With John 3, we have now arrived at such an important chapter of the Bible. John 3:16 is many people’s favorite verse. Because of Tim Tebow’s eye paint, it was also one of the most searched-for verses in the Bible. Chapter 3 is more than verse 16, however. Jesus reveals who He is, why He’s come, and how people come to see those truths.
Last month, we saw that although the crowds believed in Jesus, Jesus didn’t believe the crowds (John 2:23-24). He knew their hearts. They only believed because of the signs, and their faith needed a stronger basis. We now come to Nicodemus. Like a famous professor and politician, his life achievements were as impressive then as they would be today (3:1, 10). Yet he wants to know about Jesus. He takes the initiative in coming to Jesus. Although Jesus is outside the establishment, Nicodemus still calls Him “Rabbi” and even acknowledges that Jesus has come from God.
The encounter seems promising, but Nicodemus’ faith, like the crowd’s faith of chapter 2, rests on the signs. John’s comment that Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night is more than simply the time of day. Nicodemus remains in the dark spiritually. (Compare John 3:2 with 13:30.) Jesus then appears to change the subject completely. Even to see God’s rule, He says, a person must be born again (or from above). God’s Spirit causes this birth to happen, and His Spirit is as unpredictable as the wind. Nicodemus only responds with confusion (3:4, 9).
How does Jesus know this? He knows these truths because the Son of Man has come down from heaven. In calling Himself, “the Son of Man” (John 3:13), He hints that He’s the figure the prophet Daniel spoke of when Daniel had a vision of one coming “like a son of man” to receive everlasting authority from God (Daniel 7:13). This Son of Man, moreover, will be lifted up like the bronze serpent Moses made. As the lifted-up serpent brought healing, the lifted-up Son of Man will give the life of the coming age to those who believe in Him. Although John doesn’t tell us now, this lifting up will be on the cross. (See John 3:14, 8:28, 12:32-33, and 18:31-32.)
Why has this Son of Man come from heaven? Because of humankind’s sin and perversion, the world stands condemned before God, yet God still loves the world. He’s given the Son to save everyone who believes, but those who don’t believe remain condemned in the darkness. We learn another vastly important truth about Jesus. Here, Jesus doesn’t call Himself the Son of Man, but the unique Son of God (John 3:16).
The chapter concludes with a final statement on John the Baptist’s ministry. As Jesus’ popularity increases, John’s popularity diminishes. He’s old news. John is like the best man, but the groom has now come. His role, so to speak, is to give a toast, sit down, and enjoy the celebration. Since the party isn’t John’s, he’s sitting down and enjoying the celebration.
What does this chapter teach? For someone even to see God’s rule, God’s Spirit must bring about a new birth. Life achievements like those of Nicodemus aren’t necessarily wrong, but without the unpredictable work of the Spirit, they’re worthless. What does the Spirit use to bring new birth? He uses voices in the wilderness — voices content to diminish as long as they highlight the lifted-up Son of God and Man.