3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus1, a ruler of the Jews2: JESUS ATTENDS THE FIRST PASSOVER OF HIS MINISTRY. (Jerusalem, April 9, A.D. 27.) B. JESUS TALKS WITH NICODEMUS. John 3:1-21
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus. Nicodemus is
mentioned only by John. His character is marked by prudence amounting almost
to timidity. At John
7:50-52 he defends Jesus, but without committing himself as in any
interested in him; at John
19:38,39 he brought spices for the body of Jesus, but only after Joseph
of Arimathea had secured the body.
A ruler of the Jews. A member of the Sanhedrin.
3:2 the same came
unto him by night1, and said to
him, Rabbi, we know2 that thou
art a teacher come from God3; for no one can do these
signs that thou doest, except God be with him5.
The same came unto him by night. Thus avoiding the hostility of his
colleagues, and also obtaining a more personal and uninterrupted interview
with Jesus. That his coming by night revealed his character is shown by the
fact that John repeats the expression when describing him at John
19:39. But, in justice, it should be said that Nicodemus was the only
one of his order who came at all during our Lord's life.
And said to him, Rabbi, we know. Nicodemus uses the plural, to
avoid committing himself too much. Nicodemus would assert nothing but that
which was commonly admitted by many. We learn from John
12:42,43 that late in the ministry of Christ, when hostility towards him
was most bitter, many of the rulers still believed in him. No doubt, when
Nicodemus said "we" he used the word advisedly and
That thou art a teacher come from God. The rulers knew that Jesus
was not the product of any of the rabbinical schools, and his miracles
marked him as a prophet and distinguished him from all who were guided
merely by reason, no matter how learned.
For no man can do these signs that thou doest. See John
Except God be with him. These words show the effect of Christ's
miracles. Miracles arrest attention and challenge investigation, and prove
that he who works them is from God (Acts
3:3 Jesus answered1
and said unto him, Verily, verily2,
I say unto thee, Except one be born anew3,
he cannot see the kingdom of God4.
Jesus answered. Not the words, but the thoughts of Nicodemus. The
answers of Jesus often look rather to the thoughts of the questioner than to
the form of the question. Nicodemus came seeking to know something about the
kingdom of God, and Jesus opened at once upon the subject.
Verily, verily. See John
Except one be born anew. The Greek word "anothen,"
translated "anew," may also mean "from above", and some
commentators seek to so translate it here, but it is rightly translated
"again", for Nicodemus understood it to mean a "second"
birth. As to the import of the passage, Luther's words are pertinent:
"My doctrine is not of doing, and of leaving undone, but of being
and becoming; so that it is not a new work to be done, but the being new
created--not the living otherwise, but the being new-born."
He cannot see the kingdom of God. To "see" the kingdom
means to possess or enjoy it (Psalms
3:4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How
can a man be born when he is old1? can
he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born2?
How can a man be born when he is old? Knowing that a man cannot be
literally born a second time, Nicodemus states to Jesus the literal import
of his words, hoping thereby to draw from him an explanation of this new,
strange metaphor which he was using.
Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born? So
far as he did grasp the meaning of Jesus, Nicodemus saw himself barred
forever from the kingdom by an impossible requirement. Many, like him, need
to learn that God asks of us nothing that is impossible; that, on the
contrary, the yoke is easy and the burden is light (Matthew
3:5 Jesus answered, Verily,
verily1, I say unto thee, Except
one be born of water2 and the
Spirit3, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God!
Verily, verily. See John
Except one be born of water. By far the vast majority of scholars
consider the word "water" in this verse as a reference to
Christian baptism. The Cambridge Bible says
"the outward sign and inward grace of Christian baptism are here
clearly given, and an unbiased mind can scarcely avoid seeing this plain
fact. This becomes clearer when we compare John
1:26,33, where the Baptist declares, "I baptize in water," the
Messiah "baptizeth in the Holy Spirit." The fathers, both Greek
and Latin, thus interpret the passage with singular unanimity."
Men would have no difficulty in understanding this passage were it not
that its terms apparently exclude "the pious unimmersed" from
Christ's kingdom. But difficulties, however distressing, will justify no man
in wrestling the Scriptures of God (2 Peter
And the Spirit. Water and Spirit are joined at Matthew
3:6 That which is
born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit1.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the
Spirit is spirit. Jesus here draws the distinction between fleshly birth
and spiritual birth. He did this to prepare Nicodemus to understand that it
is the "spirit" and not the flesh which undergoes the change
called the new birth. Regeneration is no slight, superficial change, but a
radical one, and one which we cannot work for ourselves.
3:7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye
must be born anew1.
Ye must be born anew. Jesus here plainly declares that none are
exempt from this gospel requirement. Man must obtain more than his fleshly
nature if he would inherit eternal life.
3:8 The wind bloweth where it will, and
thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it
goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
The wind bloweth where it will . . . so is every one that is born of
the Spirit. In this sentence we have the Greek word "pneuma"
translated by the two words "wind" and "spirit". There
can be no justification in rendering "pneuma" as "wind",
when in the last clause of the same sentence, and three times in the
immediate context, it is rendered "spirit". There can be no doubt
that it means the same in both clauses of this verse, and if we render it
wind in the first clause, we must say "born of the wind" in the
last clause. Whatever is the meaning of this verse, it must be extracted
from the rendering which the Revisers have strangely placed in the margin,
viz.: "The Spirit breatheth where it will", etc. It teaches that a
man is born of the Spirit, breathing as he wills through inspired men. It is
equivalent to Paul's maxim that faith comes by hearing the word of God* (Romans
* From this (Bro. McGarvey's) construction of John
3:8 I dissent, and hold that the Revisers have given us the true reading
in the text. The question has been fully discussed in Lard's Quarterly, Vol.
III, p. 337; Benjamin Franklin's Sermons, Vol. I, p. 281; Alexander
Campbell's Millennial Harbinger, 1832, p. 604; 1833, p. 24; 1869, pp. 317,
478, 522, 688. I take this passage to mean that the process by which a man
is regenerated by the Spirit of God is no more mysterious than other
operations in the natural world, of which operations the blowing of the wind
is taken as an example.--Philip Y. Pendleton.
3:10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art
thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things1?
Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things?
The Jewish teachers or doctors of the law made very arrogant claims to
knowledge, but it often happens that the professedly learned are remarkably
unacquainted with the first principles of their religion. It was so with the
Jewish teachers (Matthew
15:14). Nicodemus should have understood that such a change as Jesus was
speaking of would be necessary, for (1) It was foreshadowed in the Old
10:16 1 Samuel
10:9; 1 Samuel
4:4). (2) John the Baptist suggested the need of some such change when
he attacked the Jewish trust in their descent from Abraham (Matthew
verily1, I say unto thee, We2
speak that which we know, and bear witness of that
which we have seen3; and ye
receive not our witness4.
Verily, verily. See John
I say unto thee, We. A rhetorical plural. See Mark
Speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen.
His words were not founded upon reasonings, speculations, and guesses, but
were the plain testimony of an eyewitness, who was able to see and had seen
things which to us are invisible.
And ye receive not our witness. Ye teachers of Israel, who, above
all men, should receive our guidance, are the very last to follow us. As the
Jewish rulers would not receive Christ's testimony, let us not be surprised
if many of our day refuse to listen to the gospel which we preach.
3:12 If I told you earthly
things and ye believe not2, how
shall ye believe3 if I tell you
If I have told you. Jesus here divides religious phenomena into two
divisions--earthly and heavenly.
Earthly things and ye believe not. The earthly phenomena are those
which have their sphere in this world. In this sense regeneration is an
earthly thing; for though it has a heavenly origin, its manifestations are
among the daily sights and experiences of our earthly life.
How shall ye believe. These things have their sphere far removed
from earth, and transcended the comprehension of Nicodemus. Now, if
Nicodemus would not believe Jesus when he told him of things which he
himself partially knew, how would he believe when Jesus spoke of that which
was utterly unknown to him?
If I tell you heavenly things? Religion has also its heavenly
phenomena, such as the ordering of God's celestial household; the
experiences of those who pass into the divine presence; the propitiation, or
the changes wrought in the attitude of God toward man by the sacrifice of
Christ; the powers and limitations of Christ's priestly intercession, etc.
3:13 And no one
hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven1,
[even] the Son of man, who is in heaven2.
And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of
heaven. Nicodemus is here informed that Christ alone can teach
concerning heavenly things. Jesus can so teach, for he did not begin on
earth and ascend to heaven, but he came from heaven to earth, and returned
thence (afterwards) to heaven.
[Even] the Son of man, who is in heaven. Jesus speaks of himself as
being present in heaven, because his divine nature was in constant
communication with the powers of heaven. If we conceive of heaven as a
locality (a proper conception), Jesus was upon the earth; but if we conceive
of it as a present communion with the presence of God (also a proper
conception), then Christ was in heaven as he talked with Nicodemus (John
3:14 And as Moses1
lifted up the serpent in the wilderness2,
even so must the Son of man be lifted up;
And as Moses. Jesus here indicates the prophetical character of the
Old Testament. The extent of Christ's endorsement of the Old Testament
becomes apparent when we consider on how many occasions he revealed himself
under the same symbolism which the Old Testament used to reveal him. At John
2:19 he revealed his resurrection under the symbolism of the destroyed
and restored temple. At Matthew
12:40 the same event is revealed under the symbolism of Jonah and the
whale. And here his crucifixion is likewise partially veiled and partially
disclosed under a symbolic reference to the brazen serpent.
Lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. The account of the brazen
serpent will be found at Numbers
21:4-9. The lesson of the brazen serpent will be found in its main
points of the crucifixion of Christ. When the people were bitten by fiery
serpents, something made to resemble a serpent was hung upon a pole, and the
people who looked to it in faith through it healing and life. Such is the
epitome of Christ's gospel.
whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life1.
That whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life. When the
world was perishing because of sin, Jesus, made to resemble sin (Romans
8:3; 2 Corinthians
5:21) was hung upon the cross, that those who look unto him in faith (Isaiah
45:22) may find life through him (1 John
3:16 For God so
loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on
him should not perish1, but have
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that
whosoever believeth on him should not perish. Luther calls this verse
"the Bible in miniature". It is a lesson as to God's love: (1) Its
magnitude--he gave his only begotten Son. (2) Its reach--he gave it to a
sinful world (Romans
5:8). (3) Its impartiality--he gives it to whoever; that is, to all
22:17). (4) Its beneficial richness --it blesses with life eternal. (5)
Its limitations--it is nowhere said that God so loves that he will save
unbelievers. Love is the mutual and binding grace between God and man; it
may also be said that in Christ is made God human and man divine.
But have eternal life. John uses the word "eternal"
("ainios" in Greek) seventeen times in his Gospel (John
17:2,3) and six times in his First Epistle (1 John
1:2; 1 John
2:25; 1 John
3:15; 1 John
5:11,13,20). He always applies it to life. The synoptists use it eight
18:18,30), applying it to life, and also to fire, punishment, damnation,
3:17 For God sent
not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be
saved through him1.
For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that
the world should be saved through him. Christ's first mission to the
world was for salvation rather than for judgment. His second mission was for
judgment, but a judgment-hour wherein he will be able to save those who have
accepted the means of grace which he established by his first coming. But
the first coming of Christ incidentally involved judgment (John
9:39), and John the Baptist emphasized the judgment of Christ. This
judgment, however, was not the principal object of Christ's coming, but was
an inevitable result of it. Jesus here speaks of it as a self-executed
judgment. It was a necessary result of the revealed presence of Christ (Luke
2:35). That Christ is at present a Savior, and not a judge, is a truth
which needs to be emphasized. Catholics are taught to fear Christ and flee
to the Virgin; and many ignorant Protestants are disposed to look upon him
as a prosecutor rather than as an advocate.
3:18 He that
believeth on him is not judged1: he
that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the
name of the only begotten Son of God2.
He that believeth on him is not judged. The name Jesus means
"Savior"; to disbelieve this name is to reject Christ as Savior.
The verses at John
3:14,15 require belief in Jesus as the Son of man. This verse requires
belief in him as the Son of God. Belief in this dual nature of Jesus is
essential to salvation.
He that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not
believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God. Unbelief is the
world's crowning sin; and belief is, humanly speaking, the source of its
justification. This verse teaches that God's judgments are in a state of
perpetually present enactment. The believer is saved now (Acts
13:39), and the unbeliever rests already under that condemnation which
he fears the Son of God may some day pronounce against him.
3:19 And this is
the judgment1, that the light is come into the world, and
men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.
And this is the judgment, etc. These verses show that when God
judges a man by his faith, the judgment is not arbitrary and irrational. Men
"believe" according to the secret aspirations and desires of their
nature. Christ, as the example and model of life, shines out as the light of
the world; those who approve and love such a life are drawn to him and
constrained to believe in him. Spiritually, they abide in his presence, that
they may compare their lives with his, and that they may be assured that
their works are wrought under the renewing and sanctifying influence of the
Holy Spirit, who is sent of Christ. But one whose desires are evil shrinks
from Christ, and struggles to disbelieve in him; he seeks to know as little
of Christ as possible, because such knowledge exposes the wickedness and
depravity of his own sinful nature.
3:22 After these things came Jesus and his
disciples into the land of Judea; and there he tarried
with them2, and baptized3.
FIRST MINISTRY IN JUDEA--JOHN'S SECOND TESTIMONY. (Judea and Aenon.) John
After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea.
That is, he left Jerusalem, the capital of Judea, and went into the rural
districts thereof. We find him there again in John 12 and Luke 13-18. He
gained disciples there, but of them we know but few, such as Mary, Martha,
Lazarus, Simeon, and Judas Iscariot.
And there he tarried with them. It is not stated how long he
tarried, but it may have been from April to December, for the passover was
in April, and December was "yet four months" before the harvest (John
And baptized. This baptism was not into the three names of God (John
7:39), into which the apostles were afterwards directed to baptize (Matthew
28:19). It was a continuation of John's baptism, preparatory to the
organization of the church--a preparation for the kingdom. Some think that
Jesus, at this time, baptized in his own name, and afterwards gave the full
baptismal formula into the other two names--Father and Spirit. But there is
no evidence of this, and Christian baptism is a baptism into the death of
6:3). Christ would hardly have ordered baptism into his death before his
crucifixion. Such a proceeding would have wrought confusion.
3:23 And John
also was baptizing1 in Enon near
to Salim, because there was much water there3: and they
came, and were baptized4.
And John also was baptizing. The fact that John also was baptizing
is a further indication that the baptism administered by Jesus was
preparatory. There would hardly be two kinds of baptism administered by
divine consent at one time.
In Aenon. This name means "springs".
Near to Salim, because there was much water there. If one starts at
Sychar, at the foot of Mount Ebal, and follows the Damascus road northward
for seven miles, he comes upon the valley called Wady Farah. In this
beautiful wady the stream flows eastward, having Salim three miles to its
south and 'Ainun four miles to its north. For the most part the valley is
narrow, and hemmed in by rocky cliffs. But if one follows the course seven
miles eastward from the Damascus road, he comes upon a beautiful valley,
about one mile wide and three miles broad--a place every way suitable for
the gathering of multitudes to hear the preaching of John. A perennial
stream, with copious springs all along its course, furnishes, even in the
longest, driest summers, the "much water" required for baptism.
They came, and were baptized. Says Lt. Conder,
"Here, then, in the wild, desert valley, beneath the red precipices,
where the hawk and kite find nests in "the stairs of the rocks,"
or by the banks of the shingly stream, with its beautiful oleander blossoms
shining in the dusky foliage of luxuriant shrubs, we may picture the dark
figure of the Baptist, in his robe of camel's hair, with the broad leather
Bedawi belt around his loins, preaching to the Judean multitude of pale
citizens--portly, gray-bearded rabbis, Roman soldiers in leathern armor and
shining helmets, sharp-faced publicans, and, above all, to the great mass of
oppressed peasantry, the "beasts of the people," uncared for,
stricken with palsy, with blindness, with fever, with leprosy, but eagerly
looking forward to the appearance of that Messiah who came to preach the
gospel to the poor."
3:24 For John was
not yet cast into prison1.
For John was not yet cast into prison. John's Gospel shows that the
ministry of Christ was well under way before that of the Baptist ceased: a
fact which the synoptists do not reveal. See Matthew
3:25 There arose
therefore a questioning on the part of John's disciples with a Jew about
There arose therefore a questioning on the part of John's disciples
with a Jew about purifying. What this questioning was we are not told.
The word "therefore" doubtless refers to the baptisms just
mentioned, so that the dispute probably related to the necessity or
purifying effects of that ordinance. But whatever the dispute was about, it
brought to notice the fact that Jesus was baptizing more than John, a fact
which some of the disciples of John quickly resented.
3:26 And they
came unto John, and said to him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond the Jordan1,
to whom thou hast borne witness, behold, the same
baptizeth2, and all men come to
And they came unto John, and said to him, Rabbi, he that was with thee
beyond the Jordan. This verse shows that John's disciples looked upon
Jesus as one who owed all his position and popularity to the Baptist's
testimony, and were, therefore, surprised to find that Jesus was surpassing
John. They looked upon this conduct as a species of ingratitude on the part
To whom thou hast borne witness, behold, the same baptizeth. This
verse also shows us that the witness of John did not pass unheeded. His
witness was public and notorious, and men remembered it, though they did not
always profit by it.
And all men come to him. That these friends of John felt unkindly
toward Jesus is shown by their exaggerated statement that "all men come
3:27 John answered and said, A
man can receive nothing, except it have been given him from heaven1.
A man can receive nothing, except it have been given him from heaven.
Some take this to mean that Jesus could not have had this great success
unless Heaven gave it to him; but it is more likely that John used the words
with entire reference to himself. A "man" can only take what is
given to him; the Son of God takes what he chooses. The friend receives only
what hospitality extends to him, but the heir takes what he will, as the
owner of the house.
yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ1,
but, that I am sent before him.
Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ,
but, that I am sent before him. In stating that John had borne
3:26). John's disciple had already committed themselves to the fact that
John disclaimed to be the Messiah, and that Jesus was the Messiah; for it
was concerning these two things that John had given his testimony.
3:29 He that hath
the bride is the bridegroom1: but
the friend of the bridegroom, that standeth and heareth him2,
rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice3:
this my joy therefore is made full4.
He that hath the bride is the bridegroom. John looks upon the body
of disciples as the Lord's bride, and prophetically anticipates the very
title which was subsequently applied to the church.
But the friend of the bridegroom, that standeth and heareth him. It
was the duty of "the friend of the bridegroom" to arrange the
preliminaries of the wedding, and to promote the mutual interests of the
bride and bridegroom. His duties and responsibilities greatly exceeded those
of our "best man", for it was his place to demand the hand of the
bride, and to prepare everything for the reception of the bride and
Rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Joy at the
sound of the bridegroom's voice is part of the drapery of John's figure.
Voices of bride and bridegroom are a Biblical symbol of festivity and joy (Jeremiah
33:11). The Song of Solomon is the only book in the Bible which dwells
upon the relationship of bride and bridegroom, and in it the voice of the
bridegroom is mentioned with joy (Song
of Solomon 2:8).
This my joy therefore is made full. If John meant anything more by
the phrase than mere drapery, he used it to express his pleasure that the
Messiah was directing his own affairs, and speaking his wishes with his own
voice, instead of using his friend as a mouthpiece.
3:30 He must
increase, but I must decrease1.
He must increase, but I must decrease. Noble words! "He must
increase"--because the divine law has ordered it, and prophecy has
foretold it (Isaiah
52:13), and because the very divinity of his nature absolutely requires
it. "I must decrease"--in popularity, in power, in following. The
Christian minister finds the increase of his work the same as the increase
of Christ's kingdom; but with the Baptist the case was different. He was a
Jewish prophet, and as the power of the New Dispensation, under Christ,
gained headway, the Old Dispensation, of which he was a part, waxed old, and
was ready to vanish away.
3:31 He that
cometh from above is above all1: he that is of the earth
is of the earth, and of the earth he speaketh: he that cometh from heaven is
He that cometh from above is above all, etc. Some think that the
testimony of the Baptist closes with John
3:30, and that the rest of the chapter is the comment of the apostle
John, but there is certainly no sufficient ground for such a view.
3:32 What he hath
seen and heard, of that he beareth witness1; and
no man receiveth his witness2.
What he hath seen and heard, of that he beareth witness. In John
3:21,32 the Baptist draws a contrast between his testimony and that of
the Messiah. The Baptist's testimony was largely of a negative character. He
testified that he was not the Christ (John
3:28), and while he pointed Jesus out as the Christ, the worthy one, the
spiritual baptizer, he nowhere undertook to elaborate as to the character or
nature of Jesus. He looked upon Jesus as being so far above all earthly
prophets that no prophet could reveal him. The task of such revelation
devolved upon Jesus himself. God must be self-revealed.
And no man receiveth his witness. It was no heavy disappointment to
John that his disciples had failed to grasp his testimony concerning
himself, and yet so few were persuaded by the testimony of Jesus that John
hyperbolically says "no man receiveth his testimony".
3:33 He that hath
received his witness hath set his seal to [this], that God is true1.
He that hath received his witness hath set his seal to [this], that God
is true. We have here a metaphor, taken from the sealing of a document,
as an expression of trust in or adherence to it. Compare John
6:27; 1 Corinthians
9:2. To receive Christ's witness was to publicly confess a conviction
that God was true--true to his promise that he would send a Messiah, a
3:4). To believe Christ is to believe God; to make Christ a liar is to
make the Father one also, for he speaks concerning Christ (1 John
5:10) and through Christ (John
3:34 For he whom God hath sent speaketh
the words of God: for he giveth not the Spirit by
For he giveth not the Spirit by measure. To give anything by
measure indicates a partial, scanty bestowal (Ezekiel
4:16). The Spirit of God, even in inspired prophets, was but a partial
and intermittent gift (1 Corinthians
7:25; 1 Corinthians
13:9; 1 Peter
1:1), but in Jesus, the Son of God, the Spirit of God dwelt fully and
1:19). The present tense "giveth" points to a continuous
communication of the Spirit. If Christ had received the Spirit "by
measure", then his gift of the Spirit might be exhausted.
3:35 The Father
loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand1.
The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.
This fact was afterwards asserted by Jesus (Matthew
28:18). Jesus is indeed King of kings (Psalms
3:36 He that
believeth on the Son hath eternal life1; but
he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life2, but
the wrath of God abideth on him3.
He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life. The New Testament
represents everlasting life as a present possession obtained by belief.
But he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life. In the second
clause of this verse "obeyeth" stands in contrast with
"believeth" in the first clause. No mental assent, however strong,
is reckoned by the Scriptures as faith unless it results in obedience (James
But the wrath of God abideth on him. "Wrath of God" is a
strong phrase, and is not to be lightly explained away. The unconverted
sinner rests under this wrath. His study should be not only to avert a
sentence to be pronounced at some future day, but to be freed from one
already resting upon him. This verse shows conclusively that Christ's
atoning work had its divine as well as its human side; that God had to be
propitiated as truly as man had to be reconciled. The Baptist had already
repeatedly warned the Jewish people of the wrath to come if they rejected
the Messiah, and in this, his last recorded utterance, he boldly reiterates