Meditating on Great Themes in John: 7. John’s Recap: Picking up the Threads
John 3:31,32 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony.
The back half of chapter 3 is very much a recap section; it is as if the aged John, being a good teacher, knows that you should go back over the ground again and again to make sure your pupils or disciples have taken it in. The verses that follow the account with Nicodemus, so well known, appear to be Jesus speaking but may be John’s comment: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) How we take these for granted but from this new perspective they again reveal Jesus as the one and only Son of God and as the object of our faith and the bringer of eternal life. Twice previously we have seen Jesus proclaimed as the Son of God (1:34,49) and three times Jesus speaking of himself as that prophetic ‘Son of man’ (1:51,3:13,14).
These verses accentuate the fact of Jesus being the object of our faith: “everyone who believes in him may have eternal life,” (3:15) and “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” (3:16) and “Whoever believes in him is not condemned,” (3:18) and “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” (3:36) Previously we’ve seen Jesus as the Word, the light-bringing-life, the coming one, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the life transformer and it is now as if John is saying, “I’ve said all this so that you know who you are to believe in: HE is the object of your faith, HE is the means of you being forgiven, cleansed and inheriting eternal life.”
But then John picks up a thread from the Prologue where we read, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood (or overcome) it.” (1:4,5) Now he adds, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (3:19-21) Jesus’ life so stood out that it was like the light, say, of a lighthouse, that drew men to him. His love, his grace, his goodness, his power to transform lives and bring healing, this had people flocking to him, but the truth also was that those who hadn’t come to the end of themselves and preferred to stick with the evil of their own self-centred, godless lives shied away from him, rejected him and even plotted against him. His life did that; it either attracted you or repelled you, and that all depended on the sort of person you were.
So that was one thread from the Prologue but there was another that John now picks up: “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” (1:6,7) Of course after the Prologue we saw John’s ministry pointing to Jesus and John the writer reverts to that again now to emphasise John’s testimony. Jesus had also been baptizing people with his disciples (3:22) and John was still baptizing not far off (3:23) and his disciples came to him pointing out that Jesus was also baptizing (3:25,26).
John’s response was, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, `I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.” (3:27,28) Now this has an echo of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man.” (3:12,13). John said, I can only speak what heaven gives me; Jesus says, I have come from heaven. This will be something that is repeated again and again in John’s Gospel. It doesn’t appear in the Synoptics but John remembered it and realised how significant it was.
Previously John had denied that he was the Coming One (1:20,21) and we suggested that the writer was including this to counter the cult of John-followers that was around later in that century. Now John says, “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” (3:29,30) He can’t make the implication any clearer: Jesus is the bridegroom and I am merely his friend. He’s the all-important one at the wedding!
He speaks again of their origins: “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.” (3:31-33) Jesus has come from heaven and so is above all others. I, says the Baptist, am from the earth. He speaks from what he knows of heaven but people don’t understand that but I do and I accept what he says is the truth. Wow! Strong testimony!
The chapter concludes with, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him..” (3:36) Jesus is THE object of our faith and he is the one who enables us to receive eternal life.
So John has picked up the following threads:
- That Jesus is the focal point for all belief
- His life stands out like a beacon drawing the hungry and thirsty to him
- John the Baptist testified to him
- Jesus has come from heaven and brings a heavenly perspective
- Believing in him brings eternal life.
These threads or themes are repeated more than once and will come up again in the chapters to come.