Berean Bible Study Notes

John 3:1-21, Summary; John 3:22-36

 

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I hope that this study of John has encouraged you and strengthened your walk with our Savior! If you are somewhat new to Bible study, you may be interested in a study I completed called An Overview of the Bible.

To get us ready to continue, let's start with a quick review of John 3.

John 3:1-21 Summary

Nicodemus, whose very name means "a ruler of the people," came to see Jesus at night. He was one of the Pharisees, who were in control of the Jewish ruling council at that time. (The Pharisees were the conservatives of the time - the "fundamentalists." The Sadducees were the liberals, who didn't believe in miracles or the resurrection. That's why they were "Sad, you see." No, I didn't make that up. It comes from a church camp song.)

The Pharisees knew that anyone who did the miracles that Jesus had been doing had to have come from God. So, Nicodemus, representing at least some number of them, goes secretly to ask Jesus some questions. He wants to know if Jesus is the Messiah that they've been waiting for, but Jesus gives him an unexpected answer:

John 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."

At this point, Nicodemus is completely confused. He's got an entirely different picture of the kingdom of God in mind. He's a Pharisee and prides himself on keeping the law perfectly, right down to the number of grains of spice he tithes. He believes that God is pleased with him and pleased with Israel. In his mind, the Messiah is supposed to get rid of the Roman rulers and make Israel the center of the world again. He came to see if Jesus was the one who was going to do that, and Jesus starts talking about being born again.

It must have felt like he'd walked into the middle of a conversation. Yet, this is THE teacher in Israel - the one who knew the very most about God's Word. I think his next statement is just to give himself time to think:

John 3:4 "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"

Jesus answers him (see the study from last time for a discussion of "flesh gives birth to flesh") and then goes on:

John 3:7 You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'

This is the first of a series of "musts" that we'll encounter today. Then, Jesus tells Nicodemus that we have nothing to do with it. It is the sovereign will of God:

John 3:8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

Being born again is God's decision, not ours:

Matthew 16:15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ , the Son of the living God." 17 Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.

1 Corinthians 12:3 Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.

God calls us through His Holy Spirit, who works through the Word of God:

1 Peter 1:23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

James 1:18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Romans 10:17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

So, Jesus is telling one of the most religious people on the planet that he must be born again. It would have been very much like telling the head of a conservative seminary that he must be born again.

Nicodemus is still struggling to understand:

John 3:9 (NKJV) Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?"

10 Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?

Jesus chides him for not knowing and understanding what several of the prophets had talked about:

Isaiah 44:3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.

Ezekiel 36:25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Joel 2: 28 And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

Deuteronomy 30:6 The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

Jesus is pointing out something about the kingdom that Nicodemus should have been aware of. Perhaps the teaching was that the "pouring out of the Spirit" was just figurative language for the blessing of God. This is one of several places in Gospels where Jesus shows that a more literal understanding of Scripture is the correct one. He continues on in the first of seven main discourses in the Gospel of John. Of course, it's purely coincidental that there are seven, right?

Jesus tells Nicodemus the Gospel. We're so used to John 3:16 on its own, but it has much more meaning when you add the verses before it. Here Jesus tells how to be "born again:"

John 3:14 (NIV) 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

That is the second of the "musts" that we'll cover today. It is an imperative. There is no way around it. Remember Jesus' prayer in the garden: "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will." If there was ANY OTHER WAY, then the Father ignored the prayer of His beloved Son.

Here is where Moses "lifted up the snake:"

Numbers 21:4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!"

6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

The snake on the pole represented sin, judged, just as in this verse:

2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The people sinned, and God sent snakes among them, to kill them physically, just as their sin was killing them spiritually. So, the snakes are a direct representation of sin. The people weren't told to get rid of the snakes. There was no Moral Majority declaring that the people needed to band together to oust the snakes. They weren't told to treat their snake bites, either. There were no snake bite therapists.

No, they had to only do two things. First, they needed to acknowledge that they'd been bitten. Second, they needed to look at the snake on the pole and live. That word "look" means more than just looking, like looking out the window. It means to look with understanding. So, there was nothing the people could do to help themselves except acknowledge that they'd been bitten and look at the snake on the pole, understanding what that meant for them. They couldn't just look at it blindly. They had to really SEE it, knowing what it was there for, that this was God's remedy for their bite.

John 3:14 (NIV) 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

Just as that snake was lifted up for snake-bitten Israelites, so Jesus was lifted up for a sin-bitten world. If you acknowledge that you are a sinner and need a savior and look to Jesus' work on the cross as the answer for your sin-bites, you will have eternal life. To convict you of sin is one of the first jobs of the Holy Spirit:

John 16:7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.

As we mentioned last time, the snake on the pole that Moses made had to be destroyed later, because people began worshipping it. It's easy to get confused. For example, you've may have seen old vampire movies where people wore crosses to protect them. It had no connection to Jesus - just the physical cross was supposed to protect them. It's not the cross itself that has any power. It's the belief in what Jesus did for you there that saves you.

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

So, that word "believes" in John 3:16 means more than just a belief that Jesus existed - or a belief that He was a good man, a good teacher. It means more than believing that this is how God manifested Himself to Christians. It means that you believe that He was "lifted up" - crucified - for your sins. It's more than just believing that He died for the sins of the world, but that He died for YOU. You can put your own name in there (I'll use mine, but you put in yours):

John 3:16 "For God so loved Jacqui that he gave his one and only Son, that as Jacqui believes in him, she shall not perish but have eternal life.

The word "believes" is in the present, active tense. It's not passive. The word "perish" is in the second aorist tense, which means it is without regard to past, present, future. That's kind of interesting, actually. It's not "will perish" as in the future. It's not "perishing" as in the present sense. The Greek actually implies something outside of time. The "have eternal life" is present tense, and also active. It's not future tense. Eternal life is not something that waits for us. We have it right now.

Jesus did not come the first time to condemn. He came to save:

John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Now, look at the next verse:

John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

That first part reminds us of this:

Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

Now, look at the last part of that verse:

John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

Some people have this idea that they will stand before God as judge one day, and He will look at the good and the bad and see which is greater. They view their lives as the time for proving themselves. Besides the whole idea that you can't work your way to heaven, that is unbiblical for another reason. They don't understand that they don't face a future "death row sentence." They're already on death row! They are condemned already! The only way out? To believe in the name of God's one and only Son. Again, that's more than just knowing His name, but knowing what He came for and believing that He took the punishment meant for you.

Jesus ends this discussion by saying that men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. That word "loved" is actually agapao. Does that surprise you? Isn't that supposed to be the love of the Father? In its verb form, agapao means to be totally given over to something. How can you love darkness? You don't recognize it as darkness!

Jesus also lets us in on a little secret of the mindset of unbelievers. Why do they deny the true God so vigorously? For fear that his deeds will be exposed. Later on, Jesus will say:

John 7:7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.

A quick note from Jon Courson (Courson, J. 2003. Jon Courson's Application Commentary . Thomas Nelson: Nashville, TN) :

So, to sum up this section, we must be born again. A new person must be born inside us. You can't revamp the old one. I am born again when I actively believe that Jesus died for MY sins.

Here is a repeat of one commentary from the last study. Arthur W. Pink suggests that our new creation is very much like God's creation of the world:

Exposition of the Gospel of John, John 3, by Arthur W. Pink,

OK - moving on to new material!

John 3:22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized.

"After this" in Greek is meta tauta (met-ah' tow'-tah). It's very straightforward. It means that after the discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus and his disciples went into the wilderness near Jerusalem, in the land of Judea. I point this out only because it was part of what I was hurriedly trying to tell you last time with the book of Revelation. That book is the only book in the Bible with its own outline - what was, what is and what comes "after these things," or meta tauta. In my opinion, it is just as straightforward there as it is here.

Now, verse 22 must be understood in light of the next chapter:

John 4:2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.

Something to remember here is that things we do for Jesus are just as though HE did them. That's what it means to be His body.

John 3:23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. 24(This was before John was put in prison.)

So, John the Baptist is still baptizing at this point. He is at Aenon near Salim. The Bible dictionaries are not helpful about where exactly this is. Look up "Aenon" and it says "a place near Salim." Look up "Salim", and it ways "a place near Aenon." So, I don't know exactly where this is. The word "Aenon" means "springs," so it might not even be by a river. Why was he baptizing there? Because there was plenty of water. Why would they need plenty of water? Because their baptisms were apparently by immersion.

John 3:25 An argument developed between some of John's disciples and a certain Jew (some manuscripts say "Jews" - probably the same ones who were asking John if he was the Messiah) over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan — the one you testified about — well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him."

What was the argument about? We don't know. Were Jesus' disciples baptizing differently? We have no idea what the argument was about. Anyway, "they" came to John, meaning the Jew or Jews (which would mean Jewish leadership, as it always does in John) and John the Baptist's disciples. The Jews were trying to stir up trouble, and the disciples were apparently jealous for John's sake. In both cases, John is not perturbed. He sees it all not as taking away from his mission, but actually a fulfillment of it.

John 3:27 To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.'

John knows that everything he has, everything he does, everything he knows, was given to him. God gave him a job to do and the ability to do it. It is the same with all of us. Each of us has work to do, that God planned before He created the world. He will perfectly prepare you to do it. You may not FEEL like you're prepared, but if God says you are, you are.

There is more to this than just that, though. John the Apostle - through the Holy Spirit - is using it as a commentary on the previous discourse between Jesus and Nicodemus. A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You don't go get salvation. It's given to you. However, that word is an active taking hold of something. According to Strongs, there are three words that could have been used here to mean "receive." If I had a present for you, you could dechomai (dekh'-om-ahee) it. That would be like if I set the present on the table next to you, and it just sat there. Or, you could haireomai (hahee-reh'-om-ahee) it, which would be more like grabbing it out of my hands. The word used here for receive is lambano (lam-ban'-o), which would be like if I put the present into your hands and you held onto it.

John 3:29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.

Who is the bride? The bride is the body of Christ, the believers. We are the bride. What was happening with the people that were coming to Jesus? Some of them were becoming believers. They were becoming the bride. Does John believe? Why is he not the bride? Who is John saying he is? He is calling himself the friend who attends the bridegroom, but not the bride. Huh?

Matthew 11:11 I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Luke 16:16 (NKJV) "The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.

When did the Old Testament end? With Malachi, written 400 years before these events? No, it closes with John the Baptist, and Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.

Really getting into this would take us in a direction that I don't want to go in. Sometimes it's enough to know that there is more to know. Do you remember the weird story in Genesis, about Jacob wrestling with God?

Genesis 32:24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."

Do you understand what this story means from personal experience? If you don't, you will, if you spend any amount of time in God's Word. Why would you wrestle with God? Why would anyone? Yet, sometimes we must, and when we do, He blesses us for it. The wrestling is something that you must do for yourself. No one can do it for you, if you want the blessing that comes with it. There are plenty of things to wrestle with. You don't have to look for them; they will find you! This thing with John the Baptist was one of mine.

John 3:30 He must become greater; I must become less.

Here is the third of the "musts" for today. Each one is a big deal. We must be born again. Jesus must be lifted up. And, now this one: He must become greater; I must become less. Here John gives us a truth for himself. As a forerunner to the Messiah, the Messiah must become more important while the forerunner fades away. The one he was preparing the way for was here! This is another greater truth, though. Again, John (through the Holy Spirit) is making a commentary of what Jesus had said previously. What is the secret to being truly changed after being born again? Jesus must become greater, and we must become less. The worldly part of us needs to diminish; our pride needs to be wiped away; our selfish, fleshly desires must be put to death. How do you do that? How do you get rid of the "me first" attitude of your heart?

I must be humble. I must stop thinking of myself. I must think of others first. I...I...I. Isn't it weird that the very effort to do that prevents its success? What is the secret to I must become less? It's right there in the verse - He must become greater. The secret is not to try to stop thinking about ourselves (which inevitably leads to thinking about ourselves), but to concentrate on Jesus. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Seek Him with all your heart, and the I must become less just happens automatically.

John continues his contrast of himself and Jesus:

John 3:31 "The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.

All together, John contrasts himself and Jesus in seven ways:

Jesus

John the Baptist

Everything has been placed in his hands, is above all

Receives only what is given him from heaven, Jesus is above him

Is the long-awaited Messiah

Goes before the Messiah to prepare the way

Is the bridegroom, and the bride belongs to Him

Is the friend of the bridegroom

Jesus must increase

John must decrease

The one who comes from heaven is above all and testifies to what He has seen and heard there.

The one who is from the earth speaks as one from the earth.

Jesus has the Spirit without limit.

John has only a measure of the Spirit. (implied) Again, Jesus is above him

Jesus is the Son of the Father.

John was but a servant, not worthy to untie His shoes. (implied)



John speaks as one from the earth. He can't help it. He can't testify to what has been said and done in heaven. He can only tell as he's received. Peter makes the point that the prophets had to search their own prophecies, trying to understand what they themselves had said:

1 Peter 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets , who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.

This is contrasted with Jesus, who is from heaven and testifies to what He saw and heard there:

John 3:32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."

Now, look at the second half of that verse - But no one accepts his testimony. This true word is in sharp contrast to what the Jews were saying earlier: "everyone is going to him." They may have been going, but not many were believing. Now, The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful, may mean exactly that - a single man. Some commentators suggest that that statement is being inserted by John the Apostle as he records John the Baptists statements, and "the man" refers to John himself - either John the Apostle or John the Baptist. Or, this may be one of those places where a strong contrast is being made, as it was earlier:

John 1:11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

In that case, it would mean almost all did not accept His testimony. Or, it could mean that none of the Jewish leadership accepted His testimony, which would make sense given who John was speaking to. Personally, I believe it refers to the Jewish leadership, because of some things that happen later.



John 3:33 The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."

When you become a believer, the Spirit of God dwells within you. That Spirit will help you recognize truth.

Romans 8:16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.

1 John 5:6 This is the one who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit , whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

By recognizing truth, you are certifying that God is truthful. That's kind of convoluted, but let me give you an example. God's Word is truth. I can just say that to you, and you can believe that I believe it, but it doesn't mean a lot to YOU. But, as you study God's Word and the Spirit of God works within you, you recognize for yourself that it is truth. When you accept it as truth, you are certifying that God is truthful.

John 3:34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."

This doesn't come across very well in the NIV or even in the New King James. Really, only the old King James seems to say what is meant:

John 3:34 (KJV) For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.

In other words, Jesus has the full measure of the Spirit - the full seven-fold spirit, as Revelation says:

Revelation 3:1 "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, 'These things says He who has the seven Spirits (footnote in NIV: seven-fold Spirit) of God and the seven stars: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.

We are not given the Spirit in full measure as Jesus has it. Jesus has ALL the spiritual gifts. We have limited gifts - one has this and another has that. So, John is saying that Jesus can speak the words of God the Father, for the Father has given the Son the Spirit without limit. The full Spirit of God is within Jesus, which makes sense as He is God! The NIV and even the NKJV are a little misleading on that verse.

John 3:35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."

John the Baptist is continuing to contrast himself with Jesus. John has only what he has been given, but Jesus has everything and is above everything. You have been placed in the hands of Jesus.

John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."

Now John the Baptist proclaims the Gospel, in nearly identical language to what Jesus said earlier:

John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

The point in time had come when the people had to accept that Jesus was the Messiah. It was no longer enough to know that God was sending a Messiah. Now, to be born again, to be "saved," a person had to accept that it was Jesus who was that Messiah. To reject Jesus is to remain under wrath, to stand condemned. Can you worship the true God yet reject Jesus? No.

Remember who John is speaking to. He's speaking a Jew - or Jews - which is or are in leadership. When John the Apostle uses that kind of language in this Gospel, he always means the Jewish leadership. The "no one accepts his testimony" of earlier certainly applies to this person or people that John is speaking to, so John is making more than a general statement. He is telling these people to their faces that they face God's wrath. These people are accepted throughout Israel as the spiritual heads of the people. Again, in our situation, it would be as shocking as the heads of our church bodies being told that they face the wrath of God. Definitely not politically correct.



That concludes chapter 3, believe it or not! Next time we'll tackle chapter 4 and hopefully get through the whole thing.



The Berean Bible Study of the Gospel of John




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Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. - Acts 17:11

© 2012 This study was written by Jacqui Komschlies and last updated 2/1/2012. If you have questions, comments, corrections or concerns, please write me.

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