This section of text comes after Jesus has been preaching in Jerusalem during the feast of the Passover. There were many in the area who were seeking the promised deliverer who was to come, but Jesus had not reveal himself to them, because he knew what they were looking for – the conquering ruler of the latter revelation of the Christ, not the King of Righteousness who was coming into the world to save his elect from their own sin and their inability to seek God on his terms.

Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, and a ruler of the Jews, had come to Jesus, knowing the prophecies were due and that Jesus was exhibiting the signs and wonders that were evidence of his role as that redeemer. He was asking for clarification, and perhaps direction. Not presuming, as many people (and even his disciples) did, that Jesus would be this conquering ruler who would crush the Roman state and elevate the Jews as the primary race upon all of creation. Misunderstanding both who these “people of God” were, and the nature of God’s deliverance and redemption that was to be purchased for them on their behalf.

So Jesus reveals to this, the teacher of the Jews, a man who is seeking answers, not his validation for what he wants it to be, the true nature of the glory of God to be revealed upon mankind:

  • That we must be born again (John 3:3, 6-7)
  • That God is doing a work of the Spirit, not of the flesh (John 3:5, 8)
  • That this would be something which is done for the people by the will of God through his Spirit and that it is something that cannot be controlled by the will of man or through the work of the flesh (John 3:8, 11)

v 11-12 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”

  • Jesus has attempted to explain this to Nicodemus using analogies from a worldly standard – something that he should have understood plainly. Nicodemus, however, is not following along.
  • Because of this, Jesus now turns to scriptural things that he should understand;

v13 – “No one has ascended into heaven, but he who descended from heaven; the Son of Man.”

  • Jesus now refers to himself as God, and plainly states that he is the promised “son of man” – his favorite term for himself, as the sacrifice of blood and goats cannot satisfy the law of God, but we need a human sacrifice to resolve the sin debt of human sin before our creator.
  • This is not condoning human sacrifice, but points to the fact that we need a like-for-like atonement. Jesus, if he was God alone, would be wholly perfect, but only as relatable to the sin debt of mankind as would the be same sacrifices which had been performed every day for 1500 years before his introduction into the world – merely the blood of animals which have no weight aside from a temporary substitution for the blood of mankind.
  • Jesus, born into the flesh of mankind, living as a human in the bounds of humanity, perfectly performed the duties of a human life, yet without sin. All of his thoughts, decisions, and actions, throughout his whole life, were those which honored God the most. This is the role of the Son of Man – to be the perfect man, the perfect representative, and the perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of the elect.

v 14-15 – “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

  • Jesus, who has just declared himself to be this perfect representative of mankind, now relates back to Moses who lifted up a symbol of the destruction of mankind in Numbers 21:9 which allowed those who “looked upon it” to receive salvation from God from their due penalty of their sin.
    • There was no other act that they must perform but to look on the image of the serpent. This showed that they:
      • Believed in the word of God which was to look on this and live
      • Trusted in this alone to save them – not their earthly remedies from the serpent venom, nor in their own reasoning, but they must humble themselves and look to the serpent alone and live.
  • Jesus declares how < HE > < MUST > die. He must be raised up – on the cross, and he would be the symbol of their destruction. This same Jesus who will be the one who will, in the great white throne judgement, condemn all mankind who has not put their trust in the work of Jesus alone to save them, into hell for an eternal suffering. Their active choices to refuse to acknowledge God (Rom 1), and to refuse to trust in him (Jn 3:18-20), have condemned them.
  • He alone is the one who has to die, but he also must die, or no one will be saved. There is no deliverance from sin without the sacrifice of blood, and there is no full and final payment (propitiation) without a perfect sacrifice for the sins of man.

v 16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

  • Jesus now, in the standard Jewish way of repeating a statement twice to reinforce it and to fill in any gaps, now declares it plainly a second time.
  • God, the creator and sustainer of the world, loves his creation so much that he has offered for them a method of escape. This Jesus, this perfect representative for mankind, has come to the earth, lived the life that none of us could ever live, and died a death that only he never deserved to die, so that we, who trust in him, who humble ourselves before him, and who seek him alone above all other things, idols, and affections, would die to our sins, and be raised anew with him in perpetuity.
  • This is the message of this text – that it is God who does a work for us that we could never do on our own, so that he is the one who receives the glory, not us.

v 17 – “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

  • Driving the point further, Jesus, the perfect representative of mankind, and fully God in the flesh, the great judge of all mankind, was not sent (in this mission) to condemn mankind, but that those who believe in him would be saved.
  • This also presupposes that not all will believe in him and that some would be eternally condemned.
  • But what of those who do not?

v 18 – “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

  • Whoever:
    • Not the focus of the statement – the focus is on the belief itself.
  • Believes in:
    • Believes that what he says is true
    • Puts their trust in what he has accomplished on their behalf
    • Forsakes their own input or addition to the work and wholly rests in what Jesus said about:
      • Himself
      • His role
      • His purpose
      • The things to come
  • Is not condemned
    • Condemned: κρίνω; κρίσις, εως f; κρίμα, τος n: (KRINO) to judge a person to be guilty and liable to punishment—‘to judge as guilty, to condemn, condemnation.1
      1 Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 555). New York: United Bible Societies.
  • The just and proper punishment is removed from those who believe that Jesus is who he says he is, and who trust in the work that he has performed on their behalf.
  • Whoever does not believe:
    • Now the other side of the coin, here is what happens for those who are not of the elect:
  • They are condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God
    • Condemned already
    • All mankind stands judged before God. Rom 3:23, 5:7-8, 12, 19; Ecc 9:3
  • God chooses some people to interfere in their lives to save them
    • Belief
      • Already mentioned above
    • Name
      • Name, in scripture, refers to the character and nature of the person involved, as well as to what you call someone. To believe in the “name” of Jesus the Christ, you are agreeing with him as to the person whom he represents himself to be.
  • There are not hundreds of races, or a myriad of people groups or nation on this planet, but only two divisions between mankind:
  • Elect:
    • The elect are those whom God has chosen before the foundation of the world – before they had done anything “good” or “bad” – to interfere with their lives and to save them. The natural man, seeks only after his own preservation, and his own glory. The spiritual man seeks after God. What is different between them? The act of the Holy Spirit upon the heart and mind of that man. There is no other thing by which someone can be saved. Our hearts and minds are so sin-sick and depraved, that we cannot, even in our very best of days, seek after God with a pure heart if God had not first acted upon our hearts to enlighten them to his thoughts and to reveal to us our sin before him.
    • Romans 8:28-30
  • Non-elect:
    • This is everyone else who exists. The whole mass of humanity is running headlong into hell, wilfully ignoring their God-given conscience, and seeking to satisfy their own desires. God allows them, in his kindness, to live their lives in largely the way that they want because what “good” they receive now from God is all that they will receive. Those who have “free will” merely are living for their “best life now”, as if “every day is Friday”, desperately trying to become a “better you”, but unable to do so because they are unable to interpret the message of God in the Gospel. They are all warned in their hearts by their God-given conscience, but it is nothing to them but something to overcome as they seek their own good and their own glory. This is the fallen state of man.
    • References:
      • Proverbs 21:10;Ps 53:1-3;Isa 1:5-6;42:6-7; John 8:34,44; Romans 1:24-27;3:10-11; 6:6,16-17,19-20; 7:14,18; 2 Peter 2:19; Titus 1:15-16;3:3
    • Moreover, the natural man cannot comprehend the mind of God, much less his message of salvation. It appears to him to be literal foolishness – stupidity. He cannot accept it on his own terms, which is why there is so much humility required, and the natural man cannot accept this on those terms.
    • References:
      • Mt 11:27; 1 Cor 1:18, 21-24; 2 Cor 4:3-4

v 19-20 – “For this is the judgement: the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”

  • This is the judgement that Jesus, the judge, will pronounce upon the unbelieving humanity – that while they knew the truth (Rom 1:20-23), they chose their own beliefs – their own “truths” to their own shame and, ultimately, to their own destruction. This is why people seek the safety of darkness when they are embroiled in sin. They want validation from friends that their sin is acceptable, and if not, they will pursue it under the cover of distance from those whom they love. Anyone who has dealt with addiction, whether personally, in their home or friendships, will immediately recognize this. When your loved one starts to distance themselves from you – that is when you get suspicious – concerned. For their own care and for the impact that a relapse will have on their family and friends.
  • Sin seeks separation because it is easier to pursue it when you don’t have to worry about the guilt when you care caught. Woe to you when you can sin openly, without the just condemnation of one of the greatest gifts from God – shame.

v 21 – “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God”.

  • I agree with John Calvin, that this seems to be an absurd statement when compared with the rest of scripture. There, clearly, is none who “does good”. There are none who “seek after God” – certainly not with right intent or right desires. The response that Calvin comes up with in his commentary on this section of scripture, is that it is a reference to, as Augustine states, “acknowledge that we are miserable and destitute of all power of doing good”. In this, only those who have been so enlightened by the work of God in their lives, through the regeneration power of the Holy Spirit upon the heart and mind, can “do what is true” – and agree with God that we have no goodness within ourselves.
  • When seen in that light, the rest of the statement rings true: “So that it can be seen that his works have been carried out in God.
    • God, the doer of the works, has already, past-tense, carried out the good that this person has done. We are incapable of “doing good” at all, and any good student of scripture and the human condition will agree with this. Even the most ardent humanist will clearly state that within men remains the potential for devastating evil. From a scriptural perspective, there is nothing good that can come from the heart of mankind. God alone, therefore, is the only doer of good works – even in the hearts and minds of men.