The Agora
Bible Commentary

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John 3

Joh 3:1

Was Nicodemus sent by Sanhedrin to investigate Christ's claims (cp Joh 1:19)? Note "we" of v 2, "you" (plural) of v 11.

Joh 3:2

AT NIGHT: Cp Joh 3:19. But he wished to conceal, not an evil deed from good men, but a good deed from evil men (Plummer, WGos 97).

WE: Implied question: 'Shall not WE, the leaders of Israel, have a part in your kingdom?'

A TEACHER WHO HAS COME FROM GOD: As Moses had been (cp v 14n). Here, the Coming One, one common name for the Messiah -- whom the Jews expected at any time.

Joh 3:3

IN REPLY: Jesus immediately sweeps aside all the courtesies and gets to the fundamentals.

NO ONE: Not even a Jew! Cp Joh 1:25. (This teaching was too difficult for Nicodemus to accept.)

AGAIN: "Anothen" always sig "from above" in John's writings: vv 7,31; Joh 19:11,23). Otherwise, John also speaks of birth "from God" (Joh 1:13; 1Jo 3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18), which is synonymous. The word anothen is ambiguous, and can be read either way. From the Pharisee's reply it is evident that he chose to understand "born again". There can be little doubt, however, that the Lord was emphasizing a new birth "from above". His words about being "born of the Spirit" surely settle that. Indeed, it is not a little doubtful whether "anothen" means "again" in ANY NT passage. There is no missing the meaning in some places. The seamless robe of Jesus was "woven from the top throughout" (Joh 19:23). The veil of the temple was rent "from the top to the bottom" (Mat 27:51). "Every good and every perfect gift is from above" (Jam 1:17; and so also in Jam 3:15,17).

See Lesson, John's figurative language.

Joh 3:4

Nicodemus had difficulty distinguishing between the two poss meanings of "anothen" (v 3). He assumes it means "again", instead of "from above".

Joh 3:5

"Born from above" = "born of water and the Spirit". Not a natural birth, not by will of man but of God (John 1:12,13; Jam 1:18; 1Jo 2:29; 4:7; 5:1,4). Nicodemus' 3-fold "birth": (1) here, (2) speaking up for Christ (Joh 7:50), and (3) at last, declaring openly (Joh 19:39). Christ's 3-fold "birth": (1) virgin birth (Luk 1:35), (2) baptism (Mat 3:17), and (3) resurrection (Rom 1:3,4).

OF WATER: Baptism, the ritual appointed by God as the material element in the symbolic death and new birth: Col 2:12,13; Joh 3:23.

OF THE SPIRIT: (1) Moral regeneration: Tit 3:5; 1Pe 1:23-25; Gal 4:29; Rom 8:4-9. (2) Physical change from the "natural" to the "spiritual", at the resurrection: 1Co 15:20-23, 50-54; 2Co 5:1-4; Luk 20:36; Phi 3:21; 1Jo 3:2. Or (3) putting two elements (water AND spirit) together (as allowed by Greek construction): "born of spiritual water", in ct "born of natural water".

Joh 3:8

Cp the "marching" in the tops of the trees: 2Sa 5:24. The Spirit breathes where it pleases, ie Holy Spirit in conception of Jesus (Luk 1:35). His words were the words of the Holy Spirit (Joh 6:63).

SO IS EVERYONE BORN OF THE SPIRIT: A "spirit" being, a new creation in Christ, is controlled by unseen forces and considerations (2Co 4:18-5:7). Until a man is born of this unseen force, he cannot know its cause -- only its outward effect in the lives of others.

Joh 3:10

ISRAEL'S TEACHER: The title of the president of the Sanhedrin. But Nicodemus seems later to have been demoted to a mere member (Joh 7:50-52), perhaps due to suspected allegiance to Jesus.

Joh 3:11

WE: The disciples who, by the Holy Spirit, confirm the words of John in this Gospel.

Joh 3:12

EARTHLY THINGS: That is, manna in wilderness, brazen serpent.

HEAVENLY THINGS: THAT IS, Christ the true manna, Christ the uplifted serpent. Our heavenly calling (Heb 3:1), by a heavenly Father (Mat 18:35), through a heavenly word (Joh 3:12), presents to us a heavenly status (Eph 2:6), as we await a heavenly image (1Co 15:48,49), to be a heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:22), in a heavenly country (Heb 11:16), within a heavenly kingdom (2Ti 4:18). All this constitutes Christ's brethren as a heavenly people of God!

Joh 3:13

This v is parenthetical; John is speaking: 'No man has ever gone to heaven -- and no man will -- until the Son of man, having ascended there, and having been in heaven, descends to the earth again" (NR 109).

GONE INTO HEAVEN: Thus the ascension here is, from this perspective, in the future: after death and resurrection of Jesus: Eph 4:9,10; Psa 68:18; Rom 10:6,7; Pro 30:4.

WHO CAME FROM HEAVEN: Coming down from heaven: language of theophany = God revealing Himself. And the end of such a theophany is "going up to heaven": cp Num 11:24,25 -- where "the Lord came down" in the person of the Angel of the Covenant (Exo 23:20-25). Cp also Gen 11:5; 18:21; Exo 3:7,8; 19:11,18,20; 34:5; Psa 19:8; Isa 64:1.

WHO IS IN HEAVEN: Omitted in RV mg and NIV. Should be read as John's commentary at the time Gospel was written, not as the words of Jesus in Joh 3. Some Jewish rabbis had taught that Moses ascended to heaven, to receive the Law (LTJM 1:387). Poss ref to Christ's literal ascent and descent, after resurrection but before final "ascension", is implied in Joh 20:17.

Joh 3:14

Cp Num 21:9n with Joh 12:32.

Joh 3:16

FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONE AND ONLY SON, THAT WHOSOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM SHALL NOT PERISH BUT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE: "It is perhaps useful to catalogue baldly the fundamental doctrines which are all explicitly stated or else implied in John 3:16: (1) Redemption is an act of uncaused love on God's part. The initiative is His, not the believer's. (2) Jesus is a unique Son of God, the 'only begotten'. (3) The sacrifice of Jesus is the means of human redemption. (4) This salvation is for all men, without any kind of distinction; in the true sense of the term it is 'catholic'. (5) Justification is by faith in Christ, and by no other way. (6) This justifying faith also unites a man to Christ in baptism. (7) By contrast with the Law's promise of 'length of days', it also brings present and everlasting future enjoyment of 'eternal life.' (8) The only alternative for the unbelieving sinner is ultimate oblivion. (9) In John 3: 13, 'which is' -- Gr 'ho on' -- is the Covenant Name of God in Exo 3:14 LXX (cp Phi 2:9)" (WGos).

The greatest reason: FOR.
The greatest lover: GOD.
The greatest degree: SO LOVED.
The greatest company: THE WORLD.
The greatest act: THAT HE GAVE.
The greatest gift: HIS ONE AND ONLY SON.
The greatest opportunity: THAT WHOEVER.
The greatest requirement: BELIEVES.
The greatest attraction: IN HIM.
The greatest promise: SHALL NOT PERISH.
The greatest difference: BUT.
The greatest certainty: HAVE.
The greatest possession: ETERNAL LIFE.

G...od so loved the world that He gave His and only
S...on, that whoever believes in him shall not
P...erish, but have

WORLD: "Kosmos" = the system of things; in this case, esp, the Jewish "world".

Joh 3:20

A breakdown in logic is evident in the citation of John 3:20 ("For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light") to show that "the Jews, in general, were not enlightened." Does this view of the passage really hold up? Let us assume that an acquaintance tells us, "I hate C, and whenever I see him, I cross the street to avoid him, because he always makes me feel uncomfortable." Would it ever occur to us that he does not know C? No! We would conclude that he not only knows C, but that he knows enough about him to have developed some strong opinions. "Not enlightened"? Certainly not. "Enlightened" more than is comfortable? "Enlightened" more than he would like to be? Yes.

"We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light" (Plato).

Joh 3:22

Jesus left the capital, a hotbed of nationalistic fervor (Joh 2:24,25), where men desired to make him king (Joh 6:15). This was a clear answer to the Pharisees who, like Nicodemus, proposed a working alliance with him.

Joh 3:23

AENON: Heb "ayin": fountain, or eye.

AENON NEAR SALIM: "Fountain of peace" (cp Isa 48:21,22). Near Ziklag in southeast Judah (Jos 15:32), prob near the springs of water Caleb gave to daughter Achsah (Jdg 1:15).

Joh 3:26

ALL MEN: That is, all kinds (classes, or races) of men. Examples of "all" prob meaning "without distinction" rather than "without exception": Joh 1:7,9; 5:28; 8:2; 12:32; 13:35; Rom 10:13; 1Ti 2:1,2; 4:15; 5:20; 6:17; Heb 2:9.

EVERYONE IS GOING TO HIM: That is, 'How shall we know which of you two is teaching the correct way?'

Joh 3:27

ONLY WHAT IS GIVEN HIM FROM HEAVEN: And which remains with him (cp Joh 1:33).

Joh 3:29

THE BRIDE: See Song 2:8,10; Isa 54:5; 61:10; Jer 3:14; Hos 2; Eph 5; Rev 19:7,8; 21:4; 1Co 6:17; Psa 45n; Mat 9:15.

JOY: Joy in fellowship: Jer 33:11.

Joh 3:30

HE MUST BECOME GREATER; I MUST BECOME LESS: There are few harder words to say than these.

Joh 3:31

Vv 31-36: John's commentary, an extended allusion to Moses and episode of golden calf (Exo 32): Moses, from above (Mount Sinai), receives authority from God. Aaron, of earth, encourages apostasy. Then Moses comes down from heaven to testify of the divine glory which he has witnessed. Thus a contrast between the "true God" (v 33) and the idolatrous calf. "Without limit" (v 34) is Moses' access to God. Consider also: the futility of the Aaronic priesthood. Demands of wealth to foster a false religion. Calf = cherubim figures, subjects of idolatrous reverence. Moses' successful intercession for sinners. Washing away of sin by stream from the smitten rock. (WGos 100,101).

Joh 3:32

NO ONE: That is, no one who is not born of the Spirit (vv 3-5n)!

Joh 3:34

Note //s to Joh 1:6: God has "sent" many men who did not preexist in heaven!

THE SPIRIT WITHOUT LIMIT: God gives more than just enough. An allusion to Mal 3:10: not room enough! Cp copious anointing of High Priest, in ct limited anointing of other priests (Exo 29:7,20).

Joh 3:35

IN HIS HANDS: Heb idiom for consecration of a priest: Exo 29:9 mg.

Joh 3:36


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