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1:1-13 The Eternal Word came, bringing light
Detailed Outline Expand All + All Collapse All X All1-8 The preexistent Word brought Life and Light, being verified with testimony1-3 The Preexistent Word is creator of all1-2 The Preexistent Word1 The Word was God, with God, from eternity past1a In the beginning was the WordIn the beginningJohn's Gospel begins with the phraseWas the Word
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in the beginning.This is an echo of the very first words of the Bible,
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.John is making reference back to creation at the start of his Gospel. The other Gospels may start with John the Baptist, or with the birth of Jesus. but John starts way back before anything existed. John put Jesus in the biggest picture context of the entire Bible, starting with cosmic creation.
Therefore, John is saying that Jesus is eternal; He was there in the beginning. Jesus did not come into being when He was born in Bethlehem. He never came into being. Because there never was a time when He did not exist. He was in the beginning.Even though John was talking about Jesus, he does not make this clear until later in the prologue. He does not specifically mention Jesus in these first verses, but he used the termAll this describes that which John said existed in the beginning.
This term is a translation of the Greek word logos, which means a word - something spoken or thought. but it also has a much broader meaning of
messageor even broader meaning of
matterabout which something is spoken or thought. This term also had a technical meaning in Greek philosophy. When ancient philosophers - the first scientists - began to ask and investigate what is the most fundamental material which makes up our planet (
what is the most basic reality?), some said
water,and some said
fire.Each of these suggestions had some evidence to commend it, and some evidence against it, so they could not come to a consensus. So, they agreed that the world was made of a combination of these four things, and thus began to ask about an underlying principle, a more fundamental matter or reality that unified and explained these four things. They didn't come to many conclusions about what this underlying reality might be, but the name they gave to it was logos. They assumed it was some kind of purposeful arrangement that explained all of reality. In other words, for an educated Greek speaker, the term
the Wordwould bring connotations of the most foundational principle underlying and explaining everything.
And for a Jew, the term
the Wordwould bring up thoughts of the Word of God from the Old Testament, especially because John had just referred to creation. In the creation narrative in Genesis, God spoke, and that called light into existence. and then God spoke again, and other things began to exist, solely through the power of God's speech.
The Wordin the Old Testament was the creative power of God, but also the expression of His will, and even the expression of His very being. In the Old Testament, God's Word was equal with God, because it was an expression of Who He is.
D. A. Carson wrote,
God's 'Word' in the Old Testament is his powerful self-expression in creation, revelation and salvation, and the personification of the 'Word' makes it suitable for John to apply it as a title to God's ultimate self-disclosure, the person of his own Son.(The Gospel According to John, p. 116)1b And the Word was with GodAnd John located
the Wordin the presence of God in the beginning. The Word was in close relation with God, something like face to face intimacy (see 17:5).1c And the Word was GodJohn also claimed that
the Wordwas equal with God - that
the Wordwas God. Both Greeks and Jews thought of
the Wordas divine in some sense. But this is still and astounding statement for John to be making. Right from the introduction of his Gospel, John says the very most about
the Word,that He is God Himself. And this is a theme which John will revisit throughout His Gospel.
Some, like Jehovah's Witnesses, try to deny this, translating this phrase as
the Word was a god.- in other words, somehow a lower level of divinity, but not equal with God. However, this is a complete misunderstanding of the grammar that John used. John clearly equated
the Wordwith God. And John placed the term
Godin emphatic position, kind of like using bold print or an exclamation point to certify that the One he labeled as
the Wordwas the same as the God of the Old Testament.2 This One was in the beginning with GodIn this verse, John repeated two items from the first verse:The Word was in the beginningNotice the sandwich structure, which is typical of Jewish writings:
And the Word was GodA. In the beginning was the WordThis is to highlight, to emphasize the center item, thatB. The Word was with GodA. This One was in the beginningX. The Word was GodB. With God
the Word is equated with God, which is a theme throughout John's Gospel3 The Implication: Everything was created through Him, with no exceptionsIn this verse, John gives the implication of what he just wrote - that the preexistent Word is the source of every created thing. He is continuing the allusion to the creation account in Genesis. (see also Psa. 33:6).3a Pos: All things came to exist through Him
All thingsmeans everything. This leaves no exceptions beside
the Wordthrough Whom all things came to exist.3b Neg: And not one thing which came into existence, came to exist without HimJohn further clarified and elaborated the previous statement by insisting that absolutely nothing which came into existence, came to exist without Him. He is the agent through which absolutely everything was created. This again proves that
the Wordwas not created. And there is nothing uncreated except
The eternal, uncreated creator created everything that exists. And
the Wordis that creator and the agent of creation. There are some logical inconsistencies with John's statement unless we assume a Trinitarian understanding of the Godhead - that
The Wordis equated with God, yet can also be distinguished in some ways from God the Father.4-8 His Life and Light invaded the darkness, verified with proper testimony4-5 His Life and Light is overcoming darkness4-5a He brought Life and Light, invading the darkness4a Life was in Him
in Himis actually placed first for emphasis. He is the bearer and source of all life (see 11:25, 14:6). Life is a major theme in John, as we see in John's purpose statement that we would have life in His Name by believing in Christ.
Just like in Genesis, life was not inherent in the chaos before creation, but it came from the Creator. So here,
the Wordis the source of all life, dependent on nothing else (see 5:26).
And, as we see throughout John's Gospel, eternal life is more than just physical life. It is a quality of life, as will be defined throughout the rest of John.4b And the Life was the Light of menThis life is defined as the Light of men. Light is also a major theme in John.
The Wordsomehow gives enlightenment and life to people, in ways that John will later elaborate (see 8:12, 9:5). In this phrase also, we hear echoes of Genesis where God said
let there be light.5a And the light is shining in the darknessAnd just like in Genesis, the light shines in the darkness. John is just starting to hint at what he will later elaborate - that somehow the Light and Life from God is invading the world of darkness and making a profound impact. The contrast between light and darkness is found throughout John's Gospel.
This is a two-level symbolism - kind of a double entendre: It is light and enlightenment verses darkness, creation life vs. non-creation chaos. But it quickly also takes on the idea of moral value, where light = good and darkness = evil.5b And the darkness has not overcome/understood itDarkness has not received, understood or overcome the light. This introduces a major theme of either receiving or rejecting God, Christ and the truth (see 3:19-21).
There is an ambiguity here, and translations differ in different Bible versions. It could mean
the darkness did not receive the light.It could mean
the darkness did not understand the light.And it could mean
the darkness did not overcome or overpower the light(see 12:35). This also is probably an intentional double meaning from John, having all of these connotations. But the emphasis is most likely on the fact that the darkness does not stop the light.
Darkness not receiving nor overcoming the light is like a bug meeting a windshield. Just like a bug does not receive or understand the windshield, and this does not slow down the car. Likewise, people will reject Jesus because they do not truly understand Jesus. But this does not hinder Jesus one bit. Darkness is not the last word. Light is more powerful than darkness. Darkness, in its rejection of the light, hurts the darkness. It does not impact the light.
The darkness does not and will not overcome the light, Because Life is in Jesus and He is the Light of the world, shining in the darkness.6-8 John the Baptist arrived as a witness to the light6 John [the Baptist] arrived, having been sent by God6a-b A man arrived, because God sent Him6a A man came on the scene6b Having been sent from Godthe author emphasized that John the Baptist was sent from God. This validates John's ministry, but this also is a theme throughout the Gospel. Jesus is the ultimate One sent from God.6c His name was JohnJohn, the author of this Gospel, is not to be confused with John the Baptist, who is the one being described in these verses.7-8 He came as a witness to the light7 He came testifying so that people would believe in the light7a This one came for the purpose of testimonythe reason John was sent from God was to be a witness, which is also a theme throughout this book.7b-c Purpose: So that he would testify, leading people to believe in the light7b Purpose: so that he would testify concerning the lightThe content of John's testimony was the Light, to tell people about Jesus and the LIfe He brings. A good witness does not talk much about himself, but points to the light.7c Purpose: so that all may believe through him.The ultimate purpose of John being sent and testifying is so that people would believe in Jesus, which is also the purpose of the Gospel of John (see 20:30-31).8 Clarification: He was just a witness to the Light8a Neg: This one was not the LightThe author clarified the identity of John, that he was not the Light. He was not the hoped-for Messiah. He was not to be the center of attention.8b-c Pos: Rather, he came to testify to the light8b but [this one came]8c Purpose: so that he may testify concerning the lightRather, John came to witness to something greater than himself - so that he may witness to the light. This purpose statement is repeated verbatim from v. 7b above.
Notice that the parallel structure strongly suggests the connection back to the ultimate purpose of John's testimony in 7c:A. A man was sent from God, named JohnAgain, John used a sandwich structure to emphasize his most important themes, believing inB. This one came to witnessA. This one was not the lightC. So that he may witness concerning the lightX. So that all may believe through himB. But [he came to witness]C. So that he may witness concerning the light
the Word- the Light9-13 The light came into the world, with a mixed response9 The True Light, which is giving light upon every person, was coming into the worldHere John circles back tot he theme of
the Light,which was the light of men, which was shining in the darkness, as we saw in previous verses. He emphasized the same kind of things in this verse, but took it a step further.
In one sense, verses 9-13 are an explanation and elaboration of verses 1-8. He is drawing on what he said in those verses, but here he takes it to the next level. And verse 9 also serves to introduce the responses to the light, which he will describe in verses 10-13.
John described Jesus as
the true Light- that is, the real, genuine light, as opposed to fake or false counterfeit lights. But more so, this means that Jesus is the epitome, the definition of all light. He is the lightiest light that is ever possible. He is the ultimate self-disclosure of God. The theme of Jesus being true also runs through this Gospel. Jesus is the true bread from heaven, the true vine, etc.
And John also described this true Light as that which enlightens all men. In verse 4, Jesus was called the Life which was the Light of men. Now, it is said that He brings light to men. He shines on people to give them this light. This may have reference to the same kind of idea as 3:19-21, that the light exposes people for what they truly are, as shown in their response to the light.
But the main idea in this verse is that this true Light was coming into the world (see 3:19, 12:46). In one sense, this Light has always been in the world, because
the Wordwas in the beginning. but John is again picking up and anticipating a major theme of Jesus coming into the world from the Father, which he will develop through the rest of the book. Just like John showed up to witness, because he was sent from God - so now, the Light is showing up to do something significant. John will fully explain this starting in v. 14. but before that, this verse sets up for the discussion of how the light was received in the next few verses.10-13 the mixed response: Some reject Him, some receive Him and find Life10-11 Neg: The world did not acknowledge its Creator and LordVerses 10-11 tell us of the rejection of the Light10 the world did not acknowledge its own creator10a-b The creator was in the world He createdJohn circled back to the fact that
the Wordcreated everything10a He was in the worldbecause He existed from the beginning, cf. v. 110b And the world came to exist through HimAs John had stated earlier in v. 310c And the world did not know HimThis is against all expectations - the world should have known Him.
worldhas a range of meanings, and it changes connotations throughout this passage. In 10a, it means
the world of men,that is, the totality of humanity. In 10b,
the created universeespecially concentrating on earth. and in 10c, it means the hostile sinful world - humanity in rebellion against and in opposition to God.
It is ridiculous that the world would not know and acknowledge God. He is
the Word.He is God. Nothing exists except from Him. Something is twisted and broken if creation does not acknowledge its creator. And in the next proposition, humanity's insanity gets worse.11 His own world did not receive its owner11a He came into His own things
His own thingsrefers to His property, His possession, His beloved, His home. This is the same expression used in 19:26-27 where John is to take Jesus' mother into his own home, literally
into his own.
And this is another repetition of the idea that Jesus came into the world (from God).11b And His own ones did not receive HimHe should have received a reception of honor and glory and gratitude. But he received no reception at all. Just like Paul says in Romans,
though they knew God, they did not acknowledge God. They traded their Glory for images(see Rom. 1:18-25). You might expect that Romans, Greeks, pagans, etc. would have this kind of response. But John is talking about Jews. They were the chosen people with a long history with this God. They had the Law and the Prophets. They were waiting for the Messiah!
But they rejected the Lord of life, the source of life, the True Light Himself. Remember, this does not hurt the Light, but harms those who reject the Light.
Again, by the structure, John highlights the unbelievably inappropriate reaction of people to the Light.
A. He was in the worldJohn is beginning to hint at a theme that he will develop throughout this book, the theme of judgment - that it is real, and that it is deserved.B. The world exists through HimX. The world did not know HimB. He came to His ownX. His own did not receive Him12-13 Pos: But those who received Him are given new life from GodIn verses 12-13, John gives a possible alternative to rejecting the Light, and describes the result that comes from this positive response.12a But the ones who received HimThis is obviously the opposite of rejecting Him as seen in vv. 10-11. John clearly highlighted two, and only two, options (reject or receive), and he strongly hinted that one option is better than the other.12b-13 He gave them new birth as God's children, born from God12b He gave to them - to those believing in His Name - authority to be children of GodIn this proposition, John more precisely defined what it means to receive Him, as
those who believe in His Name.Believing in His Name is a major theme throughout this Gospel, which is seen in John's purpose statement,
by believing, we have life in His Name(see 20:31).
And then John tells the result of receiving Him. It is the gift of authority to be children of God. Being children of God is yet another major theme of John introduced in this prologue. And it is a gift given, not a reward earned for believing - faith is not a work.
authorityis not to be understood as an independent power to be wielded in pride at our discretion. It is not a
rightin the sense of the western mindset. Beware of an attitude of entitlement and privilege when dealing with God. We have no inherent right to be in God's family. It is only bestowed by a gift of God's grace.
authoritymeans proper ability, resource, access or capability, like an employee who has a right/ability/authority to enter the building where they work, even though he does not own or control the building.
This is an authority to be children of God. This is a close family relationship, characterized by care, provision, inheritance, and so many other things that will be elaborated in the rest of John, and in the rest of the New Testament.13 Having been given life, not from human decision, but from GodJohn elaborated on how we become children of God, first negatively, and then positively (see 3:6, 8:42).13a-c Neg: Not having been given life from human decision13a Who [have] not [been born] from bloodThis may be a reference to Jewish ethnicity, which was a big deal for the Jews of Jesus' day. It was a source of pride, and believed to qualify a person for inclusion in the people of God. But Jesus and the rest of the New Testament clarify that ethnicity has no bearing whatsoever on inclusion in God's true people.13b Neither [have they been born] because of the will of fleshThis likely refers to the sexual desire, which often results in procreation.13c Neither [have they been born] because of the will of a manThis refers to the male partner, who in this culture typically initiated any sexual activity.All three of these speak of natural childbirth. And there is nothing natural about what John is describing in this passage. Jesus will be very clear in chapter 3, that this is not something we are able to do for ourselves. And it is not something we can cause to happen to someone else. It is a miracle beyond our control. Negatively, our becoming children of God is not from human design, control, or working, because, as Jesus will say in 3:6,
flesh gives birth to flesh, but spirit gives birth to spirit.13d Pos: But they have been born from Godthe word translated
have been bornrefers to the male parent's part in procreation, similar to the old word
beget.This points to our birth into God's family as being God's doing, and only God's doing. It is not self-help, self-reformation, or self-improvement. As we'll see in ch. 3, it is new birth. It is miraculous. It is not something we can manufacture or program. It is a miraculous gift from God that we are born from God as we receive Him by believing in His Name.
1:14-18 The Word became Flesh - Incarnate Glory
Detailed Outline Expand All + All Collapse All X All14-17 The Word has come to us and has completed bringing us grace and truth14 The Word has come to us, and we have seen His gloryVerse 14 signals the major transition of the prologue. This is the first use of the term
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the Wordsince verse 1. And it is taken up again so show that
the Word,the Light that John has been talking about became present among us, revealing God's glory to us.14a-b The Word became human and dwelt among us14a And the Word became fleshNow the identity of
the Wordis made clear.
The man Jesus of Nazareth is not just an ordinary man. He is the eternal Word come to us as a human. He did not just have the appearance of a human, as some early heresies taught. He did not just put on a human costume, or appear like a human. But He truly became human. He took on the actual substance of humanity. John used the term
fleshto emphasize the material human substance that was thought to be inferior to spiritual reality in much Greek thought. That which was an offense to human philosophy became reality in the incarnation (
in flesh). Jesus participated in the concrete physicality and corresponding limitations of human existence.
This is absolutely astounding. The eternal/infinite Word confined Himself to a finite human in a particular place in time and space. It will make your head hurt if you think about it too much. The Creator God of the universe became one of His creatures. This is impossible according to Greek and Jewish thought. And there is so much about it that is hard to wrap our mind around. But that is exactly what He did. Nothing is impossible with God.
So, Jesus is still fully God, and now Jesus is fully human. He is God Who took on our humanity.14b And He tabernacled among usI've used the unusual term
tabernacledto show that John did not use the typical generic word for dwelling. He used a very specific word that means to pitch a tent in order to dwell somewhere. It is a reference to the Old Testament tabernacle - the movable tent set up at the Exodus, as a place for God's presence to travel with the Israelites from Egypt to the promised land (see Exo. 25:8).
Just like the first part of John's prologue made reference to the creation narrative, this last part makes reference to the Old Testament Exodus in multiple ways.
The purpose of the tabernacle in the Old Testament was for God to be present with His people. And here John is saying that God has now made Himself present with His people in an even more direct way - in Jesus. And, by the way, this means that there is no more need for a physical temple, as Jesus will make clear later in John's Gospel.14c-e We have seen the glory of the One from God, full of grace and truth14c And we have seen His glory
The Wordbecoming flesh and coming to dwell with us, was for the purpose of revealing His glory, for making it known.
this also is a reference to the Old Testament tabernacle, which was filled with the glory of God in a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. This miraculous amazing glory that filled the temple in the Old Testament, John says, is present with us in Jesus (see also 12:41).
The way they saw His glory was not in outward manifestation (except at the transfiguration). the way that Jesus revealed God's glory is a major theme throughout John's Gospel. So, watch for how Jesus displays His glory throughout the story. Just a hint - the cross, where Jesus dies in weakness and shame, is the height of His glory, according to John.14d-e Glory as the One from God, Who is full of grace and truth14d Glory as of the one and only One from GodHere John elaborated on what he meant by
His glory.He said it is the glory of the One and Only from the Father. This term
One and Only,which is sometimes translated
only begottendoes not have the connotation that Jesus came into being at some time. Rather it simply means that Jesus is one of a kind. He is completely unique. There is none other like Him. This term is also used in v. 18 and 3:16. This One of a kind from the Father shows His glory.
He is from the Father. Remember that
the Wordwas with God in the beginning. Now He has come to be WITH us. Yes, John the Baptist was sent from God. But Jesus is sent from God in a more primary way. He has the glory that is fitting and appropriate for the Unique One from God, Who is God. And He displays it to people somehow by becoming a man and living present among us.14e [the One] full of Grace and TruthJohn continued to describe the glory that he saw by saying that Jesus is full of grace and truth.
Full of grace and truthdoes not describe
glorydirectly, but describes the
One and Only from God.
And this is another allusion to the Old Testament Exodus story. Moses had asked to see God's glory, and God replied,
I will show you my goodness(Exo. 33:18-19). God connected His Glory with His goodness.
Contrast this with Muslims, who claim that their god is great, but they don't claim that he is good. The real God is great. He is powerful beyond measure. But He is also good. Imagine that God was all powerful, but mean and spiteful. That would not be good news. But our God is all powerful AND He is full of grace and truth.
In the Exodus story, God promised to show His goodness and have His glory pass in front of Moses, so that Moses could see a part of it. In Exodus 34:5-7, it says that God proclaimed His Name as
the LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.God described Himself to Moses as gracious and compassionate, and slow to anger. This is even more striking when we realize that all of this happened right after the golden calf incident. God's people had just been unfaithful to Him with the grossest of idolatry right after He had rescued them from Egypt and entered into a covenant relationship with them. And as God was revealing His Name to Moses, He was forgiving and restoring them. He clearly demonstrated that He is gracious and compassionate, and slow to anger.
And then God said that He is
abounding in love and faithfulness.These terms correspond to the words that John used to write
full of grace and truthin this passage. The word translated
lovemeans covenant faithfulness, covenant grace, loving kindness. It means keeping covenant commitments (even when you don't have to) and delighting to do so. It is totally free and never owed nor can it be demanded. It is God, out of His own nature, determining to freely do good to people in covenant with Him, even when they don't deserve it. And this is the word
gracethat John used.
And the word translated
truthmeans faithfulness, being true and firm and steadfast to what is true and real, to the way things should be, and faithful to what is promised. It has the connotation of unchanging, unfailing, holding to the ultimate standard of all right and wrong, and never deviating from that. This is the word that John used here (see also 14:6).
In other words, by quoting these two words, John was saying that the One that has tabernacled among us is the same One that Moses spoke with on the mountain. He has the same glory, and the same gracious and faithful character. He is glorious beyond imagination. And His glory is most displayed in His goodness. He is giving and faithful. He is full of grace and truth.15-17 The validated greatness of Christ completes bringing us grace and truth15 John testified concerning His greatness15a John testified concerning Himthe author circled back to John's testimony about Jesus. John testified about the incarnated Word (Who is the Light of the world, now displaying His glory in human life.)15b-f And he spoke about His greatness15b And he cried outThis points to a more vigorous form of communication than just speaking. He loudly arrested attention and focused that attention onto Jesus. That is the job of a witness, to testify to something else.15c-f Speaking about Christ's eternal nature and greatness15c Saying:This simply serves as a marker of the content of what John said, which will be stated in the next propositions.15d-f He is the preexistent, eternal One that I testified about15d This One was the One of Whom I said:John pointed to Jesus as the One Whom he had been speaking about previously. As we learn later in this Gospel (and in the other Gospels), John spoke in anticipation of the coming One, Whom the Jews of the day would have assumed to be the Messiah. And then when Jesus showed up on the scene, John testified that He was the One. The next proposition gives part of the content John had said in predicting the coming One.15e-f He is greater than me because He is preexistent15e the One coming after me turned out to be before me [in rank/status]This is part of the content of what John had proclaimed. He spoke of someone Who was coming after him. The ministry of John the Baptist preceded the ministry of Jesus in time. But John said this One was before him. The term
beforeused here means
in front of,that is, before in space. But it also has the meaning of
before/higher in importance/status,which is the meaning obviously intended here. There is probably a word play here. The One coming after John, Who showed up in front of him, was before him in rank and status. The One coming after was greater than John.15f Because He was before me [in time]The reason John gave was that the One coming after him was actually before him. In this phrase, the word translated
beforeis a different word than in 15e, and it means
before in time.This is not a contradiction for John to say the One after him was before him. Rather, it is circling back to the idea that
the Wordwas in the beginning.
The Wordalways existed from the beginning, with the highest status. But only at a certain time in history did He become flesh and dwell among us. Only after John's ministry had been going for a while did the eternal Word make Himself known publicly. The preexistent Word was now walking around as a human - Jesus of Nazareth. And John was the witness, sent from God, to point Him out for us.16-17 The explanation of what John was sayingVerses 16 and 17 emphasize that the very character of God is present in the incarnate Word to overflow for our benefit.16 Because, from His fullness, we have also received grace upon graceIt was from His fullness, that is, the fact that He is full of grace and truth. God's character is the source. The overflow of His goodness is the reason Christ came, not our worth, not even our need, but His superabundance.
And from that superabundance, we have received grace upon grace. Literally, this says grace in place of grace. That could mean that God's grace is like the waves on a shore - it keeps coming wave after wave with no stopping. That is true, not matter what John was intending to say here. But more likely, John's intended meaning is explained by what he wrote in the next verse.17 The Grace and Truth given through Christ completes and fulfills what was begun with Moses17a Because the Law was given through MosesJohn used the word
becauseto transition to this verse. And so, this is probably an explanation of what John meant when he wrote
grace in place of grace.
For John, the giving of the Old Testament Law was a good thing, a gracious gift from God. Remember, Jesus has already been connected with the Old Covenant. The Law and Moses are not negative. They are the previous, positive, gracious revelation of God, which is now being completed. It is being fulfilled by the next step, which is Jesus, the incarnate presence of the God of the Old Testament.17b The Grace and the Truth came through Jesus ChristThat is, the grace that came through Moses is being replaced by the Grace that comes through Jesus. Notice that there is no contrast here. John did not say that the Law was through Moses BUT grace is through Christ. He said the Law was grace through Moses AND NOW the incomplete grace of the Law is now being completed with the FULLNESS of grace and truth in Christ. Jesus is the climax of God's revelation in the Law of Moses. Throughout John's Gospel, he highlights how Jesus is superior to all the Old Testament festivals and customs and fulfills the Old Testament.
Notice the repetition here of the phrase
grace and truthwhich we saw in v. 14. And John stressed that it comes through Jesus Christ, because He is the perfect representation of God. Because He is the Son of God. Because He is the Word of God, Who was God with God in the beginning. But Who now has come to be human and dwell among us in order to reveal the fullness of God's glory.18 The Word has truly, completely made God known to usThis verse summarizes everything that John had written up to this point in the prologue. The Eternal Word, Who has come to dwell with us, is the revealer of God Himself.18a No one has ever seen GodJohn started his summary with the contrast that no one has ever seen God. In the same story in Exodus where God revealed His Name to Moses, He said,
No one may see my face and live(Exo. 33:20). We are unable to know God on our own. We can't reach that high (see 6:46).
Let me give a silly illustration: It is likely that you have never met either of my brothers. You don't even know who they are. You don't know what they look like or what they act like. I am the only one of us that is qualified to describe them, because I am the only one of us who knows them. And I could describe them to you, because I do know them.
In the same way, none of us is qualified to describe or reveal God, because we have no way of knowing Him on our own. But there is One Who is qualified to reveal God, because He has come from God, because He is God in the flesh.18b But the One and Only God, Who was being in the bosom of the Father, This One made [Him] knownThe One Who is qualified to reveal God is described by John as
the One and Only God.Some copies say
the one and only Son.Both are true, but the evidence strongly suggests that John wrote
the One and Only God.This is another clear teaching in John's Gospel of the deity of Christ.
One and Onlyis the same term used earlier in v. 14 of the One and Only from the Father.
And John also described Him as being at the Father's side. Like being held to His chest, this indicates the most intimate kind of relationship. He is near the Father's heart. And this echoes John's earlier statement that
the Wordwas with God (v. 1). The One that was intimately close to God because He is God, is definitely qualified to make God known.
And that is exactly what He does. Jesus revealed God. He made Him known. Because of our finitude and sinfulness, we could never approach God, let alone know Him. We could never get to God, but in Jesus, God has graciously come to us. The One we could never know on our own has revealed Himself.
The term John used means to expound, to explain, to demonstrate, to set forth in great detail Who God is and what He is like (see 6:46, 14:9).
How did Jesus reveal God? Well, we are at the end of the prologue, but the rest of John's Gospel develops this theme of Jesus revealing the Father so that we can known Him. And it shows the many ways that Jesus makes God known and brings people into deeper relationship with this God, giving them eternal life, primarily through His cross and resurrection.
1:19-12:50 Public Ministry
1:19-51 From John to Jesus
1:19-34 John's Witness to Jesus
1:35-39 John Testifies to Jesus
1:40-51 Disciples Testify to Jesus
2:1-4:54 The Cana Cycle of Signs
2:1-12 Water to Wine
2:13-17 Jesus Clears the Temple
2:18-22 Controversy re: the Temple of His Body
2:23-25 Inadequate Belief
3:1-15 Conversation with Nicodemus
Detailed Outline Expand All + All Collapse All X All1-3 First Round - The Necessity of the New Birth1-2 Nicodemus approached and spoke to Jesus [admitting sign faith]1 Introduction of NicodemusThis verse is just background information on Nicodemus, to introduce him into the story. There are three items of information given about him in this verse.1a And there was a man from the PhariseesThis proposition mainly serves two functions: First is to introduce Nicodemus, and second to describe him as being a member of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were an influential group of Jewish religious leaders. They were diligent to study and keep the Law of Moses and the traditions that had grown up around the Law. They were serious about faithfulness to God, according to their understanding, and were well regarded by the people. However, Jesus often clashed with them - sometimes over their misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Old Testament, sometimes over their failure to live out what they knew to be true, but most often over their refusal to recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
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There may also be a third function: to contrast Nicodemus with all those men mentioned in the previous passage, to whom Jesus would not entrust Himself. If this is the case, then it introduces that Jesus will reveal more to Nicodemus in the following conversation that He would yet reveal to the larger crowds - that Jesus was more forthright and open to Nicodemus in what follows.1b-c Specific description of this man1b Nicodemus was his nameThis proposition, obviously, gives the name of the man just mentioned as
Beside this passage, Nicodemus shows up in two other places in the New Testament, both in the Gospel of John. In 7:50, Nicodemus, in a sense, attempted to defend Jesus before the ruling council by suggesting they follow the correct legal standard of not condemning anyone before they are given a fair hearing. His suggestion was quickly shut down, not by proper legal procedure, but by personal abuse. Then in 19:39, Nicodemus accompanied Joseph of Arimathea in burying the corpse of Jesus after the crucifixion. In this passage, John does not specifically label Nicodemus as a disciple, even though in the same passage we are explicitly told that Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple, although a secret disciple because of fear.
Therefore, there is speculation whether Nicodemus ever became a true disciple of Jesus. There is evidence that he was heading in that direction, and it is very plausible that he would have become a disciple, but kept it hidden for fear of the other Jewish leaders. But there is not enough evidence given for us to be sure. And John many have intended to leave this question unanswered in order to tease his readers into considering the state of their own discipleship.1c A ruler/leader of the JewsNicodemus was also a leader of the Jews - likely a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish council in Jerusalem. Not all members of the Sanhedrin were Pharisees, and not all PHarisees were rulers. But Nicodemus was both. He was very influential both politically and religiously. This may have been an occasion for pride and/or haughtiness in Nicodemus. And, as will be seen in the following dialog, Jesus purposely, but gently, deflated Nicodemus's pride and pretense to authority.2 Nicodemus admitted sign faith to Jesus2a This one came to Him [Jesus] at nightNicodemus was the one who initiated this encounter with Jesus. In context, this is certainly because of the signs that Jesus had done in Jerusalem, and His encounters witht he Jewish leaders, as narrated in the previous chapter of John.
John noted that this encounter happened at night, but did not explain why. In some cases (such as 13:30), there is reason to believe that John intended
nightas an indication of evil according to his thematic contrast between light and darkness, but there is no strong evidence that he intended this contrast here. It may be that Nicodemus sought Jesus at night because he wanted to meet in secret. This is at least plausible, especially in light of John's emphasis elsewhere of may people who believed in Jesus, but kept it hidden for fear of the Jewish leaders. But John does not explicitly say that this was the reason in this verse, and so it remains conjecture. It is just as plausible that Nicodemus came at night because this was a time when they could meet privately without the press of crowds and other obligations. There is nothing in this passage that will let us settle this issue one way or another.2b-g He said,
We are willing to admit sign faith2b And he said to Himthis is a discourse formula, obviously introducing the content of the discourse and clarifying who is speaking. This kind of formula will occur throughout this passage, serving to clarify who is speaking, and introducing the content of what they say.2c-g We have determined by your signs that you are from God2c-e We know you are from God2c Rabbi, we know thatNicodemus addressed Jesus as
teacher.This term refers to a recognized authority in the Jewish religion, and it is a high complement for him to address Jesus with this title. Jesus did not go through the standard religious training of that culture, and was not officially accredited by their standards or procedures. but He had proven Himself to be so knowledgeable and effective in teaching that most people recognized Him as a qualified Rabbi.
In one sense, the phrase
we know that...is just a discourse formula, introducing the content of what Nicodemus wanted to communicate. On the other hand, there are a few underlying assumptions in the way he introduced this. First, he used the plural term
We.This was most likely in reference to his standing as a ruler of the Jews and was intended to convey that he represented the official opinion and authority of the Jewish leaders. Some modern business management books contain instructions on how to start a meeting in such a way as to
establish dominance,i.e. to subtly or explicitly define the roles and/or levels of power and authority in such a way as to set up for success in the meeting. It is possible that Nicodemus approached Jesus with such an attitude. In other words, Nicodemus probably meant well, and opened with a friendly gesture. But at the same time, he brought some assumptions and presumptions, and gave the air of condescending to Jesus as one who had authority over Him, not as an equal, as demonstrated in the content below.2d-e What he claimed to know2d You have come from GodNicodemus acknowledged that Jesus was from God. Many of the Pharisees argued the opposite later in the Gospel of John. Jesus being sent from God is a major theme of John's Gospel. so, Nicodemus is definitely on the right track, and has correctly identified Christ, so far.2e As/to be a teacherNicodemus also acknowledged Jesus as a bona fide teacher. As mentioned earlier, Jesus did not go through the recognized process, and Nicodemus may be attempting to give official recognition to Jesus.
All of this is good on the part of Nicodemus, and should be seen as coming from genuine good will. However, seen in light of the larger narrative and purposes of John's Gospel, this is definitely not enough. First, Jesus never asked for official recognition from the Jewish leaders, and later in this Gospel, will explicitly deny that He needs or wants their approval, sanction, or any human testimony, because His approval, sanction, and testimony come from His Father. And second, for John the author, to acknowledge Jesus as a teacher is good, but not good enough. John's (and Jesus') desire, according to the purpose statement of this Gospel (20:31), is that people would believe in Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) and the Son of God. So, for Nicodemus to acknowledge Jesus as a teacher was partway there, but he was not yet to the point of recognizing that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God.2f-g Because the signs prove you are from GodThese propositions are the reason Nicodemus gave for his conclusion that Jesus had come from God. They are in the form of a logical argument of excluding a conclusion unless a specific premise was true and present. And then arguing that since the conclusion was evident and proven, then the premise must be proved true and present. Jesus will use this same form of logic in responding to Nicodemus in 3d-e below.2f For no one is able to do these signs which you are doingNicodemus acknowledged that Jesus had done miraculous signs. This was taken as a given. And then he stated that this would not be possible without the supposition given in the next proposition.2g Except if God was with himNicodemus stated that this supposition is the only possible explanation of Jesus' ability to perform His signs. And he concluded that since Jesus did in fact do signs, then this explanation must indeed be the case. Or to reverse the logic: Jesus did signs > God's presence with Him is the only possible explanation > therefore, God is present with Him.Throughout John's Gospel, he describes people who believe in Jesus to a certain level because they saw His signs. This is what I have labeled
sign faith.At this point in the narrative, Nicodemus professed a level of
sign faith.Sign faith is a good thing, and John never speaks against it. However, as John emphasizes throughout the rest of the Gospel,
sign faithis intended to be a stepping stone toward deeper, saving faith, which believes in Jesus as Christ and Son of God, and which results in the gift of eternal life. Therefore, to stop at
sign faithONLY, without moving to a higher level of faith, is a bad thing. At this point in the narrative, it could go either way for Nicodemus, and John seemed to leave it ambiguous throughout the rest of the Gospel whether Nicodemus stayed with
sign faithor went on to genuinely believe. But one thing is clear, which is also seen throughout John's Gospel: Jesus never allows people to stay at only
sign faith.He always pushes them toward genuine faith that recognizes Him as the Son of God. Some people respond to this prodding and believe, and some people are pushed away. But Jesus never allows them to stay undecided with a halfway faith.3 Jesus Responded [challenging him to new birth]3a-b Jesus answered and said to himThese two propositions are a discourse formula signaling a change of speaker and introducing the content of the speech that follows. The use of these two statements together -
he said- reflects a typical Jewish way of narrating conversations, as seen many times in the Old Testament. But there is also a specific emphasis in each of the two propositions. In the first, the emphasis is that it is spoken in response to what had been said earlier. And in the second, the emphasis is on introducing the content that follows. This same two-part formula will occur again in 9a-b and 10a-b.3a Jesus answered3b And He said to him3c-e I seriously assert that you need the new birth to experience the Kingdom3c Truly, truly, I am saying to youThis proposition does not function as a discourse formula. John has already introduced Jesus's speech in the previous propositions. And no one needs to be told that you are speaking to them when you are speaking to them. Rather, this statement functions as an affirmation, to emphasize the truth, seriousness, and importance of what is about to be said. It is literally the repetition of a word meaning
certainlyto stress the certainty of what is about to be spoken. It functions as a verbal highlighter, to alert the hearer to pay special attention to the following statement. Jesus uses this type of affirmation many times, especially in John's Gospel (see v. 5, 11).3d-e No one can see the Kingdom unless they are born again/from aboveIn these propositions, Jesus mimicked the logical structure of argument that Nicodemus used in 2f-g. Nicodemus said that the only possible way to do miraculous signs is for God to be with you. Jesus responded by saying that the only possible way to see the Kingdom of God is to be born again/from above. The conclusion is that the new birth is absolutely necessary in order to experience God's Kingdom.
As typical in John's Gospel, Jesus seemed to not directly respond to what Nicodemus said. At first, it may seem that Jesus often completely ignored what people said and totally changed the subject of conversation. But on closer inspection, we see that in each case, Jesus moved past the surface issue presented by people, and went directly to the underlying root issue at the heart of the conversation. Jesus was, in essence, saying to Nicodemus,
OK, if you trust that I am a teacher from God, I will teach you what is most urgent for your relationship with God.Jesus stressed that the approval of Nicodemus and the Sanhedrin didn't matter to Him. Rather, what really mattered was the evaluation that God had of Nicodemus, and the necessity for it to be changed by the new birth. Jesus ignored Nicodemus's flattery, and cut to the heart of the issue.3d Except if he is born again/from abovethe term
bornis passive, and it refers to the male parent's part in procreation. It is the same term John used in 1:12-13 to refer to becoming children of God. the emphasis in both of these passages is that this is something people are not able to do or cause for themselves, but it is the result of what someone else has caused in and for them. Just as we did not cause our natural birth, Jesus's words clarify that we do not cause this birth. This new birth is the work of God in conversion. The new birth is also mentioned in 1 Jn. 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:1, 3, 18, Titus 3:5, and 1 Pet. 1:3, 23.
The term usually translated
againis ambiguous and has two main possible meanings. It could mean
againreferring to a repeating of a previous action. Or it could mean
from abovereferring to the source of an action. It is used in this second sense in 19:23 and Matt. 27:51 to refer to something happening from the top to the bottom. And it is used in this second sense in 3:31 and 19:11 to mean from heaven above. In this verse (and again in v. 7) John probably intended a double meaning at least partly encompassing both of these shades of meaning. Because this birth is indeed something new, so it is as a second birth. It is to experience a complete change in one's life. And the entire New Testament proclaims that our past is not necessarily our destiny. There is the possibility of a dramatic change, of a new start in Jesus. We can start over by the conversion which Christ brings. However, the emphasis in this passage is that this birth comes from above, it is from God, it is supernatural, as will be developed in the following verses.
As Leon Morris suggested, it would be appropriate to translate this term
reborn from abovein order to cover the entire range of meaning, and to leave the ambiguity. And it is the ambiguity of this term that explains Nicodemus's misunderstanding of what Jesus said, as seen in his objection to Jesus's statement in v. 4.3e No one is able to see the Kingdom of GodThe Kingdom of God is the rule of God. It is not so much a place as it is the dynamic of God exercising His sovereign rule, which brings about all goodness, justice, and blessing. God is always ruling, and every part of history and every part of the universe is under His ruling control. However, He has chosen for a time to exercise His rule less directly and allow things that are against His revealed will for the sake of a larger purpose bringing about His eternal will. There are examples of God more immediately exercising His rule (especially in the life and ministry of Jesus), but there is also a promised time, when God will completely, explicitly bring about His Kingdom rule, completely free of evil, sin, and injustice. So, the Kingdom of God refers partly to the experience of blessing and goodness from God's activity in this life, but especially to the eternal blessedness of the age to come. See my New Testament Survey course for further discussion on the concept of the Kingdom of God.
This (including v. 5) is the only place in John's Gospel where he uses the phrase
the Kingdom of God.This term is used extensively in the Synoptic Gospels. In many of the places where the synoptics use this term, John uses the phrase
eternal lifeas a parallel term and idea.
The current Jewish thought in Jesus's day assumed that all Jews except blatant apostates and evildoers were already participants in the Kingdom and would experience the eternal blessedness of the next age. Jesus turned the tables on that assumption and said that we should assume no one is participating and will participate in the Kingdom unless they first experience the new birth. This kind of language would have been thought to be appropriate when applied to a Gentile entering into the Jewish faith. But for Jesus to apply this kind of need for a radical restart to a person like Nicodemus (a Pharisee and ruler, presumed to be at the height of religious attainment) would have been offensive to him. And yet, that is precisely what he needed most.
see the Kingdomis probably a more generic expression meaning to experience the Kingdom in a yet unidentified way. However, in v. 5, Jesus used the phrase
enter into the Kingdom.So, to see the Kingdom may represent a lesser experience than fully entering the Kingdom.
And Jesus's qualification may also be in response to Nicodemus's claim to
knowthings about Jesus. Jesus may be saying, in essence,
you have no ability to know about me, and you will not be able to 'see' anything of the truth about me until you have experienced the new birth.4-8 Second Round - The Supernatural Manner of the New Birth4 Nicodemus misunderstood and scoffed at Jesus's claim.4a Nicodemus said to himThis is just a discourse formula, signaling a change of speaker, and introducing what he said4b-e What he said: How can someone be born again?4b-c How can a grown man be born?4b How is a man able to be born?With this statement, Nicodemus was not questioning HOW this new birth could take place (he will ask that question in v. 9). He was expressing his doubt that what Jesus said was true and valid. He was not questioning about HOW Jesus's statement was true; he was questioning WHETHER Jesus's statement was true. He doubted that a man was able to be born again.
Remember that the term
born againmay mean born AGAIN or born FROM ABOVE. Nicodemus has clearly assumed Jesus to mean the first sense without considering the possibility of the second sense. And this is the cause of the misunderstanding, because Jesus will later show that His emphasis was on the second sense.4c Even though he is oldThe focus of this phrase is probably not so much the relative age (old, as opposed to a younger adult), but it is that a person had already been born once, and naturally could not repeat the process, as elaborated in the next propositions. However, there could be a sense that Nicodemus is expressing doubt over someone being able to experience such dramatic change because they had become set in their ways. Similar to the statement
you can't teach an old dog new tricks,Nicodemus may have been saying,
It is too late for me. I'm a ruler and a Pharisee. Therefore, I am unable or unwilling to go along with whatever you are asking.4d-e How can a man be born a second time?These propositions could be giving the reason for Nicodemus's doubt expressed in the previous propositions, i.e.
a man cannot be born when old, BECAUSE he cannot enter into his mother's womb again.Or these may just be a restatement of the same kind of doubt in different word, i.e.
a man cannot be born when old, THAT IS, he cannot enter into his mother's womb again.4d Is he not able to enter a second time into his mother's womb?Nicodemus knew that this was an absurd suggestion, and he did not seriously think that Jesus was proposing this. Rather, he thought he was showing Jesus's statement to be absurd by pushing it to its logical consequence. However, this does not prove that Jesus's statement is absurd. It just proves that Nicodemus had not really understood what Jesus was saying, because he did not consider that Jesus meant
born from above,referring to a supernatural birth. The words
a second timeshow that Nicodemus thought Jesus only meant
born AGAINand not
born FROM ABOVE.
And, by the way, the North American church often makes the same mistake, which is why we so often miss the significance of these verses. This explains why so many people claim to be
born againbut live no differently than their secular neighbors. They think (because they have been told) that all we have to do is pray a prayer, etc. and we will change our own life and get a fresh start. But we miss the fact that this new birth is
from aboveand is a miracle that we cannot do for ourselves. It is natural for humans to believe that we can somehow do something to earn favor with God and restore or at least improve our standing. In this passage, Jesus clearly denied that this is possible.4e And be born?Again, Nicodemus did not misunderstand in the sense that he thought Jesus was suggesting this. Rather, he did not really understand what Jesus was really saying, and therefore scoffed at the whole thing, especially at the idea that anyone like Nicodemus would need to change, would need to be converted in any way. Nicodemus refused to take any idea like that seriously.5-8 Jesus responded [explaining new birth]5a Jesus answeredThis is another discourse formula, noting the change of speaker and introducing the content of His speech.5b-8 The New Birth is from God, not under human control5b Truly, truly, I am saying to youThis is the same phrase as 3c above. See the comments there.5c-8 The new birth is supernatural and beyond human control5c-7 The new birth is supernatural5c-6 A supernatural birth from God is necessary5c-d Without supernatural birth, no one can enter the KingdomThese two propositions are almost the same as 3d-e except for a few notable word changes described below. Jesus restated His assertion of the need for the new birth. But He did it in a way that also clarified the supernatural nature of this new birth.5c Except is someone is born from water and spiritThe phrase
born from water and spiritparallels the phrase
born again/from abovein 3d. And therefore, this phrase further defines and clarifies what Jesus meant by using the earlier phrase. And this begs the question,
What does it mean to be born from water and spirit?
The best answer to this question is that it is a reference to the Old Testament. In verse 10, Jesus will criticize Nicodemus for not understanding, even though he is a teacher of Israel. So, Jesus expected him to understand His reference, because it came from the Old Testament Scripture.
Wateroften refers to cleansing and forgiveness in the Old Testament. And
Spiritmost often refers to God and His activity. And God often promised that He would pour out His Spirit. But
spiritalso refers to the part of humanity that primarily connects with God. And God promised to give His people a new spirit at the renewal.
The place in the Old Testament where
spiritare used together most closely is Ezekiel 36:25-27. It is
Ezekiel 36:25-27, where water and spirit come together so forcefully, the first to signify cleansing from impurity, and the second to depict the transformation of heart that will enable people to follow God wholly.(Carson, The Gospel According to John, p. 195)
This passage is in the context of God's promise to bring His people back from Babylon. But the promise was not just for return to the promised land. It concentrated mostly on the restoration of the national character and blessings. In this passage, God promised to cleanse them with water from all their impurities (v. 25), to give them a new heart and a new spirit (v.26), and to give them His Spirit, so that their hearts and lifestyles will be changed (v. 27). And then, God restated the regular promise of restored relationship, that He would be their God, and they would be His people (v. 28). All of these are typical promises that are stated throughout the Old Testament, but in this passage, they are all brought together as a summary of what God would do in restoring His people to relationship with himself and bringing about the fullness of His Kingdom blessings. This passage in Ezekiel is a shorthand summary of all that God would supernaturally do to change and restore His people, so that they would be what He had created them to be.
And by using the words
born of water and spiritJesus was making a reference to this Ezekiel passage and all of its significance, and He expected Nicodemus, as an Old Testament scholar, to be able to recognize the reference. In other words, to be born of water and spirit is to experience all of the supernatural renewal that God had promised in order to change and restore His people back to right relationship with Him. Without experiencing this supernatural work, no one will be able to enter the Kingdom of God, because without renewal from God, no one is worthy to be a part of God's Kingdom.5d He is not able to enter into the Kingdom of GodThis proposition is the same as 3e above, except that the word
seehas been changed to
enter.this may just be a stylistic difference with no real difference in meaning. If there is any difference,
to enterwould signify a fuller experience of the Kingdom than merely to see it. But those who are born again/from above by water and spirit will both see and enter the Kingdom. And those who are not, will neither see nor enter the Kingdom.6 Reason: Only a supernatural source can cause a supernatural resultThese propositions give the reason for the statements Jesus made in 5c-d. People need birth from the supernatural source signified by
water and spiritbecause only a supernatural source can produce the supernatural result needed in order to enter the Kingdom of God. In these propositions, Jesus contrasted two results, based on their two sources. The point is that the kind of result automatically flows from the kind of source. If you need a supernatural result, you cannot get it from a natural source. The kind of birth Jesus was talking about was not the natural birth that Nicodemus referred to. Rather, it was a different kind altogether. Natural birth was not enough for someone to experience the Kingdom life. A supernatural conversion is necessary. Flesh - all human activity and attainment - is not enough, because at best, it can only produce human life. It is never able to produce eternal life. Only a supernatural work of God can produce eternal life. And that is exactly what is promised throughout John's Gospel. But Nicodemus needed (and we need) to be confronted with the fact that he could not attain it on his own.6a The thing being born from the flesh is flesh
being bornis the same word used above (likewise in the next proposition) and has the connotation of being produced by another.
Fleshis shorthand for everything merely human. This sometimes has the connotation of sinfulness, but not necessarily in all cases, and probably not in this verse. It always has the connotation of weakness and inability to attain to anything beyond the merely human. The Kingdom of God cannot be experienced by human attainment because humanity is far too limited to ever attain to God's Kingdom. Natural humanity cannot bring about conversion. Natural humanity cannot bring about the Kingdom. Natural humanity cannot even see the Kingdom.6b And the thing being born from the Spirit is Spirit
Spiritwhen contrasted with flesh has the connotation of being in the supernatural sphere of God and not merely in the human sphere. It signifies ability and power as opposed to weakness and inability because it is connected with God Himself. In conversion, the Spirit of God brings forth this new spiritual nature in humans. It is not just a fixing up of ordinary human nature. It is giving something new and supernatural. it is a new birth of a new kind of life in the new believer.
The Kingdom of God can only be experienced by God's power and working. As Jesus will say in a few verses, no one is able to go up to heaven, but heaven can come down to us.7 Implication: You should not be surprised at the need for supernatural birth7a Do not be astonishedThis proposition indicates that Nicodemus had been shocked by what Jesus had said, but Jesus expressed that he should not have been shocked. As He will say in a few verses, Nicodemus should have known these things because he was a teacher of Israel. He should have known the promises in the Law and the Prophets that God would undertake to decisively renew His people and bring about His Kingdom rule in a way that humans could not do on their own. This is the central hope for which Israel was waiting at that time.
One of the biggest mistakes of the Pharisees is that they thought righteousness was within their reach - that they were able to keep the law and be pleasing to God, and to make themselves worthy of being in a relationship with God. This is the same mistake every human makes until they are convinced of the Gospel. Humans default to the idea of works religion, and it is so hard for us to grasp the true grace with which God has given righteousness to His people through Christ. As Jesus said elsewhere, until we realize that we are sick, we do not see our need for a physician. Until we see our complete inability on our own, we do not see our need for the new birth.7b-c Because I claimed a supernatural birth is necessary7b Because I said to youThis introduces the reason Nicodemus was shocked. It was not primarily that Jesus had spoken, but the content of what He said, which is shown in the next proposition.7c It is necessary for you to be born again/from aboveThis proposition closely echoes 3d above, as Jesus is paraphrasing what He had just said. But here He made the logic of 3d-e more explicit in claiming that the new birth from above is necessary, and that is what He had said above: no one can see the Kingdom without it.
The necessity of the new birth was a shocking statement to Nicodemus, not only for the reasons given above in the comments on 7a, but also because he was a religious leader with high standing. He probably could have imagined that many of the lower classes of people needed the new birth. But he was so sure of his own accomplishment and status, that he thought it outrageous for Jesus to suggest that he himself needed to be born again. Jesus cared enough to tell Nicodemus the truth, even though it was distasteful for him to hear.8 The new birth is beyond human control and understanding8a-f The wind is beyond human control and understanding8a-c The wind is not under human control8a-b The wind blows without out influence8a The wind blowsThis almost certainly introduces another of John's wordplays and double meanings. The word translated
windis the same word translated
spiritelsewhere (such as 8g). The word can have either meaning, and John is probably playing on this ambiguity by using an illustration of the natural phenomenon of wind to explain about the supernatural activity of God's Spirit in conversion. Jesus drew attention to the wind blowing, something that everyone has observed.8b Wherever it willsThe point that Jesus made about the wind is that it blows on its own, when and where it does, without our control or input. The wind is completely outside of our control.8c And you hear its soundEven thought he wind is outside of our control, we experience its effects. Jesus pointed out the sound of the wind as one effect that we can know.8d-f The wind is beyond human understanding8d But you do not knowNot only is the wind beyond our control, Jesus went on to point out that the wind is beyond our full understanding. We don't know many things about the wind. Yes, modern people probably know more about pressure systems, and the physics behind the wind than Jesus's first hearers. But we can only know about the general principles that cause the wind. The wind is unpredictable. We still cannot know the particulars about any wind we experience on any particular day, as Jesus pointed out more specifically in the next propositions.8e-f How the wind works8e from where it is coming8f and where it is goingJesus was not saying here saying that we can't determine that the wind is blowing
from the Northor blowing
to the Southfor example. This lack of knowledge parallels our lack of control. We can only know the general direction of the wind (which is constantly changing), and not the particulars of the where, when, and why of the weather. That is why even modern weather forecasts are the brunt of jokes about their inaccuracy. Some say that a butterfly flapping its wings in China can ultimately cause a hurricane in the Atlantic. The weather is far too complicated for us to fully understand. In any case, Jesus is just stating a general principle about our relationship to the weather in order to make a point about conversion in the next proposition.8g In the same way is everyone having been born from the SpiritIn this proposition, Jesus explained the point of the illustration He had been making about the wind. Just like we cannot control or understand the wind, and we only know the wind from its results (we don't actually ever see the wind, we only see the trees swaying or the dust moving across the ground, etc.), in the same way, the work of the Spirit in conversion is supernatural. The Spirit's work in conversion is unpredictable. We don't control the Spirit's work in conversion. We don't understand the Spirit's work in conversion. We may not even see the immediate work of the Spirit, or know precisely when and how He is working in conversion. But we can tell from the effects. A changed life is the sure sign of the new birth. We may not know how and when the Spirit was working, but we can see the signs that the Spirit had been working when someone is born from the Spirit.
This may be a reference to Ezekiel chapter 37, to the account of the valley of dry bones, which follows directly after the passage in Ezekiel chapter 36 which Jesus referenced in verse 5. In that passage, a multitude of dry human skeletons were miraculously reassembled and then brought back to life when the Spirit of God, coming from the four winds, gave them new life. In Ezekiel, this was a symbolic vision representing the restoration of the nation of Israel. And it would make perfect sense to also apply it as an analogy for conversion, whereby God's Spirit gives spiritually dead people new life into His family. In this proposition, Jesus said the same thing He had been saying in a different way. The new birth had been described as being
born again from above,and being
born from water and spirit.Here Jesus described it as being
born from the Spirit.Remember that the word translated
windis the same as the word translated
Spirit.In 1:13, John promised that people could be
born from God.And here, the same thing is said to be from the Spirit (Who is God). Every one of these descriptions of the new birth point to its supernatural origin and nature. Only God can bring about the new birth. It is beyond our control. It is beyond our understanding. But it is real, and we can see its results. And we desperately need the new birth, or we will not experience God's Kingdom.9-15 Third Round - The Supernatural Agent of the New Birth9 Nicodemus misunderstood and questioned Jesus's claims9a-b Nicodemus respondedThis is almost the same as 3a-b (see the comments there), except it is signaling the shift of speakers back to Nicodemus.9a Nicodemus answered9b And he said to Him9cHow are these things able to be?This response is a bit ambiguous. It may still contain a sense of skepticism and unbelief. But there is also at least some shift to genuine inquiry into how the new birth can happen. Nicodemus asked
in what manner can these things possibly take place?He was not just asking if they could take place, but how it would happen if they did take place, thus signaling at least some openness to the possibility that they could take place.10-15 Jesus Responded [Only a supernatural Savior can save]10a-b Jesus answered NicodemusThis is yet again another discourse formula signaling a change of speaker and introducing what He said. This is exactly the same wording as 3d-e. See the comments for that verse.10a Jesus answered10b And He said to him10c-15 What Jesus said: The supernatural savior is the only one Who can save10c-12 Jesus confronted Nicodemus's lack of understanding10c-d Criticism of Nicodemus: He should know these things, but he doesn'tTechnically, these two propositions are in the form of a question. However, it is a rhetorical question, showing shock and disappointment that it was indeed the case, but not questioning whether it was the case. Nicodemus earlier employed a question that was really a statement of his own skepticism. Here Jesus employed a question that was really a statement of His criticism and rebuke for Nicodemus's response.10c You are the teacher of IsraelJesus validated that Nicodemus had the role of scholar and teacher. Elsewhere, Jesus acknowledged the Pharisees and told the people to listen to their teaching, but warned them not to follow their example. In many encounters with the Pharisees, Jesus agreed with most of their teaching, but He said that they missed the most important concept, which is Him, because all the Scriptures pointed to Him.10d And you don't know these things?Jesus is making the same kind of criticism of Nicodemus personally. He knew the Scriptures well in the sense that he knew what they said. But Jesus expressed disappointment that he did not know the Scriptures in the sense of grasping the overall message and significance. Nicodemus failed to understand and internalize the promises of Ezekiel ch. 36, and so he had not understood what Jesus was talking about. Nicodemus did not grasp that God was a gracious, rescuing God Who does not need our input and activity in order to bring about new life and reconciliation. Jesus will elaborate on this concept in the next few verses.
Because the Pharisees concentrated so much on what humans are supposed to do, they often lost sight of what God promised to do. Without God, all human effort is worthless. And so, Nicodemus, even though he was an Old Testament scholar, had missed the point of the Old Testament.
This conversation began with Nicodemus asserting his position and ability to evaluate Jesus and His ministry. Here Jesus turned the tables and asserted His ability to evaluate Nicodemus's ministry. And He found it lacking and put Nicodemus in his place. But this was not a harsh put down. Rather, it was a gracious invitation to recognize his lack and learn the truth, and so find the true life he had been pursuing in a zealous, but mistaken fashion.11-12 Reasons for criticizing Nicodemus: He refuses to learn and believe11 Nicodemus is confronted with his inability/unwillingness to learn11a Truly, Truly, I am saying to you that:This is the same formula and wording as 3c and 5a above. See the comments on 3c. The rest of vv. 11:12 is the content of what Jesus was strongly asserting11b-d Nicodemus was refusing to learn from Jesus11b-c Jesus is knowledgeable and qualified to teach11b We are saying what we knowNotice that Jesus used the plural pronoun
wein His response. This is likely in reference to Nicodemus's use of the same pronoun in his initial statement to Jesus. Just like Nicodemus claimed to be speaking for the Jewish leaders, Jesus responded that He was speaking for the One with much more authority. And He said that He was telling what He knew. Jesus, because He is God, and was sent from God, and was speaking for God, He had all knowledge. He is the source of all knowledge, and so, is extremely qualified to teach.11c And we are testifying what we have seenAs Jesus will develop later in John's Gospel, He spoke as He heard from the Father, and He did what He saw the Father doing. The Father reveals all things to the Son, Who then reveals them to the world. Again, Jesus is claiming that the source of His knowledge and authority and testimony is God - the ultimate source of all knowledge, authority, and truth.11d And you are not receiving our testimonyAnyone with any sense at all would listen to the One speaking from the ultimate source of all knowledge. And if what Jesus had just said is true (which it is), then Nicodemus should have wholeheartedly believed it and accepted it. But Nicodemus responded with doubt, misunderstanding and skepticism. And so, Jesus criticized him for his lack of reception to something so precious and true. And this also pressed Nicodemus to recognize that Jesus was indeed sent from God, as Nicodemus had earlier claimed to believe. But his refusal to believe what Jesus said, and his refusal (so far) to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God showed that Nicodemus did not yet believe as he should.12 Nicodemus is confronted with his inability/unwillingness to believeThis verse is partly a restatement of the same kind of idea as in v. 11. But it also shows the conclusion, the inference from that verse. Nicodemus did not receive the testimony of the One with all knowledge even about simple earthly issues. Therefore, he is not (yet) able to understand and receive His testimony on supernatural heavenly things like the new birth.
Verse 12 is obviously an if-then condition, made up of two pairs of conditional types of relationships. 12a-b are the if condition of 12c-d. And 12a is the historical given condition which resulted in Nicodemus's response of 12b. That response was not the only possible response, and was conditional on Nicodemus. And 12c and 12d are in an explicit if-then relationship. But in context, the response of 12d is a rhetorical statement in the form of a question. This shows that Jesus assumed an assured effect in 12d based on the condition of 12c.
The point of this verse is to challenge Nicodemus for his hard-heartedness and unwillingness to believe what Jesus was saying. This is another gracious reminder that Nicodemus needed a supernatural new-birth, because he was unable on his own to attain these things. but it was also a gracious invitation for Nicodemus to put aside his pride and receive that new birth.12a-b Condition: If you can't believe on the human level12a Condition: If I said the earthly things to youThis refers to the wind illustration taken from the natural world, which Jesus had just used to teach about the new birth. Jesus used a fairly straight forward analogy that should have been understood by Nicodemus.
On a deeper level, this is one example of a contrast theme that runs through John's Gospel - that is the contrast between earth and heaven, between the things above and the things below. Jesus will develop this theme even more in v. 13.12b Response: And you are not believingNotice in this proposition that Jesus did not challenge Nicodemus because he did not UNDERSTAND the earthly illustration. Rather it says that he did not BELIEVE it. Jesus was pointing out that Nicodemus's lack of knowledge or intellectual ability was not the central issue. His hard heart and pride were the real issues that kept him from believing Jesus. In the Bible, intellectual ability is rarely (if ever) an issue or hindrance for knowing the truth. Much more often knowing and believing truth is a moral and volitional issue. And so, this is yet another area that shows the need for a new birth.12c-d Effect: How can you [you can't] believe on the heavenly level?This is an argument from the lesser to the greater. In essence,
If you can't do this easy thing, you won't be able to do this harder thing.12c Condition: If I say the heavenly things to youThis is a continuation of the contrast between the earthly and heavenly. The
earthlyis the habitation common and accessible to all humanity. The
heavenlyis the habitation of God only accessible to Him and those to whom He reveals it. Without revelation, we humans cannot know or understand heavenly things.
Jesus was making a contrast: that the heavenly things, which He could speak about, were impossible for Nicodemus to know, especially in light of his inability and unwillingness to know the earthly things which Jesus had just spoken. But Jesus was also clearly claiming to be able to reveal heavenly things, and implicitly promising that He was doing so, and would continue to do so. This is another theme throughout this Gospel, that Jesus is sent from God to reveal God to humanity.12d Effect: How will you believe?This is a rhetorical question. It is a statement in the form of a question. Jesus was challenging Nicodemus that he was not able to believe the heavenly things revealed because he had shown his unwillingness to believe the earthly things. Again, Nicodemus was being graciously humbled in order that he would see his need and humbly accept the authority of the One speaking to him. As long as Nicodemus held on to his confidence in his own position, attainment and authority, he was unable to come to the truth and true faith. And Jesus loved him enough not to allow him to remain in this position, without prodding him to change and inviting him to experience the new birth.13-15 Jesus corrected Nicodemus's lack of understandingJesus did not just criticize Nicodemus's lack of understanding, but in these verses, He corrected it by giving the true understanding. He only tore down Nicodemus's pride and false assurance in order to rebuilt his life on a solid foundation. Sometimes it is necessary to tear down falsehood and idolatry, no matter how painful the process may be, in order to build a true relationship with God. A necessary part of learning the truth is to reject falsehood. But rejecting falsehood is incomplete unless it is replaced with the truth.
And the truth He brought focuses on Jesus as the One who provides new birth by His atoning sacrifice. No one can find new birth and eternal life on their own. We need to receive it from the One who brought it from Heaven, because He came down from Heaven for this purpose.13 Only the One from heaven has access to heavenIn this verse, Jesus claimed to be able to bring heavenly life to humanity, because He had come down from Heaven. And He is the only One Who can. This continues the theme contrasting Heaven and earth - from above and from below - which we saw in the previous verse.13a And no one has gone up into heavenJesus was not saying here that no one has ever gone into heaven in the sense that we talk about
going to heavenwhen you die. In the Old Testament, Elijah ascended into Heaven. But Jesus meant this in the sense used in Deuteronomy 30:12 of having the qualification and ability to ascend to Heaven to interact with God and bring His blessings down to earth. This is the same stress on human inability that we have seen throughout this passage. Neither Nicodemus, nor any human is able to bring about the new birth or eternal life. This is the necessary negation in order to set up for the positive statement of the next proposition.13b Except the One coming down from Heaven - the Son of ManThe answer to human inability is God's ability, and the truth of what God has actually done in Christ. What we cannot do, He has done. Jesus has come down from Heaven, from God, as stressed in the Prologue of John's Gospel, and throughout this book.
Jesus is described in two ways in this proposition: First, He is the One Who came down from Heaven. This is obviously a contrast with the human inability to go up to Heaven in the previous proposition. And it is a continuation of the teaching that Jesus was sent from God, because He is God. And the implication for this passage is that Jesus brought the supernatural life of the new birth from Heaven. He is the agent of bringing the life of Heaven to earth.
Second, Jesus described Himself as the
Son of Man.This is the way that Jesus referred to Himself most often in the Gospels. And this phrase has two main connotations. The first is to stress that He is human, even the typical man. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (1:14). Jesus is fully human, and so shares in every aspect of human life (except sin). Jesus came down from Heaven by truly becoming human on our behalf.
The second significance of the phrase
Son of Manis a reference to the individual described as
one like a son of manin Daniel chapter 7. This One was a supernatural individual Who was given all authority and sovereign power over all humanity. The New Testament clearly says that this was fulfilled by Jesus. He combines these two aspects of the Son of Man. He is fully human, but He is also a supernatural being (God Himself) Who has all authority over humanity.
This is the One Who has come down from Heaven to bring the new birth and the resulting eternal life to humanity.14-15 The Son of Man will save by fulfilling the type of the bronze serpentIn these verses, Jesus becomes more explicit in finally answering Nicodemus's question of
How will these things be?Here He only begun to hint at what will be more fully explained later in the New Testament. But He pointed to His sacrificial, substitutionary death, and the reception of its benefits by faith. He did this by pointing to yet another Old Testament passage which He expected Nicodemus to know and understand.14 The Son of Man will be lifted up like the bronze serpent14a And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wildernessThis refers to the events recorded in Numbers chapter 21. While traveling in the desert, God's people grumbled against God. And as punishment, they were being bitten by venomous snakes. When they cried out to Moses, admitting their sin and asking for relief from the snakes, God instructed Moses to make a replica of a snake and put it on a pole, so that everyone could see it (high above the crowd). Moses made a snake statue out of bronze and put it on a pole. And whoever looked at the bronze replica after being bitten by a poisonous snake was healed.14b In the same way, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted upThis proposition starts with the phrase
in the same way,linking the bronze snake story in close parallel to what Jesus will do. And then is the phrase
it is necessary.What Jesus was discussing is central to His mission and purpose, and is indispensable for His being able to bring eternal life through the new birth. And the necessity is that the Son of Man - Jesus, will be lifted up.
lifted upis a fairly generic term for raising something in height. Jesus did not explain it any more than that in this verse, except to connect it to the way the bronze snake was lifted up. As is typical in John's Gospel, a key idea is introduced and hints at what will later be developed in much more detail. Based on the connection with the bronze serpent, and on what will become clear later in John's Gospel (see 12:32-33), we know that Jesus was referring to the cross. But even with the limited information given so far in the story, Jesus gave a clear picture of what He would do, and Nicodemus should have understood the implications.
And here, as with John's use of the term
lifted upthroughout the Gospel, there is a double meaning. The idea of being lifted up physically is combined with the idea of being lifted up in reputation and status, i.e. being exalted. And this word is sometimes translated
exalted.For John, Jesus being lifted up on the cross was also His exaltation, as the two events are obviously connected.
We can make the following connections between the bronze snake and the cross of Christ: First, the thing that was lifted up was a representation of what was killing the people. Moses made a replica of the snake that was poisoning them. When the Israelites looked at the snake statue, they were looking at a representation of their punishment and implicitly acknowledging their sin. And on the cross, Jesus was made the sin that is killing us (see 2 Cor. 5:21), and took on the representative punishment for our sin. And He was lifted up off the ground as a spectacle for all people to see, and to which we could look. When we look at the cross, we see the punishment that should have been ours, and we should honestly acknowledge our sin that put Him there. And those who look to His sacrifice on the cross with faith and repentance will find healing for our sin which is killing us, just as the ancient Israelites found relief from the snake venom by looking at the bronze snake. No one thought that looking at a bronze statue was in any way a natural/medical cure for venomous snakebite. It was obviously a gracious supernatural gift from God that healing would happen in this way. And in the same way, as Jesus had been stressing, the new birth does not come in a natural/medical way like our first birth, or even by any human activity. It is a gracious supernatural gift from God, Who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Nicodemus was being challenged to look at Jesus for his salvation in the same way that the ancients were to look to the bronze snake. And all of this is confirmed in the next proposition.15 So that everyone who believes will have eternal life in HimThe purpose of Jesus being lifted up on the cross is so that all who believe will have eternal life in Him. Believing in Jesus is a key theme in John's Gospel. And the reason this book was written was so that people would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and thereby have life in Him (20:31). Earlier in this passage, Jesus had made it abundantly clear that we cannot attain salvation for ourselves. Here, He clarified that we receive this salvation by believing - by trusting in Him and what He has done to bring us salvation.
Literally, this verse says
everyone believing.And the translation
whoever believesis a good translation, but has the risk of being misunderstood in ways described in the comments on v. 16.
The one who believes will have eternal life. This is the first occurrence of the phrase
eternal lifein John's Gospel. But this is a major theme which will occur throughout the rest of the book. As typical, John introduced an idea that he will only later define and elaborate (see especially 17:3). In the next verse, he will contrast it with perishing and condemnation. And in the context of all that has gone before, it is clearly connected with the new birth and experiencing the Kingdom of God. It is not just life that goes on forever. It is a quality of life that is fitting for the age to come when we will experience God's immediate presence and all of His blessings. Jesus later referred to it as
life to the full(10:10).
And in this verse, Jesus stressed that this eternal life is
In Himdescribes the eternal life, not the act of believing. In v. 16, John makes it clear that we believe in Him (using a slightly different phrase). But in this verse, the emphasis is that the life is in Jesus. He is the source of eternal life. And the experience of this life is the experience of Jesus Himself (again, see 17:3). This is the final answer to Nicodemus's question
How can this happen?It all happens because of Him, and it happens in Him.
All of these things are not yet fully explained, but they will be throughout the rest of this Gospel, starting in verses 16-21Summary:All humans, including Nicodemus, have the need for a new birth in order to experience the Kingdom of God. This new birth is supernatural - it only comes from God, and by His power and activity. And this new birth comes only from God's Messiah, sent from Heaven. This new birth happens only by Him taking our sin on the cross, and thereby procuring the needed cleansing and blessing of God's Spirit. And we experience the new birth only by believing in Christ, Who is the source and agent of this new life. And the new birth brings eternal life, which is equated with experiencing God's Kingdom.
3:16-21 Application of the Nicodemus Conversation
Detailed Outline Expand All + All Collapse All X AllIntro:This passage is an explanation, elaboration, and application of the topics discussed by Jesus in His conversation with Nicodemus, which was narrated in the previous passage (3:1-15). This passage elaborates on the reason and manner of the new birth and salvation mentioned by Jesus in the earlier passage.
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- Teaching Outline
It is debated, but this passage is probably not a continuation of that dialogue. In other words, this is likely not part of what Jesus said to Nicodemus. Rather, it is the Gospel writer's comment and explanation on that conversation. John the author regularly gave his own insight and explanation of events throughout this Gospel (e.g. 3:31-36), and this is most likely another example. I personally don't think it matters much whether these words were spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus, and then recorded by John, or if they were inspired by Jesus as John was writing the Gospel. In either case, they are ultimately from God Himself. And by the way, those who think the words which Jesus spoke directly (sometimes printed in red letters) have more truth and authority than the rest of the Bible, they don't honor Jesus as much as they dishonor the rest of the Bible, which Jesus honored. To pride yourself on being a
red-letterChristian just gives evidence that you don't really believe the red letters, because Jesus Himself expressed a very high view of Scripture, and said that all Scripture is true and should be heeded.16-18 God gave His Son to save those who believe in Him16-17 God has given His Son to save16a For God loved the world in this certain wayVerse 16 is one of the best-known verses in the entire Bible, and for good reason. This verse summarizes God sending Jesus so that we may experience His salvation.
This verse starts with the word
for,clearly demonstrating that this is an explanation of the previous passage.
The main idea of this verse is that God loved the world. The term
worldcan have a range of meanings, and the precise meaning often changes throughout this book. In this verse
the worldhas two main emphases. The first is that God's love and salvation extends beyond just the nation of Israel. God is the God of the entire world, not just one part of it. So, the salvation described to Nicodemus, a Jewish leader, does not just apply to Jewish leaders, or even to the whole Jewish nation. It applies to the entire world. But the primary emphasis when John says that God loved the world is that the world is not deserving of His love.
The worldin this passage refers to sinful humanity in rebellion against God. The focus is not on the bigness of the world as much as on the badness.
This verse is the first occurrence of the term
lovein the Gospel of John. The meaning of this term must be determined by how John used it, without importing ideas about love from our culture or experience. It is easy to misunderstand God's love by romanticizing it and thinking that it is natural and necessary for God to love this world. The reality is just the opposite. Because of the wickedness of fallen humanity, the world is not lovable. And therefore, God's love for the world is not a natural expectation. Rather it is a supernatural miracle based only on God's gracious character and will. God didn't have to love the world. But He did! It is great news that God's love does not depend on our being good and earning His favor.
And God's love for the world should not be defined by the love we have, or even by our loftiest ideas about what love could be. God's love should be understood from God's own revelation about His love. That is why John included the word
so,which I have expanded as
in this certain way.John stated that God loved the world in the way defined and described by what he will say in the rest of this passage (and book) - that God's love was costly; that God paid a great price to make a way to pour out His love on the sinful world, while still upholding His perfect justice and holiness; that God gave His Son to bring salvation to a world that did not deserve it.16b-17 The Result: He gave His Son to save the world16b-d He gave His Son so that those who believe are saved16b That He gave the one and only SonThis proposition begins to describe the result of God loving the world. God gave His Son. He gave! This is a gift of pure grace. Again, this was not necessary. God was under no compulsion outside of His own character and will. It was a purely voluntary gift. And it was a costly gift - the life of His one and only Son.
The term translated
one and onlyis the same term used in John 1:14 and 18. This word is sometimes translated
only begotten,but it has absolutely no connotation that Jesus came into being at any time. It simply means that Jesus is one of a kind. He is completely unique. The Bible may speak of people becoming children of God, but Jesus is the Son of God in a way that no one else will ever be. There never has been, nor ever will be One like Him.
And Jesus is God's Son in the way that was described in chapter 1, and will be elaborated throughout the Gospel of John. He is like God, because He is God. He and the Father are One. But the Son is not the Father. This again points to the doctrine of the Trinity - that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all One God in three persons. The Father is God, the Son is God. But the Father is distinguishable from the Son and the Spirit. And as an expression of His love for the world, the Father sent His Son for purposes which will be described in the next propositions.16c-d Purpose: Everyone who believes is savedGod's purpose in giving His Son was twofold (one positive and one negative), according to these propositions: so that His people would not experience eternal death through perishing, and so that they would experience eternal life through salvation and participation in His Kingdom.16c Neg: so that everyone believing in Him shall not perishThis proposition is the negative portion of the purpose John gave for God sending His Son. Throughout this passage, there are contrasts showing both the negative and the positive sides of statements in order to give the entire truth. This proposition introduces the general subject(s) of both sides of this contrast, which is not repeated, but assumed in the next proposition.
EveryoneThe subject of these two propositions is
everyone believing in Him.In this context, the term
everyonewas probably intended to indicate that this is not limited to just Israel. It is open to all humanity, not just Jews. It is limited to those who believe in Jesus, the Son of God. But it describes absolutely everyone of whom this is legitimately true.
Sometimes this phrase is translated
whosoever believes(e.g. KJV). That is a decent translation, but runs the risk of being misunderstood. This is because of a longstanding theological debate about the relationship between God's sovereignty and human ability in salvation. This argument addresses the extent and nature of God's prior planning and influence (if any) on an individual believing in Christ. And because the word
whosoeverseems to imply randomness, uncertainty, and lack of influence, one side of this debate sometimes uses this verse to argue for their side. However, the words John wrote are literally,
every one believing.This narrows the subject to those who believe, but says nothing about the way they came to believe or any influences that led to their belief. In other words, this verse is ambiguous on this topic and does not argue for either side of this particular debate, and therefore should not be used in it. There are Bible passage that are very relevant to this debate, but this is not one of them. And this passage has so much to say on its own; we should hear what it says on its own terms.
Believing in HimBelieving in Christ is a key theme of John's Gospel, even the key theme. This is highlighted in John's purposes statement for the entire Gospel (20:31). Throughout John (and the rest of the Bible) we learn that genuine faith includes a few aspects. Faith includes knowledge, belief and trust, and it involves our intellect, will, and affections.
Faith requires at least some level of knowledge, that is, an awareness and understanding of the things claimed. This is a necessary prerequisite to believing, because belief always has an object. We believe in something. It is not necessary to have all knowledge, exhaustive knowledge, in order to believe. But there is a level of knowledge of the truth necessary in order to genuinely, sufficiently believe. But knowledge by itself is not yet believing in the Biblical sense.
Biblical faith also involves believing, sometimes called
assent.This means to recognize the truth and be persuaded that it is true and valid and important. And this is a level of certainty based on evidence. Faith is not a leap in the dark; it is based on sufficient reasons. It may not have all the evidence and answer to every question. But it has sufficient evidence in order to be convinced of its validity. Because Biblical faith is a conviction and connection with a person, it may not know absolutely everything about that person (Christ), but it knows enough to be convinced that certain things are true, and that this person will reliably act in certain ways and do certain things.
And that brings up the third, and most central part of Biblical faith, which is trust. This includes knowledge and assent, but is much more. It is living out of the confidence of one's justified true beliefs. It is belief that is strong enough to actually govern our thoughts and behavior. This can be contrasted with the fact that many people (and even the devils) know the truth - they know it to be true, but they still don't care. They have not grasped the importance, relevance, and immediacy of the truth to the point that it makes a difference to them. Biblical faith is trust in a person to the point that we live out our confidence in Him, which determines the direction and delight of our soul. It is trust, focused on this person, that results in subjection to Christ as Lord, and dependence on Christ as our Savior. Notice that John did not write
believe Him,as in just believe what He said. But he wrote
believe in Him,that is, put your trust in Him personally.
And because of all this, it is not the strength of our faith that matters as much as its object. So, we should not worry about how strongly we believe, as much as we concentrate on Whom we believe in. If you want your faith to grow, don't look at yourself, concentrating on your activity of believing. But look at Christ - Who He is and what He has done. And throughout this book, John contrasts genuine trust in Jesus as the Messiah (Christ) and Son of God with what I call
sign faith(e.g. 2:23-3:3) and
food faith(e.g. 6:25-40).
shall not perishAnd as the result of genuine belief in Jesus, which John here states is part of the purpose of God giving His Son, is that this person will not perish. The term
perishis a strong word, which points to the complete destruction of eternal death. John does not define this word any more precisely in this proposition, but it is contrasted with eternal life in the next. And it is parallel with being judged/condemned in verses 17 and 18.16d Pos: but have eternal lifeThis proposition shows the positive side of God's purpose in giving His Only Son. This is the counterpart to the previous proposition. That one stated what will not happen to those who believe. This one states what will happen. The subject
everyone believing in Himis not restated in this proposition, but can legitimately be assumed from the previous one. No one would have eternal life if God had not loved the world and sent His Son.
Those who believe in Christ will have eternal life. The concept of eternal life is a key theme throughout John's Gospel, as introduced in v. 15. Throughout this book, John communicates the characteristics of this kind of life and how it can be experienced. It is life, as contrasted with death, especially the death denoted by the word
perishin the previous proposition. And it is life characterized by being
eternal.This does not not just mean that it lasts forever, but it is the kind of life appropriate for the next age, that Jewish believers of that time were awaiting. It is the life of the promised Kingdom of God (see vv. 3, 5). It is life to the full (10:10). And this life is defined by Knowing God and Christ (17:3). This is a tremendous gift of grace, that God would send His own Son, so that we could experience this kind of life.17 Elaboration: He sent His Son for the purpose of saving those who believeThis verse is an elaboration of what John had said in 16b-d. He basically restated the same thing in a different way in order to explain it more completely. It begins with the word
for,which in this verse signifies an explanatory comment.17a-b Neg: He did not send Him to condemnJust like 16c, these propositions give the negative purpose (what was not the purpose) for God sending His Son. And like in 16c-d, these propositions are put in contrast to the positive purpose, which will be stated in 17c-d.17a For God did not send the Son into the worldThe word
sendin this verse partly defines what John meant by the word
givein v. 16. Part of what it means that God gave His Son is that He sent Him into the world. Jesus being sent from God is a major theme of John's Gospel. And the word
notsignals the negation of the purpose of His sending. It does not negate the fact that God sent the Son. But in the context of the next proposition, it states what is not the purpose of this sending. The word
notis emphasized by its position in this sentence.
And the Son was sent
into the world.This is also a part of the theme of Jesus being sent, which we have seen explicitly highlighted in John's prologue (1:1-18). Jesus was sent to the same world which was mentioned in v. 16 as the object of God's love. God's expression of His love is His Son. And the world here still has the connotation of those who are not deserving of His love, and who are resistant to His love as well as being resistant to His Son. But God still sent His only Son to those who resist His love and grace, because His love is stronger than our resistance.17b Purpose: so that He may condemn the worldThis is the continuation of the negative purpose. This is not why God sent the Son.
Condemnis in parallel with
perishin verse 16. So, to be condemned is to perish, and to perish is to be condemned. This is a legal/judicial word which means to come under judgment of any kind. But here, it obviously refers to negative judgment of guilt and liability to punishment, as well as referring to the carrying out of this punishment. God did not send His Son in order to pronounce sentence and carry out judgment on the world. The fact is that the world was already under the sentence of judgment and liable to punishment before Jesus came. God did not need to send Jesus to condemn the world, the world was already condemned. And the time for fully executing the sentence had not yet come. Before that time will come, God sent His Son to rescue people from that sentence (as stated in the following propositions). Jesus did not come to be the world's executioner. Rather, He came to be our Savior, as John will next declare.17c-d Pos: He sent His Son to saveThese propositions are the positive counterpart to 17a-b, giving the positive purpose for God sending His Son.17c But, [He sent the Son]This proposition is not explicitly stated, but is clearly implied by the structure of John's argument, and by the word
but.The previous sentence stated that God did not send the Son for that purpose. Now this statement gives the positive alternative. God did send the Son for this other purpose (stated in the next proposition). This negative/positive kind of contrast occurs four times in this short passage.17d Purpose: so that the world may be saved through HimNow, John stated the positive purpose for which God sent His Son. This is still parallel to v. 16, and so, elaborates and further defines
eternal lifein 16d. God sent the Son so that the world may be saved. So, being saved is equated with having eternal life. And this is the opposite of being condemned and perishing. However, John did not say that the world will be saved. He said that they may be saved. This means that the salvation is not automatic. It is contingent. And in context, we learn that only the portion of the world that believes in Christ will experience this salvation. However, we should be careful to not push this contingency so far as to think it possible that none will be saved. For saving those who believe is God's expressed purpose for sending His Son. And this makes sense in this proposition, because John stated that we are saved
through Him.That means that without Him, the world will not be saved. But through Him, those who believe will be saved.18 Implication: Those who believe in the Son are saved, those who don't are condemnedThis verse tells the implication, the logical result of what was stated in the previous verses. This verse contains another clear positive/negative contrast, which is mutually defining with those that have gone before. These truths may seem elementary for people who have been Christian for a long time, or raised in a Christian culture. But they are profound, and life changing, if we only take them to heart. That is why John is using repetition and hammering the same kind of foundational truths: to believe leads to salvation and life, but not to believe leads to condemnation and death. There are only two possible outcomes, two possible ultimate destinies. And each person will inevitably experience one and only one of them. And the two are so absolutely opposite, with one being unimaginably wonderful, and the other being unimaginably horrible. Therefore, it is important for every human to take this extremely seriously, and to do all they can to experience the better outcome. And John has clearly given us the simple way to do so, using the word
believe,which is used three times in this one verse. This is all the logical conclusion from what John had previously stated.18a Pos: the one believing in Him is not condemned
The one believing in Himis the same phrase used in v. 16, except this verse does not have the word
every.However, it can be assumed that this also applies to everyone who genuinely believes. And the word
condemnedis the same word used in v. 17 in the phrase
condemn the world.It still has the meaning of judicial verdict and the resulting punishment. But, of course, in this verse, it is negated - those who believe will not experience this punishment, which is described as
perishingand contrasted with
eternal life.By negatively highlighting what believers will not experience, John clearly stated the graciously given benefit of avoiding the nastiest consequences for our sin (see also Rom. 8:1). But he also implicitly drew attention to the positive benefits mentioned earlier as well. However, in the rest of this passage, the emphasis is more on the negative consequences to be avoided, as a motivation John gave his readers to believe in Christ.18b-c Neg: Those who don't believe are condemned18b The one not believing has already been condemnedThis is obviously the negative contrast to the previous proposition.
The one not believingis the same term as in the previous proposition with the addition of
not.And this person is said to already be in the state of having been judged/condemned, using the same term as 17b and 18a. This is a present reality and not just a future possibility. And in v. 36, John stressed that God's wrath remains on them. This person is condemned because of their sin, because the guilt of sin is the default condition of fallen humanity. But here John stressed that they are also condemned because of unbelief, which will be amplified in the next proposition.18c Reason: because he has not believed in the Name of the one and only Son of GodThis proposition gives the reason for the previous one. The reason those who don't believe are condemned is that they did not believe. They are doubly condemned, not only because of the guilt of their sin, but now also because they have rejected God's gracious rescue from their sin and guilt. They were in a state of condemnation before they refused to believe in the Son of God. But their unbelief cemented them in their condemnation. The word
believeis the same as used earlier. And believing in His Name is a phrase John used to signify belief in Christ (1:12, 2:23). And those who believe have life in His Name (20:31). The word
namemeans more than just the title by which we call someone. It stands for the entire person and all His characteristics. So, to believe in His Name means to trust in the person of Jesus and all that He is and has done. The term
one and onlyis the same term used above in v. 16, with the same meaning. And in the phrase
Son of God,the same term
Sonis used in the previous two verses, all referring to Jesus. Except in this verse, it is made explicit (which was assumed in the earlier uses) that He is the Son of God Himself, by adding the phrase
of God.John repeated many ideas here that he had used earlier, because this proposition is a logical summary of what he had been communicating.19-21 The justice of God in condemning those who do not believeVerses 19-21 are further explanation and elaboration of what John wrote in the previous three verses. Specifically, these verses elaborate on the term translated
judgment,giving further reasons, which show the justness of God in condemning those who do not believe. God displays His grace and love in saving those who believe. And God is not unjust in condemning those who do not.19a This is the judgment/verdict/reason for condemnationThis proposition serves to introduce the further discussion of the concept of condemnation introduced in the earlier verses. As mentioned earlier, this is a legal term that can refer to the process of judging, to the verdict (either innocent or guilty), and any recompense or punishment as the result of this verdict. In this context, this refers almost certainly to a negative verdict and the resulting punishment. It may be (as in Romans 2:21, 24, 26, 28) that people loving darkness is part of God's judgment on them. He has blinded them and given them over to their sin. And, in the context of what follows, this word also has the connotation of the reasons for the guilty verdict - the justification for the condemnation and punishment. The term
thisrefers to what is described in the remainder of verses 19-21.19b-21 Specifically: Evil men love darkness more than lightThe rest of this passage states the specifics describing what John called the
condemnationin the previous proposition. It is introduced with the word
that,connecting it with the previous proposition as the definition and elaboration of the word
thisin 19a.19b-e Light came from God, but evil people preferred darkness to lightThis section echoes what we saw in 1:4-5, 9-11 - That true light from God had come into the world, but the world rejected the light from God, which was a symbol for Jesus and all that He brought.19b That the Light came into the worldThis proposition points back to what John wrote in chapter 1. There Jesus was identified as the light from God (see also 8:12, 9:5), Who was the Life, and was shining in the darkness. And John also said that the light was coming into the world, but was rejected by the world. Here John is again bringing up these truths as the foundational explanation for God's condemnation of the unbelieving world. This also reinforces the meaning of the term
worldnot only as the planet, or even humanity as a whole, but primarily emphasizing
the worldas sinful humanity in rebellion against God.19c-e Evil people loved darkness rather than light19c-d People loved darkness instead of the light19c And men rather loved the darknessHere John used the term
men/people/humanityinterchangeably with the term
worldwhich he used earlier. This is a neutral term, but in this context, it takes on the connotation of fallenness and sinfulness typically associated with
worldbecause of the actions of people described in this proposition.
This also echoes chapter 1, especially vv. 10-11. The response of humanity to the light coming into their midst was not a reasonable response. Rather than loving the Light, Who had given them life, and Who now was granting eternal life to those who believe, they rejected the light in favor of darkness. Their rejection of the love of God was caused by a greater love of something else, which will be further elaborated in the following propositions. As throughout the Bible, believing a falsehood is more often connected with moral failure, refusing to believe the truth, than with ignorance or innocent intellectual miscalculation.
Darkness, as throughout John's Gospel, is the opposite to the Light, which represents Christ and all that is good. It is the contrast between creation life and non-creation chaos. But the emphasis is more on the moral sphere, where light = goodness, and darkness = evil, with the result that Light brings life and truth, and darkness brings death and hides the truth.19d Instead of the lightThis obviously brings in the contrasting alternative to loving the darkness. Humanity's love of the darkness is shown to be even more wicked, vile, and stupid when we are reminded of what we gave up in favor of the darkness. Like Paul wrote in Romans, we have traded the glory of the immortal God for images. We have exchanged the truth for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the creator (Rom. 1:23-25).19e Reason: For their deeds were evilThe reason John gave for humanity preferring darkness to light was because our deeds were evil. Our hatred of the light and preference for darkness comes from our fallen human nature and our fallen human actions. John will elaborate on this connection in verses 20-21. We know naturally that our deeds, our actions, are the result of our will and affections. We do what we want to do. We act upon what we delight in. So, our evil deeds come from a will and affections that have been twisted to prefer darkness because of our innate selfishness and pride. The rest of the Bible confirms this diagnosis that humanity is fallen, and our default is to prefer sin and darkness. And this natural sinfulness is not an excuse for our sin. Rather, John here uses it as prime evidence that our condemnation is justified. We deserve condemnation because of our evil actions, which are the result of our fallen nature. We need a Savior.20-21 Explanation for why people love darkness and hate the lightIn this section, John explains why people have the insane response of preferring darkness over light. It has to do with our natural preference for hiding our sin rather than confessing it. We don't want our sin to be known, and so we hide, deceive, and make excuses. This section also divides humanity into two types: those who cling to the darkness, hiding their sin, and those who come to the light by believing in Jesus. This is similar to the two responses to the light that John described in 1:10-13.20 Neg: The one doing evil is ashamed to come to the light20a For everyone practicing morally substandard things hates the lightThis proposition uses a construction similar to
everyone believing in Him(16c). But in this case, it is
everyone doing bad things.
morally substandardthings is a blanket term for anything that is low-grade, that is substandard and base. Just like many quality products are labeled as
grade-Aand substandard products are considered
low-gradeby comparison. So, this term is used of the moral sphere to label acts that are substandard, and so considered evil or worthless. These same deeds were called
evilin 19e. And in many cultures, people are considered
low-classprecisely because they do these kinds of deeds. This term assumes there is an objective standard of morality. And in the Bible, God's commands and character are the standard by which we should determine what is high grade and what is low grade. Here John states that all those who do these kinds of things hate the light. And he'll go on in the next propositions to elaborate how they express their hatred of the light as well as the reason behind that hatred.20b-c He avoids the light to keep his shameful deeds secret20b And he does not come toward the lightThe response of those who hate the light is to avoid the light, to run away from contact with the light. We have all observed someone (and probably, at one time or another been this person) who didn't want to talk about God, didn't want to think about God, didn't want anything to do with God. They adamantly refused to go there, because something about God made them extremely uncomfortable. It is almost like they had an allergic reaction to God. John shows that this is a clear symptom of a guilty conscience because of sin, and the resulting hatred of the light. We would rather distract ourselves and bury our head in the sand and avoid the concept of God, because to come to the light is too frightening of a possibility, and we will do all sort of things to avoid it.
It is important to realize that the enmity and avoidance is all one-sided. This proposition assumes a legitimate opportunity to come to the light, but a refusal to come. Nothing is keeping this person from the light but their own hatred of the light. God is not hiding His light, and as a matter of fact, no one would overcome this hatred of the light, if God had not loved the world and taken the initiative and sent the Light to us.20c Purpose: so that his deeds will not be exposedThis proposition gives the reason why people hate the light and the purpose why they avoid the light. This is because the light will expose their morally substandard deeds. We all, at one time, have been like roaches that scatter and hide whenever the light comes too close. The term
exposedmeans to be shown to be what they actually are. It is to give an accurate assessment or our morally substandard deeds as being worthless and evil. This term also has a connotation of rebuke, correction, and challenge to do better. And
his deedsobviously refers to the morally substandard deeds mentioned in 20a.
The reason this person does not want their deeds exposed is partly because of their selfish pride, reflected in shame over their worthless deeds. No one likes to be exposed as a failure or as morally base and wicked. That is an extremely painful admission, and shame is a powerful emotional motivation to hide. But this person avoids the light also because they don't want to stop doing their worthless deeds. If their deeds are exposed by the light, they will be pressured to stop those wicked deeds, which deeds they secretly love and don't want to give up. People avoid the light because they love darkness and the deeds of darkness. People reject Christ because they love sin. And the only way to overcome sin is to be captured by the truth that Jesus is better than any sin. The way to be freed from slavery to sin is to become a love slave of Christ.21 Pos: The one doing the truth is not ashamed to come to the lightThis verse is the positive contrast to the previous verse. The one doing the truth is contrasted with the one practicing morally substandard deeds. And the response of hating and avoiding the light is contrasted with coming toward the light. The one described in this verse comes to the light both because they have no cause for shame, but primarily because of a love for the light (Christ).21a But the one doing the truth comes toward the lightHere John used a different word
doingthan the word
practicinghe used in 20a. These two words are somewhat interchangeable. But if there is a difference of emphasis,
doingfocuses on the object and end product of the activity, while
practicingfocuses on the activity itself. And
practicinghas more of an emphasis on the ongoing nature of the activity. These same words are contrasted in 5:29 in a similar construction with similar meaning.
And John contrasted the truth with morally substandard deeds. Truth is a theme throughout John's Gospel, and always has reference to the character of God/Christ. The one doing the truth therefore, is living in conformity with Christ and His character. Notice also that
truthis singular and
morally substandard deedsis plural. There are many possible ways to do evil. But there is only one true way. Similarly, in Galatians chapter 5, the evil deeds of the flesh are plural, but the fruit of the Spirit is singular (with many words used to describe the one thing).
And obviously, coming to the light is contrasted with hating and avoiding the light, as described in the previous verse. In John's Gospel, coming to the light is equated with believing in Jesus, as opposed to rejecting Him. To come to the light is to believe in Christ, in the manner described above, and which John elaborates throughout this book.21b-c Purpose: to show that his deeds honor God21b So that his deeds may be revealedThis proposition is parallel to 20c in that it gives the positive reason for this person coming to the light and the purpose for him doing so. Notice the contrast between his deeds being
revealedwith the morally substandard deeds being
Revealedis a general word for making something known, usually in an intentional way. In other words, the person wants the information to become public knowledge, which is the opposite of
exposedhas a connotation of negative evaluation and resulting shame, which is not present in this proposition. However, John used the same term for
deedsas he did in 20c. In that verse, the bad deeds were exposed. In this verse, the good deeds are revealed. In both cased, the deeds are shown to be what they are: in one case, the deeds are bad, causing shame and rebuke, and in this verse, the deeds are good, with no need for shame. The one described in this verse purposely wants his deeds to be made known. But, as we'll see in the next proposition, John does not say that this is for personal pride and recognition. The one who truly comes to the light has a higher motive.21c Specifically: that they are having been accomplished in/by GodThis proposition elaborates more specifically exactly what about this person's deeds are revealed - that God had His hand in them. It is not so much shown that this person did good deeds, or even the precise nature of these good deeds. It is revealed that these deeds (described in 21a as
doing the truth) had been accomplished with reference to God Himself. The Bible is clear that God is the ultimate author and cause of all good things (e.g. Rom. 11:36). And God gets the ultimate credit for the deeds of the one who comes to the light.
Having been accomplishedis a general term for carrying out something by work or effort in order to bring about a result. It describes this person's works - they were accomplished, they were done. And the way they were done is
in/by God.This phrase may mean that they were ultimately done by God, emphasizing that God was the ultimate cause of the good deeds. Or it could mean that they were done
in God,making some sort of connection with them being done under the influence of God, in the sphere of God's working. Or possibly this means done in reference to God, i.e. with God in mind. In any case, this person coming to the light shows that ultimately God was involved in their good deeds, and God gets the glory in their lives and even in their conversion.Summary:This passage confirms and explains that the new birth described in the previous passage (3:1-15) is a supernatural gift that ultimately comes from God. And the only way that we can experience it is through believing in His Son. This can happen because God, in His love, sent His Son to the world in order to purchase and provide this new birth. And that leaves all of humanity with only two possibilities: either believe in Christ, and thereby experience the new birth and eternal life, or refuse to believe in Christ and thereby experience the just condemnation of eternal death. This condemnation is just because people prefer sin and darkness to the gracious gift of the light in Christ. John's purpose in writing all this was so that his readers would humbly turn from the darkness, look to the light of Christ, believe and be saved, just as the ancient Israelites looked to the bronze snake and were healed (see vv. 14-15).
3:22-30 John's Witness to Jesus
3:31-36 Application of John's Witness to Jesus
4:1-6 Jesus Travels Through Samaria
4:7-26 Jesus Speaks to the Woman at the Well
4:27-30 The Woman Witnesses to Samaria
4:31-38 Jesus Teaches about the Harvest
4:39-42 The Samaritans Believe
4:43-45 Transition back to Galilee
4:46-54 Healing the Official's Son
5:1-10:42 The Feast Cycle of Signs
5:1-47 Healing of the Lame Man and Sabbath Controversy
5:1-9 Healing the Man at the Pool
5:9-18 Controversy over the Sabbath
5:19-30 Jesus and the Father
5:31-40 The Witnesses to Jesus
5:41-47 Glory and Accusation
6:1-71 Bread of Life and Words of Life
6:1-15 Jesus Feeds the 5000
6:16-21 Jesus Walks on Water
6:22-59 Bread of Life Discourse
6:60-71 Separating the True Disciples from the Crowd
7:1-8:59 Jesus and the Feast of Tabernacles
7:1-9 Will Jesus go to the Feast?
7:10-11 Jesus Goes to the Feast
7:12-13 Questions of Jesus' Identity
7:14-24 Jesus Teaches and Challenges Opponents
7:25-29 Questions of Jesus' Identity
7:30-32 Attempt to Arrest Jesus
7:33-36 Seek and Not Find
7:37-39 Jesus Promises Living Water
7:40-44 Questions of Jesus' Identity
7:45-52 Rejection by the Jewish Leaders
8:12-20 Testimony About Jesus
8:21-30 Jesus Challenges His Opponents' Unbelief
8:31-47 Question: Who is Whose Father?
8:48-59 Jesus Testifies about Himself
9:1-10:21 Healing of the Blind Man and Sabbath Controversy
9:1-12 Healing of the Blind Man
9:13-34 The Investigation of the Miracle
9:35-41 True Sight vs. True Blindness
10:1-6 The True Shepherd vs. False Shepherds
10 7-10 Jesus is the Entrance
10:11-18 Jesus is the Good Shepherd
10:19-21 Questions about Jesus' Identity
10:22-42 Jesus' Identity Stated and Rejected by the Jews
10:22-30 Jesus' Identity Clarified
10:31-39 Jesus is the Son of God
10:40-42 The Culmination of John's Witness
11:1-12:36 The Climactic Sign and Preparation for the Fulfillment
11:1-54 The Climactic Sign: Raising of Lazarus
11:1-16 Lazarus is Sick, Jesus Lets Him Die
11:17-27 Jesus is the Resurrection/Martha's Confession
11:28-37 Jesus' Comfort and Compassion
11:38-44 Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead
11:45-54 The Plot to Kill Jesus
11:55-12:36 Jesus is Moving Toward the Passover
11:55-57 Passover Crowds Looking for Jesus
12:1-8 Jesus Anointed for Burial at Bethany
12:9-11 The Plot to Kill Jesus and Lazarus
12:12-19 The Triumphal Entry
12:20-26 Jesus' Death = Jesus' Glorification
12:27-33 The Testimony of the Father
12:34-36 Questions about Jesus' Identity
12:37-50 Conclusion: Rejection by the Jews
12:37-43 Final Rejection by the Jews and Its Reason
12:44-50 Jesus Came to Reveal the Father
13:1-17:26 Private Ministry
13:1-3 Jesus Knew that His Time of Glory Had Arrived
13:4-11 Jesus Washes the Disciples' Feet
13:12-17 Jesus Teaches About Servanthood
13:18-20 Jesus Knew All Along Who is His
13:21-26 Jesus Predicts His Betrayal
13:27-30 Jesus Sends Judas Away
13:31-16:33 Upper Room Discourse
13:31-38 Passing the Torch
14:1-14 Jesus is the Way
14:15-24 Love, the Spirit, and the Commands
14:25-31 Preparing the Disciples for His Departure
15:1-8 Remaining/Abiding in Christ
15:9-17 Remaining in the Father Via Love
15:18-25 Rejection by the World and the Reason
15:26-27 The Witnesses to Jesus
16:1-4d Preparing the Disciples for Their Rejection
16:4e-11 The Spirit is to Replace the Presence of Jesus
16:12-15 The Spirit is to Reveal/Mediate Jesus
16:16-22 Grief Will Turn to Joy
16:23-27 Access to the Father
16:28-33 Jesus is Going to the Father
17:1-26 Jesus' Prayer
17:1-5 Prayer: Concerning Personal Relationship with the Father
17:6-19 Prayer: Concerning the First Disciples
17:20-26 Prayer: Concerning all Future Disciples
18:1-20:31 Passion Ministry
18:1-11 Jesus' Arrest
18:12-27 The Jewish Trial and Peter's Denial
18:12-14 Jesus is taken to Annas
18:15-18 Peter's First Denial
18:19-24 The High Priest Sits in Judgment of Jesus
18:25-27 Peter's Second and Third Denials
18:28-19:15 The Roman Trial
18:28-32 Jewish Accusation before Pilate
18:33-38a First Private Interview with Pilate
18:38b-40 First Public Rejection by the Jews
19:1-3 Jesus' Flogging
19:4-7 Second Public Rejection by the Jews
19:8-11 Second Private Interview with Pilate
19:12-15 Fourth & Final Public Rejections & Verdict
19:16-42 Death and Burial
19:16-22 The Crucifixion
19:23-24 The Fulfilled Scripture
19:25-27 The Provision for His Mother
19:28-37 The Death of Jesus, Fulfilling Scripture
19:38-42 The Burial of Jesus
20:1-29 The Resurrection and Appearances
20:1-10 Resurrection Report: Mary, Peter, and John
20:11-18 Resurrection Appearance to Mary
20:19-23 Resurrection Appearance to the Disciples
20:24-29 Resurrection Appearance to Thomas
20:30-31 Purpose Statement
20:30-31 Purpose of the Book
21:1-14 Jesus Reveals Himself in the Miraculous Catch
21:15-19 Jesus Recommissions Peter
21:20-23 Peter and John
21:24-25 Postscript: Verifying Testimony & Unfinished Witness