John 3:13 – “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”
Jesus is continuing his late-night conversation with Nicodemus. He has just chided Nicodemus for his lack of understanding regarding spiritual things. Jesus asks Nicodemus a rhetorical question – if he cannot understand spiritual matters that parallel things in the earthly realm (like birth), how can he understand deeper spiritual things, which have no basis on this planet?
Jesus goes on to declare that no man has ascended into heaven, except the one who has descended. What is he saying here?
Think of it this way: Here in Northern Ohio, the Ford motor company has an assembly plant. I know where the plant is located, and I can see the vehicles it produces. But I have never personally been inside the factory.
I have absolutely no knowledge or understanding of the policies/procedures of the plant. I couldn’t even begin to guess how the assembly line is set up, stocked, or run.
Only the people in charge of the plant know how many units are being produced, what color they will be painted and where they will be shipped. Only those running the facility understand how many workers are needed in each area/position.
In essence, only those who have been in the plant and have first-hand knowledge of its inner workings can tell you how it functions. Since I have never been there, I am not qualified to talk about how it works.
In the same way, Jesus is telling Nicodemus that no person on this earth is qualified to speak of heavenly/spiritual things, because they have never traveled to heaven and discovered the mysteries of God’s kingdom. This concept is well supported in the scriptures: Deuteronomy 30:11-13, Psalms 73:17, Proverbs 30:4, Romans 11:34.
Jesus goes on to say that there is ONE individual who IS qualified to talk about these things – the person who is in heaven and yet has descended to earth – Himself!
If we examine this verse in the King James Version, we find a somewhat odd wording:
John 3:12 (King James Version): And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
This version indicates that Jesus is still in heaven, even though he was also on earth in a physical body at the time he was speaking to Nicodemus. Why would Jesus phrase it that way? It doesn’t seem to make any sense… or does it?
Scholars use this text to show that Jesus had two distinct natures. Because he is God, he has a divine nature and because he is human, he has a human nature. Thus, he can still be present in heaven, even though he is indwelling a physical body on earth. Once again, we see John emphasizing/providing evidence of the divinity of Jesus.
And if Jesus is divine, Nicodemus needs to change the way he thinks about spiritual things. His understanding and interpretation of the law must come into alignment with Jesus and his revelations about God’s kingdom (the gospel). Nicodemus must embrace Jesus as the Messiah.
John 3:14 – “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up…”
In the beginning of their conversation, Jesus instructed Nicodemus regarding spiritual birth into the kingdom of heaven by Holy Spirit (salvation). He now goes on to explain how this will be accomplished – through his death and resurrection and our faith in his atoning work on the cross.
As a parallel, Jesus uses the example of the bronze serpent. Let us refresh our memories about this Old Testament narrative. You can read the account yourself in Numbers 21:4-9.
Basically, the children of Israel had rebelled against God and they were serving their 40 year sentence of desert wandering. During this time, they continuously griped and complained about everything! They were very ungrateful for all that God had provided for them. They continuously accused God of bringing them out of Egypt just to kill them in the wilderness. Despite the amazing miracles they witnessed in Egypt, they refused to believe that God was going to keep his word and take them to the Promised Land. As a result, God sent snakes among the people. Many people were bitten and unfortunately for them, there was no cure. Death was guaranteed.
Of course they eventually repented. At that point, God had Moses fashion a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. Moses then stuck this unusual pole in the ground, so that the snake was high up in the sky. Anyone who was bitten by a poisonous snake could look at the pole and be healed from the poison. Life was guaranteed.
Jesus uses this Old Testament event to illustrate his atoning work on the cross, so that Nicodemus can understand it. Here are the main points Jesus is showing him:
- There was no cure for the poison of the snake. The one and only way to be healed and live was by looking at the bronze serpent on the pole. Likewise, there is no cure for the poison of sin; it is 100% deadly to our soul. The only way it can be removed and we can be made spiritually alive is by looking to the cross (having faith in the shed blood of Christ).
- The serpent was lifted up in the sight of all the people. In other words, it was publicly displayed high up in the air, where everyone could see it. When Jesus hung on the cross, he too was lifted up/publicly displayed in the sight of all the people. [The Son of Man must be lifted up.]
- The bronze serpent itself was not magical, nor did it possess any power. When people looked at the bronze serpent, they were actually demonstrating faith in the promise of the Lord that all who looked upon it would be healed. As a result of their faith in God’s promise, they were saved from physical death. When people look to the cross, they are showing faith in the blood of Christ and the promise of redemption. As a result of that faith, they are saved from spiritual death; they pass from death to life. [That whoever believes in him may have eternal life.] Having said that, I need to clarify one point – while the bronze serpent had no power in itself, the blood of Jesus certainly does! (We don’t want to carry the analogy of the serpent and the cross too far.)
- People could be bitten by the snakes multiple times, but the cure was always the same – obedience to God’s command. We are bitten by sin over and over, but the cure is always the same – faith in the shed blood of Christ our redeemer.
So we can conclude that Jesus shows Nicodemus why he came from heaven – to reveal the gospel message and so that he might be crucified for the salvation of men. All those who believe and look to him will be saved. External rituals or a Jewish heritage will not get them into heaven! In addition, Jesus shows him that the Messiah will suffer and die; he will not be the conquering hero they have come to expect (at least not at that time).
Nevertheless, the example of the bronze serpent was a parallel that helped Nicodemus understand some of God’s future plans regarding the Messiah.
I imagine that at the end of this meeting, Nicodemus’ head was ready to explode!
Let’s pause here because I have a trivia question for you…. What eventually happened to the bronze serpent? Who was King of Judah when it happened? You can find the answer at the end of today’s post!
John 3:15 – “…that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
The first issue of note here is the word ‘whoever’. This was a serious blow to the thinking of Nicodemus. In his mind, only God’s chosen people (Jews) would ever be eligible for eternal life. The salvation of the heathen (Gentiles) wasn’t even on his spiritual radar, even though it is taught extensively in the Old Testament scriptures.
The second issue of note is the phrase ‘believes in him’ or we might say ‘has faith in him’. Nicodemus has already said he believes in Jesus as a teacher sent from God. He might also have believed that Jesus was a good man or even a prophet. But those beliefs will not save him. The scripture says that even the demons believe in God and tremble (James 2:19), but they are certainly not partakers of salvation.
Nicodemus must believe/trust/have faith in Jesus as his savior. He must repent of sin, change his ways and become obedient to Christ. He must allow Holy Spirit to first make him a new creature and then sanctify him; he must put off his old corrupt way of life and put on the new man, who is righteous and holy.
Ephesians 4:22-24 – That you put off concerning the former way of life the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Jesus has made it very clear to Nicodemus that no amount of obedience to the works of the law can bring eternal life and salvation to the soul. It can only come through faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer.
John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
This may be the most well-known verse in all of scripture. It is the first verse that many Christians memorized as children, yet is still speaks volumes to the most aged among us. The longer we live on earth, the more we come to appreciate how exquisite and incredible the love of God is!
The true meaning and implications of this verse are so astonishing and so precious, I believe they can best be understood through meditation, rather than study. So I am not going to offer any commentary on this verse.
Instead, my hope is that you will spend some time considering the indescribable love of God which he has manifested towards YOU. Carefully consider your unworthiness and compare it to an eternity of joy and goodness prepared for you by the Father and made available through the greatest sacrifice known to man.
John 3:17 – “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
During the time of Christ, the Jews considered ‘the world’ to refer exclusively to the Gentiles and Gentile nations. They firmly believed that ‘the world’ would be destroyed in the days of the Messiah.
But Jesus contradicts their understanding of the scriptures. All men – Jew and Gentile alike – have sinned and come short of the glory of God and are in desperate need of a savior/Messiah. And God has graciously and loving sent that Messiah into the world for the express purpose of providing salvation for all of mankind; all who choose to believe may obtain salvation by him.
John 3:18 – “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
Jesus himself assures us that those who believe/trust in Him as Savior are no longer under a sentence of condemnation. They have been forgiven. This applies to every person who has acknowledged the debt of sin which they owe, and has confessed and repented of that sin believing that the shed blood of Christ cleanses them.
It is important to understand that being righteous before God is the present state of every Christian. We don’t have to wait until eternity to be forgiven. We walk in forgiveness right now.
Satan does not want you to understand this. He wants to keep reminding you of your past sins and failures. By doing so, he hopes to trap you in a state of inaction where you do not feel worthy to participate in kingdom business such as spreading the gospel, starting a ministry, being active in the church, ruling with Christ or enjoying your earthly life.
Don’t let this happen to you! If Satan tries to fill your mind with your past sins, you need to fight back by quoting scriptures which declare that you are a new creature in Christ right now; old things have already passed away (II Corinthians 5:17). You have already been moved from a state of death into a state of life (John 5:24). Your sin has already been cast as far from you as the east is from the west (Psalms 10:12). Christ has already given you abundant life – so walk in it!
If he can get you to believe that you are not worthy to participate in the kingdom, he can keep you from the true destiny that God has designed for your life. He can prevent you from reigning on this earth with Christ. He can steal your peace and replace it with worry and fear. He can thus rob you of the abundant life that Jesus has promised every one of his children.
Search the scriptures and find those passages that strengthen your shield of faith and those which can be used as a weapon against the enemy of your soul. Walk in the confidence of your salvation and become an active member of the family of God.
Likewise, those who reject the gospel message are already condemned. Their sin clings to them like a shroud; they live their earthly lives under a sure and certain sentence of death.
So let me ask you this question – In light of the absolute, unconditional forgiveness which God has bestowed upon us through the cross, do we have the right to harbor unforgiveness towards anyone else?
The answer is ‘no’. Scripture says that we must forgive others, as Christ has forgiven us (Matthew 18:23-35, Matthew 6:14-15, Mark 11:25-26, Luke 6:37).
Granted, forgiveness is not always easy for us. At times it seems downright impossible. But nothing is impossible with God. This may be an area where you need to seek Holy Spirit guidance in order walk in obedience. If you are willing, he will lead you into forgiveness and heal your past scars.
John 3:19 – And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
‘Judgment’ refers to the cause of condemnation or the reason men will face eternal death. What is the cause? It is not because they were born with a corrupt nature (we all were). It is not because they spent years living in sin (we all did). It is not because they lack a full or complete understanding of God (we all do). The sole reason they are condemned is because they refuse to receive the salvation which God provided for them.
‘Light’ has a double meaning in this verse. It refers to the person of Jesus Christ the Messiah (John 1:4, Isaiah 60:1, Isaiah 9:2, etc) as well as the doctrine he revealed. Through his teaching and example, he has enlightened the hearts and minds of men with a saving knowledge of the truth.
The truth of the gospel has been preserved in the Bible for each new generation. Holy Spirit continues to work through both the written and spoken word to shine the light of the gospel message all over the world.
But there are still people who choose darkness over the light. ‘Darkness’ refers to sin, ignorance, superstition or anything else that is opposed to the truth/light of the gospel.
There are people who love sin, darkness and death more than the light of Christ. Because of their love for sin, they willingly reject the mercy of God. As a result of this choice, they will experience divine justice – they will be convicted, condemned and punished. In short, they are choosing death over life.
John 3:20 – “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
Criminals often work under the cover of night. They fear the light, because it would expose their evil deeds. So it is with the wicked man. He hates the gospel because it shines a bright light into the deepest recesses of his heart and reveals his sinful ways. It condemns his conduct, exposes his sin and troubles his conscience.
Truly, that is the very purpose of the gospel – to convict us of sin, so that we seek a remedy for it. Holy Spirit conviction leads to repentance which results in eternal life.
By avoiding the gospel, and clinging to wickedness, the sinful person avoids the conviction that leads to salvation. But he cannot avoid God. The sin which he seeks to conceal will be revealed during his judgment, and he will pay the price for it.
John 3:21 – “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
On the other hand, righteous men and women welcome an examination of their hearts, minds and deeds by the light of the gospel. Unlike those who practice wickedness, they have nothing to hide.
Psalm 26:2 – Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my heart and my mind.
The good deeds of the righteous are a result of their relationship with God. They listen to the promptings of Holy Spirit and minister his love to a lost and dying world. In so doing, they demonstrate the light of the gospel to those who still need it (Matthew 5:16). They also lay up for themselves treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).
Now, this ends the meeting between Nicodemus and Jesus (or at least this is all that John recorded for us). It was a full and weighty discourse of the gospel message. It illustrated the need for repentance by each individual person; each one must believe in the Messiah and be regenerated by the Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God.
Trivia Answer: The bronze snake was kept by the Israelites as a testimony of God’s power. Unfortunately, the Israelites eventually began to worship it as an idol, so King Hezekiah destroyed it (II Kings 18:1-4).
Let me offer you some encouragement and some relief:
God loves you when you do well and he loves you when you stumble. He loves you when you make the right decision and when you make the wrong one. He loves you when you succeed and when you fail. In short, his love for you is not dependent upon your performance. He loves you because you are his!
God’s love for you is so vast and so deep, you will never fully discover its limits. It was that love which motivated God to sacrifice Jesus for our atonement. What an astonishing love!
Let me offer you some strength:
In this post, Jesus talked about wicked men who hate and avoid the light because it exposes their evil deeds. While that really doesn’t apply to Christians, we must admit that all of us have areas of our hearts and lives that we withhold from the light. We have certain sins that we cherish and we want to hold on to.
It takes a lot of strength and courage to admit this, and even more to deal with it. Can we determine to be sensitive to Holy Spirit when he brings these things to our attention? Can we resolve to surrender these areas to him?
Purging these sins from our lives helps to make us into vessels of honor, fit for greater works in God’s kingdom (II Timothy 2:19-21).