John 3:1-36 - Outline of John (Book Notes menu page)
Chapter 3 flows out of the last few verses of ch.2 (reprinted here).
2:23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast [day],
many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.
believed...when they saw- Faith based on evidence (or 'evidential faith')
and involving no consciousness of sin, or of the need for the Savior, is worthless faith. [GWms]
Some wanted to capitalize on His miracles & popularity for political gain (cp. Joh 6:15,26,27),
but gave no thought to their real needs or to Jesus' primary purpose for coming into the world.
2:24 But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all [men],
2:25 And needed not that any should testify of
{a} man: for he knew what was in man.
commit- GK= pisteuo, believe (so translated in v.23 above).
They believed in Him, while they thought He would fulfill their fleshly expectations.
He, knowing their hearts, did not believe in them. His heart was set on the Father's will.
He knew...all men and every man (Jer 17:9,10).
In the next few verses, Jesus reveals the heart of one such man.
3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
Nicodemus- (see also Joh 7:50-51; 19:39)
a Pharisee- ie., a very religious scholar, who was well-versed in the Scriptures.
a ruler of the Jews- probably a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin,
a council of 70 men who had civil & spiritual authority over the people.
(The Sanhedrin was originally established under Moses. Num 11:16,17)
3:2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him,
Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God:
for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
...came to Jesus by night...- Nicodemus sought a private, confidential meeting.
Was he seeking to keep this meeting hidden from the people, or from other Jewish religious leaders, or from the Roman authorities?
Was he motivated by personal spiritual questions, or by nationalistic interests?
    The One to whom he came, knew what was in him, and spoke to a need which was hidden even from Nicodemus himself. In doing so, He spoke to the heart need of every man and woman.
we know...- Nicodemus may have been speaking in an official capacity.
Later, in Jesus' ministry, the religious leaders would approach Him with similar language, but malicious intent (eg., Mat 22:15-17). On this occasion, it appears that Nicodemus was very sincere.
    Some suggest that his purpose in approaching Jesus was to further the Pharisee's goal of breaking the rule of Rome over Israel, and to establish the Messianic Kingdom. (This would have been consistent with their expectation of the promised Messiah.) Perhaps Nicodemus was there to explore ways that Jesus could work with the Jewish leaders to effect the desired political change.
these miracles...- No one, not even His enemies, could deny them (Joh 7:31; 11:47,48).
Nicodemus, impressed by miracles, had evidential faith (cp. 2:23).
He regarded Jesus, as he regarded himself, as a teacher with God's blessing (cp. v.2,10).
He was not prepared for Jesus' response.
3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee,
Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
cannot see the kingdom- Jesus reveals to Nicodemus the contents of his heart...
  1. his unspoken purpose in coming to Jesus (re: the Messianic Kingdom).
  2. his total lack of preparedness for God's Kingdom.
except a man...- Jesus identifies the need of every individual. born again...- lit., born from above. cp. 1:12,13
...he cannot see...- cp. Deu 29:4; Jer 5:21; Mat 13:13-16; 1Cor 2:7-16
For every person, a new birth (not from man, but from God) is prerequisite to perceiving God's purposes concerning His Kingdom. Without a right understanding of the desired destination, how can one hope for entrance into His Kingdom?
3:4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old?
can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
How can...- Nicodemus' carnal (fleshly) mind could not grasp Jesus' meaning. (1Cor 2:14)
3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee,
Except a man be born of water and [of] the Spirit,
he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh;
and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
3:7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
Ye must be born again.- ie., This prerequisite, for access to God's Kingdom, is without exception.
Jesus emphasized the necessity of the new birth, by His repetition and careful explanation of this requirement.
that which is born...
  • of the flesh is flesh.- ie., fallen (sinful) human nature has no place in God's Kingdom.
    1Cor 15:50; Rom 8:5-9
  • of the Spirit is spirit.- ie., a holy spiritual nature, which is compatible with God's presence,
    because it is made alive and energized by God's Holy Spirit.
    The 'new birth' is not a reformation of the fleshly nature, but the creation of a new godly nature within the believer. Eph 2:1; 2Cor 5:17; Gal 5:16,17; 6:15
ye must...- even you, Nicodemus,
although you are religious from head to toe, you need this new nature.
except a man be born of water and of the spirit...- (v.5)
Several explanations have been suggested for this phrase...
  1. 'Water' refers to water baptism. -
    'Spiritual birth' is merely symbolic of acceptance before God (on the basis of baptism).
    - This view is not correct.--
    • No external acts of righteousness can make one acceptable before God.
    • The righteousness which God requires goes far deeper than the cleansing of the flesh.
      (Eph 2:8.9; Titus 3:5,6; cp. 1Pet 3:21)
  2. Water refers to natural birth (ie., the mother's water breaks as the baby exits the womb).
    (Implying that one must be born a natural man, before he can become a spiritual man.)
    Spirit refers to spiritual birth, ie., a new creation of God's Holy Spirit.
    Views 2-5 agree on the significance of spiritual birth.
    See the references for 'that which is born... of the Spirit is spirit' (above).
  3. Water refers to the scriptures, the Word of God. cp. 1Pet 1:23; Eph 5:26; John 15:3; 17:17
    ie., Spiritual birth results from God's Word, applied by God's Spirit, to the believing heart (cp. Rom 10:14,17).
  4. Water refers to repentance, as modeled by the ministry of John. (Mat 3:1-6)
    ie., When a man turns from sin to Christ, he is regenerated by the Spirit. Eph 2:1-5; 1The 1:9,10
  5. Water refers to the Holy Spirit.
    A possible translation of v.5 is: "...born of water even of spirit..."
    The word 'and' {GK= kai} can often be translated 'even.' In the GK, there is no article before 'water' or 'spirit,' which may imply that they refer to the same thing. cp. Joh 4:10; 7:38,39; Isa 44:3; Eze 36:25-27
Views 2-5 are combined in "the waters" promised in Isa 55:1-13:
  • The natural (born) man must hear & respond (Isa 55:1-3)...
  • to the Word of God (the written Word, Isa 55:3, and the Son who is the Word, Isa 55:4)...
  • repenting of sin (Isa 55:6,7).
  • The Lord Himself (the Spirit) will perform His Word and conform such persons to His ways, thoughts & purposes (Isa 55:8-13).
3:8 The wind bloweth where it listeth,
and thou hearest the sound thereof,
but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth:
so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
wind... spirit...- These are two occurrences of the same Greek word.
The GK word 'pneuma' (like the HB word 'ruach') is translated as 'wind,' 'breath' or 'spirit' depending on the context. There are 'natural' and 'spiritual' connotations of Jesus' statement:
  • Just as you can neither see nor control the wind, you cannot understand or accomplish the process of spiritual rebirth.
  • The process of spiritual rebirth is the work of God alone. In the OT, the movement of God's Spirit and of the wind are often indistinguishable. eg., Gen 1:2; Psa 107:25-29; Ecc 11:4,5; Eze 37:9
so is every one... born of the Spirit.- A person who is born of God's Spirit is a mystery.
You can see the effects of the Spirit in his or her changed life.
But you cannot understand how God accomplished this new creation. eg., Mark 4:26-29; 1Cor 2:11
3:9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
3:10 Jesus answered and said unto him,
Art thou a master
{lit., the teacher} of Israel, and knowest not these things?
how can these things be?- Nicodemus' self-confidence ('we know', v.2) gives way to
admission of ignorance (v.4,9) as flesh meets Spirit, as earthly meets heavenly.
'the' teacher of Israel- Nicodemus apparently held pre-eminence among Israel's scholars.
Yet, he was confounded by basic spiritual truth which was clearly taught in the OT (ie., that those who enter the Messianic Kingdom must first receive a new heart, by God's Spirit; eg., Eze 36:24-32). In the following verses, Jesus answers the 'How...?' question, by revealing the means of the new birth.
3:11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee,
We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen;
and ye receive not our witness.
we...know...- in contrast to Nicodemus' confusion,
Jesus spoke with the authority of Heaven (we). cp. Joh 3:13,31-35; 8:14; 14:10
verily, verily...-
His words are 'amen' and 'amen,' ie., absolute truth. cp. 14:6; 18:37; 2Cor 1:20; Rev 3:14
ye receive not...-
"Jesus told this most religious man and professed believer (v.1,10) that he was so sinful and fallen as to be incapable of reformation, and so darkened morally that he could neither recognize nor experience spiritual phenomena [the ways of God's Spirit, v.3,5] unless he was to become born from above.
     "This fundamental truth is obnoxious to man for it humbles him. The sinner is spiritually dead. He can find pardon and life only in Christ." (Eph 2:1,2) [in quotes, GWms]
- - Here is both the foundation and the offense of the Gospel. (1Pet 2:6-8; Rom 9:33; Joh 1:12)
3:12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not,
how shall ye believe, if I tell you [of] heavenly things?
earthly things...- may include...
  1. His miracles, which identified Him, but which could not transform the natural man.
    An 'evidential faith' (2:23; 3:2) has no power to conquer man's will or to alter his nature.
    Such faith fails when tested. (eg., the 'believing' crowds turned away from Him. 6:66; 19:15)
  2. His illustrations, from the natural realm, of spiritual truth (eg., v.8,14).
  3. His description of the condition of natural men versus men 'born from above.'
    Even the natural man may observe that the lives of Spirit controlled men are different.
    (cp. Php 2:15; 3:17-19)
heavenly things...-
  • things that are spiritually discerned (1Cor 2:9-14),
  • things that pertain to God's children (eg. Eph 1:3-5; Php 3:20,21),
  • things concerning the Person & work of God's Son - -
3:13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven,
but he that came down from heaven,
[even] the Son of man which is in heaven.
no man hath ascended...- No one has ever gone to Heaven and returned,
except God the Son, who came from there. cp. Joh 1:18; 6:46,62; Prov 30:4,5.
He is uniquely qualified to speak of Heavenly things.
[Enoch & Elijah did not 'ascend' (ie., by their own merits or powers), they were "taken up" by God.]
3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,
even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
3:15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
the serpent in the wilderness - see Num 21:4-9
On one occasion, God sent poisonous snakes into the camp of Israel as judgment for their sin. Moses prayed for God to extend mercy. God told him to make a brass serpent and to hang it on a pole. It was a symbol of their sin and of God's righteous judgment. If a person, who was bitten, looked at the serpent on the pole (thereby acknowledging his sin & God's righteousness in judgment), God healed him from the deadly venom.
so must the Son of man be lifted up - ie., on the cross to die for sin (Joh 12:32,33; 1Pet 2:24)
The 'evidential faith' of the natural man can see no reason to 'look and live.'
To him, God's merciful provision is foolishness (1Cor 1:18).
so must...- there is no other way, there is no other provision for sin. cp. v.7 and v.14
The dying sinner must look...
  • in faith to the crucified Messiah, who bore his sin. 2Cor 5:20,21
  • not with admiration, at a miracle worker. [GWms]
3:16 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.
God... loved the world... that whosoever... should not perish -
It is evident that - -
  • All men are perishing.
    • Because Adam yielded to the serpent's deception, all of his descendants are infected with the deadly poison of sin (Rom 5:12).
    • to 'perish' {GK= apollumi} is to be utterly destroyed, to be lost forever.
      (cp. this word in Mat 18:11; Luk 15:4,6; 2Pet 3:7,9)
  • God's love extends to everyone (Joh 1:9). But not everyone is saved (1:12).
God so loved... that He gave...- Apart from that gift, God's love cannot save anyone.
The measure of God's love is the measure of His gift. Rom 5:8; 8:32; 1Joh 4:9,10
His only begotten Son...- ie., unique, one of a kind. cp. Joh 1:14,18
that whosoever believeth in Him...-
There is a difference between 'believing in Him' and 'believing about Him.' You may believe that a certain airplane is mechanically sound, and that its pilot is skilled and trustworthy. But that belief will not get you anywhere. In order to get to the destination, you must 'believe in' the pilot and his aircraft, by climbing aboard and resting your full confidence in what and who you believe. Many bystanders may observe the plane as it departs, but only the few inside are lifted skyward.
    Likewise, God's provision of salvation from sin is exclusive:
  1. In its Foundation ('...Him...')-
    It rests exclusively upon the Person and Work of God's only begotten Son.
    While salvation flows out of God's love for the world, it was accomplished by His grace {mercy, undeserved favor} in giving His Son to pay the awful price of sin for us. Rom 3:23-26.
  2. In its Appropriation ('...believeth in...')- It is only granted as 'the gift of God.'
    It cannot be earned, but must be received by faith in God's provision. Rom 6:23; Eph 2:8,9
  3. In its Participation ('...whosoever...')-
    It is only for 'Whosoever {ie., any and every individual, who} believeth in Him...'
    (ie., whoever puts his or her full trust in God's Son).
have eternal life.- The new life received and possessed by the believer is 'eternal,'
both in its duration (Joh 10:28) and in its quality (17:3).
3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world;
but that the world through him might be saved.
cp. Eze 18:23,32; Isa 45:21-23; 1Tim 2:3-6; 2Pet 3:9
3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned:
but he that believeth not is condemned already,
because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
condemned already- ie., like a guilty prisoner on death row, already sentenced,
awaiting the execution of judgment.
not condemned- Christ offers a full pardon to whoever will receive it, by trusting in Him.
cp. Joh 5:24; 6:40,47; Rom 8:1; Heb 2:3
3:19 And this is the condemnation,
that light is come into the world,
and men loved darkness rather than light,
because their deeds were evil.
This is the condemnation (present tense)...- This judgment is now in effect.
that light is come into the world...-
(The verb tense indicates that the light came, at a point in time, not to be repeated.)
the light identified- see 1:4-5,9-11; 1Joh 1:5,6
men loved darkness rather than light...
(The verb tense indicates that this was and is a characteristic of mankind in every age.)
because their deeds were evil (ie., 'were continuously evil', according to the verb tense).
evil- GK= ponera, wicked. cp. Gen 6:5; Rom 1:32; Heb 3:12
3:20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light,
neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
evil- GK= phaula, worthlessness (a different word than in v.19).
Such a man fears that the light will expose the futility of his life's focus (ie., his philosophies, goals & toys).
3:21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light,
that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in
{ie., produced by} God.
Verses 19-20 describe the natural state of all men.
Verse 21 describes the new nature of the man who is born again.
There are no 'good' men who will naturally come to the light.
Therefore, the work of God is demonstrated in the transformation of each individual {'he'} who comes to the light, to live according to God's truth (rather than man's worthless pursuits).
Eph 2:8-10; Php 2:13; Psa 139:23,24; 1Cor 15:10; 1Joh 2:28,29; 3Joh 1:11

3:22 After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea;
and there he tarried with them, and baptized.
{cp. Joh 4:2}
3:23 And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim,
because there was much water there:
{or, there were many springs there [GWms]}
and they came {or, kept on coming in a steady procession [Wuest]}, and were baptized.
3:24 For John was not yet cast into prison. {cp. Mat 4:12}
John's imprisonment is not explained here, because the writer assumes the reader is familiar with the other gospel accounts. (Mat 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 3:19-20)
3:25 Then there arose a question
between [some] of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying.
Apparently, the Pharisees supposed that rivalry existed between John & Jesus (cp. Joh 4:1).
They used this as...
  • an excuse not to submit to either baptism (of John or of Jesus).
  • a point of exploitation to foment doubt & jealousy among John's disciples.
3:26 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.
all men come to him- Attention had once been on John's ministry (Mark 1:4,5).
But the focus had suddenly shifted to Jesus.
John's disciples were concerned about the competition.
3:27 John answered and said,
A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
cp. 1Cor 4:7; 1Pet 4:10,11
3:28 Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ,
but that I am sent before him.
John knew his place in relation to Christ.
John's disciples had heard his testimony concerning Jesus. cp. Joh 1:15-29
3:29 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.
The Bridegroom- (ie., the Christ, v.28) is the One to whom the bride belongs.
The bride- represents the people espoused to Christ
(ie., the church consisting of Jewish & Gentile believers).
cp. Mat 9:14,15; 2Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25-32
the friend of the bridegroom- John, as the last of the OT prophets (Mat 11:13),
pointed to the Messiah. Now that He had come, it was time for John to step aside.
John's joy flowed from the fulfillment of his life's focus. (cp. Simeon's joy, in Luk 2:25-32)
3:30 He must increase {cp. Isa 9:7}, but I [must] decrease.
The believer's attitude should parallel that of John. (cp. "...not I, but Christ..." Gal 2:20)
The remainder of the chapter (vs. 31-36) may be either...
  1. A doctrinal declaration by the writer (John the Apostle)
    summarizing Jesus' message to Nicodemus (Joh 3:1-21), or
  2. A continuation of John the Baptist's testimony. This section-
    1. is consistent with his testimony in ch. 1.
    2. is consistent with what a 'teacher of Israel' should have been teaching (cp. 3:10).
    3. further describes the distinction between John & Jesus (vs.31-35).
    4. declares the consequences of believing or disbelieving (v.36).
      This is consistent with the message of John, who -
      -- pointed sinners to the Lamb of God (1:29), and
      -- warned sinners of the fiery judgment to come (Mat 3:7,10,12)
3:31 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.
he that is of the earth is earthly...- even John, a prophet called & used by God,
was fleshly in nature (Mat 11:11; John 3:3-6).
he that cometh from heaven...- (ie., Jesus, the Messiah, who is in nature God, cp. 1Cor 15:47) -
  • is above all (including John). Joh 3:13; Col 1:17,18
  • declares God's truth with full understanding (Joh 3:32),
    (whereas John's knowledge was limited, 1:31).
  • declares God's word in the full authority & power of God's Spirit (3:34),
    (wheras John received only limited instruction from the Spirit, 1:32-33).
3:32 And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; {1:18}
and no man receiveth his testimony.
{cp. 1:10,11; Rom 3:3,4}
3:33 He that hath received his testimony
hath set to his seal
{or, hath set his seal to this: } that God is true.
cp. Joh 1:12; 1Joh 5:9,10
3:34 For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God:
for God giveth not the Spirit by measure [unto him].
3:35 The Father loveth the Son,
and hath given all things into his hand.
{cp. Mat 11:27}
3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life:
he that believeth on the Son...- GK= pisteuo, to place confidence in, to trust in.
This trust must be placed in God the Son and His blood shed for sin (Joh 1:29; 3:14,15).
...hath everlasting life.- (present tense)
Everlasting life is the present and continuing possesion of the believer (Joh 5:24; 1Joh 5:11,12).
and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life;
but the wrath of God abideth on him.
believeth not- GK= apeitho, to refuse to be persuaded, to be disobedient to the truth.
'Apathy' (the English word) is rooted in this word.
wrath- GK= orge, deep seated steady anger.
(as opposed to GK 'thumos,' anger which may flare hot and then cool down)
abideth- remains, continues.
The unbeliever is not annihilated, but is under God's wrath eternally.
'Everlasting life' stands in awful contrast with 'everlasting destruction.' 2Thes 1:8-10
cp. Jesus' description of hell fire, in Mark 9:43,44.
The way of access to God's kingdom is narrow. Joh 3:3-6,14-16; 14:6
The consequences of ignoring the Way are severe. Luk 13:23-29; Heb 2:3

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