|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
3:1-8 Nicodemus was afraid, or ashamed to be seen with Christ, therefore came in the night. When religion is out of fashion, there are many Nicodemites. But though he came by night, Jesus bid him welcome, and hereby taught us to encourage good beginnings, although weak. And though now he came by night, yet afterward he owned Christ publicly. He did not talk with Christ about state affairs, though he was a ruler, but about the concerns of his own soul and its salvation, and went at once to them. Our Saviour spoke of the necessity and nature of regeneration or the new birth, and at once directed Nicodemus to the source of holiness of the heart. Birth is the beginning of life; to be born again, is to begin to live anew, as those who have lived much amiss, or to little purpose. We must have a new nature, new principles, new affections, new aims. By our first birth we were corrupt, shapen in sin; therefore we must be made new creatures. No stronger expression could have been chosen to signify a great and most remarkable change of state and character. We must be entirely different from what we were before, as that which begins to be at any time, is not, and cannot be the same with that which was before. This new birth is from heaven, ch. 1:13, and its tendency is to heaven. It is a great change made in the heart of a sinner, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It means that something is done in us, and for us, which we cannot do for ourselves. Something is wrong, whereby such a life begins as shall last for ever. We cannot otherwise expect any benefit by Christ; it is necessary to our happiness here and hereafter. What Christ speak, Nicodemus misunderstood, as if there had been no other way of regenerating and new-moulding an immortal soul, than by new-framing the body. But he acknowledged his ignorance, which shows a desire to be better informed. It is then further explained by the Lord Jesus. He shows the Author of this blessed change. It is not wrought by any wisdom or power of our own, but by the power of the blessed Spirit. We are shapen in iniquity, which makes it necessary that our nature be changed. We are not to marvel at this; for, when we consider the holiness of God, the depravity of our nature, and the happiness set before us, we shall not think it strange that so much stress is laid upon this. The regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is compared to water. It is also probable that Christ had reference to the ordinance of baptism. Not that all those, and those only, that are baptized, are saved; but without that new birth which is wrought by the Spirit, and signified by baptism, none shall be subjects of the kingdom of heaven. The same word signifies both the wind and the Spirit. The wind bloweth where it listeth for us; God directs it. The Spirit sends his influences where, and when, on whom, and in what measure and degree, he pleases. Though the causes are hidden, the effects are plain, when the soul is brought to mourn for sin, and to breathe after Christ. Christ's stating of the doctrine and the necessity of regeneration, it should seem, made it not clearer to Nicodemus. Thus the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural man. Many think that cannot be proved, which they cannot believe. Christ's discourse of gospel truths, ver. 11-13, shows the folly of those who make these things strange unto them; and it recommends us to search them out. Jesus Christ is every way able to reveal the will of God to us; for he came down from heaven, and yet is in heaven. We have here a notice of Christ's two distinct natures in one person, so that while he is the Son of man, yet he is in heaven. God is the HE THAT IS, and heaven is the dwelling-place of his holiness. The knowledge of this must be from above, and can be received by faith alone. Jesus Christ came to save us by healing us, as the children of Israel, stung with fiery serpents, were cured and lived by looking up to the brazen serpent, Nu 21:6-9. In this observe the deadly and destructive nature of sin. Ask awakened consciences, ask damned sinners, they will tell you, that how charming soever the allurements of sin may be, at the last it bites like a serpent. See the powerful remedy against this fatal malady. Christ is plainly set forth to us in the gospel. He whom we offended is our Peace, and the way of applying for a cure is by believing. If any so far slight either their disease by sin, or the method of cure by Christ, as not to receive Christ upon his own terms, their ruin is upon their own heads. He has said, Look and be saved, look and live; lift up the eyes of your faith to Christ crucified. And until we have grace to do this, we shall not be cured, but still are wounded with the stings of Satan, and in a dying state. Jesus Christ came to save us by pardoning us, that we might not die by the sentence of the law. Here is gospel, good news indeed. Here is God's love in giving his Son for the world. God so loved the world; so really, so richly. Behold and wonder, that the great God should love such a worthless world! Here, also, is the great gospel duty, to believe in Jesus Christ. God having given him to be our Prophet, Priest, and King, we must give up ourselves to be ruled, and taught, and saved by him. And here is the great gospel benefit, that whoever believes in Christ, shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and so saving it. It could not be saved, but through him; there is no salvation in any other. From all this is shown the happiness of true believers; he that believeth in Christ is not condemned. Though he has been a great sinner, yet he is not dealt with according to what his sins deserve. How great is the sin of unbelievers! God sent One to save us, that was dearest to himself; and shall he not be dearest to us? How great is the misery of unbelievers! they are condemned already; which speaks a certain condemnation; a present condemnation. The wrath of God now fastens upon them; and their own hearts condemn them. There is also a condemnation grounded on their former guilt; they are open to the law for all their sins; because they are not by faith interested in the gospel pardon. Unbelief is a sin against the remedy. It springs from the enmity of the heart of man to God, from love of sin in some form. Read also the doom of those that would not know Christ. Sinful works are works of darkness. The wicked world keep as far from this light as they can, lest their deeds should be reproved. Christ is hated, because sin is loved. If they had not hated saving knowledge, they would not sit down contentedly in condemning ignorance. On the other hand, renewed hearts bid this light welcome. A good man acts truly and sincerely in all he does. He desires to know what the will of God is, and to do it, though against his own worldly interest. A change in his whole character and conduct has taken place. The love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost, and is become the commanding principle of his actions. So long as he continues under a load of unforgiven guilt, there can be little else than slavish fear of God; but when his doubts are done away, when he sees the righteous ground whereon this forgiveness is built, he rests on it as his own, and is united to God by unfeigned love. Our works are good when the will of God is the rule of them, and the glory of God the end of them; when they are done in his strength, and for his sake; to him, and not to men. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a subject to which the world is very averse; it is, however, the grand concern, in comparison with which every thing else is but trifling. What does it signify though we have food to eat in plenty, and variety of raiment to put on, if we are not born again? if after a few mornings and evenings spent in unthinking mirth, carnal pleasure, and riot, we die in our sins, and lie down in sorrow? What does it signify though we are well able to act our parts in life, in every other respect, if at last we hear from the Supreme Judge, Depart from me, I know you not, ye workers of iniquity?
Verses 13-15. -
(2) The truth concerning the Son of man and his sacrifice. Verse 13. - And. The simple copula is here fuller significance. Olshausen regards it as "adversative," equivalent to "yet." Meyer, as a simple continuation of the previous statement. The καὶ has more than a mere conjunctive force. Lance puts it thus: "And yet you must be told heavenly things by him who, being the Heavenly One, is himself the first subject of this revelation." No one hath ascended into heaven. The past tense must be honestly considered. The word cannot refer to the future ascension of Jesus the Lord of glory to where he was before - to the glory which he had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5); nor can it refer, as the Socinian interpreters supposed, to a rapture into heaven of the Divine Man between his baptism and temptation (Socini 'Opera,' 2:511, 610, quoted by J.P. Smith, 'Scripture Testimony to the Messiah,' 2, pp. 103-117), of which we have not the faintest trace either in Scripture or tradition; nor is it sufficient, with Hengstenberg and others, to regard it as a mere Hebraism for high and exalted intercourse with God and heavenly things. True, there have been many who have sought to climb the steep ascent (Genesis 11:4; Isaiah 14:13); true also that rabbis spoke of Moses having "ascended into the heavens," by which (says Whitby) they meant "admission to the Divine counsels." The authority on which he depends is the late 'Targum on Cantic. 1:5, 11, 12,' by which, however, all that is clear is that the Targnmist was referring to the ascent of Moses to the top of Sinai, i.e. above the multitude in the deserts, to the place whither Jehovah came to speak with him. But Exodus 20:22, the canonical Scripture, makes it clear that it was "from the heavens" that Jehovah spoke with his servant. There are, however, other passages quoted by Schottgen from Jerusalem Targum on Deuteronomy 30:12, and from the 'Mishna,' in which Moses is said to have "ascended into heaven, and heard the voice of God;" but further inquiry leads us to judge that the Hebrew commentators were thinking of the going up to Sinai for his lofty revelations, and their followers have supposed that this process was a synonym of the revelations themselves. Many have thought to rise above the world to the beatific vision, but Jesus says none have done it in the only sense in which they would have been thereby fitted to discourse on the heavenly things. Two things are needed for this in the main - to be in heaven, and come thence charged with its Divine communications. Enoch, Elijah, may have been translated that they should not see death, but they are not so lifted into the abode of God that they might come thence charged with heavenly truth, and able to explain the "how" of Divine grace. No one hath ascended into heaven except he who has by living there as in his eternal home come down from heaven. Meyer, Luthardt, Westcott, etc., all call attention to other and analogous usage of εἰ μὴ, which fastens upon a part of the previous negative, not the whole assertion, and therefore here upon the idea of living in heaven and coming thence (Matthew 12:4; Luke 4:26, 27; Galatians 1:7). Man, if he should presume to come with a full revelation of Divine and heavenly things, must come down from a height to which he had previously ascended; but no man has thus and for this purpose ascended, except he who has descended from heaven, having been there before his manifestation in the flesh, having been "in God." "with God," "in the bosom of the Father," and having come thence, not losing his essential ego, his Divine personality, even though calling himself the Son of man. For any other to have come down from heaven, it was necessary that he should first have ascended thither; but the Son of man has descended without having ascended. He calls himself "Son of man," and he claims to have come down from heaven without ceasing to be what he was before. Godet urges that, by the "ascended into heaven," he meant such lofty communion with God and immediate knowledge of Divine things as to differentiate him from all others, but that the phrase, "come down from heaven," implies previous existence in his native place, and that the Lord's filial intimacy with God rests on his essential sonship. Still, he conceives that Jesus asserts his own ascension in the spiritual sense to the heart of God, and his descent with consequent resultant knowledge, and expounds both statements by the explanation that as Son of man he is living the twofold life in heaven and on earth at the same time. By using the term, "Son of man," Christ emphasized the exalted dignity that is involved in the extent of his self-humiliation,, and complete sympathy with us. He was the second Adam, the Lord from heaven." Who is (not was) in heaven. If this be only an early gloss, it throws light on the two previous clauses. It declares that, though he came down, and though his introduction to this world was an incarnation, yet that he is in the deepest sense still in heaven. Such language is a vindication of his claim to reveal heavenly things. Augustine says, "Ecce hic erat et in coelo erat, hic erat in carne, in coelo erat divinitate, natus de matre, non recedens a Patre." Again, "Si Paulus ambulabat in carne in terra et conversabatur in coelo, Deus coeli et terrae poterat esse et in coelo et in terra." Archdeacon Watkins says admirably, "If heaven is a state, a life, in which we are, which is in us, now in part, hereafter in its fulness, then we may understand, and with glad hearts hold to, the vital truth that the Son of man who came down from heaven was ever in heaven."
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And no man hath ascended into heaven,.... Though Enoch and Elias had, yet not by their own power, nor in the sense our Lord designs; whose meaning is, that no man had, or could go up to heaven, to bring from thence the knowledge of divine and heavenly things; in which sense the phrase is used in Deuteronomy 30:12, and which may be illustrated by John 1:18; wherefore inasmuch as Nicodemus had acknowledged Christ to he a teacher come from God, our Lord, would have him know, that he was the only teacher of heavenly things, as being the only person that had been in heaven, and in the bosom of the Father; and therefore, if he, and the rest of the Jews, did not receive instructions from him, they must for ever remain ignorant; for there never had been, nor was, nor could be, any mere man that could go up to heaven, and learn the mysteries of God, and of the kingdom of heaven, and return and instruct men in them:
but he that came down from heaven; meaning himself, who is the Lord from heaven, and came from thence to do the will of God by preaching the Gospel, working miracles, obeying the law, and suffering death in the room of his people, and thereby obtaining eternal redemption for them. Not that he brought down from heaven with him, either the whole of his human nature, or a part of it; either an human soul, or an human body; nor did he descend locally, by change of place, he being God omnipresent, infinite and immense, but by assumption of the human nature into union with his divine person:
even the son of man which is in heaven; at the same time he was then on earth: not that he was in heaven in his human nature, and as he was the son of man; but in his divine nature, as he was the Son of God; see John 1:18; though this is predicated of his person, as denominated from the human nature, which was proper to him only in his divine nature; for such is omnipresence, or to be in heaven and earth at the same time: just as on the other hand God is said to purchase the church with his blood, and the Lord of glory is said to be crucified, Acts 20:28, where those things are spoken of Christ, as denominated from his divine nature, which were proper only to his human nature; and is what divines call a communication of idioms or properties; and which will serve as a key to open all such passages of Scripture: and now as a proof of our Lord's having been in heaven, and of his being a teacher come from God, and such an one as never was, or can be, he opens and explains a type respecting himself, in the following verse.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
13. no man hath ascended, &c.—There is something paradoxical in this language—"No one has gone up but He that came down, even He who is at once both up and down." Doubtless it was intended to startle and constrain His auditor to think that there must be mysterious elements in His Person. The old Socinians, to subvert the doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ, seized upon this passage as teaching that the man Jesus was secretly caught up to heaven to receive His instructions, and then "came down from heaven" to deliver them. But the sense manifestly is this: "The perfect knowledge of God is not obtained by any man's going up from earth to heaven to receive it—no man hath so ascended—but He whose proper habitation, in His essential and eternal nature, is heaven, hath, by taking human flesh, descended as the Son of man to disclose the Father, whom He knows by immediate gaze alike in the flesh as before He assumed it, being essentially and unchangeably 'in the bosom of the Father'" (Joh 1:18).
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