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King James Version
John Chapter 3
1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.
12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
22 After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.
23 And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.
24 For John was not yet cast into prison.
25 Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying.
26 And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.
27 John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
28 Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.
29 He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.
30 He must increase, but I must decrease.
31 He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.
32 And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.
33 He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.
34 For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.
35 The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.
36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
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William Kelly's commentary
John Chapter 3
John 3 follows this up. God orders matters so that a favoured teacher of men, favoured as none others were in Israel, should come to Jesus by night. The Lord meets him at once with the strongest assertion of the absolute necessity that a man should be born anew in order to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus, not understanding in the least such a want for himself, expresses his wonder, and hears our Lord increasing in the strength of the requirement. Except one were born of water and of the Spirit, he could not enter the kingdom of God. This was necessary for the kingdom of God; not for some special place of glory, but for any and every part of God's kingdom. Thus we have here the other side of the truth: not merely what God is in life and light, in grace and truth, as revealed in Christ coming down to man; but man is now judged in the very root of his nature, and proved to be entirely incapable, in his best state, of seeing or entering the kingdom of God. There is the need of another nature, and the only way in which this nature is communicated is by being born of water and the Spirit — the employment of the word of God in the quickening energy of the Holy Ghost. So only is man born of God. The Spirit of God uses that word; it is thus invariably in conversion. There is no other way in which the new nature is made good in a soul. Of course it is the revelation of Christ; but here He was simply revealing the sources of this indispensable new birth. There is no changing or bettering the old man; and, thanks be to God, the new does not degenerate or pass away. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (Verses 1-6)
But the Lord goes farther, and bids Nicodemus not wonder at His insisting on this need. As there is an absolute necessity on God's part that man should be thus born anew, so He lets him know there is an active grace of the Spirit, as the wind blows where it will, unknown and uncontrolled by man, for every one that is born of the Spirit, who is sovereign in operation. First, a new nature is insisted on — the Holy Ghost's quickening of each soul who is vitally related to God's kingdom; next, the Spirit of God takes an active part — not as source or character only, but acting sovereignly, which opens the way not only for a Jew, but for "every one." (Verses 7, 8)
It is hardly necessary to furnish detailed disproof of the crude, ill-considered notion (originated by the fathers), that baptism is in question. In truth, Christian baptism did not yet exist, but only such as the disciples used, like John the Baptist; it was not instituted of Christ till after His resurrection, as it sets forth His death. Had it been meant, it was no wonder that Nicodemus did not know how these things could be. But the Lord reproaches him, the master of Israel, with not knowing these things: that is, as a teacher, with Israel for his scholar, he ought to have known them objectively, at least, if not consciously. Isaiah 44: 3, Isaiah 59: 21, Ezekiel 36: 25-27 ought to have made the Lord's meaning plain to an intelligent Jew. (Verse 10)
The Lord, it is true, could and did go farther than the prophets: even if He taught on the same theme, He could speak with conscious divine dignity and knowledge (not merely what was assigned to an instrument or messenger). "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven." (Verses 11-13) He (and He was not alone here) knew God, and the things of God, consciously in Himself, as surely as He knew all men, and what was in man objectively. He could, therefore, tell them of heavenly things as readily as of earthly things; but the incredulity about the latter, shown in the wondering ignorance of the new birth as a requisite for God's kingdom, proved it was useless to tell of the former. For He who spoke was divine. Nobody had gone up to heaven: God had taken more than one; but no one had gone there as of right. Jesus not only could go up, as He did later, but He had come down thence, and, even though man, He was the Son of man that is in heaven. He is a divine person; His manhood brought no attainder to His rights as God. Heavenly things, therefore, could not but be natural to Him, if one may so say.
Here the Lord introduces the cross. (Ver. 14, 15) It is not a question simply of the Son of God, nor is He spoken of here as the Word made flesh. But "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must ( dei') the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." As the new birth for the kingdom of God, so the cross is absolutely necessary for eternal life. In the Word was life, and the life was the light of men. It was not intended for other beings — it was God's free gift to man, to the believer, of course. Man, dead in sins, was the object of His grace; but then man's state was such, that it would have been derogatory to God had that life been communicated without the cross of Christ: the Son of man lifted up on it was the One in whom God dealt judicially with the evil estate of man, for the, full consequences of which He made Himself responsible. It would not suit God, if it would suit man, that He, seeing all, should just pronounce on man's corruption, and then forthwith let him off with a bare pardon. One must be born again. But even this sufficed not: the Son of man must be lifted up. It was impossible that there should not be righteous dealing with human evil against God, in its sources and its streams. Accordingly, if the law raised the question of righteousness in man, the cross of the Lord Jesus, typifying Him made sin, is the answer; and there has all been settled to the glory of God, the Lord Jesus having suffered all the inevitable consequences. Hence, then, we have the Lord Jesus alluding to this fresh necessity, if man was to be blessed according to God. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." But this, however worthy of God, and indispensable for man, could not of itself give an adequate expression of what God is; because in this alone, neither His own love nor the glory of His Son finds due display.
Hence, after having first unmistakably laid down the necessity of the cross, He next shows the grace that was manifested in the gift of Jesus. Here He is not portrayed as the Son of man who must be lifted up, but as the Son of God who was given. "For God," He says, "so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." The one, like the other, contributes to this great end, whether the Son of man necessarily lifted up, or the only begotten Son of God given in His love. (Verse 16)
Let it not be passed by, that while the new birth or regeneration is declared to be essential to a part in the kingdom of God, the Lord in urging this intimates that He had not gone beyond the earthly things of that kingdom. Heavenly things are set in evident contradistinction, and link themselves immediately here, as everywhere, with the cross as their correlative. (See Heb. 12: 2, Heb. 13: 11-13) Again, let me just remark in passing, that although, no doubt, we may in a general way speak of those who partake of the new nature as having that life, yet the Holy Ghost refrains from predicating of any saints the full character of eternal life as a present thing until we have the cross of Christ laid (at least doctrinally) as the ground of it. But when the Lord speaks of His cross, and not God's judicial requirements only, but the gift of Himself in His true personal glory as the occasion for the grace of God to display itself to the utmost, then, and not till then, do we hear of eternal life, and this connected with both these points of view. The chapter pursues this subject, showing that it is not only God who thus deals — first, with the necessity of man before His own immutable nature; next, blessing according to the riches of His grace — but, further, that man's state morally is detected yet more awfully in presence of such grace as well as holiness in Christ. "For God sent not his Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (Ver. 17) This decides all before the execution of judgment, Every man's lot is made manifest by his attitude toward God's testimony concerning His Son. "He that believeth on him is not judged: but he that believeth not is judged already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (Ver. 19) Other things, the merest trifles, may serve to indicate a man's condition; but a new responsibility is created by this infinite display of divine goodness in Christ, and the evidence is decisive and final, that the unbeliever is already judged before God. "And this is the judgment, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God." (Verses 20, 21)
The Lord and the disciples are next seen in the country district, not far, it would seem, from John, who was baptizing as they were. The disciples of John dispute with a Jew about purification; but John himself renders a bright witness to the glory of the Lord Jesus. In vain did any come to the Baptist to report the widening circle around Christ. He bows to, as he explains, the sovereign will of God. He reminds them of his previous disclaimer of any place beyond one sent before Jesus. His joy was that of a friend of the Bridegroom (to whom, not to him, the bride belonged), and now fulfilled as he heard the Bridegroom's voice. "He must, increase, but I decrease." Blessed servant he of an infinitely blessed and blessing Master! Then (ver. 31-36) he speaks of His person in contrast with himself and all; of His testimony and of the result, both as to His own glory, and consequently also for the believer on, and the rejecter of, the Son. He that comes from above — from heaven — is above all. Such was Jesus in person, contrasted with all who belong to the earth. Just as distinct and beyond comparison is His testimony who, coming from heaven and above all, testifies what He saw and heard, however it might be rejected. But see the blessed fruit of receiving it. "He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him." I apprehend the words the Authorised Version gives in italics should disappear. The addition of "unto him" detracts, to my mind, from the exceeding preciousness of what seems to be, at least, left open. For the astonishing thought is, not merely that Jesus receives the Holy Ghost without measure, but that God gives the Spirit also, and not by measure, through Him to others. In the beginning of the chapter it was rather an essential indispensable action of the Holy Ghost required; here it is the privilege of the Holy Ghost given. No doubt Jesus Himself had the Holy Ghost given to Him, as it was meet that He in all things should have the pre-eminence; but it shows yet more both the personal glory of Christ and the efficacy of His work, that He now gives the same Spirit to those who receive His testimony, and set to their seal that God is true. How singularly is the glory of the Lord Jesus thus viewed, as invested with the testimony of God and its crown! What more glorious proof than that the Holy Ghost is given — not a certain defined power or gift, but the Holy Ghost Himself; for God gives not the Spirit by measure!
All is fitly closed by the declaration, that "the Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand." It is not merely or most of all a great prophet or witness: He is the Son; and the Father has given all things to be in His hand. There is the nicest care to maintain His personal glory, no matter what the subject may be. The results for the believer or unbeliever are eternal in good or in evil. He that believes on the Son has everlasting life; and he that disobeys the Son, in the sense of not being subject to His person, "shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" Such is the issue of the Son of God present in this world — an everlasting one for every man, flowing from the glory of His person, the character of His testimony, and the Father's counsels respecting Him. The effect is thus final, even as His person, witness, and glory are divine.
The chapters we have had before us (John 1 — 3) are thus evidently an introduction: God revealed not in the Word alone, but in the Word made flesh, in the Son who declared the Father; His work, as God's Lamb, for the world, and His power by the Holy Ghost in man; then viewed as the centre of gathering, as the path to follow, and as the object even for the attendance of God's angels, the heaven being opened, and Jesus — not the Son of God and King of Israel only, but the Son of man — object of God's counsels. This will be displayed in the millennium, when the marriage will be celebrated, as well as the judgment executed (Jerusalem and its temple being the central point then). This, of course, supposes the setting aside of Jerusalem, its people and house, as they now are, and is justified by the great fact of Christ's death and resurrection, which is the key to all, though not yet intelligible even to the disciples. This brings in the great counterpart truth, that even God present on earth and made flesh is not enough. Man is morally judged. One must be born again for God's kingdom — a Jew for what was promised him, like another. But the Spirit would not confine His operations to such bounds, but go out freely like the wind. Nor would the rejected Christ, the Son of man; for if lifted up on the cross, instead of having the throne of David, the result would be not merely earthly blessing for His people according to prophecy, but eternal life for the believer, whoever. he might be; and this, too, as the expression of the true and full grace of God in His only-begotten Son given. John then declared his own waning before Christ, as we have seen, the issues of whose testimony, believed or not, are eternal; and this founded on the revelation of His glorious person as man and to man here below.
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