The Gospel of John: Revealing the Invisible God
A Bible Study by Fred Kenison
This book is a verse-by-verse commentary. To go to the commentary for any particular verse in Chapter 3, please click on a number below.
3:1 But there was a man of the Pharisees, his name, Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
Smith's Bible Dictionary (p. 243), says this about the Pharisees:
"One of the three sects of Judaism in the time of Christ. The name means separated by special works. The sect included all Hebrews who separated themselves from every kind of Levitical impurity, following the Mosaic law of purity. They are first noticed as a sect about 150 B.C., but their origin is not recorded. Their influence was very great, ruling, beyond question, the Sanhedrin, and all Jewish society, except the slight opposition of the Sadducees, even overawing the civil courts; and as they had gathered to themselves all the worst features of Judaism in the time of Christ, and used this against any reform, and especially against the Messiah, it was needful that Jesus should protest against them; and the contest resulting from his protest grew fiercer and more relentless on the part of the Pharisees, ending only with the crucifixion."
"That Jesus did not overstate their peculiar defects their own account of themselves will show. The Talmud says: There are seven kinds of Pharisees. (l) Shechemites, who keep the law for what it will profit them; (2) Tumblers, always hanging down the head, and dragging the feet; (3) Bleeders, who to avoid looking at women shut their eyes and so bump their heads; (4) Mortars, wearing caps in the form of a mortar, covering the eyes from seeing impurities; (5) What-am-I- yet-to-doers, who as soon as one law is kept, ask what is next; (6) Fearers, who keep the law from fear of a judgment; (7) Lovers, who obey Jehovah because they love him with all the heart."
"Of them were the devout Simeon, who took the infant Jesus in his arms; and also Zacharias, and Gamaliel, and Saul of Tarsus, who never uttered a word against the sect. Jesus described the sect as whited sepulchres, hidden graves, and in retaliation they were his most determined enemies."
This "man of the Pharisees" was Nicodemus, a member of the ruling Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was,
"The supreme council and tribunal of the Jews during post-exilic times headed by a high priest and having religious, civil, and criminal jurisdiction" (Webster).
Nicodemus was a very important man.
3:2 He came to Jesus by night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that thou hast come a teacher from God, for no one is able to do those signs which thou doest unless God be with him.
There have been many theories about why Nicodemus approached Jesus by night. He was certainly curious enough to want to talk to Jesus, but he apparently wanted to do so without risking chastisement by his peers. However, this is all speculation; the scriptures do not tell us why he came by night.
He began his conversation by calling Jesus, rabbi, or teacher, which was a title of respect. This speaks very highly about the character of Nicodemus. He did not come to belittle Jesus, but to learn about his circumstances. The phrase, "no one is able to do the signs you do" indicates that either Nicodemus had seen Jesus performing the signs, or miracles, or works of power, or he had heard about them. He had come to the conclusion that no one could do those things "unless god be with him."
The word theos, or god, does not have the definite article, and should therefore be translated as a god. Nicodemus was at least hinting that perhaps Jesus was not being empowered by The God of Israel. However, he did acknowledge that Jesus had received his power from someone greater than himself.
In Isaiah 30:19-21, Jehovah, speaking to Israel, prophesied the following:
"For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem: thou shalt weep no more: he will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers: and thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left."
Nicodemus, being a member of the Sanhedrin, was also a scholar of the Old Testament scriptures. He knew about Isaiah's prophecy, that the day would come when a teacher, or teachers, would come to Israel and speak to the leaders about the direction they had taken. Was this the teacher? He had certainly done a number of signs to authenticate his calling as such.
3:3 Jesus answered, and said to him, Verily, verily, I say to thee, Unless anyone be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of The God.
Here, again, Jesus used verily, or truly, to begin a statement. Then, he went on to state what that truth was: "Unless anyone is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of The God." The word born comes from genneethee, which is defined as
"Genneethee aor. pass. subj. gennaoo. The pass. can either mean "to be born" or "to be begotten"; (Rienecker, p. 223).
The word anew comes from anoothen, which means
"from above, or the heavenly world from whose power a man must be renewed again, or anew" (Rienecker, p. 223 ).
Some translations use the phrase "from above," but this would seem to be a misfit given the comment of Nicodemus in verse 3:4. Altogether, the concept of "anew" seems to fit the context better.
In the phrase, "he cannot see the kingdom of The God," the word not comes from ouk, the absolute no. There is no way that anyone can ever see the kingdom of The God if they are not born anew. The word see comes from idein, from the basic Greek word oraoo, which means to have a mental conception of something. It also may mean to see with the physical eye as well. But it was written here as an accusative infinitive, which means,
"prominence in the word of the mental element being indicated by the construction" (Thayer, p. 452).
The usual interpretation of this verse, at least in evangelical circles, is that this is the new birth of the spirit which occurs when someone "accepts Jesus as their savior." However, such an interpretation ignores several truths which are evident in this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.
Many evangelicals consider "the kingdom of god" to be the present-day church. According to this position, when someone "accepts Jesus as their personal savior," they are "born again" and they enter the church, which is the kingdom of God. However, this is an error, because scripture clearly teaches that "the kingdom of God" is the next age when Jesus shall reign and rule over the earth. There is no way that the church can be considered to be the kingdom of The God.
3:4 Nicodemus says to him, How can a man be born being old? Can he a second time enter into the womb of his mother and be born?
It is quite clear that Nicodemus had no mental conception of what Jesus was saying to him. He had not been born anew! He thought that Jesus must be speaking of a physical birth. He was an old man, by his own admission, and still he asked, "How can a man be born being old?"
He must have considered this an incredulous statement, something beyond belief. This is clearly indicated by his question, "Can he enter a second time into the womb of his mother and be born?" Common sense would indicate that this was not possible. But, considering the miracles Jesus performed in Jerusalem, perhaps Nicodemus thought Jesus could actually cause this to happen.
3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Unless anyone be born of water and of spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of the god.
Unless comes from ean mee. Mee is the no of possibility, not the absolute no, which John used so often. The two words together are translated as unless. The combination of the two words leaves open the possibility that the following may or may not happen. In other words, the two births-water and spirit-are the necessary criteria. Some churches teach that born of water means being baptized in water, which then causes the person being baptized to be born anew. However, subsequent comments by Jesus show that this is not what he meant.
The phrase "be born" is an aorist subjunctive passive, which indicates that it must come to pass. The passive shows that this is something that is done for the "anyone" of this verse, not something they do for themselves. If these two births do not happen, then that person cannot enter into the kingdom of The God.
Cannot is a compound word composed of ou, the absolute no, and dunatai, which means power. The "anyone" of this verse absolutely does not have the ability, or the power, to enter the kingdom of The God under any circumstance. It is impossible.
3:6 That which has been born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which has been born of the spirit, is spirit.
Jesus further explained the mystery of being born anew. Before one is born of the flesh, they are carried in their mother's womb in a sack of water. The word of comes from ek, which means out of. Being born of water is a physical birth, out of the flesh.
The phrase "has been born" is written in the perfect passive participle. The perfect means that the event has come to an end, and the present tense indicates that the results continue. The person who has been born of the flesh continues in the flesh, and appears as such to others. The passive shows that the person had nothing whatsoever to do with being born of the flesh.
In the phrase "has been born of the spirit," has been born comes from the same word used with the water birth. The word of also comes from the same word, ek, out of. This time it is the spirit which gives birth to the person. The passive shows that this birth is also something which the person cannot do for himself. It is something done for him. It is the spirit which gives the person spiritual birth. In this birth, however, the person is spirit, not flesh. After the birth by the spirit, the person is a spiritual being, not a fleshly being.
Jesus was the first person to receive a spiritual body, but all those who will be born out of the spirit will also have a spiritual body. Without this spiritual body, no one can enter into the kingdom of The God. The kingdom of the next age will be closed to those without a spiritual body. This definitely negates the common teaching of today that the spiritual birth takes place when one "accepts Jesus as their personal savior." No one will be "born again" until the resurrection.
3:7 Do not wonder that I said unto thee, It is needful for you to be born anew."
Jesus was being very patient with Nicodemus. He must have sensed the sincerity of his question. Unlike many of the other Pharisees, Nicodemus was not trying to trap Jesus with his questions. Jesus told him not to wonder, or marvel, at what he said. Here, although nearly quoting word for word what he had told Nicodemus previously, Jesus did change one word.
In verses 3:3 and 3:5, he used the word unless, the Greek ean mee, which was explained above. Here, he used the word needful, the Greek word dei, which means,
"It is necessary, there is need of, it behooves, is right and proper a necessity lying in the nature of the case" (Thayer, p. 126).
This is a strong word, and it does not leave any leeway for other conclusions.
The Greek words, for "to be born" and "anew" have already been explained above.
Jesus then went on to explain why Nicodemus should not wonder, or marvel at what he said.
3:8 The wind blows where it wills, and its sound thou hearest, but knowest not whence it comes and where it goes: thus is everyone that has been born of the spirit.
Jesus used the wind as an example of those born of the spirit. He said that the wind blows where it wills, which means that as far as fleshly men are concerned, they can not control the wind. He went on to say, "you hear the sound thereof, but knowest not whence it comes and where it goes." Where does the wind originate, and where does it go? Man does not know.
Then, Jesus made the comparison of the wind and being born of spirit. The word thus comes from autoos, which means,
"In this manner, thus, so; by virtue of its native demonstrative force it refers to what precedes; in the manner spoken of, in the way described; in the way it was done; in this manner; in such a manner" (Thayer, p. 468).
The word "thus" may be compared to an equal sign. What is on one side is equal to the other side. "Everyone that has been born of the spirit" is equal in manner to the wind. They can go and come, and no one knows where they came from nor where they went.
Of all the people I know who claim to be "born again," not one of them can come and go like the wind, except for Jesus. When the disciples locked themselves in the upper room after Jesus was crucified, he suddenly appeared in their midst. When he left, he went as he had come. How did he get into that locked room? They did not know. Jesus was the first-and so far, the only one-to have a spiritual body, or a body fitted for the spirit. He could come and go as he pleased no matter what the worldly circumstances. I know of no one else like that!
3:9 Nicodemus answered, and said to him, How can these things be?
A careful notice of the previous verses reveals that every time Jesus spoke of being born anew, or again, it was in relationship to the kingdom of The God. Those who will be born again of the spirit will not realize this until Jesus returns with the shout of an archangel and men are resurrected. Then, those who are the overcomers will be born anew by the spirit. However, no one will be born again of the spirit until that time. It will not happen until then, no matter how much preaching there is to the contrary.
Nicodemus had never heard of such things, and neither had anyone else, other than Jesus. In the next few verses, Jesus again attempted to answer the question posed by Nicodemus, one of the great scholars of Israel.
3:10 Jesus answered and said to him, Thou art the teacher of Israel, and these things knowest not?
With this answer, Jesus took Nicodemus to task for not knowing about being born anew. The use of the definite article before teacher indicates that Nicodemus was the chief teacher of Israel. No place else does it state this, but the manner in which Jesus stated his question would lead to that conclusion. Nicodemus was expected to already know these things, and to have taught them to others. Jesus chastised him for not knowing.
3:11 Verily, verily, I say to thee, That which we know, we speak, and that which we have seen, we bear witness of; and ye receive not our witness.
Again, Jesus began with verily, verily, emphasizing that what followed was the truth. This habit of speech no doubt aggravated those who did not accept Jesus as the messiah. Jesus further enhanced the truth of his statement by saying, "That which we know, we speak." Jesus was making an indirect statement of his past relationship with the father in heaven. He had experienced what he was telling Nicodemus. He knew it was the truth!
"We have seen what we are bearing witness of" stated that he had seen the things he was telling about. Remember, Jesus had holy spirit without measure upon him, and the spirit is the truth. Therefore, he had truth without measure. The spirit could guide the man, Jesus, into the truth of all that he had seen and known as Jehovah. Jesus had the experience of eons in the past, as well as the knowledge he acquired as a man.
Then, Jesus accused Nicodemus: "Ye receive not our witness." Jesus knew Nicodemus did not accept what he had heard. Nicodemus believed only that Jesus was a "teacher come from a god." He did not believe everything that Jesus had been telling him about the kingdom of The God, and about being born anew.
3:12 If I said earthly things to you, and ye believe not, how if I say heavenly things to you, will ye believe?
In his criticism, Jesus stated that he had been telling Nicodemus earthly things. This may strike many people as unusual because Jesus had been speaking about the kingdom of The God, and about being born anew. Are not these heavenly things? No. Both the kingdom of The God, and being born anew, will be future events on this earth. The kingdom of God will exist on earth, not in heaven.
Many people have spiritualized the concepts of the kingdom of God and being born anew, and thereby miss the blessed hope of the soon return of Jesus, the Messiah, to rule and reign over that kingdom. Being born anew will take place on this earth at the time when Jesus returns. At that time, the graves will be opened, and the overcomers will receive a glorified body like unto that of Jesus, the resurrected man. They will be born anew, enabling them to rise into the air to meet Jesus, and to escort him to earth to rule over the kingdom. [For more about the kingdom, please see our book, The Apocalypse of Revelation.]
Jesus asked Nicodemus if he would believe if he spoke of heavenly things. This highlights one of the difficulties in teaching spiritual things to fleshly people. It is impossible for them to understand the heavenly things (see I Corinthians 2:14).
When Jesus was discussing things that will happen on the earth, Nicodemus did not believe them. The God's actions are often earthly events, but people who live for the flesh will never discern them as events of The God. Jesus knew it was a waste of time to speak to fleshly people about heavenly happenings.
3:13 And no one has gone up into the heaven except he who came down out of the heaven, The son of man who is in the heaven.
John now returned to where he left off in verse 2:25, before inserting the conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus. With this verse, the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is over, and John begins a dissertation of his own.
John returned to his description of Jesus, and said, "No one has gone up into the heaven except he who came down out of the heaven." Jesus is the only person who has been resurrected with a spiritual body that can come and go like the wind. He is the only one that has gone up into the heaven. The no used above is ouk, the absolute no. John, by using this word, ruled out any possibility of there being any other person to go up into the heaven.
John said this unique person was the one "who came down out of the heaven." The word out comes from ek, often described as the preposition likened unto a dot inside a circle. If we draw a line from the dot inside the circle to another dot outside the circle, we get a good sense out the phrase "out of." Thus, the one "who went up into the heaven, first came down out of the heaven." Who was this that became Jesus? It was Jehovah, the word of The God in the Old Testament. The word became flesh, and tabernacled among us as the man, Jesus.
John made this identification clear by saying, "the son of the man who is in the heaven." This term, "the son of the man," is the same terminology that Jesus most often used to describe himself. Where did Jesus go when he died? He went up into the heaven, where he is now sitting at the right hand of the Father, and again holding the office of Jehovah, which was the logos, or the word of The God. But, this time, Jehovah is the glorified man, Jesus, the Christ.
3:14 And even as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, thus to be lifted up, it behooves the Son of the man.
This verse further explains about the circumstances of the "one who was lifted up into the heaven." John turned to the Old Testament, his only scriptures, to explain this.
"And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said unto Moses, make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived" (Numbers 21:5-9).
The word behooves comes from dei, a word often translated as must. To be lifted up must come to pass. The reason it must be is that if Jesus had not been lifted up on the stake (usually mistranslated as the cross), he could not have ascended into the heavens. His crucifixion was a must; therefore, it behooved him to be lifted up. Otherwise, the forgiveness of sins would not have been put on display for mankind to see; and, thereby, enabling them to approach a loving god without fear.
3:15 That everyone who believes on him may not perish, but may have life eternal.
The Israelites in the wilderness were physically healed when they looked in faith at the serpent on the pole. Thus it is with those who look in faith to Jesus, who was put on the stake. They will "not perish," or become useless for the purpose for which they were created, but "may have life eternal." These two verses, 3:14-15, lay the foundation for the familiar verse which follows. Unfortunately, many people are unaware that these verses are the foundation for the next verse.
3:16 For The God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that everyone who believes on him may not perish, but may have life eternal.
For comes from outoos, and means,"in such a manner" (Thayer, p. 469). This "for" refers back to Moses and the brass serpent. God so loved the Israelite people that he had Moses lift up the serpent so that anyone who looked upon it in faith did not die.
Now, in such a manner, The God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. In the Old Testament, it was a brass serpent that was lifted up on a stake in order that they did not die a physical death. Now, it was The God's only begotten son who was lifted up on a stake. Why? So that people would not die spiritually, or waste their spiritual life, and spend the next age in outer darkness.
Those who believe that Jesus died on the stake, and look upon that event, may not perish. The not used here is mee, and therefore carries the sense that perishing is still a possibility. Thayer (p. 408) says this about the difference between ou and mee:
"a particle of negation, which differs from ou (which is always an adverb) in that ou denies the thing itself, (or to speak technically, denies simply, absolutely, categorically, directly, objectively), but mee denies the thought of the thing, or the thing according to the judgment, opinion, will, purpose, preference, of some one."
The God has given (spiritual) life to every person as they come into the world. Therefore, they can continue to live and maintain that spiritual life when they look to Jesus and his crucifixion on the stake. When they do this, they should no longer look to the flesh, but they should look to The God for their guidance. Hence, "they may not perish," although it is still a possibility.
"Life eternal" is a term which people often misunderstand. Eternal comes from aioonion, which means time out of mind, or time which can not be reckoned. From this point of view, time falls into the category of kairos time, which has little significance as we think of time, but indicates more a quality of time rather than measured time. Hence, when one looks upon the crucified Jesus, there is a quality added to their life. It is not a matter of forever and forever, as most people believe. That, too, will happen, but that is not what this word denotes. The quality added is that of godliness, or the quality that The God wishes for our lives, and the quality he imparts to those who believe.
3:17 For The God sent not his Son into the world that he might judge the world, but that the world through him might be saved.
The for used in this verse is a different word than outoos used in verse 3:16. Here, for comes from gar, which means because, or for this reason. Because The God sent not his son into the world that he might judge the world.
Jesus, the Christ, was not sent to judge the world, although some churches claim that he was. Some believe that Jesus came to make a division, or to judge people, determining those who would be saved and those who would not be saved. However, that is not the case. Jesus did not come down to the earth to be a judge.
Why did Jesus come? "That the world through him might be saved." That comes from the Greek word hina, which declares purpose. The purpose for which The God sent his son into the world is that the world through him might be saved.
The phrase "might be saved" is an aorist, subjunctive, passive, which does not have the meaning usually associated with the English word "might." The grammar shows that it is certain to take place; there is no maybe about it. In fact, it would be more accurate to translate this as "will be saved." Jesus came to save the world, and he did. Many evangelicals have a difficult time with this scripture because they believe that all people are lost and going to hell, unless they do something in order to "get saved."
3:18 He that believes on him is not judged; but he that believes not, already has been judged, because he has not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of The God."
If Jesus did not come to judge the world, then why does this verse speak of judgment? And, just what constitutes the judgment referred to in this verse? What is the determining factor of this judgment?
First, it says, "He that believes on him is not judged." Believes is a present, active, participle, which means an active belief that is continuous. This is not a one time walk down the aisle, as so commonly taught by many churches. It is not just a matter of initial belief, but of continuing belief.
The word on comes from eis, and always retains its basic meaning of into. Both places in this verse the word eis was translated as on. It would have been better translated as into, which would have suggested more of a continuing act, rather than the one-time act so commonly indicated by preachers. The phrase "is not judged" contains the absolute no, which means that the continuous believer is absolutely not judged.
This verse also indicates why a person is judged: "but he that believes not already has been judged." The word not comes from mee rather than the absolute ouk. This denies the thought, believes, but not to the extent of being absolute. This indicates more a sense of those who have heard and choose not to believe, rather than those who are ignorant of the truth that Jesus saved the world. Those who do not believe have already been judged by their own unbelief.
But, who did the judging? The unbelievers bring their own judgment upon themselves by the decision to not believe on the name of the only begotten son of The God. Notice, it is not believing on the son, but believing on the name, which means everything that comes to mind that a person has done. Jesus, the only begotten (or unique) son of The God came to save the world, and he gave himself on the stake (cross) to accomplish that name.
3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for evil were their works.
Here, again, John iterated the same truth in a different manner. Men bring judgment upon themselves; they are judged by their own desires. Jesus brought the light, or the knowledge of The God who loves his creation and wishes the best for them. Instead of turning their lives and actions toward this god, men turned away. They loved the darkness.
People who love the fleshly things of this life will not come to The God. By rebelling against what they know, they fall into a pattern whereby they refuse all spiritual thoughts or actions. They want to rule their own lives and be their own gods. They want no one, not even The God of creation, to tell them what to do!
"For evil were their works." For comes from gar, and, if translated as because, it clarifies this statement. Works are the things done by the unbelievers. Evil comes from poneeria, which Thayer (p. 531) defines as,
"depravity, iniquity, wickedness, malice, an evil heart such as is revealed in distrusting."
As an aside, Thayer (p. 320) compares poneeria with kakia, another word translated as evil.
"Kakia denotes rather the vicious disposition, poneeria the active exercise of the same."
The person who does not believe in the light, is the person who exercises an evil disposition which brings forth evil works.
3:20 For everyone that does evil hates the light, and comes not to the light, that his works be not exposed.
"Hates the light" is a revealing trait of those who practice doing evil. Here, the word evil comes from thaulos, a different Greek word than either kakia or poneeria. Thayer (p. 650) defines thaulos as,
"easy, slight, ordinary, mean, worthless, of no account, ethically bad, wicked, base."
Thaulos was used here, not in an ethical sense, but in a descriptive sense. It was intended to show that a person who hates the light brings forth works that are of no spiritual use to himself or others. They are spiritually worthless, both in relation to this life, as well as the life to come.
The word light is not referring to the light of day, but to the knowledge that there is an invisible creator god who has revealed himself to mankind. Men, who wish to be their own god, hate this light, or knowledge. Why? Because "his works will be exposed." Those who deliberately walk in darkness, or opposite to the concepts of The God, will not come to the light, or submit themselves to the God who created them and the universe in which they live.
3:21 But he that practices the truth comes to the light, that his works may be manifested that they have been wrought in god.
With the phrase "he that practices the truth," John drew an antithetical contrast to the one who hates the light. There are two Greek words translated as practice. The one used here is poiein, and the other is prassein. Thayer (p. 527) compares these two words.
"Roughly speaking, prassein intended earnest, habitual, performance; poiein to denote merely productive action, prassein definitely directed action; poiein to point to an actual result, prassein to the scope and character of the result."
The word used here, poiein, points to the actual result. The person delineated by John in this verse has works that actually result in truth.
Truth, as used here, means those works which result in good, not evil. Such a person will come to the light. Why? Because he desires to have his works "manifested that they have been wrought in god." In god is an anarthrous phrase (without an article). Such a phrase may often be used as an adjective or adverb; i.e., by saying they have been godly wrought. In other words, his works are openly shown to be godly ones, or those which benefit others, and show forth attributes of The God in that person's life.
3:22 After these things, Jesus and his disciples, came into the land of Judea; and there he stayed with them and was baptizing.
The phrase, "after these things," refers to the miracle at Cana, the cleansing of the temple, and Jesus talking to Nicodemus. Jesus and his disciples came from Capernaum into the land of Judea. They were traveling only a few days journey from Galilee, and Jesus was apparently now traveling without his family.
The phrase, "stayed with the disciples" could be taken two ways. It could mean either that Jesus stayed at the home of some of his disciples, or simply that he spent time with his disciples.
The phrase "was baptizing" is in the imperfect, which means that the rite of baptism was an ongoing situation. From the way this is written it sounds as though Jesus was also doing the baptizing, but, as we shall see, this would be an erroneous conclusion.
3:23 And John also was baptizing in Aenon, near Salim, because many waters were there; and they were coming and being baptized.
Fallows (Vol. I, p. 64) makes the following comment about Aenon:
"(Greek, ahee-nehas, springs.) The name of a place near Salem, where John baptized [John 3:23]; the reason given, ‘because there was much water there', would suggest that he baptized at the springs from which the place took its name."
There is some discussion as to the exact location. Some believe it was only about five miles or so from Jerusalem, while others place it some 50 miles away. Regardless, as the name and this scripture imply, it was a place where there was sufficient water to baptize people. John, the Baptist, apparently did not believe in simply pouring a bit of water from a cup over their heads.
In the phrase "and they were coming and being baptized," both "were coming" and "being baptized" are written in the imperfect, which signifies a constant stream of people. We know that John, the Baptist, was baptizing people unto the baptism of repentance because the kingdom of The God was nigh.
However, the scripture that speaks of Jesus and his disciples does not say what their baptism signified. Later, Jesus went forth preaching the kingdom of The God as did his disciples. Therefore, it should not be too remarkable that Jesus also was telling people to repent, or change their minds about the kingdom of The God, because in his person that kingdom was already among them.
3:24 For not yet was John cast into prison.
The dark days for John, the Baptist, were still ahead.
3:25 Then a question arose [on the part] of the disciples of John with [some] Jews about purification.
The words in parentheses above are not in the Greek but were added in order to explain the English interpretation. The question arose among the disciples, or within their group. The word "some" was added to clarify that John's disciples were only disputing a question with a portion of the Jews.
The point of their discussion concerned purification. The Greek word is katharismou, which Thayer (p. 312) defines as
"a cleansing, purification; a ritual purgation or washing."
The purification under question was revealed in the following comments by John, the Baptist
3:26 And they came to John and said to him, Rabbi, he who was with thee beyond the Jordan, to whom thou hast borne witness, behold he baptizes, and all come to him.
In order to settle the question about purification, the disciples and some of the Jews went to John, the Baptist. They began by showing him great courtesy, by calling him, rabbi, or teacher. It is difficult to tell whether their question was posed to drive a wedge between John and Jesus, or whether they really wanted to know why more people seemed to be going to Jesus and his disciples for baptism, than were going to John and his disciples.
They said that John had borne witness to this man who was with him beyond the Jordan, and now it seemed that he had become John's competitor. "And all come to him." The "all" of this sentence is not everyone as one might suppose by the use of the word all. The context disputes that it cannot be every person because John and his disciples were also baptizing some of the people. Here, the word all simply means more, a relative sense rather than a complete sense.
3:27 John answered, and said, A man is able to receive nothing unless it be given him from the heaven.
There is a tremendous lesson in John's answer. John did not allow his questioners to place him in competition with Jesus. Competition among believers is never prescribed in the scriptures. It was not a trait of godly people in either the Old Testament or the New Testament.
The concept of competition is used metaphorically only in reference to a person's life of service to The God, as runners in a race. But the concept of competition between people is ruled out. Scripture says we are to look upon others as being better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). In the world, competition is "the name of the game," but it has no place in a godly person's relationship with others.
This presents a quandary for those who wish to live for God, and still must make a living in the world. To live for The God, we must not be conformed to the world and its ideals, but live our lives having the mind of the Christ, which is to love others as ourselves. For example, if someone is selling a product for a living, then that person should consider the welfare of his customer, as well as that of himself. The worldly person will laugh at such a concept, and, unfortunately, so will many "christians." However, it is The God's way of living the good [godly] life.
"A man is able to receive nothing except it be given him from the heaven." With these words, John acknowledged that any abilities we have come from The God in heaven. If we become overly proud of any ability we have, we are forgetting that it is something which was given to us. We must also not forget that any ability we have is a talent for which we are responsible to the one who gave it to us. James 4:16 says,
"But now you boast in your vauntings (boastings): all such boasting is evil."
3:28 Ye, yourselves, bear witness to me that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.
John, the Baptist, reminded his questioners that he had never claimed to be the christ. He said he was not the christ. Here, John referred back to verse l:20, where he had earlier denied being the christ. John went on to say, "but I am sent before him." This was also a reference to the time when he had said he was "a voice crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the lord" (1:23). John, the Baptist, steadfastly continued to say that he was not the christ, but only someone sent to announce the coming of the christ.
3:29 He that has the bride is bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, with joy rejoices because of the voice of the bridegroom. This, then, my joy is fulfilled.
John used the analogy of a bridegroom with the bride, and the friend of the bridegroom who was standing by. The friend was rejoicing in the fact that the bridegroom was getting married. The friend was not the least bit jealous, but stood rejoicing. With this example, John, the Baptist, clearly stated that he was a much lesser personage than the christ, as far as the calling of The God was concerned. The christ has a much greater responsibility than did John. John was telling them that he rejoiced that more people were coming to Jesus and his disciples to be baptized.
3:30 It behooves him to increase, but me to decrease.
Behooves comes from the Greek word dei, which means it is necessary. John was saying that it was necessary for him (Jesus) to increase, or he must increase. It leaves no suggestion of whether he will or will not. By using dei, John was stating an absolute. Jesus will increase, or grow in his ministry. What about John, the Baptist? His ministry will decrease, or become less important. It would appear from John's answer that he knew his ministry was coming to an end. The way of the christ had been made straight, as prophesied by Isaiah.
3:31 He who comes from above, is above all. He who is from the earth from the earth is, and from the earth speaks. He who comes from the heaven is above all.
John acknowledged that Jesus was the Jehovah who once was above, or in heaven, as the word of The God. John, remember, was the one who taught that Jesus was the Old Testament word of The God who became flesh. Soon after, when he came for baptism, John recognized Jesus as being the lamb of The God. Now, he testified again to the Jews, and to his disciples, that Jesus was that person from above.
Because of his origin, John continued to tell them that Jesus is above all. No other person is equal to him. John, the Baptist, was blessed above other men with the knowledge given to him by holy spirit. He was the first to recognize Jesus, as a grown man, to be the one from above.
Then, John spoke about his own origin in comparison to that of Jesus. Unlike the one from above, he who is from the earth is of the earth, and speaks earthly things. John can not tell them of heavenly things as Jesus can, because he (John) is from the earth, not from heaven. With these statements, John again disclaimed any equality with Jesus.
3:32 And what he has seen, and heard, this he testifies; and no one receives his testimony.
Since the origin of Jesus was in heaven as the word, this qualified him to testify about what he had seen and heard. Jesus can easily speak of things prior to the creation of the heaven and the earth. When those came into being, Jesus, as Jehovah, was there.
Thus far, there has not been much said about what Jesus testified, nor do we know to whom John was referring when he said, "no one receives his testimony. The no used here is the absolute no, which allows no exception. However, in the next verse, John spoke of those who did receive his testimony. Therefore, the no one of this verse must have been spoken only about those present, not about people in general. Otherwise, John, the Baptist, would have been contradicting himself.
3:33 He that has received his testimony has set to his seal that The God is true.
John set this verse in antithesis to the previous one, where he spoke of those who would not receive the testimony of Jesus. Here, he spoke of those that "received his testimony."
Has received is an aorist participle, and is somewhat equal to the English past tense. John knew some people had received the testimony of Jesus. Those who "received his testimony, has set to his seal that The God is true." Rienecker (p. 225) says to seal means,
"to certify, to acknowledge as a seal does on a document."
Those who believed what Jesus testified openly acknowledged their faith. It was like a seal on a document; it was openly displayed for others to see, or in this case, to hear. Too many people today wear their seal in church, but it is often difficult to distinguish their seal outside the church.
Please keep in mind that John, the Baptist, was answering the question posed to him: what about purification? John had taken the question out of the baptism of repentance, and brought it into the realm of faith. It had constantly been about faith, even his baptism unto repentance, or a change of mind about the messiah and the kingdom of The God. His baptism always desired bringing a person to faith, or a change of mind.
This concept is often lost when the "baptism unto repentance" is discussed.
It may be helpful to remember here that everything since verse 3:25 has been concerned with the issue of purification. Faith is always the basis for purification.
3:34 For he whom The God sent, speaks the words of The God; for The God gives not the spirit by measure.
This statement must have been considered strange to the people of John's day. Jesus was sent from The God, which indicates a separation of one from another. And, Jesus, by his own admission, spoke only what The God told him to say. He was sent for a purpose, and The God equipped him with holy spirit to perform his calling.
One purpose John noted was to speak the words of The God. Jesus did not speak his own words, but what The God told him to speak. His purpose in coming was not primarily to die for the sins of humanity, as many believe, but to reveal the nature, and the compassion, and the love of The God for all his creation. This purpose, the revelation of The God's love, included his crucifixion.
"For The God gives not the spirit by measure [to him]." The words "to him" were added to show the ellipsis of the Greek translation. These words were left out of the Greek manuscript, to be supplied by the reader from the context. We often use an ellipsis in our English. For example, I am taller than he [is tall].
The not used here is ou, the absolute no. There was no limit to the spirit which The God supplied to Jesus for his ministry. He had the whole of the spirit, or the truth of The God, upon him, to lead, and to guide, and to empower, and to encourage him. His ministry to mankind had a tremendous scope, and it required a huge amount of dedication and faith on his part. If Jesus had failed, humanity would have faced disaster.
3:35 The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand.
With this statement, John, the Baptist, showed just how great was this one which was sent from The God. The word love comes from agape, which means,
"with acc. of the person, to have a preference for, wish well to, regard the welfare of" (Thayer, p. 3).
Agape, an intentional love, is often confused with phileo, an emotional love. Agape love is based upon an act of the will. When we are admonished to "love our enemies," it does not mean to feel an emotion toward them, but to wish them well. Agape is the love The God demonstrated for mankind when his son suffered on the stake.
Agape is the kind of love with which The God equips men. Men should always be able to wish the best for anyone. For example, this love, agape, should be the basis of a good marriage, although it is often lacking. With agape as a base, then the emotional love, phileo, will be built upon the rock of The God's love imparted to all people. Instead of agape, and phileo, many marriages in the present culture are built upon erotic love, or eros, a physical aspect of love, or lust. It is significant that the New Testament contains no mention of erotic love, eros.
How much did The God give to the son he loved? He gave him everything, or all things, the Greek panta. Now, instead of Jehovah, the word of the Old Testament, Jesus is the one who speaks for and acts for the invisible god of heaven. What a burden for any man to bear. And remember, Jesus became flesh, the same flesh that we have, which includes every tendency to sin. He not only had to overcome the tendencies of his flesh to sin, but he also carried the awful burden of speaking and acting for The God, his father.
John was now reaching the final stage of his explanation for purification, which he began talking about in verse 3:27. Mark carefully the next verse, as it explains purification in a "nutshell."
3:36 He that believes on the Son has life eternal; and he that is not subject to the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of The God abides on him.
"He that believes on the son has life eternal." These eight words may seem quite simple if only lightly scanned. However, there are few verses in the Bible that carry more weight concerning spiritual life than does this one.
John now drew the conclusion that purification was not about water baptism, but about faith. Baptism only publicly demonstrated a person's faith in the truth that Jesus was the messiah, the christ of The God. This is what we are all to believe. The Bible says nothing about "accepting Jesus as your personal savior," which is so often preached in error.
The word on comes from eis, or into. A person of faith is to believe into the son. Rather than a one time act of faith, this is more like a constant learning and constant accepting of truths concerning Jesus, the Christ, or messiah, of The God. The more that we learn and accept by faith about this man, Jesus, the more we believe into him, or on him. The greater our knowledge and acceptance, the greater will be our faith, not only in what the son has done for us and the rest of creation, but also in what he will do in the future.
Such a person of faith has "eternal life." Does this term mean that a person will live forever? Or, does it mean something more than that? Every person will live some kind of a life forever. The question is, what kind of quality will that life have?
The word eternal comes from aioonion, which means "time out of mind," or a kind of time which can not be measured. Thus, it falls not under chronos, or chronological time, but under kairos, the other Greek word for time. Kairos concerns quality of time, not measured time. It is a life not based upon measured time, but a constant "now" kind of life. The quality of this "eternal" life is the same as that of The God.
When one's life is lived in an eternal sense, it is lived in the moment. There is no effort to worry about the past, nor the future. It is a life full of trust in the goodness of The God as expressed to us through his son to whom "he has given all things." This is the opposite of the natural tendency to live in total regard to ourselves, instead of living in regard of what The God has accomplished for us in his son.
Eternal life is that which accepts the vicissitudes of this physical life as only being temporary, and of slight importance, compared to the spiritual life of believing into his son, and sharing The God's love for others. He that has eternal life is the person of faith, not just of water baptism. This is the purification.
The latter part of this verse shows the opposing side to that of faith. "He that is not subject to the son shall not see life, but the wrath of The God abides on him." John, the Baptist, was speaking about those who live only for the physical aspects of life. Such a person is completely opposite to the one who believes and has eternal life.
The phrase is not subject comes from the basic Greek word pistueoo, usually translated as faith, or believe, such as it was in the first part of this verse. Here, however, the Greek negative, a, has been prefixed. It could be translated as unbelief, or unfaith, or not subject to, as above, or as disobedience (as it was translated in the KJV). Whichever way it is translated, it conveys the sense that apeithoo is unbelief, and that always equates to not being obedient to The God. Why? Because he has given to every person a measure of faith, and this requires a person to either believe in The God, or "not be subject," with all its accompanying results.
The first result of not believing is that a person "shall not see life," or eternal life. Without faith, no one can have that quality in their own life, a quality which comes only when one believes. It is not that The God has not given it to them, but they have not taken advantage of it by having faith in The God, and in his son, Jesus, the Christ. They shall not experience spiritual life, neither in this life, nor in the life to come.
The unbelieving person's condition is that "the wrath of The God abides on him." The word wrath comes from orgee. Thayer (p. 452) gives this definition:
"The orgee attributed to God in the New Testament is that in God which stands opposed to man's disobedience, obduracy (esp. in resisting the gospel), and sin, and manifests itself in punishing the same."
This is the condition of those who choose to not be subject to The God. Many today have no idea that they live under the sustained anger of The God in the way they live their lives. They are taught in many religious institutions that once "they have accepted Jesus as their savior," that is all that is necessary; except, of course, to be faithful to the church, tithe to the church, be obedient to the church, and work for the church. The church becomes an idol, a god of many, and to their sorrow they do not even realize it.
However, whether people realize it or not, while doing all the church tells them to do, they are still not subject to The God, nor to his son, Jesus. Subjection to, or submission to, or consecration of ourselves to The God comes about through putting ourselves under the leadership of that portion of spirit given to us (see II Peter 1:3-4). Therein lies the path to eternal life, and the method of escape to avoid having the wrath of The God abiding on us.
In summary, John, the Baptist, taught that purification is faith in the son of The God whom he has sent. He expressed to his disciples, and to the group of Jews who were questioning him, that it was not baptism that brings this about. Baptism only demonstrates this faith.
# Jesus said there is no way that anyone can ever see the kingdom of The
God if they are not born anew.
# Scripture clearly teaches that "the kingdom of God" is the next age
when Jesus shall reign and rule over the earth. There is no way that the
church can be considered to be the kingdom of The God.
# Being born of water is a physical birth, out of the flesh.
# Being born of the spirit is a spiritual birth. After the birth by the spirit,
the person is a spiritual being, not a fleshly being.
# Jesus was the first person to receive a spiritual body, but all those who
will be born out of the spirit will also have a spiritual body. Without
this spiritual body, no one can enter into the kingdom of The God.
# No one will be "born again" until the resurrection.
# The phrase "everyone that has been born of the spirit" is equal in
manner to the wind. They can go and come, and no one knows where
they came from nor where they went. Of all the people I know who
claim to be "born again," not one of them can come and go like the
wind, except Jesus.
# Every time Jesus spoke of being born anew, or again, it was in
relationship to the kingdom of The God. Those who will be born again
of the spirit will not realize this until Jesus returns with the shout of an
archangel and men are resurrected. Then, those who are the
overcomers will be born anew by the spirit. However, no one will be
born again of the spirit until that time, no matter how much preaching
there is to the contrary.
# Jesus had holy spirit without measure upon him, and the spirit is the
truth. Therefore, he had truth without measure.
# Being born anew will take place on this earth at the time when Jesus
returns. At that time, the graves will be opened, and the overcomers
will receive a glorified body like unto that of Jesus, the resurrected man.
They will be born anew.
# It is difficult to teach spiritual things to fleshly people. It is impossible
for them to understand the heavenly things
# If Jesus had not been lifted up on the stake (usually mistranslated as the
cross), he could not have ascended into the heavens. God so loved the
Israelite people that he had Moses lift up the serpent so that anyone
who looked upon it in faith did not die. Now, it was The God's only
begotten son who was lifted up on a stake. Why? So that people would
not die spiritually.
# "Life eternal" is a quality added to their life. It is not a matter of forever
and forever, as most people believe. That, too, will happen, but that is
not what this word denotes. The quality added is that of godliness, or
the quality that The God wishes for our lives, and the quality he imparts
to those who believe.
# The phrase "might be saved" (3:17) is an aorist, subjunctive, passive,
which does not have the meaning usually associated with the English
word "might." The grammar shows that it is certain to take place; there
is no maybe about it. In fact, it would be more accurate to translate this
as "will be saved." Jesus came to save the world, and he did. Many
evangelicals have a difficult time with this scripture because they
believe that all people are lost and going to hell, unless they do
something in order to "get saved."
# This indicates more a sense of those who have heard and choose not to
believe, rather than those who are ignorant of the truth that Jesus saved
the world. Those who do not believe have already been judged by their
# The unbelievers bring their own judgment upon themselves by the
decision to not believe on the name of the only begotten son of The God.
# Men bring judgment upon themselves; they are judged by their own
desires. They want to rule their own lives and be their own gods. They
want no one, not even The God of creation, to tell them what to do!
# Men, who wish to be their own god, hate this light, or knowledge.
Why? Because "his works will be exposed." Those who deliberately
walk in darkness, or opposite to the concepts of The God, will not come
to the light, or submit themselves to the God who created them and the
universe in which they live.
# The scripture that speaks of Jesus and his disciples does not say what
their baptism signified.
# John did not allow his questioners to place him in competition with
Jesus. Competition among believers is never prescribed in the
scriptures. It was not a trait of godly people in either the Old Testament
or the New Testament. Scripture says we are to look upon others as
being better than ourselves
# If we become overly proud of any ability we have, we are forgetting
that it is something which was given to us. We must also not forget
that any ability we have is a talent for which we are responsible to the
one who gave it to us.
# Those who believed what Jesus testified openly acknowledged their
faith. It was like a seal on a document; it was openly displayed for
others to see, or in this case, to hear. Too many people today wear their
seal in church, but it is often difficult to distinguish their seal outside
# Please keep in mind that John, the Baptist, was answering the question
posed to him: what about purification? John had taken the question out
of the baptism of repentance, and brought it into the realm of faith. It
had constantly been about faith, even his baptism unto repentance, or
a change of mind about the messiah and the kingdom of The God. His
baptism always desired bringing a person to faith, or a change of
# Faith is always the basis for purification. John, the Baptist, taught that
purification is faith in the son of The God whom he has sent.
# Jesus, by his own admission, spoke only what The God told him to say.
He was sent for a purpose, and The God equipped him with holy spirit
to perform his calling.
# His purpose in coming was not primarily to die for the sins of
humanity, as many believe, but to reveal the nature, and the
compassion, and the love of The God for all his creation. This purpose,
the revelation of The God's love, included his crucifixion.
# "He that believes on the son has life eternal." These eight words may
seem quite simple if only lightly scanned. However, there are few
verses in the Bible that carry more weight concerning spiritual life than
does this one.
# John now drew the conclusion that purification was not about water
baptism, but about faith. Baptism only publicly demonstrated a
person's faith in the truth that Jesus was the messiah, the christ of The
God. This is what we are all to believe. The Bible says nothing about
"accepting Jesus as your personal savior," which is so often preached in
# A person of faith is to believe into the son. Rather than a one time act of
faith, this is more like a constant learning and constant accepting of
truths concerning Jesus, the Christ, or messiah, of The God. The more
that we learn and accept by faith about this man, Jesus, the more we
believe into him, or on him. The greater our knowledge and
acceptance, the greater will be our faith, not only in what the son has
done for us and the rest of creation, but also in what he will do in the
# He that has eternal life is the person of faith, not just of water baptism.
This is the purification.
# Unbelief always equates to not being obedient to The God. Why?
Because he has given to every person a measure of faith, and this
requires a person to either believe in The God, or "not be subject," with
all its accompanying results.
# Without faith, no one can have that quality in their own life, a quality
which comes only when one believes.
# The church becomes an idol, a god of many, and to their sorrow they
do not even realize it. However, whether people realize it or not, while
doing all the church tells them to do, they are still not subject to The
God, nor to his son, Jesus. Subjection to, or submission to, or
consecration of ourselves to The God comes about through putting
ourselves under the leadership of that portion of spirit given to us (see II
Peter 1:3-4). Therein lies the path to eternal life, and the method of
escape to avoid having the wrath of The God abiding on us.