John Chapter 3
“No man ascended to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man” (John 3:13).
by Michael Colletti
In the third chapter of John’s gospel, a prominent Pharisee named Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, apparently searching for truth about the Kingdom of God. Both John the Baptist and our Lord declared the kingdom to be at the door (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). Nicodemus addressed Jesus by the title used by Jesus’ own disciples, Rabbi, or “my master.” Nicodemus recognized that Jesus’ teaching came from God because of the wonderful miracles he performed (John 3:2). Some think Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because he feared that if his fellow Pharisees found out, it would create problems for him. But to have the attention of Jesus without the disturbance of the crowds typically surrounding the master, it seems that Nicodemus’ nocturnal visit was a wise one.
Begettal and Birth
Jesus got right to the point, stating “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again” (John 3:3 GNB). The Greek word translated “born” (Strong’s Greek 1080) is gennao, which means to procreate (properly of the Father).
This same Greek word gennao is used in referring to both begetting and birth. Thus, gennao and its derivatives are sometimes translated begotten and sometimes born. Because gennao contains both ideas, it should be translated by either of these two English words according to the sense of the passage. The two ideas, begettal and birth, are always in the word, so that if the one is stated, the other is implied. Birth is the natural consequence of begetting, and begetting the natural antecedent to birth.
In this passage “born” is the correct translation of gennao except in verses 3 and 7 where the translation should be “begotten.” When God is the active agent, His masculine gender means gennao should be translated beget or begotten (1 John 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:18).
When Nicodemus asked Jesus “how can this be,” Jesus answered, “you are a great teacher in Israel, and you don’t know this?” (John 3:9,10 GNB). We are not surprised that Nicodemus was astonished, because the holy Spirit was not yet given. Our Lord Jesus did not present teachings as deep along spiritual lines as did some of the apostles. This was not because of Jesus’ inability to present them, but because those truths were meat out of season.
Why Jesus Came to Earth
Jesus proceeded to give the reason why he came into the world, by referring to the copper serpent Moses had lifted up (Numbers 21:8-9). Jesus was showing the basis for this spiritual kingdom would be his ransom sacrifice, and he could not enter into that kingdom while still in the flesh. The serpent on the pole represented Christ on the cross. The serpent is a symbol of sin, and Jesus bore upon his sinless self, the sin of the world. That it was made of copper shows that Jesus himself was a perfect human being. The result of lifting up Christ will be the eventual drawing of all men unto him (John 12:32).
How sad it is to hear from pulpits of Christendom that only those who now follow Jesus will have eternal life, while all others will suffer for eternity. Jesus said, “God loved the world so much that He … did not send his Son … to be its judge, but to be its savior” (John 3:16-17 GNB). Jesus would not reveal more to Nicodemus, because it was not the proper time. How frustrated Nicodemus must have been knowing Jesus had come from God, and yet could not understand what Jesus was telling him.
Those Born of the Spirit
It was even harder for Nicodemus to grasp what Jesus said about the Spirit. “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is every one who is born of the spirit” (John 3:8 NASB). The Greek word for spirit is pneuma, translated ghost, spirit, life, spiritual, and wind (KJV). Jesus did not mean that the Spirit of which we would be begotten is invisible, although that is true enough. Jesus did not mean that the holy Spirit travels in various directions, in a disorganized way throughout the world, begetting some, passing others by, and that we might not know who were begotten of the Spirit.
Our Lord was illustrating that those born of the Spirit would be invisible, while present and powerful. Such would be the kingdom when it will be established. Those who constitute the kingdom will all be invisible as the wind. They would be like Jesus, after his resurrection, appearing and disappearing as he had never done previously, but as angels had frequently done.
Is it possible that Nicodemus and all the teachers of the Jewish nation had such a misconception of the kingdom? This was indeed true. The disciples at first also had an imperfect conception of the Kingdom of God, supposing it to be exclusively an earthly kingdom, even as many today err in the opposite direction, supposing it to be exclusively a heavenly kingdom. Many of the parables and dark sayings of our Lord Jesus were intended in due time to correct these misconceptions. Jesus always held forth that a kingdom, a government, was to be established in the earth and to rule among men. He inspired in them a hope for a share in the kingdom, and also taught them to pray for its establishment: “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Many today also have a misunderstanding about the kingdom. They think Jesus was referring to the resurrection, when in fact he was referring to the begetting of the present time. Even Jesus’ most zealous followers had indistinct ideas of the character of the kingdom they were preaching. They could not understand for the same reason Nicodemus could not. The holy Spirit had not yet been given and these truths are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Since Pentecost, those who receive the light must be obedient to what the light reveals before more light is given. Did Nicodemus eventually become a follower? Maybe so, considering he went deeper and farther than the Pharisees. He was one of the prominent men who requested the privilege of burying the body of Jesus after the crucifixion. We know he did not oppose the truth. But neither was he in the condition of heart to become a disciple of Jesus at that particular time (Acts 17:27, John 6:44).
Some in Christendom have acquired some light (truth), and believe it comes from God. Like Nicodemus, they become acquainted with the truth, but they fear going further. It is good to be cautious, but fear can make a person hesitate or delay due to uncertainty of mind. Those who love the praise of men and fear the consequences of a public stand for the truth, are not worthy of the Lord (Mark 8:38, Luke 9:26).
God So Loved the World
How much does God love the world? “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NASB). God loves the world with a broad sympathetic love. Jehovah, in providing for man’s redemption, was not motivated by either phileo or duty love, because his offspring were given both free will and the ability to obey. Hence, God did not do wrong to his creatures by giving them a commandment to obey, and then sentencing them to death when they disobeyed. Rather, Jehovah’s love is the highest form of love, agape, or unselfish love. God’s love prompted Him to have in mind a plan of redemption when He created man. His plan was to educate mankind about the consequences of both obedience and disobedience before putting them individually on trial for everlasting life.
God’s plan extended far beyond man’s creation in Eden and a test of obedience. His purpose was to have a divine family in heaven, Christ and his bride, and a human family on earth (Ephesians 1:4-6, Isaiah 19:25). God’s ultimate objective was to have two families — hence, the two seeds of the promise to Abraham — stars and sand/dust. One family (the spiritual) saves the other family (the earthly).
Despite selfishness throughout the world, God still loves the people on this tiny planet. Jehovah was a God of love prior to the sending forth of his Son. God’s love was shown in His promises for the future, His care for those of faith, and for Israel. But it was more greatly demonstrated when He sent his Son as man’s redeemer. If you believe into Christ, you are not condemned; if you do not, you are already condemned (John 3:18). Studying the Bible carefully reveals that mankind was condemned to death six thousand years ago through father Adam’s disobedience. Since that time, no man is on trial individually for everlasting life until brought to a knowledge of Christ.
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was the last of the prophets, the greatest “born” of women. John understood Jesus to be the long-promised Messiah (Matthew 11:11). Jesus was a King, about to select his bride, the church. John knew he was not of this class. Still, it was his privilege to announce the bridegroom: “The bridegroom is the one to whom the bride belongs; but the bridegroom’s friend, who stands by and listens, is glad when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. This is how my own happiness is made complete” (John 3:29 GNB). John was not interested in himself. He knew his purpose was to prepare the way for the Jews to receive Messiah. We note the humility of John, pointing out his cousin, the “Lamb of God,” whose rising popularity would eclipse his own (John 1:29, 3:30).
The scriptures distinguish between the people of God prior to Pentecost, called friends and servants of God; and the people of God since Pentecost, called the sons of God. They are called sons of God because they are begotten of the holy Spirit to a new nature, a spirit nature, to be attained in the first resurrection.
Israel had waited for the kingdom for centuries. They knew that the kingdom of Saul, David, and Solomon, had not fulfilled the promises given to their fathers by their prophets. A larger kingdom, under a greater than David and Solomon, was expected. This thought was continually before their minds (Acts 26:6,7).
Just 3½ years after John announced Jesus as the bridegroom to Israel, Jesus came to them as their King (paralleling AD 1874-1878).1 John the Baptist was “the friend of the bridegroom.” The Jewish custom was for the father or a friend of the groom to contract and arrange terms for the groom with the one invited as wife and joint heir. Such a person was called “the friend of the bridegroom” (the Shoshben).
(1) Volume Two, “Parallel Dispensations,” page 235.
John the Baptist played this subservient role. His example helps us realize that certain things that are not for us. Accepting whatever task God has given us to do, will save us from resentment and heartache.
John the Baptist gave great encouragement to Jesus’ followers when he said, “The one whom God has sent speaks God’s words, because God gives him the fullness of his Spirit” (John 3:34 GNB). John is telling us that we can believe what Jesus said.
We praise God for sending the holy Spirit to those who truly believe that He sent Jesus to select a bride. The holy Spirit brings light to the faithful. God requires obedience to the light that is provided before more light is given. Those who God selects to share in the kingdom must manifest faith. They must be willing to follow God step by step, often seeing only the next step. They walk by faith and not by sight.