the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
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Nave's Topical Bible - Humility; John; Thompson Chain Reference - John the Baptist; The Topic Concordance - Jesus Christ;
Verse 30. He must increase — His present success is but the beginning of a most glorious and universal spread of righteousness, peace, truth, and good will among men.
I must decrease.] My baptism and teaching, as pointing out the coming Messiah, must cease; because the Messiah is now come, and has entered publicly on the work of his glorious ministry.
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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on John 3:30". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​acc/​john-3.html. 1832.
22. John the Baptist’s work complete (John 3:22-36)
While Jesus and his disciples were preaching and baptizing in Judea, John the Baptist was spending the closing days of his ministry preaching and baptizing further north, in the region of the Jordan Valley (John 3:22-24). Some of John’s disciples were becoming jealous of Jesus’ popularity, and John had to rebuke them. He reminded them that his work was only to prepare the way for Jesus. That work was now finished. John was like the friend of a bridegroom who made the necessary preparations for a wedding, but withdrew once the bridegroom arrived (John 3:25-30).
John was just an ordinary person, born into the world like any other, but Jesus came from heaven, speaking God’s words. Most people rejected this divine messenger, though some believed (John 3:31-33; cf. 1:11-12). God revealed himself to the world through Jesus, and Jesus carried out his mission perfectly through the power of God’s Spirit working through him. Those who accepted Jesus’ teaching showed they believed God, but those who refused it placed themselves under God’s judgment (John 3:34-36).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on John 3:30". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bbc/​john-3.html. 2005.
He must increase, but I must decrease.
The parallel ministries of Jesus and John, both with the design of baptizing multitudes preparatory to the coming kingdom, existed as a transitional device, and without any heavenly intention of promulgating two distinct systems. In God’s providence, John would shortly be cast into prison and lose his life to the sword of Herod, an event that would make it easier for John’s disciples to follow Christ.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 3:30". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bcc/​john-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
He must increase - his authority and influence among the people must grow. his doctrine shall continue to spread until it extends through all the earth.
I must decrease - “The purpose of my ministry is to point men to him. When that is done my work is done. I came not to form a party of my own, nor to set up a religion of my own; and my teaching must cease when he is fully established, as the light of the morning star fades away and is lost in the beams of the rising sun. This evinced John’s humility and willingness to be esteemed as nothing if he could honor Christ. It shows us, also, that it is sufficient honor for man if he may be permitted to point sinners to the Lord Jesus Christ. No work is so honorable and joyful as the ministry of the gospel; none are so highly honored as those who are permitted to stand near the Son of God, lead perishing men to his cross. Compare Daniel 12:3.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on John 3:30". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bnb/​john-3.html. 1870.
30.He must increase. John the Baptist proceeds farther; for, having formerly been raised by the Lord to the highest dignity, he shows that this was only for a time, but now that the Sun of Righteousness, (Malachi 4:2) has arisen, he must give way; and, therefore, he not only scatters and drives away the empty fumes of honor which had been rashly and ignorantly heaped upon him by men, but also is exceedingly careful that the true and lawful honor which the Lord had bestowed on him may not obscure the glory of Christ. Accordingly, he tells us that the reason why he had been hitherto accounted a great Prophet was, that for a time only he was placed in so lofty a station, until Christ came, to whom he must surrender his office. In the meantime, he declares that he will most willingly endure to be reduced to nothing, provided that Christ occupy and fill the whole world with his rays; and this zeal of John all pastors of the Church ought to imitate by stooping with the head and shoulders to elevate Christ.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 3:30". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​cal/​john-3.html. 1840-57.
Have we got a message for you tonight from the Word of God! John chapter 3 and 4, oh my, how rich! How blessed!
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews ( John 3:1 ).
We know a few things about him; we know that he must have been very wealthy, for he came with Joseph of Arimathea to embalm the body of Jesus after the crucifixion. And he brought these costly spices, about a hundred pounds, that only a very wealthy person could afford. A ruler of the Jews means that he was one of the seventy Sanhedrin, and, according to Jesus, he was a teacher of the Jews. He said, "Art thou a teacher of the Jews and knowest not these things?"
Finally, he was a Pharisee. The Pharisees numbered about six thousand men who had dedicated their entire life to keeping the codified law. They recognized that the first five chapters of the Old Testament were God's inspired Word to man. Now, the scribes had sought to interpret those first five books and their codifying of the law, and this was called the Mishna. Now, for instance, the law said, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." But in the Mishna there were twenty-four chapters written to qualify what that meant. Now, God said it very simply, just, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. And in six days you should do your labor, and the seventh day you shall rest and not do any labor on that day." But it took them twenty-four chapters to constitute what it meant and what the limitations and all were, the Mishna.
Now, the Pharisees sought to keep the whole Mishna, the codified law, or the explanations in the writings in the codified law. Now, on top of the Mishna, they then wrote the Talmud, which was a commentary on the Mishna. And so, the things just continued to expand and expand. But the Pharisee was one who sought, and the primary purpose of his life was the keeping of the codified law.
Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews:
He came to Jesus at night ( John 3:2 ),
Now, if anyone had it made by works or by the law, it would have been Nicodemus. If anyone could present their righteous credentials before God, it would be a Pharisee. They spent their entire life endeavoring to keep every aspect of God's holy law. If there were righteousness through the law, then the Pharisees surely would have achieved it. If a man could be righteous before God by his works, then surely the Pharisees would be accounted righteous. If there was anybody who didn't need to be born again, it would have been the Pharisees.
But though he was a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, a teacher, he was drawn to Jesus, much like perhaps that rich young ruler who came to Jesus and fell on his knees before Him and said, "Good Master, what must I do to have eternal life, or to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said, "Keep the commandments." And he said, "Which?" And as Jesus rattled off for him the first six commandments, or the second six actually, he said, "All of these have I kept for my youth, what lack I yet?" There was a realization that just the keeping of the law was not enough. There must be something more. Evidently, Nicodemus had this same awareness: there must be something more! Recognizing in Jesus a special quality, recognizing a special mission.
for he said to Jesus, Rabbi [Master], we know that thou art a teacher who has come from God ( John 3:2 ):
He recognized, though the other Pharisees did not recognize, he did recognize the divine authority by which Jesus spake. "We know that you are a teacher that has come from God,"
for no man can do these miracles which you do, except God be with him ( John 3:2 ).
So, he had made this acknowledgement and had this recognition that was not acknowledged by the other Pharisees. And yet was a tremendous witness and testimony to Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself called His disciples to believe because of the witness of His works. He said, "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me: or else believe Me for the very works' sake" ( John 14:11 ). Again He said, "My works, they do testify of Me" ( John 5:36 ). Nicodemus acknowledged this, "We know that You're a teacher come from God, because no man can do the miracles that You have done unless God was with him."
Now Jesus knew all things and He knew what was in the heart of Nicodemus and He knew foremost in the man's heart was, "How can I enter into this kingdom of God?" And so Jesus came directly to the issue that was upon the heart of Nicodemus, and He said unto him,
I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God ( John 3:3 ).
Now Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said to His disciples, "Except your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven" ( Matthew 5:20 ).
Now, as I said, the Pharisees spent their entire life endeavoring to keep the codified law of God, not just the Ten Commandments, but all of the Mishna, the codified law by which the Ten Commandments were explained and amplified and interpreted. And yet, Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you're not going to enter the kingdom of heaven." Now He is saying to this Pharisee, the ruler of the Jews, "Unless a man is born again, he cannot enter, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
So Nicodemus said, How can a man be born again when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? And Jesus answered, Verily, I say unto you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. For that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of Spirit is spirit ( John 3:4-6 ).
Now Nicodemus was interested in being born again, but the process, "How can it happen? There's no way that I can return to my mother's womb and be born again." And I do not believe that he was being facetious, I think that he was just really curious as to, "What do you mean, born again?" And then Jesus said, "Unless a man is born of the water and of the Spirit." Now, what does He mean water and Spirit? We know what it is to be born of the Spirit. What is He referring to being born of the water? There are those who declare that He is talking about water baptism. Unless you have been baptized in water, you're not going to see the kingdom of heaven, and that born of the water refers to water baptism.
I do not believe that Jesus is referring to water baptism here, because I believe that there are people who have gone through the ritual of water baptism who are not going to see the kingdom of heaven. It was only a ritual.
There are those who say the water refers to the Word of God. As Peter in his first epistle, chapter l, verse John 3:23 , said that we've been "begotten unto this living hope through the Word of truth." And so, we've been born again through the Word of God. And Jesus said in John l5, "Now you are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you." And so it is being born of the Word of God. And, the theological giants have taken their positions and there are those who say water baptism and those who say born through the Word God, and they write their commentaries and their ideas and thoughts and blast each other's ideas.
But, it would seem to me that being born of the water would be a reference to our natural birth, as the fetus is in that water sac being protected, and then there is the water bursting and the child is born. To be born of the water would refer to the natural birth, because in context then, Jesus said, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, but that which born of the Spirit is spirit." And so, He's talking about the two births: born of the water, and born of the Spirit. And that the born of the Spirit is referring to the new birth, the spiritual birth that we have, where born of the water would refer to the fleshly birth.
Now, I don't intend to make any brief for this position. If you want to believe that it refers to water baptism, you're welcome. If you want to believe that it is referring to being born by the Word of God, you're welcome. And if you want to believe it is being born of the flesh, you're welcome. You can take whatever position you want and it's not going to alter your relationship with God one iota. But there are these positions that people take, and sometimes they get very argumentive with them, but I have no argument.
We do know that that which is born of the flesh is flesh. You were born once, naturally, of the flesh. You are not a child of God by natural birth, you are a child of God by the spiritual birth. Paul the apostle, talking about your life before Christ, said, "And you, hath He made alive, who were once dead in trespasses and sins; who in times past walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, that even now works in the children of disobedience: among whom you all once lived, according to the lust of your mind, and the lust of your flesh; and you were by nature the children of wrath" ( Ephesians 2:1-3 ) Not the children of God, the children of wrath. It is only by a new birth that I become a child of God.
So that which is born of the flesh is flesh. A person apart from the new birth lives a life that is dominated by his fleshly desires. His body rules over his soul and spirit. In fact, his spirit is dead. That's what comes alive when a person is born again, the spiritual birth, that is when my spirit comes alive. Prior to that, I am living in the flesh and after the flesh, and my mind is dominated by the flesh, and thus, I have what the scripture terms the mind of the flesh, which is death. My chief concern is what I'm going to eat, what I'm going to drink, what I'm going to wear. My fleshly needs, my body needs. These are the things that occupy my mind.
But when a person is born of the Spirit, that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Then, the spirit becomes alive and begins to rule within my life, and now my mind is occupied with the things of the Spirit, with how I might please God, in the worship of God, in the opening up of my life and my heart unto the things of God and of His Spirit, and these are the things that now dominate my mind. A mind dominated by the Spirit is called the mind of the Spirit, which is life and peace and joy.
So Jesus said,
Don't marvel when I said, you must be born again ( John 3:7 ).
The word must, again, is one of those words you've got to pay careful attention to, because there, you're coming to the heart of the issue when a person says, "I must." When God said, "You must," it is something you need to pay careful heed to, and He said, "You must be born again." There is no one who will enter the kingdom of heaven who is not born again. He's talking about if you want to come into the kingdom of heaven, you must be born again. You cannot come into the kingdom apart from being born again. God's divine imperative for any man who will come into the kingdom is that spiritual birth, you must be born the second time, born of the Spirit of God.
In the first chapter of the gospel of John we read, "But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name, which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" ( John 1:12-13 ). Born again by the Spirit of God.
Now, the wind bloweth where it listeth, and you hear the sound thereof, but you cannot tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit ( John 3:8 ).
There is that mysterious working of God's Spirit within our lives and we cannot fully comprehend it or understand it, we just know it. We can see the effects of it. My mother used to ask me when I was a child, "Can you see the wind?" And I said, "Oh, yes, I can see the wind." She said, "No, you can't." "Oh, yes, I can, I can see it out there. Look, it's blowing the dust." She said, "You're seeing the results of the wind. You don't see the wind." I can see the results of the Spirit. I believe it, I know that the Spirit exists. I have never seen Him, but I can feel His effect upon my life, it's very real. I can see His effects in the lives of those around me, it is very obvious. And so are they who are born of the Spirit, there is that mystic work of God's Spirit that I can recognize, I can feel, I can see that work of God's Spirit within me.
Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? ( John 3:9 )
Now, he has asked two questions. Number one: "How can a man be born again?" and then, "How can these things be?" Jesus doesn't immediately answer the question, but chides him now.
He said, Are you a teacher of Israel, and don't you know these things? Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am speaking of those things that I know, and I am testifying of those things that I have seen; and you do not receive my witness. If I have talked to you about earthly things, and you did not believe, how will you believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? ( John 3:10-12 )
"If I can't bring to your understanding a faith in these earthly things, how can I ever elevate you to a higher place? You're a teacher, you ought to know these things?" Now He then turned and answered the question, "How can these things be? How can I be born again?" Having chided him for his not believing, not receiving the witness that Jesus said I know is true.
He then said to him,
For as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up ( John 3:14 ).
Here Jesus is talking about His cross. Notice again the word must. "Even so must the Son of man be lifted up." If there is to be the possibility of redemption, if there is to be an experience of being born again, it can only be by the Son of man being crucified, so must the Son of man be lifted up. He uses a very interesting example out of their history in the Old Testament found in Numbers 2l, where the children of Israel, after their failure to enter into the land, and Moses began to take the route around towards Edom up through Moab and Ammon, coming into the land from the east, the people began to murmur and complain against Moses, saying, "Why did you bring us into this wilderness to die, where there is no bread or water, and our souls loathe this manna? We're sick of it."
And the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people of Israel, and God sent these little serpents into the camp, fiery serpents, deadly serpents. They began to bite the people and the people began to die as a result of the bites. And they came to Moses and they said, "We have sinned against you and against the Lord by our murmuring. Pray unto God for us that we might be delivered from this plague of serpents." And Moses prayed unto the Lord and the Lord told him to make a serpent out of brass and to put it on a pole, and to stand it up in the middle of the camp. And it shall come to pass that whenever a man is bitten by one of these fiery serpents, if he will just look at the pole in the middle of the camp, he will be healed, he will live. And so Moses made a serpent of brass, put it on a pole, set it up in the middle of the camp; and it came to pass that whosever was bitten by this serpent, when they looked upon that serpent on the pole, they were healed, they did not die. Therein you find the basis for that little symbol that the doctors use, the serpent on the pole, for healing. But brass in the scripture is always a metal that is symbolic of judgment, and the serpent is always symbolic of sin. So, the brass serpent on the pole was a symbol that God had judged their sins. And by looking at that, they were healed. They did not die.
Now, this is an interesting provision that God made, and by what process looking upon the serpent could save a person's life. You know, there's no physical or scientific explanation for this. It was just God's covenant! God's provision. And He said, "All you have to do is look and you will live." Now, I can imagine that there were some hard heads there in Israel, lying on the ground convulsing as a result of the snakebite, about to die. And their friends say, "Hey, in the middle of the camp Moses set up that pole of the brass serpent. Just look at it and you'll be healed." "Don't tell me that, man, that's ridiculous. I can't make sense out of that. How can looking at that do anything for me? Don't you see, I'm dying, man! I need help!" "Yah, but just look!" "Ah, come on, how can that help?" And I can see him arguing and dying because he can't understand how looking would help.
People are foolish. Unless they can understand all the processes by which God is working, they won't accept it. I can't explain to you how that believing in Jesus Christ can cleanse you of your sin and cause you to be born again and become a child of God. All I can tell you is it will. It works. That's what God has ordained. Jesus, hanging on the cross, was bearing the judgment of God for your sins. "All we like sheep have gone astray, we turn, everyone of us, to our own ways. And God has laid on Him the iniquities of us all" ( Isaiah 53:6 ). "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up. " And Jesus, hanging there on the cross, was there taking the judgment of God for sin, dying for our sins, dying in our place. And even as those in the days of Israel looked at the serpent and lived, so we, by looking at the cross in faith and in trusting in Jesus, live. We have eternal life. And so, it was quite an interesting parallel, symbolism that God had established.
How can a man be born again? How can these things be? They are the result of simply believing in Jesus Christ.
That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life ( John 3:15 ).
God's provisions given to us through faith. Like the wind, you may see the effects, you may see the results and feel the effects; though it's a mystery, you can't tell whence it comes or where it's going, so is that man born of the Spirit. The process is of God's Spirit; we can't fully understand, we just know they exist.
How can a man be born again? How can these things be?
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 ).
Again, the key is believing in Jesus. That's the provision that God has required for those to be born again. You are born again when you, by faith, believe in Jesus Christ, that He bore God's judgment for your sins in His death upon the cross, and you receive Him into your life. You are then born again by the Spirit of God and have become now a new creature in Jesus Christ, a son of God, a child of the King. Believing in Him, that is the key.
Then Jesus went on to declare to Nicodemus,
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 ).
I do not know why we always seem to picture Christ as condemning us. Well, I guess it's because we're so guilty all the time. But we always are thinking of Him in that posture of condemning. "You," you know, "you're doing it again!" And we're always thinking of Him in that posture of condemning. But Paul the apostle asked the rhetorical question in Romans 8 , "Who is he that condemneth?" And then he answers, "Not Jesus! For He died for us; ye, rather is risen again and is even at the right hand of the Father making intercession." God didn't send Him into the world to condemn the world. Jesus hasn't come to condemn you. Jesus has come to save you. "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." He didn't need to come to condemn, because the world is already condemned.
He that believeth in him is not condemned ( John 3:18 ):
Oh, did you hear that? Do you believe that? "He that believeth in Him is not condemned." What a glorious message of God's grace to us tonight! That ought to thrill your soul beyond measure! "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who believe in Jesus Christ" ( Romans 8:1 ). Isn't that what it says? Do you believe it? Why is it that we are always going around condemning ourselves? Why is it that we are always going around feeling so defeated and so discouraged, when there is therefore now no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus? For he that believeth in Him is not condemned; however,
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 ).
What is His name? Yeshua, the Lord is salvation. Jesus came to save. That's what His name implies. "Thou shalt call His name Yeshua, for He shall save His people from their sins" ( Matthew 1:21 ). He didn't come to condemn, He came to save. His name implies His mission. Jesus declared it plainly. He said, "I have come to seek and to save that which was lost" ( Luke 19:10 ). Now, "he that believeth not is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
And what is the condemnation?
that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone that doeth evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be manifested. But he that doeth the truth comes to the light, that his deeds might be made manifested, that they are wrought in God ( John 3:19-21 ).
What is the condemnation? That men won't come to the light.
Now, God forbid, but if you will in the future, if you are standing with that throng in Revelation 20:0 before the great white throne judgment of God, and the books are open, and you are to be judged out of the things written in the books; and when your name is finally called and you have to stand before God naked, open, and God opens the books and the indictment is made against you, there will only be one charge. There's not going to be going down the list of every lie you told or everything you stole or every wrong thought or action or deed you ever had. There's only going to be one indictment: your failure to come to Jesus Christ. He said, "I am the light of the world." Light has come into the world, but men won't come into the light, and that's why they are condemned. "He that believeth not is condemned already." You don't need that Jesus should condemn you, you're already condemned. He didn't come to condemn you. He didn't need to. You already are condemned. But now, the issue is not so much the evil that you have done, but your rejection of the provision, the only provision that God has made whereby men might come to Him. Whereby men might have the forgiveness of their sins. So, there will only be one indictment against man.
Jesus said when the Holy Spirit is come, He's going to reprove the world of sin, of righteousness and judgment. Of sin, because they didn't believe in Me. You see, that's the only sin that's going to damn your soul. Any other thing you may have done is forgiven. Christ died for the sins of the world. God laid upon Him the iniquities of us all. His death satisfied God completely for the sin of all humanity. There's only one charge and indictment that God will make against a man, his failure to come to the light, his failure to receive God's provision.
Now after these things came Jesus and his disciples to the land of Judea ( John 3:22 );
So, they had come down to the area around Jerusalem.
and he tarried there with his disciples, and baptized ( John 3:22 ).
So it would seem that the disciples of Jesus were at this time beginning to baptize people.
And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was a lot of water there: and they came, and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison. Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came unto John, and they said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with you beyond Jordan, to whom you bore witness, behold, the same is baptizing, and all men are coming to him ( John 3:23-26 ).
So they came to John, and they said, "That one that you bore witness to, you said 'the Lamb of God and all.' He's baptizing now and everyone is going to Him."
And John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it is given to him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: and this my joy therefore is fulfilled. For He must increase, and I must decrease ( John 3:27-30 ).
Beautiful humility of John in taking his rightful place. He said, "You bear witness that I testified of him. Now, look, He's the bridegroom and I'm just the best man. It's the bridegroom that takes the bride. But His best man rejoices when he hears Him. And herein, I rejoice because of the bridegroom's voice, and my joy, therefore, is fulfilled." How? In bringing honor and glory to Jesus. "For He must increase and I must decrease." So say we all!
He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: but he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that is what he testified; and no man received his testimony ( John 3:31-32 ).
This is pretty much what Jesus said to Nicodemus. "No man has descended into heaven but he which came down from heaven, even the Son of man which was in heaven. And I've told you earthly things and you believe not. How would you believe if I've told you of heavenly things?" So, he speaks of Jesus coming down from heaven, but no man receiving His testimony.
And he that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true ( John 3:33 ).
When you receive the testimony of Jesus Christ, there is sort of a seal, a stamp in your heart you know that is true. The Spirit of God has born witness to my own heart of the truth of God. There are things I just know are true. You say, "How do you know they are true?" I just know they're true. There is that seal, the Spirit just bears witness to the truth. And you just know it! The oetus, the . . . just intuitive knowledge.
For he whom God hath sent speaks the words of God: for God did not give to him the Spirit by measure [or just apportioned out] to him ( John 3:34 ).
But the fullness of the Spirit dwells in Jesus Christ, not just measured out, but that fullness.
And the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him ( John 3:35-36 ).
So, this is the final witness of John the Baptist concerning Jesus Christ. He that believeth on the Son has everlasting life. But if you believe not, you have not life. You'll not even see life, but conversely, the wrath of God abides upon you.
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on John 3:30". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​csc/​john-3.html. 2014.
4. John the Baptist’s reaction to Jesus’ ministry 3:22-30
The writer next noted the parallel ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus in Judea. John the Baptist readily confessed Jesus’ superiority to him even though they were both doing the same things. This was further testimony to Jesus’ identity. This section constitutes the very core of the Apostle John’s testimony to Jesus’ identity in Jesus’ early ministry (chs. 2-4).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 3:30". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​dcc/​john-3.html. 2012.
This classic expression of humility arose out of John’s perception of and acceptance of His God-given role as Messiah’s forerunner. Far from discouraging people from following Jesus, as his disciples implied he should, John would continue to promote Him. He viewed this as God’s will and therefore said it "must" be so. Would that all of us who are God’s servants would view Jesus’ position and our own similarly. Submission to God’s will and the exaltation of Jesus, not prominence in His service, should bring joy to His servants.
Unfortunately some of John’s disciples continued to follow him rather than taking their rabbi’s advice to follow Jesus (cf. Acts 18:24-26; Acts 19:1-7).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 3:30". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​dcc/​john-3.html. 2012.
THE MAN WHO CAME BY NIGHT ( John 3:1-6 )
3:1-6 There was a man who was one of the Pharisees who was called Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him: "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do the signs which you do unless God is with him." Jesus answered him: "This is the truth I tell you--unless a man is reborn from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him: "How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter into his mother's womb a second time and be born?" Jesus answered: "This is the truth I tell you--unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born from the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
For the most part we see Jesus surrounded by the ordinary people, but here we see him in contact with one of the aristocracy of Jerusalem. There are certain things that we know about Nicodemus.
(i) Nicodemus must have been wealthy. When Jesus died Nicodemus brought for his body "a mixture of myrrh and aloes about an hundred pound weight" ( John 19:39), and only a wealthy man could have brought that.
(ii) Nicodemus was a Pharisee. In many ways the Pharisees were the best people in the whole country. There were never more than 6,000 of them; they were what was known as a chaburah (compare G2266) , or brotherhood. They entered into this brotherhood by taking a pledge in front of three witnesses that they would spend all their lives observing every detail of the scribal law.
What exactly did that mean? To the Jew the Law was the most sacred thing in all the world. The Law was the first five books of the Old Testament. They believed it to be the perfect word of God. To add one word to it or to take one word away from it was a deadly sin. Now if the Law is the perfect and complete word of God, that must mean that it contained everything a man need know for the living of a good life, if not explicitly, then implicitly. If it was not there in so many words, it must be possible to deduce it. The Law as it stood consisted of great, wide, noble principles which a man had to work out for himself. But for the later Jews that was not enough. They said: "The Law is complete; it contains everything necessary for the living of a good life; therefore in the Law there must be a regulation to govern every possible incident in every possible moment for every possible man." So they set out to extract from the great principles of the law an infinite number of rules and regulations to govern every conceivable situation in life. In other words they changed the law of the great principles into the legalism of by-laws and regulations.
The best example of what they did is to be seen in the Sabbath law. In the Bible itself we are simply told that we must remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy and that on that day no work must be done, either by a man or by his servants or his animals. Not content with that, the later Jews spent hour after hour and generation after generation defining what work is and listing the things that may and may not be done on the Sabbath day. The Mishnah is the codified scribal law. The scribes spent their lives working out these rules and regulations. In the Mishnah the section on the Sabbath extends to no fewer than twenty-four chapters. The Talmud is the explanatory commentary on the Mishnah, and in the Jerusalem Talmud the section explaining the Sabbath law runs to sixty-four and a half columns; and in the Babylonian Talmud it runs to one hundred and fifty-six double folio pages. And we are told about a rabbi who spent two and a half years in studying one of the twenty-four chapters of the Mishnah.
The kind of thing they did was this. To tie a knot on the Sabbath was to work; but a knot had to be defined. "The following are the knots the making of which renders a man guilty; the knot of camel drivers and that of sailors; and as one is guilty by reason of tying them, so also of untying them." On the other hand knots which could be tied or untied with one hand were quite legal. Further, "a woman may tie up a slit in her shift and the strings of her cap and those of her girdle, the straps of shoes or sandals, of skins of wine and oil." Now see what happened. Suppose a man wished to let down a bucket into a well to draw water on the Sabbath day. He could not tie a rope to it, for a knot on a rope was illegal on the Sabbath; but he could tie it to a woman's girdle and let it down, for a knot in a girdle was quite legal. That was the kind of thing which to the scribes and Pharisees was a matter of life and death; that was religion; that to them was pleasing and serving God.
Take the case of journeying on the Sabbath. Exodus 16:29 says: "Remain every man of you in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day." A Sabbath day's journey was therefore limited to two thousand cubits, that is, one thousand yards. But, if a rope was tied across the end of a street, the whole street became one house and a man could go a thousand yards beyond the end of the street. Or, if a man deposited enough food for one meal on Friday evening at any given place, that place technically became his house and he could go a thousand yards beyond it on the Sabbath day. The rules and regulations and the evasions piled up by the hundred and the thousand.
Take the case of carrying a burden. Jeremiah 17:21-24 said: "Take heed for the sake of your lives and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day." So a burden had to be defined. It was defined as "food equal in weight to a dried fig, enough wine for mixing in a goblet, milk enough for one swallow, honey enough to put upon a wound, oil enough to anoint a small member, water enough to moisten an eye-salve," and so on and on. It had then to be settled whether or not on the Sabbath a woman could wear a brooch, a man could wear a wooden leg or dentures; or would it be carrying a burden to do so? Could a chair or even a child be lifted? And so on and on the discussions and the regulations went.
It was the scribes who worked out these regulations; it was the Pharisees who dedicated their lives to keeping them. Obviously, however misguided a man might be, he must be desperately in earnest if he proposed to undertake obedience to every one of the thousands of rules. That is precisely what the Pharisees did. The name Pharisee means the Separated One; and the Pharisees were those who had separated themselves from all ordinary life in order to keep every detail of the law of the scribes.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and it is astonishing that a man who regarded goodness in that light and who had given himself to that kind of life in the conviction that he was pleasing God should wish to talk to Jesus at all.
(iii) Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews. The word is archon ( G758) . This is to say that he was a member of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was a court of seventy members and was the supreme court of the Jews. Of course under the Romans its powers were more limited than once they had been; but they were still extensive. In particular the Sanhedrin had religious jurisdiction over every Jew in the world; and one of its duties was to examine and deal with anyone suspected of being a false prophet. Again it is amazing that Nicodemus should come to Jesus at all.
(iv) It may well be that Nicodemus belonged to a distinguished Jewish family. Away back in 63 B.C. when the Romans and the Jews had been at war, Aristobulus, the Jewish leader, sent a certain Nicodemus as his ambassador to Pompey, the Roman Emperor. Much later in the terrible last days of Jerusalem, the man who negotiated the surrender of the garrison was a certain Gorion, who was the son either of Nicomedes or Nicodemus. It may well be that both these men belonged to the same family as our Nicodemus, and that it was one of the most distinguished families in Jerusalem. If that is true it is amazing that this Jewish aristocrat should come to this homeless prophet who had been the carpenter of Nazareth that he might talk to him about his soul.
It was by night that Nicodemus came to Jesus. There were probably two reasons for that.
(i) It may have been a sign of caution. Nicodemus quite frankly may not have wished to commit himself by coming to Jesus by day. We must not condemn him. The wonder is that with his background, he came to Jesus at all. It was infinitely better to come at night than not at all. It is a miracle of grace that Nicodemus overcame his prejudices and his upbringing and his whole view of life enough to come to Jesus.
(ii) But there may be another reason. The rabbis declared that the best time to study the law was at night when a man was undisturbed. Throughout the day Jesus was surrounded by crowds of people all the time. It may well be that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night because he wanted an absolutely private and completely undisturbed time with Jesus.
Nicodemus was a puzzled man, a man with many honours and yet with something lacking in his life. He came to Jesus for a talk so that somehow in the darkness of the night he might find light.
THE MAN WHO CAME BY NIGHT ( John 3:1-6 continued)
When John relates conversations that Jesus had with enquirers, he has a way of following a certain scheme. We see that scheme very clearly here. The enquirer says something ( John 3:2). Jesus answers in a saying that is hard to understand ( John 3:3). That saying is misunderstood by the enquirer ( John 3:4). Jesus answers with a saying that is even more difficult to understand ( John 3:5). And then there follows a discourse and an explanation. John uses this method in order that we may see men thinking things out for themselves and so that we may do the same.
When Nicodemus came to Jesus, he said that no one could help being impressed with the signs and wonders that he did. Jesus' answer was that it was not the signs and the wonders that were really important; the important thing was such a change in a man's inner life that it could only be described as a new birth.
When Jesus said that a man must be born anew Nicodemus misunderstood him, and the misunderstanding came from the fact that the word which the Revised Standard Version translates anew, the Greek word anothen ( G509) , has three different meanings. (i) It can mean from the beginning, completely radically. (ii) It can mean again, in the sense of for the second time. (iii) It can mean from above, and, therefore, from God It is not possible for us to get all these meanings into any English word; and yet all three of them are in the phrase born anew. To be born anew is to undergo such a radical change that it is like a new birth; it is to have something happen to the soul which can only be described as being born all over again; and the whole process is not a human achievement, because it comes from the grace and power of God.
When we read the story, it looks at first sight as if Nicodemus took the word anew in only the second sense, and with a crude literalism. How can anyone, he said, enter again into his mother's womb and be born a second time when he is already an old man? But there is more to Nicodemus' answer than that. In his heart there was a great unsatisfied longing. It is as if he said with infinite, wistful yearning: "You talk about being born anew; you talk about this radical, fundamental change which is so necessary. I know that it is necessary; but in my experience it is impossible. There is nothing I would like more; but you might as well tell me, a full grown man, to enter into my mother's womb and be born all over again." It is not the desirability of this change that Nicodemus questioned; that he knew only too well; it is the possibility. Nicodemus is up against the eternal problem, the problem of the man who wants to be changed and who cannot change himself.
This phrase born anew, this idea of rebirth, runs all through the New Testament. Peter speaks of being born anew by God's great mercy ( 1 Peter 1:3); he talks about being born anew not of perishable seed, but of imperishable ( 1 Peter 1:22-23). James speaks of God bringing us forth by the word of truth ( James 1:18). The Letter to Titus speaks of the washing of regeneration ( Titus 3:5). Sometimes this same idea is spoken of as a death followed by a resurrection or a re-creation. Paul speaks of the Christian as dying with Christ and then rising to life anew ( Romans 6:1-11). He speaks of those who have lately come into the Christian faith as babes in Christ ( 1 Corinthians 3:1-2). If any man is in Christ it is as if he had been created all over again ( 2 Corinthians 5:17). In Christ there is a new creation ( Galatians 6:15). The new man is created after God in righteousness ( Ephesians 4:22-24). The person who is at the first beginnings of the Christian faith is a child ( Hebrews 5:12-14). All over the New Testament this idea of rebirth, re-creation occurs.
Now this was not an idea which was in the least strange to the people who heard it in New Testament times. The Jew knew all about rebirth. When a man from another faith became a Jew and had been accepted into Judaism by prayer and sacrifice and baptism, he was regarded as being reborn. "A proselyte who embraces Judaism," said the rabbis, "is like a new-born child." So radical was the change that the sins he had committed before his reception were all done away with, for now he was a different person. It was even theoretically argued that such a man could marry his own mother or his own sister, because he was a completely new man, and all the old connections were broken and destroyed. The Jew knew the idea of rebirth.
The Greek also knew the idea of rebirth and knew it well. By far the most real religion of the Greeks at this time was the faith of the mystery religions. The mystery religions were all founded on the story of some suffering and dying and rising god. This story was played out as a passion play. The initiate had a long course of preparation, instruction, asceticism and fasting. The drama was then played out with gorgeous music, marvelous ritual, incense and everything to play upon the emotions. As it was played out, the worshipper's aim was to become one with the god in such a way that he passed through the god's sufferings and shared the god's triumph and the god's divine life. The mystery religions offered mystic union with some god. When that union was achieved the initiate was, in the language of the Mysteries, a twice-born. The Hermetic Mysteries had as part of their basic belief: "There can be no salvation without regeneration." Apuleius, who went through initiation, said that he underwent "a voluntary death," and that thereby he attained "his spiritual birthday," and was "as it were reborn." Many of the Mystery initiations took place at midnight when the day dies and is reborn. In the Phrygian, the initiate, after his initiation, was fed with milk as if he was a new-born babe.
The ancient world knew all about rebirth and regeneration. It longed for it and searched for it everywhere. The most famous of all Mystery ceremonies was the taurobolium. The candidate was put into a pit. On the top of the pit there was a lattice-work cover. On the cover a bull was slain by having its throat cut. The blood poured down and the initiate lifted up his head and bathed himself in the blood; and when he came out of the pit he was renatus in aeternum, reborn for all eternity. When Christianity came to the world with a message of rebirth, it came with precisely that for which all the world was seeking.
What, then, does this rebirth mean for us? In the New Testament, and especially in the Fourth Gospel, there are four closely inter-related ideas. There is the idea of rebirth; there is the idea of the kingdom of heaven, into which a man cannot enter unless he is reborn; there is the idea of sonship of God; and there is the idea of eternal life. This idea of being reborn is not something which is peculiar to the thought of the Fourth Gospel. In Matthew we have the same great truth put more simply and more vividly: "Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" ( Matthew 18:3). All these ideas have a common thought behind them.
BORN AGAIN ( John 3:1-6 continued)
Let us start with the kingdom of heaven. What does it mean? We get our best definition of it from the Lord's Prayer. There are two petitions side by side:
Thy Kingdom come:
Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.
It is characteristic of Jewish style to say things twice, the second way explaining and amplifying the first. Any verse of the Psalms will show us this Jewish habit of what is technically known as parallelism:
The Lord of hosts is with us:
The God of Jacob is our refuge ( Psalms 46:7).
For I know my transgressions:
And my sin is ever before me ( Psalms 51:3).
He makes me lie down in green pastures:
He leads me beside still waters ( Psalms 23:2).
Let us apply that principle to these two petitions in the Lord's Prayer. The second petition amplifies and explains the first; we then arrive at the definition: the kingdom of heaven is a society where God's will is as perfectly done on earth as it is in heaven. To be in the kingdom of heaven is therefore to lead a life in which we have willingly submitted everything to the will of God; it is to have arrived at a stage when we perfectly and completely accept the will of God.
Now let us take sonship. In one sense sonship is a tremendous privilege. To those who believe there is given the power to become sons ( John 1:12). But the very essence of sonship is necessarily obedience. "He who has commandments, and keeps them, he it is who loves me" ( John 14:21). The essence of sonship is love; and the essence of love is obedience. We cannot with any reality say that we love a person and then do things which hurt and grieve that person's heart. Sonship is a privilege, but a privilege which is entered into only when full obedience is given. So then to be a son of God and to be in the kingdom are one and the same thing. The son of God and the citizen of the kingdom are both people who have completely and willingly accepted the will of God.
Now let us take eternal life. It is far better to speak of eternal life than to speak of everlasting life. The main idea behind eternal life is not simply that of duration. It is quite clear that a life which went on for ever could just as easily be hell as heaven. The idea behind eternal life is the idea of a certain quality of life. What kind? There is only one person who can properly be described by this adjective eternal (aionios, G166) and that one person is God. Eternal life is the kind of life that God lives; it is God's life. To enter into eternal life is to enter into possession of that kind of life which is the life of God. It is to be lifted up above merely human, transient things into that joy and peace which belong only to God. Clearly a man can enter into this close fellowship with God only when he renders to him that love, that reverence, that devotion, that obedience which truly bring him into fellowship with him.
Here then we have three great kindred conceptions, entry into the kingdom of heaven, sonship of God and eternal life; and all are dependent on and are the products of perfect obedience to the will of God. It is just here that the idea of being reborn comes in. It is what links all these three conceptions together. It is quite clear that, as we are and in our own strength, we are quite unable to render to God this perfect obedience; it is only when God's grace enters into us and takes possession of us and changes us that we can give to him the reverence and the devotion we ought to give. It is through Jesus Christ that we are reborn; it is when he enters into possession of our hearts and lives that the change comes.
When that happens we are born of water and the Spirit. There are two thoughts there. Water is the symbol of cleansing. When Jesus takes possession of our lives, when we love him with all our heart, the sins of the past are forgiven and forgotten. The Spirit is the symbol of power. When Jesus takes possession of our lives it is not only that the past is forgotten and forgiven; if that were all, we might well proceed to make the same mess of life all over again; but into life there enters a new power which enables us to be what by ourselves we could never be and to do what by ourselves we could never do. Water and the Spirit stand for the cleansing and the strengthening power of Christ, which wipes out the past and gives victory in the future.
Finally, in this passage, John lays down a great law. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. A man by himself is flesh and his power is limited to what the flesh can do. By himself he cannot be other than defeated and frustrated; that we know only too well; it is the universal fact of human experience. But the very essence of the Spirit is power and life which are beyond human power and human life; and when the Spirit takes possession of us, the defeated life of human nature becomes the victorious life of God.
To be born again is to be changed in such a way that it can be described only as rebirth and re-creation. The change comes when we love Jesus and allow him into our hearts. Then we are forgiven for the past and armed by the Spirit for the future; then we can truly accept the will of God. And then we become citizens of the kingdom; then we become sons of God; then we enter into eternal life, which is the very life of God.
THE DUTY TO KNOW AND THE RIGHT TO SPEAK ( John 3:7-13 )
3:7-13 Do not be surprised that I said to you: "You must be reborn from above. The wind blows where it will, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes and whither it goes. So is every one that is born of the Spirit." Nicodemus answered: "How can these things happen?" Jesus answered: "Are you the man whom everyone regards as the teacher of Israel, and you do not understand these things? This is the truth I tell you--we speak what we know, and we bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our witness. If I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe me, how will you believe me if I speak to you about heavenly things." No one has gone up to heaven, except he who came down from heaven, I mean, the Son of Man, who is in heaven.
There are two kinds of misunderstanding. There is the misunderstanding of the man who misunderstands because he has not yet reached a stage of knowledge and of experience at which he is able to grasp the truth. When a man is in that state our duty is to do all that we can to explain things to him so that he will be able to grasp the knowledge which is being offered to him. There is also the misunderstanding of the man who is unwilling to understand; there is a failure to see which comes from the refusal to see. A man can deliberately shut his mind to truth which he does not wish to accept.
Nicodemus was like that. The teaching about a new birth from God should not have been strange to him. Ezekiel, for instance, had spoken repeatedly about the new heart that must be created in a man. "Cast away from you all the transgressions, which you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?" ( Ezekiel 18:31). "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you" ( Ezekiel 36:26). Nicodemus was an expert in scripture and again and again the prophets had spoken of that very experience of which Jesus was speaking. If a man does not wish to be reborn, he will deliberately misunderstand what rebirth means. If a man does not wish to be changed, he will deliberately shut his eyes and his mind and his heart to the power which can change him. In the last analysis what is the matter with so many of us is simply the fact that, when Jesus Christ comes with his offer to change us and re-create us, we more or less say: "No thank you: I am quite satisfied with myself as I am, and I don't want to be changed."
Nicodemus was driven back on another defence. In effect he said: "This rebirth about which you talk may be possible; but I can't understand how it works." The answer of Jesus depends for its point on the fact that the Greek word for spirit, pneuma ( G4151) , has two meanings. It is the word for spirit, but it is also the regular word for wind. The same is true of the Hebrew word ruach ( H7307) ; it too means both spirit and wind. So Jesus said to Nicodemus: "You can hear and see and feel the wind (pneuma, G4151) ; but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going to. You may not understand how and why the wind blows; but you can see what it does. You may not understand where a gale came from or where it is going to, but you can see the trail of flattened fields and uprooted trees that it leaves behind it. There are many things about the wind you may not understand; but its effect is plain for all to see." He went on, "the Spirit (pneuma, G4151) is exactly the same. You may not know how the Spirit works; but you can see the effect of the Spirit in human lives."
Jesus said: "This is no theoretical thing of which we are speaking. We are talking of what we have actually seen. We can point to man after man who has been re-born by the power of the Spirit." Dr. John Hutton used to tell of a workman who had been a drunken reprobate and was converted. His work-mates did their best to make him feel a fool. "Surely," they said to him, "you can't believe in miracles and things like that. Surely, for instance, you don't believe that Jesus turned water into wine." "I don't know," the man answered, "whether he turned water into wine when he was in Palestine, but I do know that in my own house and home he has turned beer into furniture!"
There are any number of things in this world which we use every day without knowing how they work. Comparatively few of us know how electricity or radio or television works; but we do not deny that they exist because of that. Many of us drive an automobile with only the haziest notion of what goes on below its hood; but our lack of understanding does not prevent us using and enjoying the benefits which an automobile confers. We may not understand how the Spirit works; but the effect of the Spirit on the lives of men is there for all to see. The unanswerable argument for Christianity is the Christian life. No man can disregard a faith which is able to make bad men good.
Jesus said to Nicodemus: "I have tried to make things simple for you; I have used simple human pictures taken from everyday life; and you have not understood. How can you ever expect to understand the deep things, if even the simple things are beyond you?" There is a warning here for every one of us. It is easy to sit in discussion groups, to sit in a study and to read books, it is easy to discuss the intellectual truth of Christianity; but the essential thing is to experience the power of Christianity. And it is fatally easy to start at the wrong end and to think of Christianity as something to be discussed, not as something to be experienced. It is certainly important to have an intellectual grasp of the orb of Christian truth; but it is still more important to have a vital experience of the power of Jesus Christ. When a man undergoes treatment from a doctor, when he has to have an operation, when he is given some medicine to take, he does not need to know the anatomy of the human body, the scientific effect of the anaesthetic, the way in which the drug works on his body, in order to be cured. 99 men out of every 100 accept the cure without being able to say how it was brought about. There is a sense in which Christianity is like that. At its heart there is a mystery, but it is not the mystery of intellectual appreciation; it is the mystery of redemption.
In reading the Fourth Gospel there is the difficulty of knowing when the words of Jesus stop and the words of the writer of the gospel begin. John has thought so long about the words of Jesus that insensibly he glides from them to his own thoughts about them. Almost certainly the last words of this passage are the words of John. It is as if someone asked: "What right has Jesus to say these things? What guarantee do we have that they are true?" John's answer is simple and profound. "Jesus," he says, "came down from heaven to tell us the truth of God. And, when he had companied with men and died for them, he returned to his glory." It was John's contention that Jesus' right to speak came from the fact that he knew God personally, that he had come direct from the secrets of heaven to earth, that what he said to men was most literally God's own truth, for Jesus was and is the embodied mind of God.
THE UPLIFTED CHRIST ( John 3:14-15 )
3:14-15 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that every one who believes in him may have eternal life.
John goes back to a strange Old Testament story which is told in Numbers 21:4-9. On their journey through the wilderness the people of Israel murmured and complained and regretted that they had ever left Egypt. To punish them God sent a plague of deadly, fiery serpents; the people repented and cried for mercy. God instructed Moses to make an image of a serpent and to hold it up in the midst of the camp; and those who looked upon the serpent were healed. That story much impressed the Israelites. They told how in later times that brazen serpent became an idol and in the days of Hezekiah had to be destroyed because people were worshipping it ( 2 Kings 18:4). The Jews themselves were always a little puzzled by this incident in view of the fact that they were absolutely forbidden to make graven images. The rabbis explained it this way: "It was not the serpent that gave life. So long as Moses lifted up the serpent, they believed on him who had commanded Moses to act thus. It was God who healed them." The healing power lay not in the brazen serpent; it was only a symbol to turn their thoughts to God; and when they did that they were healed.
John took that old story and used it as a kind of parable of Jesus. He says: "The serpent was lifted up; men looked at it; their thoughts were turned to God; and by the power of that god in whom they trusted they were healed. Even so Jesus must be lifted up; and when men turn their thoughts to him, and believe in him, they too will find eternal life."
There is a wonderfully suggestive thing here. The verb to lift up is hupsoun ( G5312) . The strange thing is that it is used of Jesus in two senses. It is used of his being lifted up upon the Cross; and it is used of his being lifted up into glory at the time of his ascension into heaven. It is used of the Cross in John 8:28; John 12:32. It is used of Jesus' ascension into glory in Acts 2:33; Acts 5:31; Php_2:9 . There was a double lifting up in Jesus' life--the lifting on the Cross and the lifting into glory. And the two are inextricably connected. The one could not have happened without the other. For Jesus the Cross was the way to glory; had he refused it, had he evaded it, had he taken steps to escape it, as he might so easily have done, there would have been no glory for him. It is the same for us. We can, if we like, choose the easy way; we can, if we like, refuse the cross that every Christian is called to bear; but if we do, we lose the glory. It is an unalterable law of life that if there is no cross, there is no crown.
In this passage we have two expressions whose meaning we must face. It will not be possible to extract all their meaning, because they both mean more than ever we can discover; but we must try to grasp at least something of it.
(i) There is the phrase which speaks of believing in Jesus. It means at least three things.
(a) It means believing with all our hearts that God is as Jesus declared him to be. It means believing that God loves us, that God cares for us, that God wants nothing more than to forgive us. It was not easy for a Jew to believe that. He looked on God as one who imposed his laws upon his people and punished them if they broke them. He looked on God as a judge and on man as a criminal at his judgment seat. He looked on God as one who demanded sacrifices and offerings; to get into his presence man had to pay the price laid down. It was hard to think of God not as a judge waiting to exact penalty, not as a task-master waiting to pounce, but as a Father who longed for nothing so much as to have his erring children come back home. It cost the life and the death of Jesus to tell men that. And we cannot begin to be Christians until with all our hearts we believe that.
(b) How can we be sure that Jesus knew what he was talking about? What guarantee is there that his wonderful good news is true? Here we come upon the second article in belief. We must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that in him is the mind of God, that he knew God so well, was so close to God, was so one with God, that he could ten us the absolute truth about him.
(c) But belief has a third element. We believe that God is a loving Father because we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that therefore what he says about God is true. Then comes this third element. We must stake everything on the fact that what Jesus says is true. Whatever he says we must do; whenever he commands we must obey. When he tells us to cast ourselves unreservedly on the mercy of God we must do so. We must take Jesus at his word. Every smallest action in life must be done in unquestioning obedience to him.
So then belief in Jesus has these three elements--belief that God is our loving Father, belief that Jesus is the son of God and therefore tells us the truth about God and life, and unswerving and unquestioning obedience to Jesus.
(ii) The second great phrase is eternal life. We have already seen that eternal life is the very life of God himself. But let us ask this: if we possess eternal life, what do we have? If we enter into eternal life, what is it like? To have eternal life envelops every relationship in life with peace.
(a) It gives us peace with God. We are no longer cringing before a tyrannical king or seeking to hide from an austere judge. We are at home with our Father.
(b) It gives us peace with men. If we have been forgiven we must be forgiving. It enables us to see men as God sees them. It makes us and all men into one great family joined in love.
(c) It gives us peace with life. If God is Father, God is working all things together for good. Lessing used to say that if he had one question to ask the Sphinx, who knew everything, it would be: "Is this a friendly universe?" When we believe that God is Father, we also believe that such a father's hand win never cause his child a needless tear. We may not understand life any better, but we will not resent life any longer.
(d) It gives us peace with ourselves. In the last analysis a man is more afraid of himself than of anything else. He knows his own weakness; he knows the force of his own temptations; he knows his own tasks and the demands of his own life. But now he knows that he is facing it all with God. It is not he who lives but Christ who lives in him. There is a peace founded on strength in his life.
(e) It makes him certain that the deepest peace on earth is only a shadow of the ultimate peace which is to come. It gives him a hope and a goal to which he travels. It gives him a life of glorious wonder here and yet, at the same time, a life in which the best is yet to be.
THE LOVE OF GOD ( John 3:16 )
3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that every one who believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
All great men have had their favourite texts; but this has been called "Everybody's text." Herein for every simple heart is the very essence of the gospel. This text tells us certain great things.
(i) It tells us that the initiative in all salvation lies with God. Sometimes Christianity is presented in such a way that it sounds as if God had to be pacified, as if he had to be persuaded to forgive. Sometimes men speak as if they would draw a picture of a stern, angry, unforgiving God and a gentle, loving, forgiving Jesus. Sometimes men present the Christian message in such a way that it sounds as if Jesus did something which changed the attitude of God to men from condemnation to forgiveness. But this text tells us that it was with God that it all started. It was God who sent his Son, and he sent him because he loved men. At the back of everything is the love of God.
(ii) It tells us that the mainspring of God's being is love. It is easy to think of God as looking at men in their heedlessness and their disobedience and their rebellion and saying: "I'll break them: I'll discipline them and punish them and scourge them until they come back." It is easy to think of God as seeking the allegiance of men in order to satisfy his own desire for power and for what we might call a completely subject universe. The tremendous thing about this text is that it shows us God acting not for his own sake, but for ours, not to satisfy his desire for power, not to bring a universe to heel, but to satisfy his love. God is not like an absolute monarch who treats each man as a subject to be reduced to abject obedience. God is the Father who cannot be happy until his wandering children have come home. God does not smash men into submission; he yearns over them and woos them into love.
(iii) It tells us of the width of the love of God. It was the world that God so loved. It was not a nation; it was not the good people; it was not only the people who loved him; it was the world. The unlovable and the unlovely, the lonely who have no one else to love them, the man who loves God and the man who never thinks of him, the man who rests in the love of God and the man who spurns it--all are included in this vast inclusive love of God. As Augustine had it: "God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love."
LOVE AND JUDGMENT ( John 3:17-21 )
3:17-21 For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned, but he who does not believe already stands condemned. And this is the reason of this condemnation--the light came into the world and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil. Every one of whose deeds are depraved hates the light, and does not come to the light, but his deeds stand convicted. But he who puts the truth into action comes to the light, that his deeds may be made plain for all to see, because they are done in God.
Here we are faced with one other apparent paradox of the Fourth Gospel--the paradox of love and judgment. We have just been thinking of the love of God, and now suddenly we are confronted with judgment and condemnation and conviction. John has just said that it was because God so loved the world that he sent his Son into the world. Later he will go on to show us Jesus saying: "For judgment I came into this world" ( John 9:39). How can both things be true?
It is quite possible to offer a man an experience in nothing but love and for that experience to turn out a judgment. It is quite possible to offer a man an experience which is meant to do nothing but bring joy and bliss and yet for that experience to turn out a judgment. Suppose we love great music and get nearer to God in the midst of the surge and thunder of a great symphony than anywhere else. Suppose we have a friend who does not know anything about such music and we wish to introduce him to this great experience, to share it with him, and give him this contact with the invisible beauty which we ourselves enjoy. We have no aim other than to give our friend the happiness of a great new experience. We take him to a symphony concert; and in a very short time he is fidgeting and gazing around the hail, extremely bored. That friend has passed judgment on himself that he has no music in his soul. The experience designed to bring him new happiness has become only a judgment.
This always happens when we confront a man with greatness. We may take him to see some great masterpiece of art; we may take him to listen to a prince of preachers; we may give him a great book to read; we may take him to gaze upon some beauty. His reaction is a judgment; if he finds no beauty and no thrill we know that he has a blind spot in his soul. A visitor was being shown round an art gallery by one of the attendants. In that gallery there were certain masterpieces beyond all price, possessions of eternal beauty and unquestioned genius. At the end of the tour the visitor said: "Well, I don't think much of your old pictures." The attendant answered quietly: "Sir, I would remind you that these pictures are no longer on trial, but those who look at them are." All that the man's reaction had done was to show his own pitiable blindness.
This is so with regard to Jesus. If, when a man is confronted with Jesus, his soul responds to that wonder and beauty, he is on the way to salvation. But if, when he is confronted with Jesus, he sees nothing lovely, he stands condemned. His reaction has condemned him. God sent Jesus in love. He sent him for that man's salvation; but that which was sent in love has become a condemnation. It is not God who has condemned the man; God only loved him; the man has condemned himself.
The man who reacts in hostility to Jesus has loved the darkness rather than the light. The terrible thing about a really good person is that he always has a certain unconscious element of condemnation in him. It is when we compare ourselves with him that we see ourselves as we are. Alcibiades, the spoilt Athenian man of genius, was a companion of Socrates and every now and again he used to break out: "Socrates, I hate you, for every time I meet you, you let me see what I am." The man who is engaged on an evil task does not want a flood of light shed on it and him; but the man engaged on an honourable task does not fear the light.
Once an architect came to Plato and offered for a certain sum of money to build him a house into none of whose rooms it would be possible to see. Plato said: "I will give you double the money to build a house into whose every room everyone can see." It is only the evil-doer who does not wish to see himself and who does not wish anyone else to see him. Such a man will inevitably hate Jesus Christ, for Christ will show him what he is and that is the last thing that he wants to see. It is the concealing darkness that he loves and not the revealing light.
By his reaction to Jesus Christ, a man stands revealed and his soul laid bare. If he regards Christ with love, even with wistful yearning, for him there is hope; but if in Christ he sees nothing attractive he has condemned himself. He who was sent in love has become to him judgment.
A MAN WITHOUT ENVY ( John 3:22-30 )
3:22-30 After these things Jesus and his disciples went to the district of Judaea. He spent some time there with them, and he was baptizing; and John was baptizing at Ainon, near Salem, because there was much water there. The people kept coming to him and being baptized, for John had not yet been thrown into prison. A discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew about the matter of cleansing. So they came to John and said to him: "Rabbi, look now! The man who was with you on the other side of Jordan, the man to whom you bore your witness, is baptizing and they are all going to him." John answered: "A man can receive only what is given to him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Anointed One of God,' but, 'I have been sent before him.' He who has the bride is the bridegroom. But the friend of the bridegroom who stands and listens for him, rejoices at the sound of the voice of the bridegroom. So, then, my joy is complete. He must increase, but I must decrease."
We have already seen that part of the aim of the writer of the Fourth Gospel is to ensure that John the Baptist received his proper place as the forerunner of Jesus, but no higher place than that. There were those who were still ready to call John master and lord; the writer of the Fourth Gospel wishes to show that John had a high place, but that the highest place was reserved for Jesus alone; and he also wishes to show that John himself had never any other idea than that Jesus was supreme. To that end he shows us the ministry of John and the ministry of Jesus overlapping. The synoptic gospels are different: Mark 1:14 tells us that it was after John was put into prison that Jesus began his ministry. We need not argue which account is historically correct; but the likelihood is that the Fourth Gospel makes the two ministries overlap so that by contrast the supremacy of Jesus may be clearly shown.
One thing is certain--this passage shows us the loveliness of the humility of John the Baptist. It was clear that men were leaving John for Jesus. John's disciples were worried. They did not like to see their master take second place. They did not like to see him abandoned while the crowds flocked out to hear and see this new teacher.
In answer to their complaints, it would have been very easy for John to feel injured, neglected and unjustifiably forgotten. Sometimes a friend's sympathy can be the worst possible thing for us. It can make us feel sorry for ourselves and encourage us to think that we have not had a fair deal. But John had a mind above that. He told his disciples three things.
(i) He told them that he had never expected anything else. He told them that in point of fact he had assured them that his was not the leading place, but that he was merely sent as the herald, the forerunner and the preparer for the greater one to come. It would ease life a great deal if more people were prepared to play the subordinate role. So many people look for great things to do. John was not like that. He knew well that God had given him a subordinate task. It would save us a lot of resentment and heartbreak if we realized that there are certain things which are not for us, and if we accepted with all our hearts and did with all our might the work that God has given us to do. To do a secondary task for God makes it a great task. As Mrs. Browning had it: "All service ranks the same with God." Any task done for God is necessarily great.
(ii) He told them that no man could receive more than God gave him. If the new teacher was winning more followers it was not because he was stealing them from John, but because God was giving them to him. There was a certain American minister called Dr. Spence; once he was popular and his church was full; but as the years passed his people drifted away. To the church across the road came a new young minister who was attracting the crowds. One evening in Dr. Spence's church there was a very small gathering. The doctor looked at the little flock. "Where have all the people gone?" he asked. There was an embarrassed silence; then one of his office-bearers said: "I think they have gone to the church across the street to hear the new minister." Dr. Spence was silent for a moment; then he smiled. "Well, then," he said, "I think we ought to follow them." And he descended from his pulpit and led his people across the road. What jealousies, what heartburnings, what resentfulness we might escape, if we would only remember that someone else's success is given to him by God, and were prepared to accept God's verdict and God's choice.
(iii) Finally, John used a very vivid picture which every Jew would recognize, for it was part of the heritage of Jewish thought. He called Jesus the bridegroom and himself the friend of the bridegroom. One of the great pictures of the Old Testament is of Israel as the bride of God and God as the bridegroom of Israel. The union between God and Israel was so close that it could be likened only to a wedding. When Israel went after strange gods it was as if she were guilty of infidelity to the marriage bond ( Exodus 34:15 compare Deuteronomy 31:16; Psalms 73:27; Isaiah 54:5). The New Testament took this picture over and spoke of the church as the bride of Christ ( 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22-32). It was this picture that was in John's mind. Jesus had come from God; he was the Son of God, Israel was his rightful bride and he was Israel's bridegroom. But one place John did claim for himself, that of the friend of the bridegroom.
The friend of the bridegroom, the shoshben, had a unique place at a Jewish wedding. He acted as the liaison between the bride and the bridegroom; he arranged the wedding; he took out the invitations; he presided at the wedding feast. He brought the bride and the bridegroom together. And he had one special duty. It was his duty to guard the bridal chamber and to let no false lover in. He would open the door only when in the dark he heard the bridegroom's voice and recognized it. When he heard the bridegroom's voice he let him in and went away rejoicing, for his task was completed and the lovers were together. He did not grudge the bridegroom the bride. He knew that his only task had been to bring bride and bridegroom together. And when that task was done he willingly and gladly faded out of the centre of the picture.
John's task had been to bring Israel and Jesus together; to arrange the marriage between Christ the bridegroom and Israel the bride. That task completed he was happy to fade into obscurity for his work was done. It was not with envy that he said that Jesus must increase and he must decrease; it was with joy. It may be that sometimes we would do well to remember that it is not to ourselves we must try to attach people; it is to Jesus Christ. It is not for ourselves we seek the loyalty of men; it is for him.
THE ONE FROM HEAVEN ( John 3:31-36 )
3:31-36 He who comes from above is above all. He who is from the earth is from the earth and speaks from the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. It is to what he has seen and heard that he bears witness; and no one receives his witness. He who has received his witness sets his seal on the fact that God is true. He whom God sent speaks the words of God, for he does not partially measure out the Spirit upon him. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life. He who does not believe in the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.
As we have seen before, one of the difficulties in the Fourth Gospel is to know when the characters are speaking and when John is adding his own commentary. These verses may be the words of John the Baptist; but more likely they are the witness and the comment of John the evangelist.
John begins by asserting the supremacy of Jesus. If we want information, we have to go to the person who possesses that information. If we want information about a family, we will get it at first hand only from a member of that family. If we want information about a town we will get it at first hand only from someone who comes from that town. So, then, if we want information about God, we will get it only from the Son of God; and if we want information about heaven and heaven's life, we will get it only from him who comes from heaven. When Jesus speaks about God and about the heavenly things, says John, it is no carried story, no second-hand tale, no information from a secondary source; he tells us that which he himself has seen and heard. To put it very simply, because Jesus alone knows God, he alone can give us the facts about God, and these facts are the gospel.
It is John's grief that so few accept the message that Jesus brought; but when a man does accept it, he attests the fact that in his belief the word of God is true. In the ancient world, if a man wished to give his full approval to a document, such as a will or an agreement or a constitution, he affixed his seal to the foot of it. The seal was the sign that he agreed with this and regarded it as binding and true. So when a man accepts the message of Jesus, he affirms and attests that he believes what God says is true.
John goes on: we can believe what Jesus says, because on him God poured out the Spirit in full measure, keeping nothing back. Even the Jews themselves said that the prophets received from God a certain measure of the Spirit. The full measure of the Spirit was reserved for God's own chosen one. Now, in Hebrew thought the Spirit of God had two functions--first, the Spirit revealed God's truth to men; and, second, the Spirit enabled men to recognize and understand that truth when it came to them. So to say that the Spirit was on Jesus in the completest possible way is to say that he perfectly knew and perfectly understood the truth of God. To put that in another way--to listen to Jesus is to listen to the very voice of God.
Finally, John again sets before men the eternal choice--life or death. All through history this choice had been set before Israel. Deuteronomy records the words of Moses: "See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil.... I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live" ( Deuteronomy 30:15-20). The challenge was reiterated by Joshua: "Choose this day whom you will serve" ( Joshua 24:15). It has been said that all life concentrates upon a man at the crossroads. Once again John returns to his favourite thought. What matters is a man's reaction to Christ. If that reaction be love and longing, that man will know life. If it be indifference or hostility, that man will know death. It is not that God sends his wrath upon him; it is that he brings that wrath upon himself.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on John 3:30". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​dsb/​john-3.html. 1956-1959.
He must increase,.... Not in stature of body, or in wisdom and understanding of mind, as man, he being come to maturity in these things already; but in fame, credit, and reputation among men; as he afterwards did in the land of Judea, by reason of his miracles and doctrines; and after that among the Gentiles, through the publication of his Gospel; and will more and more in the latter day, when he, and he alone, shall be exalted: and he must increase in the ministry of his word, which was published by him, and his disciples, throughout all the cities of Israel; and which, after his resurrection and ascension, grew and increased mightily, notwithstanding the opposition made unto it both by their civil and ecclesiastical rulers; and which, by the means of his apostles, was spread throughout the Gentile world, and will hereafter cover the earth, as the waters do the sea: and also in his kingdom and interest, which at first were very small, like a grain of mustard seed, or like a little stone cut out of the mountain without hands; but in process of time grew exceedingly, and will, ere long, till the face of the whole earth; for the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth; and of the increase of it there shall be no end. And so likewise in the number of his followers, which at first were but few in Judea, but afterwards greatly increased, and especially among the Gentiles; and will be very numerous in the latter day glory, when the nation of the Jews will be born at once, and the fulness and forces of the Gentiles are brought in:
but I must decrease; as he did in his esteem among the people; see John 5:3; and in his work and office, which were now come to an end, Christ, whose forerunner he was, being come; and quickly after this he was put into prison, and there put to death.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on John 3:30". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​geb/​john-3.html. 1999.
|John's Testimony to Christ.|
22 After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judæa; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. 23 And John also was baptizing in Ænon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. 24 For John was not yet cast into prison. 25 Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying. 26 And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. 27 John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. 28 Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. 29 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. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease. 31 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. 32 And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. 33 He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. 34 For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. 35 The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. 36 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.
In these verses we have,
I. Christ's removal into the land of Judea (John 3:22; John 3:22), and there he tarried with his disciples. Observe, 1. Our Lord Jesus, after he entered upon his public work, travelled much, and removed often, as the patriarchs in their sojournings. As it was a good part of his humiliation that he had no certain dwelling-place, but was, as Paul, in journeyings often, so it was an instance of his unwearied industry, in the work for which he came into the world, that he went about in prosecution of it; many a weary step he took to do good to souls. The Sun of righteousness took a large circuit to diffuse his light and heat, Psalms 19:6. 2. He was not wont to stay long at Jerusalem. Though he went frequently thither, yet he soon returned into the country; as here. After these things, after he had had this discourse with Nicodemus, he came into the land of Judea; not so much for greater privacy (though mean and obscure places best suited the humble Jesus in his humble state) as for greater usefulness. His preaching and miracles, perhaps, made most noise at Jerusalem, the fountain-head of news, but did least good there, where the most considerable men of the Jewish church had so much the ascendant. 3. When he came into the land of Judea his disciples came with him; for these were they that continued with him in his temptations. Many that flocked to him at Jerusalem could not follow his motions into the country, they had no business there; but his disciples attended him. If the ark remove, it is better to remove and go after it (as those did, Joshua 3:3) than sit still without it, though it be in Jerusalem itself. 4. There he tarried with them, dietribe--He conversed with them, discoursed with them. He did not retire into the country for his ease and pleasure, but for more free conversation with his disciples and followers. See Song of Solomon 7:11; Song of Solomon 7:12. Note, Those that are ready to go with Christ shall find him as ready to stay with them. It is supposed that he now staid five or six months in this country. 5. There he baptized; he admitted disciples, such as believed in him, and had more honesty and courage than those had at Jerusalem, John 2:42; John 2:42. John began to baptize in the land of Judea (Matthew 3:1), therefore Christ began there, for John had said, There comes one after me. He himself baptized not, with his own hand, but his disciples by his orders and directions, as appears, John 4:2; John 4:2. But his disciples' baptizing was his baptizing. Holy ordinances are Christ's, though administered by weak men.
II. John's continuance in his work, as long as his opportunities lasted, John 3:23; John 3:24. Here we are told,
1. That John was baptizing. Christ's baptism was, for substance, the same with John's, for John bore witness to Christ, and therefore they did not at all clash or interfere with one another. But, (1.) Christ began the work of preaching and baptizing before John laid it down, that he might be ready to receive John's disciples when he should be taken off, and so the wheels might be kept going. It is a comfort to useful men, when they are going off the stage, to see those rising up who are likely to fill up their place. (2.) John continued the work of preaching and baptizing though Christ had taken it up; for he would still, according to the measure given to him, advance the interests of God's kingdom. There was still work for John to do, for Christ was not yet generally known, nor were the minds of people thoroughly prepared for him by repentance. From heaven John had received his command, and he would go on in his work till he thence received his countermand, and would have his dismission from the same hand that gave him his commission. He does not come in to Christ, lest what had formerly passed should look like a combination between them; but he goes on with his work, till Providence lays him aside. The greater gifts of some do not render the labours of others, that come short of them, needless and useless; there is work enough for all hands. They are sullen that will sit down and do nothing when they see themselves out-shone. Though we have but one talent, we must account for that: and, when we see ourselves going off, must yet go on to the last.
2. That he baptized in Enon near Salim, places we find nowhere else mentioned, and therefore the learned are altogether at a loss where to find them. Wherever it was, it seems that John removed from place to place; he did not think that there was any virtue in Jordan, because Jesus was baptized there, which should engage him to stay there, but as he saw cause he removed to other waters. Ministers must follow their opportunities. He chose a place where there was much water, hydata polla--many waters, that is, many streams of water; so that wherever he met with any that were willing to submit to his baptism water was at hand to baptize them with, shallow perhaps, as is usual where there are many brooks, but such as would serve his purpose. And in that country plenty of water was a valuable thing.
3. That thither people came to him and were baptized. Though they did not come in such vast crowds as they did when he first appeared, yet now he was not without encouragement, but there were still those that attended and owned him. Some refer this both to John and to Jesus: They came and were baptized; that is, some came to John, and were baptized by him, some to Jesus, and were baptized by him, and, as their baptism was one, so were their hearts.
4. It is noted (John 3:24; John 3:24) that John was not yet cast into prison, to clear the order of the story, and to show that these passages are to come in before Matthew 6:12. John never desisted from his work as long as he had his liberty; nay, he seems to have been the more industrious, because he foresaw his time was short; he was not yet cast into prison, but he expected it ere long, John 9:4; John 9:4.
III. A contest between John's disciples and the Jews about purifying,John 3:25; John 3:25. See how the gospel of Christ came not to send peace upon earth, but division. Observe, 1. Who were the disputants: some of John's disciples, and the Jews who had not submitted to his baptism of repentance. Penitents and impenitents divide this sinful world. In this contest, it should seem, John's disciples were the aggressors, and gave the challenge; and it is a sign that they were novices, who had more zeal than discretion. The truths of God have often suffered by the rashness of those that have undertaken to defend them before they were able to do it. 2. What was the matter in dispute: about purifying, about religious washing. (1.) We may suppose that John's disciples cried up his baptism, his purifying, as instar omnium--superior to all others, and gave the preference to that as perfecting and superseding all the purifications of the Jews, and they were in the right; but young converts are too apt to boast of their attainments, whereas he that finds the treasure should hide it till he is sure that he has it, and not talk of it too much at first. (2.) No doubt the Jews with as much assurance applauded the purifyings that were in use among them, both those that were instituted by the law of Moses and those that were imposed by the tradition of the elders; for the former they had a divine warrant, and for the latter the usage of the church. Now it is very likely that the Jews in this dispute, when they could not deny the excellent nature and design of John's baptism, raised an objection against it from Christ's baptism, which gave occasion for the complaint that follows here (John 3:26; John 3:26): "Here is John baptizing in one place." say they, "and Jesus at the same time baptizing in another place; and therefore John's baptism, which his disciples so much applaud, is either," [1.] "Dangerous, and of ill consequence to the peace of the church and state, for you see it opens a door to endless parties. Now that John has begun, we shall have every little teacher set up for a baptist presently. Or," [2.] "At the best it is defective and imperfect. If John's baptism, which you cry up thus, have any good in it, yonder the baptism of Jesus goes beyond it, so that for your parts you are shaded already by a greater light, and your baptism is soon gone out of request." Thus objections are made against the gospel from the advancement and improvement of gospel light, as if childhood and manhood were contrary to each other, and the superstructure were against the foundation. There was no reason to object Christ's baptism against John's, for they consisted very well together.
IV. A complaint which John's disciples made to their master concerning Christ and his baptizing, John 3:26; John 3:26. They, being nonplussed by the fore-mentioned objection, and probably ruffled and put into a heat by it, come to their master, and tell him, "Rabbi, he that was with thee, and was baptized of thee, is now set up for himself; he baptizeth, and all men come to him; and wilt thou suffer it?" Their itch for disputing occasioned this. It is common for men, when they find themselves run aground in the heat of disputation, to fall foul upon those that do them no harm. If these disciples of John had not undertaken to dispute about purifying, before they understood the doctrine of baptism, they might have answered the objection without being put into a passion. In their complaint, they speak respectfully to their own master, Rabbit; but speak very slightly of our Saviour, though they do not name him. 1. They suggest that Christ's setting up a baptism of his own was a piece of presumption, very unaccountable; as if John, having first set up this rite of baptizing, must have the monopoly of it, and, as it were, a patent for the invention: "He that was with thee beyond Jordan, as a disciple of thine, behold, and wonder, the same, the very same, baptizes, and takes thy work out of thy hand." Thus the voluntary condescensions of the Lord Jesus, as that of his being baptized by John, are often unjustly and very unkindly turned to his reproach. 2. They suggest that it was a piece of ingratitude to John. He to whom thou barest witness baptizes; as if Jesus owed all his reputation to the honourable character John gave of him, and yet had very unworthily improved it to the prejudice of John. But Christ needed not John's testimony, John 5:36; John 5:36. He reflected more honour upon John than he received from him, yet thus it is incident to us to think that others are more indebted to us than really they are. And besides, Christ's baptism was not in the least an impeachment, but indeed the greatest improvement, of John's baptism, which was but to lead the way to Christ's. John was just to Christ, in bearing witness to him; and Christ's answering his testimony did rather enrich than impoverish John's ministry. 3. They conclude that it would be a total eclipse to John's baptism: "All men come to him; they that used to follow with us now flock after him, it is therefore time for us to look about us." It was not indeed strange that all men came to him. As far as Christ is manifested he will be magnified; but why should John's disciples grieve at this? Note, Aiming at the monopoly of honour and respect has been in all ages the bane of the church, and the shame of its members and ministers; as also a vying of interests, and a jealousy of rivalship and competition. We mistake if we think that the excelling gifts and graces, and labours and usefulness, of one, are a diminution and disparagement to another that has obtained mercy to be faithful; for the Spirit is a free agent, dispensing to every one severally as he will. Paul rejoiced in the usefulness even of those that opposed him,Philippians 1:18. We must leave it to God to choose, employ, and honour his own instruments as he pleaseth, and not covet to be placed alone.
V. Here is John's answer to this complaint which his disciples made, John 3:27; John 3:27, c. His disciples expected that he would have resented this matter as they did but Christ's manifestation to Israel was no surprise to John, but what he looked for; it was not disturbance to him, but what he wished for. He therefore checked the complaint, as Moses, Enviest thou for my sake? and took this occasion to confirm the testimonies he had formerly borne to Christ as superior to him, cheerfully consigning and turning over to him all the interest he had in Israel. In this discourse here, the first minister of the gospel (for so John was) is an excellent pattern to all ministers to humble themselves and to exalt the Lord Jesus.
1. John here abases himself in comparison with Christ,John 3:27-30; John 3:27-30. The more others magnify us, the more we must humble ourselves, and fortify ourselves against the temptation of flattery and applause, and the jealousy of our friends for our honour, by remembering our place, and what we are, 1 Corinthians 3:5.
(1.) John acquiesces in the divine disposal, and satisfies himself with that (John 3:27; John 3:27): A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven, whence every good gift comes (James 1:17), a general truth very applicable in this case. Different employments are according to the direction of divine Providence, different endowments according to the distribution of the divine grace. No man can take any true honour to himself, Hebrews 5:4. We have as necessary and constant a dependence upon the grace of God in all the motions and actions of the spiritual life as we have upon the providence of God in all the motions and actions of the natural life: now this comes in here as a reason, [1.] Why we should not envy those that have a larger share of gifts than we have, or move in a larger sphere of usefulness. John reminds his disciples that Jesus would not have thus excelled him except he had received it from heaven, for, as man and Mediator, he received gifts; and, if God gave him the Spirit without measure (John 3:34; John 3:34), shall they grudge at it? The same reason will hold as to others. If God is pleased to give to others more ability and success than to us, shall we be displeased at it, and reflect upon him as unjust, unwise, and partial? See Matthew 20:15. [2.] Why we should not be discontented, though we be inferior to others in gifts and usefulness, and be eclipsed by their excellencies. John was ready to own that it was the gift, the free gift, of heaven, that made him a preacher, a prophet, a baptist: it was God that gave him the interest he had in the love and esteem of the people; and, if now his interest decline, God's will be done! He that gives may take. What we receive from heaven we must take as it is given. Now John never received a commission for a standing perpetual office, but only for a temporary one, which must soon expire; and therefore, when he has fulfilled his ministry, he can contentedly see it go out of date. Some give quite another sense of these words: John had taken pains with his disciples, to teach them the reference which his baptism had to Christ, who should come after him, and yet be preferred before him, and do that for them which he could not do; and yet, after all, they dote upon John, and grudge this preference of Christ above him: Well saith John, I see a man can receive (that is, perceive) nothing, except it be given him from heaven. The labour of ministers if all lost labour, unless the grace of God make it effectual. Men do not understand that which is made most plain, nor believe that which is made most evident, unless it be given them from heaven to understand and believe it.
(2.) John appeals to the testimony he had formerly given concerning Christ (John 3:28; John 3:28): You can bear me witness that I said, again and again, I am not the Christ, but I am sent before him. See how steady and constant John was in his testimony to Christ, and not as a reed shaken with the wind; neither the frowns of the chief priests, nor the flatteries of his own disciples, could make him change his note. Now this serves here, [1.] As a conviction to his disciples of the unreasonableness of their complaint. They had spoken of the witness which their master bore to Jesus (John 3:26; John 3:26): "Now," saith John, "do you not remember what the testimony was that I did bear? Call that to mind, and you will see your own cavil answered. Did I not say, I am not the Christ? Why then do you set me up as a rival with him that is? Did I not say, I am sent before him? Why then does it seem strange to you that I should stand by and give way to him?" [2.] It is a comfort to himself that he had never given his disciples any occasion thus to set him up in competition with Christ; but, on the contrary, had particularly cautioned them against this mistake, though he might have made a hand of it for himself. It is a satisfaction to faithful ministers when they have done what they could in their places to prevent any extravagances that their people ran into. John had not only not encouraged them to hope that he was the Messiah, but had plainly told them the contrary, which was now a satisfaction to him. It is a common excuse for those who have undue honour paid them, Si populus vult decipi, decipiatur--If the people will be deceived, let them; but that is an ill maxim for those to go by whose business it is to undeceive people. The lip of truth shall be established.
(3.) John professes the great satisfaction he had in the advancement of Christ and his interest. He was so far from regretting it, as his disciples did, that he rejoiced in it. This he expresses (John 3:29; John 3:29) by an elegant similitude. [1.] He compares our Saviour to the bridegroom: "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom. Do all men come to him? It is well, whither else should they go? Has he got the throne in men's affections? Who else should have it? It is his right; to whom should the bride be brought but to the bridegroom?" Christ was prophesied of in the Old Testament as a bridegroom, Psalms 45:1-17. The Word was made flesh, that the disparity of nature might not be a bar to the match. Provision is made for the purifying of the church, that the defilement of sin might be no bar. Christ espouses his church to himself; he has the bride, for he has her love, he has her promise; the church is subject to Christ. As far as particular souls are devoted to him in faith and love, so far the bridegroom has the bride. [2.] He compares himself to the friend of the bridegroom, who attends upon him, to do him honour and service, assists him in prosecuting the match, speaks a good word for him, uses his interest on his behalf, rejoices when the match goes on, and most of all when the point is gained, and he has the bride. All that John had done in preaching and baptizing was to introduce him; and, now that he was come, he had what he wished for: The friend of the bridegroom stands, and hears him; stands expecting him, and waiting for him; rejoices with joy because of the bridegroom's voice, because he is come to the marriage after he had been long expected. Note, First, Faithful ministers are friends of the bridegroom, to recommend him to the affections and choice of the children of men; to bring letters and messages from him, for he courts by proxy; and herein they must be faithful to him. Secondly, The friends of the bridegroom must stand, and hear the bridegroom's voice; must receive instructions from him, and attend his orders; must desire to have proofs of Christ speaking in them, and with them (2 Corinthians 13:3); that is the bridegroom's voice. Thirdly, The espousing of souls to Jesus Christ, in faith and love, is the fulfilling of the joy of every good minister. If the day of Christ's espousals be the day of the gladness of his heart (Song of Solomon 3:11), it cannot but be of their too who love him and wish well to his honour and kingdom. Surely they have no greater joy.
(4.) He owns it highly fit and necessary that the reputation and interest of Christ should be advanced, and his own diminished (John 3:30; John 3:30): He must increase, but I must decrease. If they grieve at the growing greatness of the Lord Jesus, they will have more and more occasion to grieve, as those have that indulge themselves in envy and emulation. John speaks of Christ's increase and his own decrease, not only as necessary and unavoidable, which could not be helped and therefore must be borne, but as highly just and agreeable, and affording him entire satisfaction. [1.] He was well pleased to see the kingdom of Christ getting ground: "He must increase. You think he has gained a great deal, but it is nothing to what he will gain." Note, The kingdom of Christ is, and will be, a growing kingdom, like the light of the morning, like the grain of mustard-seed. [2.] He was not at all displeased that the effect of this was the diminishing of his own interest: I must decrease. Created excellencies are under this law, they must decrease. I have seen an end of all perfection. Note, First, The shining forth of the glory of Christ eclipses the lustre of all other glory. The glory that stands in competition with Christ, that of the world and the flesh, decreases and loses ground in the soul as the knowledge and love of Christ increase and get ground; but it is here spoken of that which is subservient to him. As the light of the morning increases, that of the morning star decreases. Secondly, If our diminution or abasement may but in the least contribute to the advancement of Christ's name, we must cheerfully submit to it, and be content to be any thing, to be nothing, so that Christ may be all.
2. John Baptist here advances Christ, and instructs his disciples concerning him, that, instead of grieving that so many come to him, they might come to him themselves.
(1.) He instructs them concerning the dignity of Christ's person (John 3:31; John 3:31): He that cometh from above, that cometh from heaven, is above all. Here, [1.] He supposes his divine origin, that he came from above, from heaven, which bespeaks not only his divine extraction, but his divine nature. He had a being before his conception, a heavenly being. None but he that came from heaven was fit to show us the will of heaven, or the way to heaven. When God would save man, he sent from above. [2.] Hence he infers his sovereign authority: he is above all, above all things and all persons, God over all, blessed for evermore. It is daring presumption to dispute precedency with him. When we come to speak of the honours of the Lord Jesus, we find they transcend all conception and expression, and we can say but this, He is above all. It was said of John Baptist, There is not a greater among them that are born of women. But the descent of Christ from heaven put such a dignity upon him as he was not divested of by his being made flesh; still he was above all. This he further illustrates by the meanness of those who stood in competition with him: He that is of the earth, is earthly, ho on ek tes ges, ek tes ges esti--He that is of the earth is of the earth; he that has his origin of the earth has his food out of the earth, has his converse with earthly things, and his concern is for them. Note, First, Man has his rise out of the earth; not only Adam at first, but we also still are formed out of the clay,Job 33:6. Look to the rock whence we were hewn. Secondly, Man's constitution is therefore earthly; not only his body frail and mortal, but his soul corrupt and carnal, and its bent and bias strong towards earthly things. The prophets and apostles were of the same mould with other men; they were but earthen vessels, though they had a rich treasure lodged in them; and shall these be set up as rivals with Christ? Let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth; but let them not cope with him that came from heaven.
(2.) Concerning the excellency and certainty of his doctrine. His disciples were displeased that Christ's preaching was admired, and attended upon, more than his; but he tells them that there was reason enough for it. For,
[1.] He, for his part, spoke of the earth, and so do all those that are of the earth. The prophets were men and spoke like men; of themselves they could not speak but of the earth,2 Corinthians 3:5. The preaching of the prophets and of John was but low and flat compared with Christ's preaching; as heaven is high above the earth, so were his thoughts above theirs. By them God spoke on earth, but in Christ he speaketh from heaven.
[2.] But he that cometh from heaven is not only in his person, but in his doctrine, above all the prophets that ever lived on earth; none teacheth like him. The doctrine of Christ is here recommended to us,
First, As infallibly sure and certain, and to be entertained accordingly (John 3:32; John 3:32): What he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth. See here, 1. Christ's divine knowledge; he testified nothing but what he had seen and heard, what he was perfectly apprized of and thoroughly acquainted with. What he discovered of the divine nature and of the invisible world was what he had seen; what he revealed of the mind of God was what he had heard immediately from him, and not at second hand. The prophets testified what was made known to them in dreams and visions by the mediation of angels, but not what they had seen and heard. John was the crier's voice, that said, "Make room for the witness, and keep silence while the charge is given," but then leaves it to the witness to give in his testimony himself, and the judge to give the charge himself. The gospel of Christ is not a doubtful opinion, like an hypothesis or new notion in philosophy, which every one is at liberty to believe or not; but it is a revelation of the mind of God, which is of eternal truth in itself, and of infinite concern to us. 2. His divine grace and goodness: that which he had seen and heard he was pleased to make known to us, because he knew it nearly concerned us. What Paul had seen and heard in the third heavens he could not testify (2 Corinthians 12:4), but Christ knew how to utter what he had seen and heard. Christ's preaching is here called his testifying, to denote, (1.) The convincing evidence of it; it was not reported as news by hearsay, but it was testified as evidence given in court, with great caution and assurance. (2.) The affectionate earnestness of the delivery of it: it was testified with concern and importunity, as Acts 18:5.
From the certainty of Christ's doctrine, John takes occasion, [1.] To lament the infidelity of the most of men: though he testifies what is infallibly true, yet no man receiveth his testimony, that is, very few, next to none, none in comparison with those that refuse it. They receive it not, they will not hear it, they do not heed it, or give credit to it. This he speaks of not only as a matter of wonder, that such a testimony should not be received (Who hath believed our report? How stupid and foolish are the greatest part of mankind, what enemies to themselves!) but as matter of grief; John's disciples grieved that all men came to Christ (John 3:26; John 3:26); they thought his followers too many. But John grieves that no man came to him; he thought them too few. Note, The unbelief of sinners is the grief of saints. It was for this that St. Paul had great heaviness,Romans 9:2. [2.] He takes occasion to commend the faith of the chosen remnant (John 3:33; John 3:33): He that hath received his testimony (and some such there were, though very few) hath set to his seal that God is true. God is true, though we do not set our seal to it; let God be true, and every man a liar; his truth needs not our faith to support it, but by faith we do ourselves the honour and justice to subscribe to his truth, and hereby God reckons himself honoured. God's promises are all yea and amen; by faith we put our amen to them, as Revelation 22:20. Observe, He that receives the testimony of Christ subscribes not only to the truth of Christ, but to the truth of God, for his name is the Word of God; the commandments of God and the testimony of Christ are put together, Revelation 12:17. By believing in Christ we set to our seal, First, That God is true to all the promises which he has made concerning Christ, that which he spoke by the mouth of all his holy prophets; what he swore to our fathers is all accomplished, and not one iota or tittle of it fallen to the ground, Luke 1:70; Acts 13:32; Acts 13:33. Secondly, That he is true to all the promises he has made in Christ; we venture our souls upon God's veracity, being satisfied that he is true; we are willing to deal with him upon trust, and to quit all in this world for a happiness in reversion and out of sight. By this we greatly honour God's faithfulness. Whom we give credit to we give honour to.
Secondly, It is recommended to us as a divine doctrine; not his own, but his that sent him (John 3:34; John 3:34): For he whom God hath sent speaketh the word of God, which he was sent to speak, and enabled to speak; for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. The prophets were as messengers that brought letters from heaven; but Christ came under the character of an ambassador, and treats with us as such; for, 1. He spoke the words of God, and nothing he said savoured of human infirmity; both substance and language were divine. He proved himself sent of God (John 3:2; John 3:2), and therefore his words are to be received as the words of God. By this rule we may try the spirits: those that speak as the oracles of God, and prophesy according to the proportion of faith, are to be received as sent of God. 2. He spoke as no other prophet did; for God giveth not the Spirit by measure to him. None can speak the words of God without the Spirit of God,1 Corinthians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 2:11. The Old-Testament prophets had the Spirit, and in different degrees, 2 Kings 2:9; 2 Kings 2:10. But, whereas God gave them the Spirit by measure (1 Corinthians 12:4), he gave him to Christ without measure; all fulness dwelt in him, the fulness of the Godhead, an immeasurable fulness. The Spirit was not in Christ as in a vessel, but as in a fountain, as in a bottomless ocean. "The prophets that had the Spirit in a limited manner, only with respect to some particular revelation, sometimes spoke of themselves; but he that had the Spirit always residing in him, without stint, always spoke the words of God." So Dr. Whitby.
(3.) Concerning the power and authority he is invested with, which gives him the pre-eminence above all others, and a more excellent name than they.
[1.] He is the beloved Son of the Father (John 3:35; John 3:35): The Father loveth the Son. The prophets were faithful as servants, but Christ as a Son; they were employed as servants, but Christ beloved as a son, always his delight,Proverbs 8:30. The Father was well pleased in him; not only he did love him, but he doth love him; he continued his love to him even in his estate of humiliation, loved him never the less for his poverty and sufferings.
[2.] He is Lord of all. The Father, as an evidence of his love for him, hath given all things into his hand. Love is generous. The Father took such a complacency and had such a confidence in him that he constituted him the great feoffee in trust for mankind. Having given him the Spirit without measure, he gave him all things; for he was hereby qualified to be master and manager of all. Note, It is the honour of Christ, and the unspeakable comfort of all Christians, that the Father hath given all things into the hands of the Mediator. First, All power; so it is explained, Matthew 28:18. All the works of creation being put under his feet, all the affairs of redemption are put into his hand; he is Lord of all. Angels are his servants; devils are his captives. He has power over all flesh, the heathen given him for his inheritance. The kingdom of providence is committed to his administration. He has power to settle the terms of the covenant of peace as the great plenipotentiary, to govern his church as the great lawgiver, to dispense divine favours as the great almoner, and to call all to account as the great Judge. Both the golden sceptre and the iron rod are given into his hand. Secondly, All grace is given into his hand as the channel of conveyance; all things, all those good things which God intended to give to the children of men; eternal life, and all its preliminaries. We are unworthy that the Father should give those things into our hands, for we have made ourselves the children of his wrath; he hath therefore appointed the Son of his love to be trustee for us, and the things he intended for us he gives into his hands, who is worthy, and has merited both honours for himself and favours for us. They are given into his hands, by him to be given into ours. This is a great encouragement to faith, that the riches of the new covenant are deposited in so sure, so kind, so good a hand, the hand of him that purchased them for us, and us for himself, who is able to keep all that which both God and believers have agreed to commit to him.
[3.] He is the object of that faith which is made the great condition of eternal happiness, and herein he has the pre-eminence above all others: He that believeth on the Son, hath life,John 3:36; John 3:36. We have here the application of what he had said concerning Christ and his doctrine; and it is the conclusion of the whole matter. If God has put this honour upon the Son, we must by faith give honour to him. As God offers and conveys good things to us by the testimony of Jesus Christ, whose word is the vehicle of divine favours, so we receive and partake of those favours by believing the testimony, and entertaining that word as true and good; this way of receiving fitly answers that way of giving. We have here the sum of that gospel which is to be preached to every creature, Mark 16:16. Here is,
First, The blessed state of all true Christians: He that believes on the Son hath everlasting life. Note, 1. It is the character of every true Christian that he believes on the Son of God; not only believes him, that what he saith is true, but believes on him, consents to him, and confides in him. The benefit of true Christianity is no less than everlasting life; this is what Christ came to purchase for us and confer upon us; it can be no less than the happiness of an immortal soul in an immortal God. 2. True believers, even now, have everlasting life; not only they shall have it hereafter, but they have it now. For, (1.) They have very good security for it. The deed by which it passeth is sealed and delivered to them, and so they have it; it is put into the hands of their guardian for them, and so they have it, though the use be not yet transferred into possession. They have the Son of God, and in him they have life; and the Spirit of God, the earnest of this life. (2.) They have the comfortable foretastes of it, in present communion with God and the tokens of his love. Grace is glory begun.
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Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on John 3:30". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​mhm/​john-3.html. 1706.
The opening verses (John 1:1-18) introduce the most glorious subject which God Himself ever gave in employing the pen of man; not only the most glorious in point of theme, but in the profoundest point of view; for what the Holy Ghost here brings before us is the Word, the everlasting, Word, when He was with God, traced down from before all time, when there was no creature. It is not exactly the Word with the Father; for such a phrase would not be according to the exactness of the truth; but the Word with God. The term God comprehends not only the Father, but the Holy Ghost also. He who was the Son of the Father then, as I need not say always, is regarded here as the revealer of God; for God, as such, does not reveal Himself. He makes His, nature known by the Word. The Word, nevertheless, is here spoken of before there was any one for God to reveal Himself to. He is, therefore, and in the strictest sense, eternal. "In the beginning was the Word," when there was no reckoning of time; for the beginning of what we call time comes before us in the third verse. "All things," it is said, "were made by Him." This is clearly the origination of all creaturehood, wherever and whatever it be. Heavenly beings there were before the earthly; but whether no matter of whom you speak, or of, what angels or men, whether heaven or earth, all things were made by Him.
Thus He, whom we know to be the Son of the Father, is here presented as the Word who subsisted personally in the beginning ( ἐν ἀρχῆ ) who was with God, and was Himself God of the same nature, yet a distinct personal being. To clench this matter specially against all reveries of Gnostics or others, it is added, that He was in the beginning with God.* Observe another thing: "The Word was with God" not the Father. As the Word and God, so the Son and the Father are correlative. We are here in the exactest phrase, and at the same time in the briefest terms, brought into the presence of the deepest conceivable truths which God,. alone knowing, alone could communicate to man. Indeed, it is He alone who gives the truth; for this is not the bare knowledge of such or such facts, whatever the accuracy of the information. Were all things conveyed with the most admirable correctness, it would not amount to divine revelation. Such a communication would still differ, not in degree only, but in kind. A revelation from God not only supposes true statements, but God's mind made known so as to act morally on man, forming his thoughts and affections according to His own character. God makes Himself known in what He communicates by, of, and in Christ.
* I cannot but regard John 1:2 as a striking and complete setting aside of the Alexandrian and Patristic distinction of λόγος ἐνδιάθετος and λόγος προφορικός . Some of the earlier Greek fathers, who were infected with Platonism, held that the λόγος was conceived in God's mind from eternity, and only uttered, as it were, in time. This has given a handle to Arians, who, like other unbelievers, greedily seek the traditions of men. The apostle here asserts, in the Holy Ghost, the eternal personality of the Word with God.
In the case before us, nothing can be more obvious than that the Holy Ghost, for the glory of God, is undertaking to make known that which touches the Godhead in the closest way, and is meant for infinite blessing to all in the person of the Lord Jesus. These verses accordingly begin with Christ our Lord; not from, but in the beginning, when nothing was yet created. It is the eternity of His being, in no point of which could it be said He was not, but, contrariwise, that He was. Yet was He not alone. God was there not the Father only, but the Holy Ghost, beside the Word Himself, who was God, and had divine nature as they.
Again, it is not said that in the beginning He was, in the sense of then coming into being ( ἐγένετο ), but He existed ( ἦν ). Thus before all time the Word was. When the great truth of the incarnation is noted in verse 14, it is said not that the Word came into existence, but that He was made ( ἐγένετο ) flesh began so to be. This, therefore, so much the more contrasts with verses 1 and 2.
In the beginning, then, before there was any creature, was the Word, and the Word was with God. There was distinct personality in the Godhead, therefore, and the Word was a distinct person Himself (not, as men dreamt, an emanation in time, though eternal and divine in nature, proceeding from God as its source). The Word had a proper personality, and at the same time was God "the Word was God." Yea, as the next verse binds and sums up all together, He, the Word, was in the beginning with God. The personality was as eternal as the existence, not in (after some mystic sort) but with God. I can conceive no statement more admirably complete and luminous in the fewest and simplest words.
Next comes the attributing of creation to the Word. This must be the work of God, if anything was; and here again the words are precision itself "All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made." Other words far less nervous are used elsewhere: unbelief might cavil and construe them into forming or fashioning. Here the Holy Ghost employs the most explicit language, that all things began to be, or received being, through the Word, to the exclusion of one single thing that ever did receive being apart from Him language which leaves the fullest room for Uncreate Beings, as we have already seen, subsisting eternally and distinctly, yet equally God. Thus the statement is positive that the Word is the source of all things which have received being ( γενόμενα ); that there is no creature which did not thus derive its being from Him. There cannot, therefore, be a more rigid, absolute shutting out of any creature from origination, save by the Word.
It is true that in other parts of Scripture we hear God, as such, spoken of as Creator. We hear of His making the worlds by the Son. But there is and can be no contradiction in Scripture. The truth is, that whatever was made was made according to the Father's sovereign will; but the Son, the Word of God, was the person who put forth the power, and never without the energy of the Holy Ghost, I may add, as the Bible carefully teaches us. Now this is of immense importance for that which the Holy Ghost has in view in the gospel of John, because the object is to attest the nature and light of God in the person of the Christ; and therefore we have here not merely what the Lord Jesus was as born of a woman, born under the law, which has its appropriate place in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, but what He was and is as God. On the other hand, the gospel of Mark omits every thing of the kind. A genealogy such as Matthew's and Luke's, we have seen, would be totally out of place there; and the reason is manifest. The subject of Mark is the testimony of Jesus as having taken, though a Son, the place of a servant in the earth. Now, in a servant, no matter from what noble lineage he comes, there is no genealogy requisite. What is wanted in a servant is, that the work should be done well, no matter about the genealogy. Thus, even if it were the Son of God Himself, so perfectly did He condescend to the condition of a servant, and so mindful was the Spirit of it, that, accordingly, the genealogy which was demanded in Matthew, which is of such signal beauty and value in Luke, is necessarily excluded from the gospel of Mark. For higher reasons it could have no place in John. In Mark it is because of the lowly place of subjection which the Lord was pleased to take; it is excluded from John, on the contrary, because there He is presented as being above all genealogy . He is the source of other people's genealogy yea, of the genesis of all things. We may say therefore boldly, that in the gospel of John such a descent could not be inserted in consistency with its character. If it admit any genealogy, it must be what is set forth in the preface of John the very verses which are occupying us which exhibit the divine nature and eternal personality of His being. He was the Word, and He was God; and, if we may anticipate, let us add, the Son, the only begotten Son of the Father. This, if any thing, is His genealogy here. The ground is evident; because everywhere in John He is God. No doubt the Word became flesh, as we may see more of presently, even in this inspired introduction; and we have the reality of His becoming man insisted on. Still, manhood was a place that He entered. Godhead was the glory that He possessed from everlasting His own eternal nature of being. It was not conferred upon Him. There is not, nor can be, any such thing as a derived subordinate Godhead; though men may be said to be gods, as commissioned of God, and representing Him in government. He was God before creation began, before all time. He was God independently of any circumstances. Thus, as we have seen, for the Word the apostle John claims eternal existence, distinct personality, and divine nature; and withal asserts the eternal distinctness of that person. (Verses John 1:1-2)
Such is the Word Godward ( πρὸς τὸν Θεόν ). We are next told of Him in relation to the creature. (Verses John 1:3-5) In the earlier verses it was exclusively His being. In verse 3 He acts, He creates, He causes all things to come into existence; and apart from Him not one thing came into existence which is existent ( γέγονεν ). Nothing more comprehensive, nothing more exclusive.
The next verse (John 1:4) predicts of Him that which is yet more momentous: not creative power, as in verse 3, but life. "In him was life." Blessed truth for those who know the spread of death over this lower scene of creation! and the rather as the Spirit adds, that "the life was the light of men." Angels were not its sphere, nor was it restricted to a chosen nation: "the life was the light of men." Life was not in man, even unfallen; at best, the first man, Adam, became a living soul when instinct with the breath of God. Nor is it ever said, even of a saint, that in him is or was life, though life he has; but he has it only in the Son. In Him, the Word, was life, and the life was the light of men. Such was its relationship.
No doubt, whatever was revealed of old was of Him; whatever word came out from God was from Him, the Word, and light of men. But then God was not revealed; for He was not manifested. On the contrary, He dwelt in the thick darkness, behind the veil in the most holy place, or visiting men but angelically otherwise. But here, we are told, "the light shines in the darkness." (Ver. John 1:5) Mark the abstractedness of the language it "shines" (not shone). How solemn, that darkness is all the light finds! and what darkness! how impenetrable and hopeless! All other darkness yields and fades away before light; but here "the darkness comprehended it not" (as the fact is stated, and not the abstract principle only). It was suited to man, even as it was the light expressly of men, so that man is without excuse.
But was there adequate care that the light should be presented to men? What was the way taken to secure this? Unable God could not be: was He indifferent? God gave testimony; first, John the Baptist; then the Light itself. "There was ( ἐγένετο ) a man sent from God, whose name was John." (v. John 1:6) He passes by all the prophets, the various preliminary dealings of the Lord, the shadows of the law: not even the promises are noticed here. We shall find some of these introduced or alluded to for a far different purpose later on. John, then, came to bear witness about the Light, that all through him might believe. (Verse John 1:7) But the Holy Ghost is most careful to guard against all mistake. Could any run too close a parallel between the light of men in the Word, and him who is called the burning and shining lamp in a subsequent chapter? Let them learn their error. He, John, "was not that light;" there is but one such: none was similar or second. God cannot be compared with man. John came "that he might bear witness about the light," not to take its place or set himself up. The true Light was that which, coming into the world, lighteth every man.* Not only does He necessarily, as being God, deal with every man (for His glory could not be restricted to a part of mankind), but the weighty truth here announced is the connection with His incarnation of this universal light, or revelation of God in Him, to man as such. The law, as we know from elsewhere, had dealt with the Jewish people temporarily, and for partial purposes. This was but a limited sphere. Now that the Word comes into the world, in one way or another light shines for every one: it may be, leaving some under condemnation, as we know it does for the great mass who believe not; it may be light not only on but in man, where there is faith through the action of divine grace. It is certain that, whatever light in relation to God there may be, and wherever it is given in Him, there is not, there never was, spiritual light apart from Christ all else is darkness. It could not be otherwise. This light in its own character must go out to all from God. So it is said elsewhere, "The grace of God that bringeth salvation to all men hath appeared." It is not that all men receive the blessing; but, in its proper scope and nature, it addresses itself to all. God sends it for all. Law may govern one nation; grace refuses to be limited in its appeal, however it may be in fact through man's unbelief.
*I cannot but think that this is the true version, and exhibits the intended aim of the clause. Most of the early writers took it as the authorized version, save Theodore of Mopsuestia, who understood it as here given: Εἰπὼν τὸ · ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κοσμον , περὶ τοῦ δεσπότου Χριστοῦ καλως ἐπήγαγεν τὸ · ἐν τῳ κοσμῳ ἦν , ὥστε δεῖξαι , ὅτι τὸ ἐρχόμενον πρὸς την διὰ σαρκὸς εἶπεν φανέρωσιν . (Ed. Fritzsche, p. 21)
"He was in the world, and the world was made by him." (Verse John 1:9) The world therefore surely ought to have known its Maker. Nay, "the world knew him not." From the very first, man, being a sinner, was wholly lost. Here the unlimited scene is in view; not Israel, but the world. Nevertheless, Christ did come to His own things, His proper, peculiar possession; for there were special relationships. They should have understood more about Him those that were specially favoured. It was not so.
"He came unto his own [things], and his own [people] received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power [rather, authority, right, or title] to become children of God." (Ver. John 1:11-12; John 1:11-12) It was not a question now of Jehovah and His servants. Neither does the Spirit say exactly as the English Bible says "sons," but children. His glorious person would have none now in relation to God but members of the family. Such was the grace that God was displaying in Him, the true and full expresser of His mind. He gave them title to take the place of children of God, even to those that believe on His name. Sons they might have been in bare title; but these had the right of children.
All disciplinary action, every probationary process, disappears. The ignorance of the world has been proved, the rejection of Israel is complete: then only is it that we hear of this new place of children. It is now eternal reality, and the name of Jesus Christ is that which puts all things to a final test. There is difference of manner for the world and His own ignorance and rejection. Do any believe on His name? Be they who they may now, as many as receive Him become children of God. It is no question here of every man, but of such as believe. Do they receive Him not? For them, Israel, or the world, all is over. Flesh and world are judged morally. God the Father forms a new family in, by, and for Christ. All others prove not only that they are bad, but that they hate perfect goodness, and more than that, life and light the true light in the Word. How can such have relationship with God?
Thus, manifestly, the whole question is terminated at the very starting-point of our gospel; and this is characteristic of John all through: manifestly all is decided. It is not merely a Messiah, who comes and offers Himself, as we find in other gospels, with most painstaking diligence, and presented to their responsibility; but here from the outset the question is viewed as closed. The Light, on coming into the world, lightens every man with the fulness of evidence which was in Him, and at once discovers the true state as truly as it will be revealed in the last day when He judges all, as we find it intimated in the gospel afterwards. (John 12:48)
Before the manner of His manifestation comes before us in verse 14, we have the secret explained why some, and not all, received Christ. It was not that they were better than their neighbours. Natural birth had nothing to do with this new thing; it was a new nature altogether in those who received Him: "Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." It was an extraordinary birth; of God, not man in any sort, or measure, but a new and divine nature (2 Peter 1:1-21) imparted to the believer wholly of grace. All this, however, was abstract, whether as to the nature of the Word or as to the place of the Christian.
But it is important we should know how He entered the world. We have seen already that thus light was shed on men. How was this? The Word, in order to accomplish these infinite things, "was made. ( ἐγένετο ) flesh, and dwelt among us." It is here we learn in what condition of His person God was to be revealed and the work done; not what He was in nature, but what He became. The great fact of the incarnation is brought before us "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father"). His aspect as thus tabernacling among the disciples was "full of grace and truth." Observe, that blessed as the light is, being God's moral nature, truth is more than this, and is introduced by grace. It is the revelation of God yea, of the Father and the Son, and not merely the detecter of man. The Son had not come to execute the judgments of the law they knew, nor even to promulgate a new and higher law. His was an errand incomparably deeper, more worthy of God, and suitable to One "full of grace and truth." He wanted nothing; He came to give yea, the very best, so to speak, that God has.
What is there in God more truly divine than grace and truth? The incarnate Word was here full of grace and truth. Glory would be displayed in its day. Meanwhile there was a manifestation of goodness, active in love in the midst of evil, and toward such; active in the making known God and man, and every moral relation, and what He is toward man, through and in the Word made flesh. This is grace and truth. And such was Jesus. "John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This is he of whom I spake: He that cometh after me is preferred before me, for he was before me." Coming after John as to date, He is necessarily preferred before him in dignity; for He was ( ἦν ) [not come into being ( ἐγένετο )] before Him. He was God. This statement (verse John 1:15) is a parenthesis, though confirmatory of verse John 1:14, and connects John's testimony with this new section of Christ's manifestation in flesh; as we saw John introduced in the earlier verses, which treated abstractly of Christ's nature as the Word.
Then, resuming the strain of verse John 1:14, we are told, in verseJohn 1:16; John 1:16, that "of his fulness have all we received." So rich and transparently divine was the grace: not some souls, more meritorious than the rest, rewarded according to a graduated scale of honour, but "of his fulness have all we received." What can be conceived more notably standing out in contrast with the governmental system God had set up, and man had known in times past? Here there could not be more, and He would not give less: even "grace upon grace." Spite of the most express signs, and the manifest finger of God that wrote the ten words on tables of stone, the law sinks into comparative insignificance. "The law was given by Moses." God does not here condescend to call it His, though, of course, it was His and holy, just, and good, both in itself and in its use, if used lawfully. But if the Spirit speaks of the Son of God, the law dwindles at once into the smallest possible proportions: everything yields to the honour the Father puts oil the Son. "The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came ( ἐγένετο ) by Jesus Christ." (ver. John 1:17; John 1:17) The law, thus given, was in itself no giver, but an exacter; Jesus, full of grace and truth, gave, instead of requiring or receiving; and He Himself has said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. Truth and grace were not sought nor found in man, but began to subsist here below by Jesus Christ.
We have now the Word made flesh, called Jesus Christ this person, this complex person, that was manifest in the world; and it is He that brought it all in. Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
Lastly, closing this part, we have another most remarkable contrast. "No man hath seen God at any time: the only-begotten Son," etc. Now, it is no longer a question of nature, but of relationship; and hence it is not said simply the Word, but the Son, and the Son in the highest possible character, the only-begotten Son, distinguishing Him thus from any other who might, in a subordinate sense, be son of God "the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father." Observe: not which was, but "which is." He is viewed as retaining the same perfect intimacy with the Father, entirely unimpaired by local or any other circumstances He had entered. Nothing in the slightest degree detracted from His own personal glory, and from the infinitely near relationship which He had had with the Father from all eternity. He entered this world, became flesh, as born of woman; but there was no diminution of His own glory, when He, born of the virgin, walked on earth, or when rejected of man, cut off as Messiah, He was forsaken of God for sin our sin on the cross. Under all changes, outwardly, He abode as from eternity the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father. Mark what, as such, He does declare Him. No man hath seen God at any time. He could be declared only by One who was a divine person in the intimacy of the Godhead, yea, was the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father. Hence the Son, being in this ineffable nearness of love, has declared not God only, but the Father. Thus we all not only receive of His fulness, (and what fulness illimitable was there not in Him!) but He, who is the Word made flesh, is the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, and so competent to declare, as in fact He has. It is not only the nature, but the model and fulness of the blessing in the Son, who declared the Father.
The distinctiveness of such a testimony to the Saviour's glory need hardly be pointed out. One needs no more than to read, as believers, these wonderful expressions of the Holy Ghost, where we cannot but feel that we are on ground wholly different from that of the other gospels. Of course they are just as truly inspired as John's; but for that very reason they were not inspired to give the same testimony. Each had his own; all are harmonious, all perfect, all divine; but not all so many repetitions of the same thing. He who inspired them to communicate His thoughts of Jesus in the particular line assigned to each, raised up John to impart the highest revelation, and thus complete the circle by the deepest views of the Son of God.
After this we have, suitably to this gospel, John's connection with the Lord Jesus. (ver. John 1:19-37; John 1:19-37) It is here presented historically. We have had his name introduced into each part of the preface of our evangelist. Here there is no John proclaiming Jesus as the One who was about to introduce the kingdom of heaven. Of this we learn nothing, here. Nothing is said about the fan in His hand; nothing of His burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. This is all perfectly true, of course; and we have it elsewhere. His earthly rights are just where they should be; but not here, where the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father has His appropriate place. It is not John's business here to call attention to His Messiahship, not even when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask, Who art thou? Nor was it from any indistinctness in the record, or in him who gave it. For "he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? (ver. John 1:20-25) John does not even speak of Him as one who, on His rejection as Messiah, would step into a larger glory. To the Pharisees, indeed, his words as to the Lord are curt: nor does he tell them of the divine ground of His glory, as he had before and does after.* He says, One was among them of whom they had no conscious knowledge, "that cometh after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to loose." (Ver. John 1:26-27; John 1:26-27) For himself he was not the Christ, but for Jesus he says no more. How striking the omission! for he knew He was the Christ. But here it was not God's purpose to record it.
* The best text omits other expressions, evidently derived from verses John 1:15; John 1:30John 1:30.
Verse John 1:29 opens John's testimony to his disciples. (Ver. John 1:29-34) How rich it is, and how marvellously in keeping with our gospel! Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, but withal, as he had said, the eternal One, yet in view of His manifestation to Israel (and, therefore, John was come baptizing with water a reason here given, but not to the Pharisees in verses 25-27). Further, John attests that he saw the Spirit descending like a dove, and abiding on Him the appointed token that He it is who baptizes with the Holy Ghost even the Son of God. None else could do either work: for here we see His great work on earth, and His heavenly power. In these two points of view, more particularly, John gives testimony to Christ; He is the lamb as the taker away of the world's sin; the same is He who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. Both of them were in relation to man on the earth; the one while He was here, the other from above. His death on the cross included much more, clearly answering to the first; His baptizing with the Holy Ghost followed His going to heaven. Nevertheless, the heavenly part is little dwelt on, as John's gospel displays our Lord more as the expression of God revealed on earth, than as Man ascended to heaven, which fell far more to the province of the apostle of the Gentiles. In John He is One who could be described as Son of man who is in heaven; but He belonged to heaven, because He was divine. His exaltation there is not without notice in the gospel, but exceptionally.
Remark, too, the extent of the work involved in verse 29. As the Lamb of God (of the Father it is not said), He has to do with the world. Nor will the full force of this expression be witnessed till the glorious result of His blood shedding sweep away the last trace of sin in the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. It finds, of course, a present application, and links itself with that activity of grace in which God is now sending out the gospel to any sinner and every sinner. Still the eternal day alone will show out the full virtue of that which belongs to Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the world's sin. Observe, it is not (as is often very erroneously said or sung) a question of sins, but of the "sin" of the world. The sacrificial death of Him who is God goes far beyond the thought of Israel. How, indeed, could it be stayed within narrow limits? It passes over all question of dispensations, until it accomplishes, in all its extent, that purpose for which He thus died. No doubt there are intervening applications; but such is the ultimate result of His work as the Lamb of God. Even now faith knows, that instead of sin being the great object before God, ever since the cross He has had before His eyes that sacrifice which put away sin. Notably He is now applying it to the reconciliation of a people, who are also baptized by the Holy Ghost into one body. By and by He will apply it to "that nation," the Jews, as to others also, and finally (always excepting the unbelieving and evil) to the entire system, the world. I do not mean by this all individuals, but creation; for nothing can be more certain, than that those who do not receive the Son of God are so much the worse for having heard the gospel. The rejection of Christ is the contempt of God Himself, in that of which He is most jealous, the honour of the Saviour, His Son. The refusal of His precious blood will, on the contrary, make their case incomparably worse than that of the heathen who never heard the good news.
What a witness all this to His person! None but a divine being could thus deal with the world. No doubt He must become a man, in order, amongst other reasons, to be a sufferer, and to die. None the less did the result of His death proclaim His Deity. So in the baptism with the Holy Ghost, who would pretend to such a power? No mere man, nor angel, not the highest, the archangel, but the Son.
So we see in the attractive power, afterwards dealing with individual souls. For were it not God Himself in the person of Jesus, it had been no glory to God, but a wrong and a rival. For nothing can be more observable than the way in which He becomes the centre round whom those that belong to God are gathered. This is the marked effect on the third day (ver. John 1:29; John 1:29John 1:34; John 1:34) of John Baptist's testimony here named; the first day (ver. 29) on which, as it were, Jesus speaks and acts in His grace as here shown on the earth. It is evident, that were He not God, it would be an interference with His glory, a place taken inconsistent with His sole authority, no less than it must be also, and for that reason, altogether ruinous to man. But He, being God, was manifesting and, on the contrary, maintaining the divine glory here below. John, therefore, who had been the honoured witness before of God's call, "the voice," etc., does now by the outpouring of his heart's delight, as well as testimony, turn over, so to say, his disciples to Jesus. Beholding Him as He walked, he says, Behold the Lamb of God! and the two disciples leave John for Jesus. (ver. John 1:35-40) Our Lord acts as One fully conscious of His glory, as indeed He ever was.
Bear in mind that one of the points of instruction in this first part of our gospel is the action of the Son of God before His regular Galilean ministry. The first four chapters of John precede in point of time the notices of His ministry in the other gospels. John was not yet cast into prison. Matthew, Mark, and Luke start, as far as regards the public labours of the Lord, with John cast into prison. But all that is historically related of the Lord Jesus inJohn 1:1-51; John 1:1-51; John 2:1-25; John 3:1-36; John 4:1-54. was before the imprisonment of the Baptist. Here, then, we have a remarkable display of that which preceded His Galilean ministry, or public manifestation. Yet before a miracle, as well as in the working of those which set forth His glory, it is evident that so far from its being a gradual growth, as it were, in His mind, He had, all simple and lowly though He were, the deep, calm, constant consciousness that He was God. He acts as such. If He put forth His power, it was not only beyond man's measure, but unequivocally divine, however also the humblest and most dependent of men. Here we see Him accepting, not as fellow-servant, but as Lord, those souls who had been under the training of the predicted messenger of Jehovah that was to prepare His way before, His face. Also one of the two thus drawn to Him first finds his own brother Simon (with the words, We have found the Messiah), and led him to Jesus, who forthwith gave him his new name in terms which surveyed, with equal ease and certainty, past, present, and future. Here again, apart from this divine insight, the change or gift of the name marks His glory. (Verses John 1:41-44)
On the morrow Jesus begins, directly and indirectly, to call others to follow Himself. He tells Philip to follow Him. This leads Philip to Nathanael, in whose case, when he comes to Jesus, we see not divine power alone in sounding the souls of men, but over creation. Here was One on earth who knew all secrets. He saw him under the fig tree. He was God. Nathanael's call is just as clearly typical of Israel in the latter day. The allusion to the fig-tree confirms this. So does his confession: Rabbi, thou art the Son of God: thou art the King of Israel. (SeePsalms 2:1-12; Psalms 2:1-12) But the Lord tells him of greater things he, should see, and says to him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, henceforth (not "hereafter," but henceforth) ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man. It is the wider, universal glory of the Son of man (according toPsalms 8:1-9; Psalms 8:1-9); but the most striking part of it verified from that actual moment because of the glory of His person, which needed not the day of glory to command the attendance of the angels of God this mark, as Son of man. (Verses John 1:44-51)
On the third day is the marriage in Cana of Galilee, where was His mother, Jesus also, and His disciples. (John 2:1-25) The change of water into wine manifested His glory as the beginning of signs; and He gave another in this early purging of the temple of Jerusalem. Thus we have traced, first, hearts not only attracted to Him, but fresh souls called to follow Him; then, in type, the call of Israel by-and-by; finally, the disappearance of the sign of moral purifying for the joy of the new covenant, when Messiah's time comes to bless the needy earth; but along with this the execution of judgment in Jerusalem, and its long defiled temple. All this clearly goes down to millennial days.
As a present fact, the Lord justifies the judicial act before their eyes by His relationship with God as His Father, and gives the Jews a sign in the temple of His body, as the witness of His resurrection power. "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." He is ever God; He is the Son; He quickens and raises from the dead. Later He was determined to be Son of God with power by resurrection of the dead. They had eyes, but they saw not; ears had they, but they heard not, nor did they understand His glory. Alas! not the Jews only; for, as far as intelligence went, it was little better with the disciples till He rose from the dead. The resurrection of the Lord is not more truly a demonstration of His power and glory, than the only deliverance for disciples from the thraldom of Jewish influence. Without it there is no divine understanding of Christ, or of His word, or of Scripture. Further, it is connected intimately with the evidence of man's ruin by sin. Thus it is a kind of transitional fact for a most important part of our gospel, though still introductory. Christ was the true sanctuary, not that on which man had laboured so long in Jerusalem. Man might pull Him down destroy Him, as far as man could, and surely to be the basis in God's hand of better blessing; but He was God, and in three days He would raise up this temple. Man was judged: another Man was there, the Lord from heaven, soon to stand in resurrection.
It is not now the revelation of God meeting man either in essential nature, or as manifested in flesh; nor is it the course of dispensational dealing presented in a parenthetic as well as mysterious form, beginning with John the Baptist's testimony, and going down to the millennium in the Son, full of grace and truth. It becomes a question of man's own condition, and how he stands in relation to the kingdom of God. This question is raised, or rather settled, by the Lord in Jerusalem, at the passover feast, where many believed on His name, beholding the signs He wrought. The dreadful truth comes out: the Lord did not trust Himself to them, because He knew all men. How withering the words! He had no need that any should testify of man, for He knew what was in man. It is not denunciation, but the most solemn sentence in the calmest manner. It was no longer a moot-point whether God could trust man; for, indeed, He could not. The question really is, whether man would trust God. Alas! he would not.
John 3:1-36 follows this up. God orders matters so that a favoured teacher of men, favoured as none others were in Israel, should come to Jesus by night. The Lord meets him at once with the strongest assertion of the absolute necessity that a man should be born anew in order to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus, not understanding in the least such a want for himself, expresses his wonder, and hears our Lord increasing in the strength of the requirement. Except one were born of water and of the Spirit, he could not enter the kingdom of God. This was necessary for the kingdom of God; not for some special place of glory, but for any and every part of God's kingdom. Thus we have here the other side of the truth: not merely what God is in life and light, in grace and truth, as revealed in Christ coming down to man; but man is now judged in the very root of his nature, and proved to be entirely incapable, in his best state, of seeing or entering the kingdom of God. There is the need of another nature, and the only way in which this nature is communicated is by being born of water and the Spirit the employment of the word of God in the quickening energy of the Holy Ghost. So only is man born of God. The Spirit of God uses that word; it is thus invariably in conversion. There is no other way in which the new nature is made good in a soul. Of course it is the revelation of Christ; but here He was simply revealing the sources of this indispensable new birth. There is no changing or bettering the old man; and, thanks be to God, the new does not degenerate or pass away. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (Verses John 3:1-6)
But the Lord goes farther, and bids Nicodemus not wonder at His insisting on this need. As there is an absolute necessity on God's part that man should be thus born anew, so He lets him know there is an active grace of the Spirit, as the wind blows where it will, unknown and uncontrolled by man, for every one that is born of the Spirit, who is sovereign in operation. First, a new nature is insisted on the Holy Ghost's quickening of each soul who is vitally related to God's kingdom; next, the Spirit of God takes an active part not as source or character only, but acting sovereignly, which opens the way not only for a Jew, but for "every one." (VersesJohn 3:7-8; John 3:7-8)
It is hardly necessary to furnish detailed disproof of the crude, ill-considered notion (originated by the fathers), that baptism is in question. In truth, Christian baptism did not yet exist, but only such as the disciples used, like John the Baptist; it was not instituted of Christ till after His resurrection, as it sets forth His death. Had it been meant, it was no wonder that Nicodemus did not know how these things could be. But the Lord reproaches him, the master of Israel, with not knowing these things: that is, as a teacher, with Israel for his scholar, he ought to have known them objectively, at least, if not consciously. Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 44:3, Isaiah 59:21, Ezekiel 36:25-27 ought to have made the Lord's meaning plain to an intelligent Jew. (Verse John 3:10)
The Lord, it is true, could and did go farther than the prophets: even if He taught on the same theme, He could speak with conscious divine dignity and knowledge (not merely what was assigned to an instrument or messenger). "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven." (Verses John 3:11-13) He (and He was not alone here) knew God, and the things of God, consciously in Himself, as surely as He knew all men, and what was in man objectively. He could, therefore, tell them of heavenly things as readily as of earthly things; but the incredulity about the latter, shown in the wondering ignorance of the new birth as a requisite for God's kingdom, proved it was useless to tell of the former. For He who spoke was divine. Nobody had gone up to heaven: God had taken more than one; but no one had gone there as of right. Jesus not only could go up, as He did later, but He had come down thence, and, even though man, He was the Son of man that is in heaven. He is a divine person; His manhood brought no attainder to His rights as God. Heavenly things, therefore, could not but be natural to Him, if one may so say.
Here the Lord introduces the cross. (Ver. John 3:14-15; John 3:14-15) It is not a question simply of the Son of God, nor is He spoken of here as the Word made flesh. But "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must ( δεῖ ) the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." As the new birth for the kingdom of God, so the cross is absolutely necessary for eternal life. In the Word was life, and the life was the light of men. It was not intended for other beings it was God's free gift to man, to the believer, of course. Man, dead in sins, was the object of His grace; but then man's state was such, that it would have been derogatory to God had that life been communicated without the cross of Christ: the Son of man lifted up on it was the One in whom God dealt judicially with the evil estate of man, for the, full consequences of which He made Himself responsible. It would not suit God, if it would suit man, that He, seeing all, should just pronounce on man's corruption, and then forthwith let him off with a bare pardon. One must be born again. But even this sufficed not: the Son of man must be lifted up. It was impossible that there should not be righteous dealing with human evil against God, in its sources and its streams. Accordingly, if the law raised the question of righteousness in man, the cross of the Lord Jesus, typifying Him made sin, is the answer; and there has all been settled to the glory of God, the Lord Jesus having suffered all the inevitable consequences. Hence, then, we have the Lord Jesus alluding to this fresh necessity, if man was to be blessed according to God. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." But this, however worthy of God, and indispensable for man, could not of itself give an adequate expression of what God is; because in this alone, neither His own love nor the glory of His Son finds due display.
Hence, after having first unmistakably laid down the necessity of the cross, He next shows the grace that was manifested in the gift of Jesus. Here He is not portrayed as the Son of man who must be lifted up, but as the Son of God who was given. "For God," He says, "so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." The one, like the other, contributes to this great end, whether the Son of man necessarily lifted up, or the only begotten Son of God given in His love. (Verse John 3:16)
Let it not be passed by, that while the new birth or regeneration is declared to be essential to a part in the kingdom of God, the Lord in urging this intimates that He had not gone beyond the earthly things of that kingdom. Heavenly things are set in evident contradistinction, and link themselves immediately here, as everywhere, with the cross as their correlative. (See Hebrews 12:2, Hebrews 13:11-13) Again, let me just remark in passing, that although, no doubt, we may in a general way speak of those who partake of the new nature as having that life, yet the Holy Ghost refrains from predicating of any saints the full character of eternal life as a present thing until we have the cross of Christ laid (at least doctrinally) as the ground of it. But when the Lord speaks of His cross, and not God's judicial requirements only, but the gift of Himself in His true personal glory as the occasion for the grace of God to display itself to the utmost, then, and not till then, do we hear of eternal life, and this connected with both these points of view. The chapter pursues this subject, showing that it is not only God who thus deals first, with the necessity of man before His own immutable nature; next, blessing according to the riches of His grace but, further, that man's state morally is detected yet more awfully in presence of such grace as well as holiness in Christ. "For God sent not his Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (Ver. John 3:17; John 3:17) This decides all before the execution of judgment, Every man's lot is made manifest by his attitude toward God's testimony concerning His Son. "He that believeth on him is not judged: but he that believeth not is judged already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (Ver. John 3:19; John 3:19) Other things, the merest trifles, may serve to indicate a man's condition; but a new responsibility is created by this infinite display of divine goodness in Christ, and the evidence is decisive and final, that the unbeliever is already judged before God. "And this is the judgment, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were 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." (VersesJohn 3:20-21; John 3:20-21)
The Lord and the disciples are next seen in the country district, not far, it would seem, from John, who was baptizing as they were. The disciples of John dispute with a Jew about purification; but John himself renders a bright witness to the glory of the Lord Jesus. In vain did any come to the Baptist to report the widening circle around Christ. He bows to, as he explains, the sovereign will of God. He reminds them of his previous disclaimer of any place beyond one sent before Jesus. His joy was that of a friend of the Bridegroom (to whom, not to him, the bride belonged), and now fulfilled as he heard the Bridegroom's voice. "He must, increase, but I decrease." Blessed servant he of an infinitely blessed and blessing Master! Then (ver. John 3:31-36) he speaks of His person in contrast with himself and all; of His testimony and of the result, both as to His own glory, and consequently also for the believer on, and the rejecter of, the Son. He that comes from above from heaven is above all. Such was Jesus in person, contrasted with all who belong to the earth. Just as distinct and beyond comparison is His testimony who, coming from heaven and above all, testifies what He saw and heard, however it might be rejected. But see the blessed fruit of receiving it. "He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him." I apprehend the words the Authorised Version gives in italics should disappear. The addition of "unto him" detracts, to my mind, from the exceeding preciousness of what seems to be, at least, left open. For the astonishing thought is, not merely that Jesus receives the Holy Ghost without measure, but that God gives the Spirit also, and not by measure, through Him to others. In the beginning of the chapter it was rather an essential indispensable action of the Holy Ghost required; here it is the privilege of the Holy Ghost given. No doubt Jesus Himself had the Holy Ghost given to Him, as it was meet that He in all things should have the pre-eminence; but it shows yet more both the personal glory of Christ and the efficacy of His work, that He now gives the same Spirit to those who receive His testimony, and set to their seal that God is true. How singularly is the glory of the Lord Jesus thus viewed, as invested with the testimony of God and its crown! What more glorious proof than that the Holy Ghost is given not a certain defined power or gift, but the Holy Ghost Himself; for God gives not the Spirit by measure!
All is fitly closed by the declaration, that "the Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand." It is not merely or most of all a great prophet or witness: He is the Son; and the Father has given all things to be in His hand. There is the nicest care to maintain His personal glory, no matter what the subject may be. The results for the believer or unbeliever are eternal in good or in evil. He that believes on the Son has everlasting life; and he that disobeys the Son, in the sense of not being subject to His person, "shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" Such is the issue of the Son of God present in this world an everlasting one for every man, flowing from the glory of His person, the character of His testimony, and the Father's counsels respecting Him. The effect is thus final, even as His person, witness, and glory are divine.
The chapters we have had before us (John 1:1-51; John 2:1-25; John 3:1-36) are thus evidently an introduction: God revealed not in the Word alone, but in the Word made flesh, in the Son who declared the Father; His work, as God's Lamb, for the world, and His power by the Holy Ghost in man; then viewed as the centre of gathering, as the path to follow, and as the object even for the attendance of God's angels, the heaven being opened, and Jesus not the Son of God and King of Israel only, but the Son of man object of God's counsels. This will be displayed in the millennium, when the marriage will be celebrated, as well as the judgment executed (Jerusalem and its temple being the central point then). This, of course, supposes the setting aside of Jerusalem, its people and house, as they now are, and is justified by the great fact of Christ's death and resurrection, which is the key to all, though not yet intelligible even to the disciples. This brings in the great counterpart truth, that even God present on earth and made flesh is not enough. Man is morally judged. One must be born again for God's kingdom a Jew for what was promised him, like another. But the Spirit would not confine His operations to such bounds, but go out freely like the wind. Nor would the rejected Christ, the Son of man; for if lifted up on the cross, instead of having the throne of David, the result would be not merely earthly blessing for His people according to prophecy, but eternal life for the believer, whoever. he might be; and this, too, as the expression of the true and full grace of God in His only-begotten Son given. John then declared his own waning before Christ, as we have seen, the issues of whose testimony, believed or not, are eternal; and this founded on the revelation of His glorious person as man and to man here below.
John 4:1-54 presents the Lord Jesus outside Jerusalem outside the people of promise among Samaritans, with whom Jews had no intercourse. Pharisaic jealousy had wrought; and Jesus, wearied, sat thus at the fountain of Jacob's well in Sychar. (Ver. John 4:1-6; John 4:1-6) What a picture of rejection and humiliation! Nor was it yet complete. For if, on the one side, God has taken care to let us see already the glory of the Son, and the grace of which He was full, on the other side, all shines out the more marvellously when we know how He dealt with a woman of Samaria, sinful and degraded. Here was a meeting, indeed, between such an one and Him, the Son, true God and eternal life. Grace begins, glory descends; "Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink." (VerseJohn 4:1; John 4:1) It was strange to her that a Jew should thus humble himself: what would it have been, had she seen in Him Jesus the Son of God? "Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." (VerseJohn 4:10; John 4:10) Infinite grace! infinite truth! and the more manifest from His lips to one who was a real impersonation of sin, misery, blindness, degradation. But this is not the question of grace: not what she was, but what He is who was there to win and bless her, manifesting God and the Father withal, practically and in detail. Surely He was there, a weary man outside Judaism; but God, the God of all grace, who humbled Himself to ask a drink of water of her, that He might give the richest and most enduring gift, even water which, once drank, leaves no thirst for ever and ever yea, is in him who drinks a fountain of water springing up unto everlasting life. Thus the Holy Ghost, given by the Son in humiliation (according to God, not acting on law, but according to the gift of grace in the gospel), was fully set forth; but the woman, though interested, and asking, only apprehended a boon for this life to save herself trouble here below. This gives occasion to Jesus to teach us the lesson that conscience must be reached, and sense of sin produced, before grace is understood and brings forth fruit. This He does in verses 16-19. Her life is laid before her by His voice, and she confesses to Him that God Himself spoke to her in His words: "Sir [said she], I perceive that thou art a prophet." If she turned aside to questions of religion, with a mixture of desire to learn what had concerned and perplexed her, and of willingness to escape such a searching of her ways and heart, He did not refrain graciously to vouchsafe the revelation of God, that earthly worship was doomed, that the Father was to be worshipped, not an Unknown. And while He does not hide the privilege of the Jews, He nevertheless proclaims that "the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." This brings all to a point; for the woman says, "I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things." And Jesus answers, "I that speak unto thee am he." The disciples come; the woman goes into the city, leaving her waterpot, but carrying with her the unspeakable gift of God. Her testimony bore the impress of what had penetrated her soul, and would make way for all the rest in due time. "Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." It was much, yet was it little of the glory that was His; but at least it was real; and to the one that has shall be given. (Verses John 4:20-30)
The disciples marvelled that He spoke with the woman. How little they conceived of what was then said and done! "Master, eat," said they. "But He said to them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of." They entered not into His words more than His grace, but thought and spoke, like the Samaritan woman, about things of this life. Jesus explains: "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that true saying, One soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours." (Verses John 4:31-38)
Thus a despised Christ is not merely a crucified Son of man, and given Son of God, as in John 3:1-36, but Himself a divine giver in communion with the Father, and in the power of the Holy Ghost who is given to the believer, the source of worship, as their God and Father is its object for the worshippers in spirit and truth (though surely not to the exclusion of the Son, Hebrews 1:1-14). So it must be now; for God is revealed; and the Father in grace seeks true worshippers (be they Samaritans or Jews) to worship Him. Here, accordingly, it is not so much the means by which life is communicated, as the revelation of the full blessing of grace and communion with the Father and His Son by the Holy Ghost, in whom we are blessed. Hence it is that here the Son, according to the grace of God the Father, gives the Holy Ghost eternal life in the power of the Spirit. It is not simply the new birth such as a saint might, and always must, have had, in order to vital relations with God at any time. Here, in suited circumstances to render the thought and way of God unmistakable, pure and boundless grace takes its own sovereign course, suitable to the love and personal glory of Christ. For if the Son (cast out, we may say, in principle from Judaism) visited Samaria, and deigned to talk with one of the most worthless of that worthless race, it could not be a mere rehearsal of what others did. Not Jacob was there, but the Son of God in nothing but grace; and thus to the Samaritan woman, not to the teachers of Israel, are made those wonderful communications which unfold to us with incomparable depth and beauty the real source, power, and character of that worship which supersedes, not merely schismatic and rebellious Samaria, but Judaism at its best. For evidently it is the theme of worship in its Christian fulness, the fruit of the manifestation of God, and of the Father known in grace. And worship is viewed both in moral nature and in the joy of communion doubly. First, we must worship, if at all, in spirit and in truth. This is indispensable; for God is a Spirit, and so it cannot but be. Besides this, goodness overflows, in that the Father is gathering children, and making worshippers. The Father seeks worshippers. What love! In short, the riches of God's grace are here according to the glory of the Son, and in the power of the Holy Ghost. Hence the Lord, while fully owning the labours of all preceding labourers, has before His eyes the whole boundless expanse of grace, the mighty harvest which His apostles were to reap in due time. It is thus strikingly an anticipation of the result in glory. Meanwhile, for Christian worship, the hour was coming and in principle come, because He was there; and He who vindicated salvation as of the Jews, proves that it is now for Samaritans, or any who believed on account of His word. Without sign, prodigy, or miracle, in this village of Samaria Jesus was heard, known, confessed as truly the Saviour of the world ("the Christ" being absent in the best authorities, ver. 42). The Jews, with all their privileges, were strangers here. They knew what they worshipped, but not the Father, nor were they "true." No such sounds, no such realities were ever heard or known in Israel. How were they not enjoyed in despised Samaria those two days with the Son of God among them! It was meet that so it should be; for, as a question of right, none could claim; and grace surpasses all expectation or thought of man, most of all of men accustomed to a round of religious ceremonial. Christ did not wait till the time was fully come for the old things to pass away, and all to be made new. His own love and person were warrant enough for the simple to lift the veil for a season, and fill the hearts which had received Himself into the conscious enjoyment of divine grace, and of Him who revealed it to them. It was but preliminary, of course; still it was a deep reality, the then present grace in the person of the Son, the Saviour of the world, who filled their once dark hearts with light and joy.
The close of the chapter shows us the Lord in Galilee. But there was this difference from the former occasion, that, at the marriage in Cana (John 2:1-25), the change of the water into wine was clearly millennial in its typical aspect. The healing of the courtier's son, sick and ready to die, is witness of what the Lord was actually doing among the despised of Israel. It is there that we found the Lord, in the other synoptic gospels, fulfilling His ordinary ministry. John gives us this point of contact with them, though in an incident peculiar to himself. It is our evangelist's way of indicating His Galilean sojourn; and this miracle is the particular subject that John was led by the Holy Ghost to take up. Thus, as in the former case the Lord's dealing in Galilee was a type of the future, this appears to be significant of His then present path of grace in that despised quarter of the land. The looking for signs and wonders is rebuked; but mortality is arrested. His corporeal presence was not necessary; His word was enough. The contrasts are as strong, at least, as the resemblance with the healing of the centurion's servant in Matthew 13:1-58 and Luke 7:1-50, which some ancients and moderns have confounded with this, as they did Mary's anointing of Jesus with the sinful woman's in Luke 7:1-50.
One of the peculiarities of our gospel is, that we see the Lord from time to time (and, indeed, chiefly) in or near Jerusalem. This is the more striking, because, as we have seen, the world and Israel, rejecting Him, are also themselves, as such, rejected from the first. The truth is, the design of manifesting His glory governs all; place or people was a matter of no consequence.
Here (John 5:1-47) the first view given of Christ is His person in contrast with the law. Man, under law, proved powerless; and the greater the need, the less the ability to avail himself of such merciful intervention as God still, from time to time, kept up throughout the legal system. The same God who did not leave Himself without witness among the heathen, doing good, and giving from heaven rain and fruitful seasons, did not fail, in the low estate of the Jews, to work by providential power at intervals; and, by the troubled waters of Bethesda, invited the sick, and healed the first who stepped in of whatever disease he had. In the five porches, then, of this pool lay a great multitude of sick, blind, lame, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. But there was a man who had been infirm for thirty and eight years. Jesus saw the man, and knowing that he was long thus, prompts the desire of healing, but brings out the despondency of unbelief. How truly it is man under law! Not only is there no healing to be extracted from the law by a sinner, but the law makes more evident the disease, if it does not also aggravate the symptoms. The law works no deliverance; it puts a man in chains, prison, darkness, and under condemnation; it renders him a patient, or a criminal incompetent to avail himself of the displays of God's goodness. God never left Himself without witness; He did not even among the Gentiles, surely yet less in Israel. Still, such is the effect on man under law, that he could not take advantage of an adequate remedy. (Verses John 5:1-7)
On the other hand, the Lord speaks but the word: "Rise, take up thy couch and walk." The result immediately follows. It was sabbath-day. The Jews, then, who could not help, and pitied not their fellow in his long infirmity and disappointment, are scandalized to see him, safe and sound, carrying his couch on that day. But they learn that it was his divine Physician who had not only healed, but so directed him. At once their malice drops the beneficent power of God in the case, provoked at the fancied wrong done to the seventh day. (VersesJohn 5:8-12; John 5:8-12)
But were the Jews mistaken after all in thinking that the seal of the first covenant was virtually broken in that deliberate word and warranty of Jesus? He could have healed the man without the smallest outward act to shock their zeal for the law. Expressly had He told the man to take up his couch and walk, as well as to rise. There was purpose in it. There was sentence of death pronounced on their system, and they felt accordingly. The man could not tell the Jews the name of his benefactor. But Jesus finds him in the temple, and said, "Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee." The man went off, and told the Jews that it was Jesus: and for this they persecuted Him, because He had done these things on the sabbath. (Verses John 5:13-16)
A graver issue, however, was to be tried; for Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. For this, therefore, the Jews sought the more to kill Him; because He added the greater offence of making Himself equal with God, by saying that God was His own Father. (Verses John 5:17-18)
Thus, in His person, as well as in His work, they joined issue. Nor could any question be more momentous. If He spoke the truth, they were blasphemers. But how precious the grace, in presence of their hatred and proud self-complacency! "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." They had no common thoughts, feelings, or ways with the Father and the Son. Were the Jews zealously keeping the sabbath? The Father and the Son were at work. How could either light or love rest in a scene of sin, darkness, and misery?
Did they charge Jesus with self-exaltation? No charge could be remoter from the truth. Though He could not, would not deny Himself (and He was the Son, and Word, and God), yet had He taken the place of a man, of a servant. Jesus, therefore, answered, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth: and he will show him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment." (Ver. John 5:19-29)
It is evident, then, that the Lord presents life in Himself as the true want of man, who was not merely infirm but dead. Law, means, ordinances, could not meet the need no pool, nor angel nothing but the Son working in grace, the Son quickening. Governmental healing even from Him might only end in "some worse thing" coming. through "sin." Life out of death was wanted by man, such as he is; and this the Father is giving in the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son hath not the Father; he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. This is the truth; but the Jews had the law, and hated the truth. Could they, then, reject the Son, and merely miss this infinite blessing of life in Him? Nay, the Father has given all judgment to the Son. He will have all honour the Son, even as Himself
And as life is in the person of the Son, so God in sending Him meant not that the smallest uncertainty should exist for aught so momentous. He would have every soul to know assuredly how he stands for eternity as well as now. There is but one unfailing test the Son of God God's testimony to Him. Therefore, it seems to me, He adds verse 24. It is not a question of the law, but of hearing Christ's word, and believing Him who sent Christ: he that does so has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment; but is passed from death unto life. The Word, God (and only begotten Son in the Father's bosom), He was eternally Son of God, too, as born into the world. Was this false and blasphemous in their eyes? They could not deny Him to be man Son of man. Nay, therefore it was they, reasoning, denied Him to be God. Let them learn, then, that as Son of man (for which nature they despised Him, and denied His essential personal glory) He will judge; and this judgment will be no passing visitation, such as God has accomplished by angels or men in times past. The judgment, all of it, whether for quick or dead, is consigned to Him, because He is Son of man. Such is God's vindication of His outraged rights; and the judgment will be proportionate to the glory that has been set at nought.
Thus solemnly does the meek Lord Jesus unfold these two truths. In Him was life for this scene of death; and it is of faith that it might be by grace. This only secures His honour in those that believe God's testimony to Him, the Son of God; and to these He gives life, everlasting life now, and exemption from judgment, in this acting in communion with the Father. And in this He is sovereign. The Son gives life, as the Father does; and not merely to whom the Father will, but to whom He will. Nevertheless the Son had taken the place of being the sent One, the place of subordination in the earth, in which He would say, "My Father is greater than I." And He did accept that place thoroughly, and in all its consequences. But let them beware how they perverted it. Granted He was the Son of man; but as such, He had all judgment given Him, and would judge. Thus in one way or the other all must honour the Son. The Father did not judge, but committed all judgment into the hands of the Son, because He is the Son of man. It was not the time now to demonstrate in public power these coming, yea, then present truths. The hour was one for faith, or unbelief. Did the dead (for so men are treated, not as alive under law) did they hear the voice of the Son of God? Such shall live. For though the Son (that eternal life who was with the Father) was a man, in that very position had the Father given Him to have life in Himself, and to execute judgment also, because He is Son of man. Judgment is the alternative for man: for God it is the resource to make good the glory of the Son, and in that nature, in and for which man blind to his own highest dignity dares to despise Him. Two resurrections, one of life, and another of judgment, would be the manifestation of faith and unbelief, or rather, of those who believe, and of those who reject the Son. They were not to wonder then at what He says and does now; for an hour was coming in which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those that have done good to resurrection of life, and those that have done evil to resurrection of judgment. This would make all manifest. Now it is that the great question is decided; now it is that a man receives or refuses Christ. If he receives Him, it is everlasting life, and Christ is thus honoured by him; if not, judgment remains which will compel the honour of Christ, but to his own ruin for ever. Resurrection will be the proof; the two-fold rising of the dead, not one, but two resurrections. Life resurrection will display how little they had to be ashamed of, who believed the record given of His Son; the resurrection of judgment will make but too plain, to those who despised the Lord, both His honour and their sin and shame.
As this chapter sets forth the Lord Jesus with singular fulness of glory, on the side both of His Godhead and of His manhood, so it closes with the most varied and remarkable testimonies God has given to us, that there may be no excuse. So bright was His glory, so concerned was the Father in maintaining it, so immense the blessing if received, so tremendous the stake involved in its loss, that God vouchsafed the amplest and clearest witnesses. If He judges, it is not without full warning. Accordingly there is a four-fold testimony to Jesus: the testimony of John the Baptist; the Lord's own works; the voice of the Father from heaven; and finally, the written word which the Jews had in their own hands. To this last the Lord attaches the deepest importance. This testimony differs from the rest in having a more permanent character. Scripture is, or may be, before man always. It is not a message or a sign, however significant at the moment, which passes away as soon as heard or seen. As a weapon of conviction, most justly had it in the mind of the Lord Jesus the weightiest place, little as man thinks now-a-days of it. The issue of all is, that the will of man is the real cause and spring of enmity. "Ye will not come to me that ye might have life." it was no lack of testimony; their will was for present honour, and hostile to the glory of the only God. They would fall a prey to Antichrist, and meanwhile are accused of Moses, in whom they trusted, without believing him; else they would have believed Christ, of whom he wrote.
In John 6:1-71 our Lord sets aside Israel in another point of view. Not only man under law has no health, but he has no strength to avail himself of the blessing that God holds out. Nothing less than everlasting life in Christ can deliver: otherwise there remains judgment. Here the Lord was really owned by the multitudes as the great Prophet that should come; and this in consequence of His works, especially that one which Scripture itself had connected with the Son of David. (Psalms 132:1-18) Then they wanted to make Him a king. It seemed natural: He had fed the poor with bread, and why should not He take His place on the throne? This the Lord refuses, and goes up the mountain to pray, His disciples being meanwhile exposed to a storm on the lake, and straining after the desired haven till He rejoins them, when immediately the ship was at the land whither they went. (VersesJohn 6:1-21; John 6:1-21)
The Lord, in the latter part of the chapter (verses John 6:27-58), contrasts the presentation of the truth of God in His person and work with all that pertained to the promises of Messiah. It is not that He denies the truth of what they were thus desiring and attached to. Indeed, He was the great Prophet, as He was the great King, and as He is now the great Priest on high. Still the Lord refused the crown then: it was not the time or state for His reign. Deeper questions demanded solution. A greater work was in hand; and this, as the rest of the chapter shows us, not a Messiah lifted up, but the true bread given He who comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world; a dying, not a reigning, Son of man. It is His person as incarnate first, then in redemption giving His flesh to be eaten and His blood to be drank. Thus former things pass away; the old man is judged, dead, and clean gone. A second and wholly new man appears the bread of God, not of man, but for men. The character is wholly different from the position and glory of Messiah in Israel, according to promise and prophecy. Indeed, it is the total eclipse, not merely of law and remedial mercies, but even of promised Messianic glory, by everlasting life and resurrection at the last day. Christ here, it will be noticed, is not so much the quickening agent as Son of God (John 5:1-47), but the object of faith as Son of man first incarnate, to be eaten; then dying and giving His flesh to be eaten, and His blood to be drank. Thus we feed on Him and drink into Him, as man, unto life everlasting life in Him.
This last is the figure of a truth deeper than incarnation, and clearly means communion with His death. They had stumbled before, and the Lord brought in not alone His person, as the Word made flesh, presented for man now to receive and enjoy; but unless they ate the flesh, and drank the blood of the Son of man, they had no life in them. There He supposes His full rejection and death. He speaks of Himself as the Son of man in death; for there could be no eating of His flesh, no drinking of His blood, as a living man. Thus it is not only the person of our Lord viewed as divine, and coming down into the world. He who, living, was received for eternal life, is our meat and drink in dying, and gives us communion with His death. Thus, in fact, we have the Lord setting aside what was merely Messianic by the grand truths of the incarnation, and, above all, of the atonement, with which man must have vital association: he must eat yea, eat and drink. This language is said of both, but most strongly of the latter. And so, in fact, it was and is. He who owns the reality of Christ's incarnation, receives most thankfully and adoringly from God the truth of redemption; he, on the contrary, who stumbles at redemption, has not really taken in the incarnation according to God's mind. If a man looks at the Lord Jesus as One who entered the world in a general way, and calls this the incarnation, he will surely stumble over the cross. If, on the contrary, a soul has been taught of God the glory of the person of Him who was made flesh, he receives in all simplicity, and rejoices in, the glorious truth, that He who was made flesh was not made flesh only to this end, but rather as a step toward another and deeper work the glorifying God, and becoming our food, in death. Such are the grand emphatic points to which the Lord leads.
But the chapter does not close without a further contrast. (Verses John 6:59-71) What and if they should see Him, who came down and died in this world, ascend up where He was before? All is in the character of the Son of man. The Lord Jesus did, without question, take humanity in His person into that glory which He so well knew as the Son of the Father.
On this basisJohn 7:1-53; John 7:1-53 proceeds. The brethren of the Lord Jesus, who could see the astonishing power that was in Him, but whose hearts were carnal, at once discerned that it might be an uncommon good thing for them, as well as for Him, in this world. It was worldliness in its worst shape, even to the point of turning the glory of Christ to a present account. Why should He not show Himself to the world? (Verses John 7:3-5) The Lord intimates the impossibility of anticipating the time of God; but then He does it as connected with His own personal glory. Then He rebukes the carnality of His brethren. If His time was not yet come, their time was always ready. (Ver. John 7:6-8) They belonged to the world. They spoke of the world; the world might hear them. As to Himself, He does not go at that time to the feast of tabernacles; but later on He goes up "not openly, but as it were in secret" (verseJohn 7:10; John 7:10), and taught. They wonder, as they had murmured before (John 7:12-15); but Jesus shows that the desire to do God's will is the condition of spiritual understanding. (Verses John 7:16-18) , The Jews kept not the law) and wished to kill Him who healed man in divine love. (Verses John 7:19-23) What judgment could be less righteous? (Ver. John 7:24) They reason and are in utter uncertainty. (Ver. John 7:25-31) He is going where they cannot come, and never guessed (for unbelief thinks of the dispersed among the Greeks of anything rather than of God). (VersesJohn 7:33-36; John 7:33-36) Jesus was returning to Him that sent Him, and the Holy Ghost would be given. So on the last day, that great day of the feast (the eighth day, which witnessed of a resurrection glory outside this creation, now to be made good in the power of the Spirit before anything appears to sight), the Lord stands and cries, saying, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." (Ver. John 7:37) It is not a question of eating the bread of God, or, when Christ died, of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Here, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." Just as in John 4:1-54, so here it is a question of power in the Holy Ghost, and not simply of Christ's person. "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." (Ver. John 7:38; John 7:38) And then we have the comment of the Holy Ghost: "(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified)" There is, first, the thirsty soul coming to Jesus and drinking; then there is the power of the Spirit flowing forth from the inner man of the believer in refreshment to others. (Verse John 7:39)
Nothing can be simpler than this. Details are not called for now, but just the outline of the truth. But what we learn is, that our Lord (viewed as having entered into heaven as man on the ground of redemption, i.e., ascended, after having passed through death, into glory) from that glory confers meanwhile the Holy Ghost on him that believes, instead of bringing in at once the final feast of gladness for the Jews and the world, as He will do by-and-by when the anti-typical harvest and vintage has been fulfilled. Thus it is not the Spirit of God simply giving a new nature; neither is it the Holy Ghost given as the power of worship and communion with His God and Father. This we have had fully before. Now, it is the Holy Ghost in the power that gives rivers of living water flowing out, and this bound up with, and consequent on, His being man in glory. Till then the Holy Ghost could not be so given only when Jesus was glorified, after redemption was a fact. What can be more evident, or more instructive? It is the final setting aside of Judaism then, whose characteristic hope was the display of power and rest in the world. But here these streams of the Spirit are substituted for the feast of tabernacles, which cannot be accomplished till Christ come from heaven and show Himself to the world; for this time was not yet come. Rest is not the question now at all; but the flow of the Spirit's power while Jesus is on high. In a certain sense, the principle of John 4:1-54 was made true in the woman of Samaria, and in others who received Christ then. The person of the Son was there the object of divine and overflowing joy even then, although, of course, in the full sense of the word, the Holy Ghost might not be given to be the power of it for some time later; but still the object of worship was there revealing the Father; butJohn 7:1-53; John 7:1-53 supposes Him to be gone up to heaven, before He from heaven communicates the Holy Ghost, who should be (not here, as Israel had a rock with water to drink of in the wilderness outside themselves, nor even as a fountain springing up within the believer, but) as rivers flowing out. How blessed the contrast with the people's state depicted in this chapter, tossed about by every wind of doctrine, looking to "letters," rulers, and Pharisees, perplexed about the Christ, but without righteous judgment, assurance, or enjoyment! Nicodemus remonstrates but is spurned; all retire to their home Jesus, who had none, to the mount of Olives. (Verses John 7:40-53)
This closes the various aspects of the Lord Jesus, completely blotting out Judaism, viewed as resting in a system of law and ordinances, as looking to a Messiah with present ease, and as hoping for the display of Messianic glory then in the world. The Lord Jesus presents Himself as putting an end to all this now for the Christian, though, of course, every word God has promised, as well as threatened, remains to be accomplished in Israel by-and-by; for Scripture cannot be broken; and what the mouth of the Lord has said awaits its fulfilment in its due sphere and season.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on John 3:30". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​wkc/​john-3.html. 1860-1890.