself and the prophets,” says Tholuck; “himself and John the Baptist,” says Knapp; “teachers like himself,” says Meyer; “all born of the Spirit,” say Lange and Wesley. “A proverbial saying,” says Alford, whom we thus far quote. In all this we agree with Stier, who refers it to the three persons of the Trinity. This is clear, as may soon be evident, from the fact that the we is said to know from seeing, and to be in heaven. Testify—on earth.

That we have seen—in heaven. John 3:13. Ye—The same as Nicodemus’s we in John 3:2, who are described in John 1:23-25.

Receive not our witness—They were guilty of receiving him as a miraculously attested teacher, (John 3:2,) and yet refusing to accept his teachings. Very futile, therefore, is the cavil that these words could not have been spoken at this time by Jesus, because they imply a rejection of him which had not occurred so early.


Verse 12

12. Earthly things—Such as the regeneration which takes place on earth.

Heavenly things—Such as God’s requirement, in the counsels of heaven, of the atonement and death of his only begotten Son.


Verse 13

13. Ascended… came down.—After the words ascended up to heaven, there is implied the clause, and so no man is able to testify. The words do not mean that the Son of man had then ascended. They deny that any man had. And so the Son of man, which came down from heaven, is the sole authoritative testifier. He alone is the sure witness.

Which is in heaven The Son of man needed not to ascend; for though on earth he is ever in heaven. See note on John 2:51. The person of the Son of man is again a Jacob’s ladder; though its feet are on earth its head is in heaven. The angels of God, that is, the revelations of God’s truth, can thus descend. And they descend with the absolute certainty of truth, because it is a living ladder, and its head has eyes that see things in heaven just as they are. The incarnate Son of man is the conductor from heaven to earth of all those divine facts and truths which the eternal Logos hath seen and known, and evermore will see and know, in his infallible unity with God. Now Nicodemus has first admitted, on the faith of miracles, that Jesus is sent from God; he is bound then to credit his declaration of his insight of heaven, and accept the highest mysteries, even of regeneration, etc.


Verse 14

Jesus holds forth (under a veil) the doctrine of universal atonement by the only begotten Son, John 3:14-17.

14. Moses lifted up the serpent—By the light of subsequent revelation we know that this lifting up, shadowed by the serpent, was the lifting up upon the cross. Nicodemus doubtless understood that Jesus was to be held up and manifested to the world; but he did not understand, so prematurely as sceptics think, that Jesus was to die substitutionally for the sinner.

As the sinner is bitten by the infernal serpent, so the people of Israel in the wilderness were bitten by the fiery serpent. As Moses raised up the brazen serpent upon the pole, so Jesus is raised upon the cross. As the brazen serpent was in the likeness of the fiery serpent, which is Satan’s likeness, so Jesus is in the likeness of sinful flesh. As the bitten Jew was required to look at the brazen serpent, so the sinner is required to look by faith to Jesus. But the symbol for Nicodemus did not reveal the death of the Son of man; nor, especially, that the death of the Son of man must take the place of the death of the sinner. So that these words, too, are one of those passages embracing a depth of meaning undiscovered till a later period. See note on Matthew 7:29. The cross and the lifting up were both a matter of manifestation and of sacrifice; the latter was unknown to Nicodemus— both are known to us.


Verse 15

15. Whosoever believeth—The offers of the means of salvation are universal; extended to the entire world. The salvation itself is limited only by the unbelief of man. The atonement is unlimited by God’s design; the salvation, by application of the atonement, is limited by man’s rejection. This whosoever takes in every individual person; just as the term world takes in the sum total.

Perish… have eternal lifePerishing and eternal life are placed in opposition, and so aid to explain each other.


Verse 16

16. Whosoever believeth—From this we learn: 1. That God loved the world before the atonement, and the atonement was the result of his previous love. 2. That in spite of that love the atonement was necessary, to save man from perishing. The atonement was God’s method, adopted by his love, of allowing man to exist and yet not be damned. 3. That the world for which Christ died was not part of the world, nor the elect world, but the whole world. 4. That faith, the faith which accepts Christ, is necessary to bring the atonement in application upon the soul so as to produce salvation. 5. That universal salvation would result but for the individual’s unbelief. 6. The doctrine of justification by faith is as clearly taught, though in different words, in the Gospels and in Christ’s teachings, as in any of the Epistles of Paul.


Verse 17

17. Not… condemn the world—The divine ideal, purpose, or object, is that the whole world should be saved. All that is necessary for this ideal to be realized is provided, on the basis that man remain a free agent, and that that free agency remain inviolate. If that free agent reject the offer of salvation by which he might be saved, he will be lost. Yet the purpose of the atonement was not to condemn but to save.


Verse 18

18. Believeth on him—This belief must not be a half belief, intellectually, from miracles, such as Nicodemus had. In addition there must be, with faith in his atonement, that efficient act of faith by which the man is born again, before he can see the kingdom of God.

Not believed… Son of God Christ’s coming was the act of God; it was an act of the most stupendous character. It obligates man to God to a most intense attention. If, however, whole bodies of men, whole communities or whole nations, combine to neglect, to ignore, and then to deny it, keeping each other in countenance by the universality of that denial, they stand condemned. If God sent his Son into the world duly authenticated, man’s duty is to respect and accept that coming.


Verses 18-21

The doctrine of responsibility for unbelief, John 3:18-21.

Jesus here explains to Nicodemus how men are guilty for rejecting him. 1. His coming into the world is a great, world-wide, glorious fact, too important to be ignored unless wilfully. 2. His coming, like the entrance of light into the world, evidences itself by its own nature. 3. Love of evil prevents men’s accepting the good; they prefer the dark and hate the light because they prefer the evil. 4. The experience of the light is from voluntarily preferring good to evil. Hence men reject Christ and religion because they are evil; and they are evil because they reject Christ and religion. Irreligion and wickedness are one. See our notes on Mark 16:16.


Verse 19

19. The condemnation—Men would not be condemned had not Christ come. But for the provision of a Saviour for the race, the race would have died in Adam. But for the promise of the holy seed, given in Eden, the seed of Adam would never have been propagated. All condemnation, therefore, is summed up in the fact that the means of salvation, sanctification, glorification, are rejected. But though but for the light there would be no condemnation, the light is not, therefore, to blame for that condemnation; but the entire blame rests upon men for their rejection of the light. Men are most truly and justly “damned by grace” when they reject grace.

Light is come into the world—Christ and his religion are what the sun is to the world. It is its own evidence, and sheds evidence that none have a right to reject. Yet the evidences of Christ and his religion do not compel conviction, permanent and undeniable; for as belief of the truth is one of the tests of our probation, so disbelief must be allowed to be possible. That degree of evidence is afforded which convinces the honest mind, and leaves rejection under condemnation. And this rejection is a rejection of that salvation, and of pardon for all other sins as well as for the sin of unbelief. The man’s entire amount of sin remains unpardoned to condemn him.

Because their deeds were evil—Wicked deeds, and the love of sin, are the great cause of men’s hatred of religious truth. An evil life loves the darkness and error by which it can excuse itself. A wicked heart spontaneously and obstinately hates Christ and truth. Sometimes that wickedness of heart is of an animal and fleshly character, arising from a low brutishness in man. Sometimes it is of a higher nature; from intellectual pride; the sin not of the flesh but of the spirit. This is not from the brute, but from the devil in man; for the devil is the very model of unsanctified, proud, cold-hearted intellect.


Verse 20

20. Lest his deeds should be reproved—The light and truth of the Gospel make sin odious; and those who love sin, whether of the flesh or of the spirit, dislike their approach.


Verse 21

21. Doeth truth—A most expressive phrase. Right is truth, and wrong is falsehood. Infidels and sinners act a lie.

Cometh to the light—The man who desires to act truth, loves that truth should shine upon his actions. He desires that they may be brought to the test of Christ’s religion and God’s truth. He loves to feel that his heart and life are in unison with the heart of the Redeemer and the life of God. In all this is there not some delicate allusion to the timidity of Nicodemus in coming to Jesus in the darkness of night? Surely the great ruler, if conscious of right, should have come by the light of day. And does not our Saviour here close the interview with an admonition that a good conscience is the basis of true courage?

Twice does Nicodemus reappear in Gospel history. John 7:50; John 19:39.

In the first instance he manifests the same blending of conscientious feeling with caution; in the second he manifests, by the richness of his embalment, his value for Jesus. Perhaps he then understood what meant this lifting up of the Son of man. The first Passover of our Lord’s ministry is now closed, and he leaves the national capital.


Verse 22

22. Land of Judea—The country, in distinction from Jerusalem.


Verses 22-36

§ 22. JESUS, LEAVING JERUSALEM, BAPTIZES IN RURAL JUDEA.

JOHN’S LAST GREAT TESTIMONY TO JESUS. 22-36.

From his first Passover our Lord retires to the rural sections of northeastern Judea, near the western shore of the Jordan. He is apparently upon a slow journey through Samaria into Galilee, but tarries for a while, and through his disciples baptizes the coming multitudes.


Verse 23

23. John also was baptizing—The two great masters, the stern and sorrowful John, and the serene and winning Jesus, are neighbouring baptizers, but silent apparently (as in nearly all their previous lives) towards each other. This, as their language of each other shows, arises from no uncongenial feeling between them.

But why did Jesus commence baptizing, and so soon cease? Why did John continue baptizing after Jesus commenced? The answers to both questions are the same. Both these baptisms were initiatory; being an intended ceremonial purifying of Israel for her Messiah, a consecration of her body and spirit to him. Of the same import was the cleansing of the temple. But the hierarchy of Israel, the representatives of the nation and Church, rejected both, and the solemn rite ceased until renewed, and extended to embrace the world, at the ascension of Jesus. The baptism of Jesus and of John, having the same object, could be properly continued and terminate together.

In Enon—That is, a place of fountains. In Palestine the same word Ain, is the ordinary term for a spring or a watering place. In that dry country, travelling companies find it very important to make their stoppages at some Ain. Hence John would find a place well watered absolutely necessary for the immense numbers of people, with their animals, who attended his baptism,

Near to Salim—The best tradition decides this place to have been eight Roman miles south of Scythopolis or Bethshan. The only objection to admitting this to be the locality, is the fact that it is within the boundaries of Samaria. But we have elsewhere remarked that John is at this time at the zenith of his prophetic inspiration, a true successor of the Isaiah who could see in the Messiah a Light to lighten the Gentiles; a fit harbinger to the Jesus whose very next bright spot would be in that very Samaria. John 4:4.

Much water—Greek, many waters, that is, many springs and rivulets. Whatever the mode of the baptism, or whether there was any baptism at all, these water conveniences would be very essential for the assembled multitudes.


Verse 24

24. John… not… prison—This verse is a remarkable indication that our Evangelist writes for a body of readers who had a previous general acquaintance with the facts of Christian history. He assumes that they were aware that John was imprisoned, and knew about the time.

Occasion and delivery of John’s closing testimony, 25-36. Compare notes on John 1:19-37.


Verse 25

25. The Jews—Our Evangelist uses the term Jews in its later sense to signify Judaists, or Jewish opposers of Christianity. See note on John 1:19. The best manuscripts have the word here in the singular, a Jew. By comparing this verse with John 4:1, we infer that this Jew was one of the partisans of the Pharisees, who were hearing that Jesus was becoming more prominent than John. His dispute here is with John’s disciples in regard to the superiority of the two baptisms or purifyings. In view of Jesus’s great demonstration and miracles at the late Passover, and the larger and increasingly larger popularity of Jesus’s baptism, the Jew sees the superiority on Jesus’s side. John’s disciples, who share not the humility of their master, still imagine that, as prior to Jesus, as his Baptizer and Testifier, John is the superior.

Purifying—This word, as designating the ritual effect of baptism, is here used to designate the rite itself.


Verse 26

26. Was with thee—The supposed inferiority of Jesus is implied in their phraseology. John was principal and Jesus with him. John was authenticator, and Jesus indorsed by him. They slur over in their minds how profound John’s testimony was to the superiority of Jesus.

Beyond Jordan—These words show that Enon and Salim, where this converse is held, are west of the Jordan.

All men come to him—Their mortification appears in their exaggerated language, All men. Perhaps they borrowed this strength of language from the Jew with whom they had the question.


Verse 27

27. John answered—It might seem humiliating thus to assure his disciples that they belong to a waning side. But touching as is the humility of John, John 3:29 shows that he joys even in the subordinate character of his office.

A man—John himself.

Given him from heaven—Herein John warns them and himself that he must not aspire above his appointed office. Honoured with a divine commission, they must stay within its limitations.


Verse 28

28. Yourselves bear me witness—So clearly did Peter and John (who were originally the Baptist’s disciples) understand that the Baptist was the mere herald of Jesus the Messiah, that they left John and went to Jesus. It seems strange, therefore, that any of John’s disciples should fail to understand John’s subordination. He therefore rebukes them by appealing to their own recollection of his testimony.

I said, I am not the Christ—Not the Messiah.

Sent before him—Not as a superior, but as a herald before a superior. This humility of the Baptist, as narrated by our Evangelist, is more fully, but not more energetically, expressed in the previous Gospels. In the first three Gospels John is a voice proclaiming a reality; a herald preceding a coming Jehovah; he is the sandal-bearer of a Master, unworthy to unloose his shoe-lachet; he is the outpourer of mere water, shadowing the Outpourer of the Spirit, who is therefore God, who is Author of final judgment and retribution. Now much is said in the fourth Gospel more diffuse and extended, but nothing more intense and decisive.


Verse 29

29. Friend of the bridegroom—The paranymph, or groomsman, whose business it was, rightly and skillfully, to bring about the marriage consummation.

Heareth… the bridegroom’s voice—Throughout the marriage negotiations, ceremony, and vow, the groomsman stands, like a faithful watchman, and hears the loving and happy tones of the bridegroom’s voice. However mortified his disciples may be, (see note on John 3:27,) John rejoices to see Jesus married to his new Church. He watches the progress with humble, faithful interest, eager for the consummation.


Verse 30

30. He… increase… decrease—In view of his own subordinate and transient office, John appropriates the thought of 2 Samuel 3:1 : “David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker.”

At this point the Baptist’s comparison of Jesus with himself ceases. His remaining words leave himself and describe Jesus alone. The words are so much in the Evangelist’s own style of expression, that we may readily concede that the Baptist’s thoughts are freely reported in the Evangelist’s own language. See remarks on page 228.


Verse 31

31. From above… of the earth—Between a messenger from heaven and a messenger from the earth there can be no comparison of authority. A messenger from heaven is a concluder of all questions.


Verse 32

32. What he hath seen—A messenger from heaven is no second-hand reporter. He daguerreotypes for us the objects his own eyes beheld.

No man receiveth his testimony—The Baptist here discloses who is this messenger from heaven. It is one not yet credited by men. Not Nicodemus, not the Jews at the Passover, not even his own disciples, had as yet risen to the full realization of Jesus as he is now depicted by these words of the Baptist.


Verse 33

33. He that hath received—Whenever that fully takes place; and just so far forth as it in any case does take place.

Set to his seal—Has made a most impressive attestation.

That God is true—For if God attest him by divine powers, his veracity is pledged. If God send his authentic messenger and men disbelieve his words, they impeach the truthfulness of God. Indeed there are impious men who argue, How do we know, even when God himself makes a revelation, that God tells truth? And yet such men will not hesitate to risk their all on the veracity of a fellow-man.


Verse 34

34. For he—The Baptist here expressly means Jesus.

Not the Spirit by measure—As to the highest of the ancient prophets. In Christ dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.


Verse 35

35. Father loveth the Son—From a messenger the Baptist now testifies to Jesus as the Son. His language, inspired by that Son himself, richly accords with many of the Lord’s own testimonies to himself.

All things into his hand—His supremacy over all probationary things entitles him to the submission, faith, and obedience described in the next verse.


Verse 36

36. Believeth on the Son—Accepts him as God incarnate.

Hath everlasting life—It is already within him, the gift of the Son.

Shall not see life—A life which is over and above the earthly life he now sees, and which is the gift of the Son conditioned on faith.

Wrath—The reverse of that eternal life.

Abideth on him—It is now upon him, and it is permanent upon him. Though he has now a mortal life, he has not the Son-given, immortal, celestial life; but is spiritually, and so permanently and eternally, dead, unless he obtain the higher life by faith. Hence: 1. Eternal life is the gift of Christ, and is implanted in principle and germ within the believer, in and over this temporal life. 2. Heavenly life is the perpetuity and perfection of the life now within the soul implanted by Christ. 3. Eternal death, the wrath of God, is the perpetuity of the present spiritual death. 4. Eternal life is for him alone who believeth.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/john-3.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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