John 3
Benson Commentary
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
John 3:1-2. There was a man of the Pharisees — Belonging to the sect so called. What is here related, doubtless, occurred while our Lord was attending at Jerusalem to keep the passover, as is mentioned in the latter part of the preceding chapter: a ruler of the Jews — A member of the great council, termed the sanhedrim, John 7:50. The same came to Jesus — With desire of receiving instruction from him in divine things, but came privately, and by night — Through shame, and fear of his brethren of the council, who from the very beginning of Christ’s ministry were his enemies. And said unto him, Rabbi — Giving him the title of respect with which it was usual to address the Jewish doctors; we know that thou art a teacher come from God — Namely, with an extraordinary commission. It is probable that the expression, we know, signifies no more here than it is known, for, as Dr. Whitby justly observes, Nicodemus could not say with truth, that his brethren, the Pharisees and rulers, knew Christ to be a teacher come from God; for it appears from chap. John 7:48, that none of them believed on him. For no man can do these miracles that thou doest — Miracles so beneficial and divine; except God be with him — In an extraordinary manner, investing him with power from on high. Here, 1st, We are assured of the truth of Christ’s miracles, and that they were not counterfeit and fictitious. For Nicodemus, a judicious, sensible, inquisitive man, one that had all the reason and opportunity imaginable to examine them, was so fully satisfied they were miracles, that he was induced by them to go contrary to his interest, and the stream of those of his own rank, who were prejudiced against Christ. 2d, We are directed what inference to draw from Christ’s miracles; we are, therefore, to receive him as a teacher come from God. His miracles were his credentials. The course of nature could not have been altered, but by the power of the God of nature, who, we are sure, is the God of truth and goodness, and would never set his seal to a lie or a cheat. Nicodemus’s acknowledgment, that Jesus was a teacher come from God, and his applying to him under that character, implied that he came with a desire to receive from Christ’s own mouth a particular account, both of the doctrine which he taught, and of the kingdom which he declared God was about to erect. Our Lord’s answer intimates, that he either expressly made, or secretly intended, such an inquiry; and it is impossible to enter into the beauty of the following discourse without considering the matter in this light.

The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
John 3:3. Jesus answered — Jesus, knowing the prejudices Nicodemus laboured under, both as a Jew and a Pharisee, judged it necessary immediately to acquaint him with the absolute necessity of experiencing a thorough change, both of his heart and life, to be wrought by divine grace; a change so great as might appear like coming into a new world by a second birth, and would bring the greatest and most learned men to the simplicity, teachableness, and humility of little children, see Matthew 18:3. He therefore said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee — I declare it with the utmost solemnity, as a truth of the highest importance, that whatever great privileges any man may inherit by his natural birth or education, or church-fellowship, or by the place he occupies, or the rank he holds in civil or religious society, or how exact and strict soever he may be in ceremonial observances; unless a man be born again, he cannot see — Cannot even have just views of, much less can he enjoy; the kingdom of God — On earth or in heaven; can neither be a true member of the church militant, nor enter into the church triumphant: nor will thy knowing and acknowledging that I am a teacher come from God, avail thee, unless thou experience this second birth. The original expression, εαν μη τις γεννηθη ανωθεν, may also be rendered, unless a man be born from above: the sense, however, which our translation gives it, is evidently that in which Nicodemus took it: for he so expresses himself as to show, that he thought a man could not be born in the manner Christ spoke of, without entering a second time into his mother’s womb. What is added, at John 3:5, explains what was before undetermined, as to the original of this birth. The reader must observe, that in the following discourse our Lord touches on those grand points, in which it was of the utmost importance that Nicodemus, his brethren, and mankind in general, should be well informed, namely, that no external profession, no ceremonial observances, or privileges of birth, could entitle any to the blessings of the Messiah’s kingdom; but that an entire change of heart, as well as of life, was necessary for that purpose: that this could only be wrought in man by the Spirit of God: that every man born into the world was by nature (John 3:6) in a state of depravity and sin, of condemnation and misery; (John 3:17-19;) that the free mercy of God had given his Son to deliver them from it, (John 3:14-16,) and to raise them to a blessed immortality; that all mankind, Gentiles as well as Jews, might share in these benefits procured by his being lifted up on the cross, and to be received by faith in him; but that, if they rejected him, their eternal, aggravated condemnation would be the certain consequence. It is justly observed by Dr. Owen, “That if regeneration here mean only reformation of life, our Lord, instead of making any new discovery, has only thrown a great deal of obscurity on what was before plain and obvious, and known, not only to the Jews, but the wiser heathen.” The fact is, as by justification and adoption, a relative change, or a change of state, is signified, the person before under guilt being thereby acquitted; the person before under wrath being taken into favour with God; or, which is implied in adoption, the person, who was before merely a servant, serving God from fear, and perhaps with reluctance, being thereby made a son and an heir, (see Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:4-7,) so by regeneration, a real change is intended; a change of nature, termed (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15) καινη κτισις, a new creation; and described, (Ephesians 4:22-23,) as putting off the old man, being renewed in the spirit of our minds, and putting on the new man, created after God in righteousness and true holiness. The ground and reason of which doctrine are evident; man by the fall lost the image of God, especially his moral image, and without recovering it, without being made pure in heart and life, he cannot see the Lord, Hebrews 12:14; Matthew 5:7; 2 Corinthians 5:3. Now this divine image begins to be restored to us when we are regenerated, and is increased and perfected in and by our sanctification, termed, (Titus 3:6,) the renewing of the Holy Ghost.

If it be inquired, why this change is termed a birth, the reason may be, that it resembles in some particulars, and may be illustrated by, our natural birth. For, 1st, As the natural birth introduces us into natural life, in consequence of which, we have union with, and breathe the air of, this world; so by the spiritual birth we are introduced into spiritual life, have union with God, and breathe the spirit of prayer and praise. 2d, The natural birth opens our natural senses, our eyesight, hearing, tasting, &c., and thereby discloses natural things; so the spiritual birth opens our spiritual senses, and imparts the seeing eye, the hearing ear, the feeling sense, (Hebrews 6:4-5; 1 Peter 2:3,) and thereby manifests to us spiritual things. 3d, The natural birth prepares us to enjoy natural things, which, without being born into this world, it is impossible we should enjoy; so the spiritual birth introduces us to the enjoyment of spiritual things, illumination of mind, renovation of heart, manifestations of the divine favour, communications of the Divine Spirit, peace and joy through believing, lively hopes of life eternal, and above all, fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4th, The natural birth introduces us among men, and, partaking of their nature, as we proceed in the course of life, we begin to share in their desires and aversions, hopes and fears, sorrows and joys, cares, labours, and pursuits: we hear and understand, and then begin to converse. In like manner, the spiritual birth introduces us among Christians, true Christians, nor are we only among, but of them, and as we partake of their heavenly and holy nature by regeneration, we also soon begin to entertain their views, and manifest affections and dispositions, desires and designs, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, similar to theirs: first, we hear, and then, being improved in knowledge, we speak their heavenly language. 5th, When born into this world we are capable of receiving, tasting, and being nourished by the food provided for us; so when born of God, we begin to have an appetite for, and to partake of, first the sincere, uncorrupted milk of the word, adapted to the state of babes in Christ; and then of the stronger meat, suited to those of riper age. Hence follows a growth in spiritual health and strength, knowledge, experience, and holiness, till, growing up into Christ in all things, we arrive at the measure of the stature of his fulness.

He cannot see the kingdom of God — The common explanation that is given of the word see, in this passage, is, enjoy, share in. Accordingly it is considered synonymous with enter, John 3:5. “Though I admit,” says Dr. Campbell, “in a great measure, the truth of this exposition, I do not think it comprehends the whole of what the words imply. It is true, that to see often denotes to enjoy, or to suffer, as suits the nature of the object seen. Thus, to see death, is used for to die; to see life, for to live; to see good days, for to enjoy good days; and to see corruption, for to suffer corruption. But this sense of the word seeing is limited to a very few phrases, of which those now mentioned are the chief. I have not, however, found an example (setting this passage aside as questionable) of ιδειν βασιλειαν, [seeing a kingdom,] for enjoying a kingdom, or partaking therein. I understand, therefore, the word ιδειν, to imply here, what it often implies, to perceive, to discern, namely, by the eye of the mind. The import, therefore, in my apprehension, is this: the man who is not regenerated, or born again, of water and of the Spirit, is not in a capacity of perceiving the reign of God, though it were commenced. Though the kingdom of the saints on the earth were already established, the unregenerate would not discern it, because it is a spiritual, not a worldly kingdom, and capable of being no otherwise than spiritually discerned. And as the kingdom itself would remain unknown to him, he could not share in the blessings enjoyed by the subjects of it, which appears to be the import of the expression, (John 3:5,) he cannot enter the kingdom of God. The two declarations, therefore, are not synonymous, but related; and the latter is consequent upon the former.” Our Lord’s words being represented as spoken in answer to what Nicodemus had said to him, the doctor thinks the sense he gives them makes the connection and pertinency of the whole discourse much clearer. Nicodemus had acquainted our Lord that, on the evidence of his miracles, he believed him to be a teacher come from God, but made no mention of his being the Messiah, or of his reign upon earth; and this interpreter supposes it is in reference to this defect in his faith, “partly, as it were, to account for his silence on this article, and partly to point out to him the proper source of this knowledge, that our Lord answers by observing, that, unless a man be enlightened by the Spirit:” (implied in being born again,) “he cannot discern either the signs of the Messiah, or the nature of his kingdom. Augustine is of opinion, that it was necessary thus to humble the spiritual pride of the Pharisee: the conceited superiority to the vulgar in things sacred, which is the greatest obstruction to divine knowledge, that he might be prepared for receiving with all humility the illumination of the Spirit.” Dr. Macknight interprets our Lord’s answer in nearly the same sense with that above stated. His paraphrase on it is, “Though the lustre of my miracles constrains thee to acknowledge, that I am a teacher come from God, thou dost not fully believe that I am the Messiah, and the reason of thy doubt is, that thou dost not find me surrounded with the pomp of a temporal prince. But, believe me, unless a man be renewed in the spirit of his mind, he cannot discern the evidence of my mission, who am come to erect the kingdom of God, consequently cannot see that kingdom, cannot enter into it on earth, neither enjoy it in heaven.”

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
John 3:4-5. Nicodemus — Exceedingly surprised at Christ’s declaration; saith, How can a man be born when he is old — As I now am? Can he enter, &c. — As if he had said, It would be perfectly absurd to think that thou intendest thy words to be taken in a literal sense, and yet, I confess, I am at a loss to know what figurative interpretation to put upon them. Jesus answered, Except a man be born — He meant likewise begotten, as previous thereto, for the original word signifies both, see James 1:18; of water — That is, baptized; and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God — Or, in plain terms, Whosoever would become a regular member of it, he must not only be baptized, but, if he would share its spiritual and eternal blessings, he must experience the renewing and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit on his soul, to deliver it from the power of corruption, and to animate it to a divine and spiritual life. “To be born of water and of the Spirit,” says Bishop Hopkins, “may admit of a double interpretation: for either by water is meant baptism,” or it “may denote to us the manner of the Spirit’s proceedings in the work of regeneration. Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit — That is, except he be renewed by the Holy Ghost, working as water, leaving the same effect upon the soul in cleansing and purifying it from sinful defilements, as water doth upon the body in washing off contracted filth. Nor, indeed, is this manner of expression strange to the Holy Scripture: for John Baptist, speaking of Christ, tells them, that he should baptize them with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: that is, he should baptize them with the Holy Ghost, working as fire, which eats out and consumes the rust and dross of metals,” &c. Or, as Dr. Macknight interprets the clause, “Unless a man has a new nature given him by the Spirit, which is being born of the Spirit, and publicly receive the Christian religion, when offered to him, (Matthew 10:33,) which is being born of water, he cannot be a subject of God’s kingdom here, nor have a share in his glory hereafter.” And he justly observes, in a note, “Our Lord did not mean that baptism is in all cases necessary to salvation; for in the apostle’s commission, (Mark 16:16,) notwithstanding faith and baptism are equally enjoined upon all nations, not the want of baptism, but of faith, is declared to be damning. Besides, it should be considered, that this is a mere ceremony, which in itself has no efficacy to change men’s natures, or to fit them for heaven, and that in some circumstances it may be absolutely impracticable. Nevertheless, as the washing of the body with water in baptism fitly represents the purification of the soul necessary to its enjoyment of heaven, this ceremony is very properly made the rite by which we publicly take upon ourselves the profession of the Christian religion, the dispensation preparatory to heaven. Wherefore the receiving of this rite is necessary in all cases where it may be had; the confessing of Christ being oftentimes as necessary as believing on him. If so, persons who undervalue water baptism, on pretence of exalting the baptism of the Spirit, do greatly err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the commandment of Christ.”

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
John 3:6-8. That which is born of the flesh is flesh — Only flesh, void of the Spirit: or is carnal and corrupt, and therefore at enmity with the Spirit. And that which is born of the Spirit is spirit — Is spiritual, heavenly, divine, like its author. As if our Lord had said to Nicodemus, Were it possible for a man to be born again in a literal sense, by entering a second time into his mother’s womb, such a second birth would do no more to qualify him for the kingdom of God than the first; for what proceeds, and is produced from parents that are sinful and corrupt, is sinful and corrupt as they are; but that which is born of the Spirit is formed to a resemblance of that blessed Spirit, whose office it is to communicate a divine nature to the soul, and to stamp it with the divine image. Marvel not, therefore, that I said unto thee — And have declared it as a truth that ye are all concerned in; that ye must be born again — Ye Jews, though descendants of Abraham; ye scribes, though learned in the law; ye Pharisees, though exact in the observance of its ceremonies, and the traditions of the elders; ye doctors of Israel and rulers of the people, notwithstanding your authority in matters civil and religious, must all be born again in this spiritual sense, since the degeneracy of the human nature is of so universal an extent as to be common to you all. The wind bloweth, &c. — As if he had said, Nor have you any cause to be surprised if there be some things in this doctrine of regeneration which are of an obscure and unsearchable nature, for even in the natural world many things are so: the wind, for instance, bloweth where it listeth — According to its own nature, not thy will, sometimes one way, and sometimes another, not being subject to the direction or command of man; and thou hearest the sound thereof — And feelest its sensible and powerful effects on thy body; but canst not tell whence it cometh — Canst not explain the particular manner of its acting, or where it begins, and where it ceases blowing; for whatever general principles may be laid down concerning it, when men come to account for its particular variations, the greatest philosophers often find themselves at a loss. So is every one that is born of the Spirit — The fact is plain, the manner of its operations is inexplicable. “It is worthy of remark,” says Dr. Campbell, “that as, in the Greek and in the Vulgate, the same word, in this passage, signifies both wind and spirit, the illustration is expressed with more energy than it is possible to give it in those languages which do not admit the same ambiguity.” But “I shall give what appears to me the purport of John 3:7-8. ‘Nor is there,’ as if he had said, ‘any thing in this either absurd or unintelligible. The wind, which in Hebrew is expressed by the same word as spirit, shall serve for an example. It is invisible; we hear the noise it makes, but cannot discover what occasions its rise or its fall. It is known to us solely by its effects. Just so it is with this second birth. The Spirit himself, the great agent, is invisible; his manner of operating is beyond our discovery; but the reality of his operation is perceived by the effects produced on the disposition and life of the regenerate.’”

Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
John 3:9-10. Nicodemus answered, How can these things be? — Christ’s explication of the doctrine of regeneration, and its necessity, made it no clearer to him. The corruption of nature, which renders it necessary, and the operation of the Spirit, which renders it practicable, were as great mysteries to him as the thing itself. And though he had acknowledged Christ to be a divine teacher, he was unwilling to receive his doctrine when it did not agree with his preconceived notions. Thus the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural man, and he is not only estranged from them, but prejudiced against them. Jesus said, Art thou a master Ο διδασκαλος, a teacher, or rather, the teacher, of Israel, as Dr. Campbell renders the expression; observing, “The article here is remarkable; the more so, because there does not appear to be a single Greek copy which omits it. As a member of the sanhedrim, Nicodemus had a superintendency in what concerned religious instruction, and might on that account have been called a teacher of Israel; but it is probably in order to intimate to us his distinguished fame for abilities in this respect, that he is styled by way of eminence, the teacher.” And knowest thou not these things — When so much is everywhere said in the Scriptures of God’s circumcising men’s hearts, creating in them clean hearts, renewing in them right spirits, and of the quickening and purifying operations of his Spirit on their souls? See Deuteronomy 30:6; Psalm 51:10; Jeremiah 4:4; and Jeremiah 31:33-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27. “Could it be proved.” says Dr. Doddridge, “that the Jewish rabbis, so early as Christ’s time, called a baptized person one born again, or born of water, that would strongly illustrate the passage before us.” But though several learned commentators give the words this turn, the fact, he thinks, is not proved. “However, it is strange to me,” says he, “that any should doubt whether proselytes were admitted into the Jewish church by baptism, that is, by washing, when it is plain from express passages in the Jewish law that no Jew who had lived like a Gentile for one single day could be restored to the communion of their church without it. Compare Numbers 19:19-20; and many other precepts relating to ceremonial pollutions, by which the Jews were rendered incapable of appearing before God in the tabernacle or temple till they were washed, either by bathing or sprinkling.” It is probable, however, that the reproof conveyed in this verse does not so much relate to the forementioned figures of speech, supposed to be in use among the rabbis, representing the baptism of proselytes as a new birth; as to Nicodemus’s being so entirely unacquainted with the doctrine of the Old Testament, respecting the necessity of a change of heart being experienced by all who would be the true people and spiritual worshippers of God; and respecting that effusion of the Spirit which the prophets had so clearly foretold would take place under the Messiah.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.
John 3:11. We speak that we do know — I, and all that truly believe in me. Or, he may refer to the testimony that was given to the truth of his doctrine by John the Baptist, and to the preaching also of his own disciples, who all concurred in testifying the same things, the certainty of which they were assured of by the illuminating influences of the Holy Spirit, and by their own experience, while it was known to Christ by his omniscience, and by the intimate acquaintance that he had with all the counsels of his Father. And testify that we have seen — Here our Lord alludes to what was required in the law to qualify a man to be a witness, namely, that he should be able to declare concerning what he testified, that he had seen, or known it, Leviticus 5:1. And as Christ, therefore, had a clear perception and certain knowledge of the truth of what he said, there was the highest reason to receive his testimony, and to regard him as a true and faithful witness. And ye — Jewish rulers, teachers, and people, are generally of such a disposition that ye receive not our witness — Either as true or important; but disbelieve and reject, or neglect it.

If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
John 3:12-13. If I have told you earthly things — As the truths which I have taught you concerning the spiritual nature of God’s kingdom, and the qualifications of his subjects, may properly be termed, because they are capable of being represented to you in a familiar way, and of being illustrated by such obvious and well-known similitudes as to be rendered thereby perfectly plain and easy to be understood. Or, by earthly things, he might mean things to be experienced and enjoyed on earth, such as the new birth and the present privileges of the children of God. And ye believe not — Even these; how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things — If I should go on to teach you other doctrines, much more mysterious and sublime, and not capable of being thus illustrated and explained? Our Lord has been thought by some to refer here to those sublime and heavenly doctrines which were afterward revealed, such as the eternity of the Son, the fulness of the Godhead dwelling in him bodily, the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and those other mysteries of godliness that are above the reach of human reason, and cannot be illustrated by earthly things. It is more probable, however, as Dr. Doddridge observes, that he more immediately refers “to the doctrines which he mentions in the remaining part of his discourse to Nicodemus — of his descent from heaven to instruct us in the things of God, and be united to the human nature here below, while, by his divine nature, he still continued to be present above, — of the design for which he came into the world, to be lifted up upon the cross, that he might save us from our sins, — of everlasting life, and happiness to be obtained by faith in his death, — and of the condemnation of all those that should reject him; which may be counted as the deep things of God, which he reveals unto us by his Spirit, and which the natural man, who disregards that Spirit, receiveth not, for they are foolishness unto him, 1 Corinthians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 2:14.” And no man, &c. — As if he had said, For here you must rely on my single testimony, whereas in the other points, termed earthly things, you have a cloud of witnesses. Or the connection and sense may be, Yet the truth of my doctrine concerning these heavenly things you will have no just reason to suspect, considering whence it comes, and who it is that reveals it. For no man hath ascended up to heaven — To search into the secret counsels of God, and to obtain an intimate and perfect knowledge of his mind and will; but he that came down from heaven — Qualified and commissioned in the most extraordinary manner to reveal them, as far as is proper, to mankind; even the Son of man which is in heaven — Is present there by his divine nature, which fills both heaven and earth, even while he is here on earth as to his human nature. This is a plain instance of what is usually termed the communication of properties between Christ’s divine and human nature, whereby what is proper to the divine nature is spoken concerning the human; and what is proper to the human, is spoken of the divine. “Beza, and some others, suppose that the present tense, (ων, who is,) is here put for the past, (ην, who was,) of which construction we have some examples, particularly John 9:25. Accordingly they translate the clause, The Son of man, who was in heaven: but the common translation may be retained, [and interpreted,] thus: Moses, your lawgiver, did not ascend into heaven; he only went up to mount Sinai, and that but for a few days, that he might receive the law from God. Whereas, the Son of man, (this was one of the Messiah’s titles,) who is come down from heaven, (ο εκ του ουρανου καταβας,) who is commissioned by God in an extraordinary manner, to reveal his will to men, and in respect of whose commission, all the other messengers of God may be said to have been of the earth: (see John 3:31; Hebrews 12:25 :) he hath ascended up to heaven — Hath received the clearest and most extensive views of spiritual things; hath penetrated into the recesses of the divine counsels; (see Proverbs 30:3-4;) nay, is, at present, in heaven, is with God, is conscious of all his gracious purposes toward men, consequently must be a messenger of much higher dignity than Moses, or Elijah, or any of the prophets, for whom you entertain so great a regard.” — Macknight.

And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
John 3:14-15. As Moses lifted up the serpent — As if he had said, And even this single witness, bearing testimony of heavenly things, will soon be taken from you; yea, and in a most ignominious manner. Or, as Dr. Doddridge connects the words with what precedes, “And now I mention the Son of man, let me rectify that grand mistake of yours concerning his kingdom, which otherwise may be attended with fatal consequences. You expect to see him raised on a magnificent throne; and not only breaking off the yoke from the Jewish nation, but leading them on to conquer and destroy the Gentiles; but I must assure you that, as Moses lifted up, [Greek, υψωσε, raised on high, namely, on a pole,] the serpent in the wilderness — To heal those that were dying by the venom of the fiery serpents there; even so must the Son of man be lifted up — On a cross, (see the margin,) and then publicly exhibited in the preaching of the gospel, that sinners may by him receive a far more noble and important cure; even that whosoever believeth in him should not perish — As all in their natural state otherwise would; but may obtain so perfect a recovery as certainly to have eternal life” — For all those who look to him, and rely on him by faith, recover spiritual life and health. The reader will observe, 1st, That the grand point of similitude here is, in the manner of performing the cure, that is, by believing regards to what was lifted up, or raised on high, for that purpose, by a divine appointment. 2d, That the passage strongly implies, that as the wounded Israelites would have died if they had not looked to the brazen serpent for a cure, so will men, wounded by sin, original and actual, assuredly perish, and that eternally, if they do not look to, and believe on Christ, delivered unto death for their offences, and raised from the dead for their justification; which great truth is still more strongly expressed, John 3:18. 3d, That our Lord, by telling Nicodemus, that the death of the Messiah was prefigured by types in the law, showed him, that it was agreeable both to the doctrine of Moses, and to the counsels of heaven, that the Messiah should be in a suffering state; and consequently he intimated that the meanness of his present appearance on earth was no reason why any should doubt of his having been, and still being in heaven.

That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 3:16-19. For God so loved the world, &c. — Here our Lord proceeds to inform Nicodemus, that men owed the blessings above mentioned to the free and immense love of God the Father, who desired their salvation with such ardency, that he sent his only-begotten Son to bestow it upon them; and that it is designed for all that will accept of it in the way God hath appointed. God, says he, so loved the world, that is, all men under heaven; even those that despise his love, and will for that cause finally perish, that he gave his only-begotten Son, truly and seriously: and the Son of God gave himself, (Galatians 2:20,) truly and seriously; that whosoever believeth in him — With that faith which worketh by love, and holdeth fast the beginning of his confidence steadfast to the end; should not perish — Under the sentence of divine justice, as he otherwise must have done; but have everlasting life — The life of grace, and the life of glory, through the mere mercy of God, and the infinite merits of his Son. For God sent not his Son to condemn the world — To execute that vengeance upon them which their guilt might have taught them to fear; nor did he send him to destroy the Gentile nations, which prejudiced Jews have supposed would be one principal end of the Messiah’s coming. God, says Grotius, is often described as an avenger in the Old Testament: therefore the guilty might reasonably expect, that when his Son came into the world, it would be to execute vengeance in his Father’s name. But that the world through him might be saved — Even all, without exception, who will hearken to the overtures of the gospel. He that believeth on him — With his heart unto righteousness; is not condemned — Is acquitted, is justified before God, how many and great soever his past sins may have been, and however unpardonable according to the tenor of the Mosaic law: but he that believeth not — Whatever his external profession and privileges may be; is condemned already — Remains under the sentence of his former guilt; yea, and subjects himself, by his refusal of the only remedy, to still greater and more aggravated condemnation and wo; because, notwithstanding the incontrovertible evidence given of Jesus’s divine mission, and of his being the true Messiah, he hath not believed in the name, the glorious name of the only-begotten Son of God — Though expressly revealed to him, that he might believe in him. “Though the name of a person be often put for the person himself, yet it may be further intimated here, in that expression, that the person spoken of is greatly magnificent; and therefore it is generally used to express either God the Father, or our Lord Jesus Christ.” — Doddridge. And this is the condemnation — The cause of it, the crime that fills up the measure of men’s iniquities, and is the principal reason of their speedy and final ruin; that light is come into the world — Divine and glorious light, the day-spring from on high, the light of the glorious gospel, through the incarnation of the Eternal Word, and the preaching of his forerunner preparing the way before him; and men loved darkness rather than light — Ignorance of the divine truth rather than the knowledge of it, folly rather than wisdom, sin rather than righteousness; because their deeds were evil — And they had not so much fear of God before their eyes, or so much concern for their own everlasting salvation, as to resolve on a thorough reformation of their conduct.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
John 3:20-21. For every one that doeth evil — That is conscious to himself that he lives in known sin, and is inclined to continue to do so; hateth the light — Which would detect and expose his evil practices, and thereby cause anguish and shame to his guilty mind; neither cometh to the light — But keeps aloof from it, being unwilling, not desirous, to know his true character, and the dangerous and miserable condition which he is in. Thus Christ, and his genuine gospel, is hated, because sin is loved. And sinners hate the light, because it discovers the evil and sinfulness of their ways unto them, and condemns them for them. But he that doeth the truth — That complies with the will of God, as far as he knows it; that sincerely and conscientiously endeavours to conform his conduct to the eternal law of righteousness; cometh to the light — With confidence and joy, brings his opinions and practices, his desires and designs, his affections, intentions, and resolutions, his tempers, words, and actions, to the test of God’s word; that his deeds may be made manifest — As in open day; that they are wrought in God — Are performed as in his sight, according to the direction of his word, with a single eye to his glory, and in consequence of that union of soul with him, which is the highest dignity and happiness of a rational creature. “Be it therefore known to you all,” as if our Lord had said, “that this gospel which I preach is the great touchstone of men’s true characters; and as nothing but a corruption of the heart can oppose it, so I faithfully warn you, that if you reject it, it is at the peril of your souls.” Observe, reader, we have in this passage the character of a good man: 1st, He is one that doeth την αληθειαν, not truth merely, but the truth, namely, that walks according to the truth, as it is in Jesus, and that uprightly and conscientiously. 2d, He is one that cometh to the light, that is ready and desirous to receive the truth, as far as it appears to him to be so, and discoveries of God’s mind concerning him, whatever uneasiness may be created to him thereby. He frequently tries himself, and desires that God would try him; being solicitous to know his will, and resolving to comply with it, however contrary to his own will and apparent interests. We have here, also, the character of a good work: it is wrought in God, in union with him by living faith, through the aid of his grace. Our works are then good, and will bear the test of God’s word, 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: and if by the light of the gospel it be manifested to us that our works are thus wrought, then we have cause of rejoicing, Galatians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 1:12. Such was the purport of our Lord’s discourse with Nicodemus; and it appears by some following circumstances of the story, that it made a deep and lasting impression on his mind; and that he afterward became a true disciple of Christ. See John 7:50; John 19:39.

But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.
John 3:22-24. After these things — That is, some time after our Lord’s conference with Nicodemus; came Jesus and his disciples — From Jerusalem, where they had kept the passover together; into the land of Judea — That is, into a part of it which was at some distance from the capital city; and there he tarried with them — How long is not said; and baptized — Not himself, but his disciples, by his order, John 4:2. And John also was baptizing, at that time, at Ænon, near Salim — A town on the west side of Jordan; because there was much water there — Which made it very convenient for his purpose. And they came — Namely, people came from various parts; and were baptized by him. For John was not yet cast into prison — As he was a few months after, by the injustice of Herod, in whose dominions that place was.

And John also was baptizing in AEnon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.
For John was not yet cast into prison.
Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying.
John 3:25-26. Then there arose a question — Or a dispute; between some of John’s disciples and the Jews — Or rather, a certain Jew: for, “though the common editions read Jews, the greater number of MSS., among which are some of the most valuable, some ancient expositors also, and critics read, a Jew, in the singular; with which agrees both the Syriac versions. To which may be added some of our best modern critics, as Grotius, Cocceius, Hammond, Mill, and Wetstein.” — Campbell. About purifying — That is, as appears from the sequel, about baptisms, and other legal ablutions. The Jews called all sorts of ablutions, prescribed by their teachers, purifications. The subject, therefore, of this debate, seems to have been, how Jesus, who had been himself baptized by John, came to rebaptize John’s disciples, (Acts 19:4-5,) that is, assume greater authority than John, and virtually declare that his baptism was inefficacious for the purposes of purification. And they came unto John — The Baptist’s disciples, though they had often heard their master speak on the subject, not understanding the subserviency of his ministry to that of Jesus, were unable to give their antagonists a satisfactory answer, so they came and proposed their question to John himself; and said, He to whom thou barest witness — Gavest such an honourable testimony; behold, the same baptizeth — People that come to him from all parts, yea, even such as have before received thy baptism. They seem to have been apprehensive that this would cause John’s baptism to be neglected, and would tend to the injury of his character.

And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.
John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
John 3:27-29. John answered — With a humility and integrity agreeable to the rest of his character, A man can receive nothing — Neither he, nor I, nor any man; unless it be given him from heaven — Whence every good gift cometh, James 1:18; a general truth, very applicable in this case. Different employments are according to the direction of Divine Providence; different endowments according to the distribution of divine grace. We have as necessary and constant a dependance upon the grace of God in all the actions of the spiritual life, as we have upon the providence of God in all those of the natural life. Dr. Macknight paraphrases the passage thus: “A man of God, or prophet, can assume no greater dignity and authority, than God has thought fit to confer on him. Ye yourselves bear me witness — For you cannot but remember, that I said — Very expressly; I am not the Christ — I never pretended to be the Messiah, as you very well know; but when you asked me, I told you I was only his harbinger sent before, to give you notice of his coming, and to prepare you for receiving him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom, &c. — So far am I from envying his growing fame, or the number of his disciples, that I greatly rejoice in both; just as the bridegroom’s friend, who is appointed to stand and hear him converse with his bride, rejoices in the love she expresses to him; of which love the friend forms an idea likewise, by what he hears the bridegroom say to her in return. My highest joy, therefore, is, that men cheerfully submit to the Messiah, and pay him all due honour.” Thus John was so far from regretting the advancement of Christ and his interest: as his disciples did, that he rejoiced in it, expressing his joy by an elegant, well-known, and expressive similitude. As if he had said, “Do all men come to him? It is well: whither else should they go? Has he got the throne in men’s affections? Who else should have it? It is his right. To whom should the bride be brought but to the bridegroom? The Word was made flesh, that the disparity of nature might not be a bar to the union; provision is made for the purifying of the church, that the defilement of sin might be no bar. Christ espouses the church to himself: he has the bride, for he has her love and her promise.” All that John had done in preaching and baptizing, he had done as the friend of the bridegroom, to introduce him to the bride, recommend him to her affections, prepare her for him, and in other respects do him honour and service; and now that he was come, had gained her love, and betrothed her to himself; John had what he wished for, and rejoiced. Thus faithful ministers, as friends of the bridegroom, recommend him to the affections and choice of mankind; and the espousing of souls to Christ in faith and love, is the fulfilling of their joy.

Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.
He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.
He must increase, but I must decrease.
John 3:30-31. He must increase — And appear continually more and more glorious, like the growing moon; but I must decrease — Must gradually wane and decline, till I disappear: for the end of my ministry is now, in a great measure, answered, and therefore I quickly expect to be dismissed from it. He that cometh from above is above all — As if he had said, It is fit he should increase, while I decrease; for he is a person of infinitely greater dignity than I am, possesses far more knowledge of the divine will, and the discoveries which he makes thereof as far transcend mine as heaven exceeds earth. Thus John speaks of Christ’s increase and his own decrease, not only as what was necessary and unavoidable, and that which could not be prevented, and therefore must be borne; but as highly just and agreeable to him: and he is entirely satisfied with it, nay, and rejoices in it. Thus they who are now like John, burning and shining lights, must, (if not suddenly eclipsed,) like him, gradually decrease, while others are increasing about them; as they in their turns grew up amid the decays of the former generation. Let us know how to set as well as how to rise; and let it comfort our declining days, to trace, in those who are likely to succeed us in our work, the openings of yet greater usefulness. But let us especially rejoice to observe the glory of Christ increasing, and eclipsing the lustre of all other glory, as the increasing light of the morning causes the glory of the morning star to decline, and at last entirely to disappear. And, if our diminution and abasement may but in the least contribute to the advancement of his name and honour, let us cheerfully submit to it, and be content to be any thing, yea, to be nothing, so that Christ may be all.

He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.
And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.
John 3:32-34. And what he hath seen and heard — This is spoken in allusion to what was said in the preceding verse, of his being from above, where he enjoyed the most intimate communications of the divine counsels; that he testifieth — Clearly, fully, and faithfully; and no man receiveth his testimony — That is, very few receive it, particularly concerning the spiritual nature of the kingdom of God, and the qualifications requisite in his subjects. There is a strong resemblance between this and what our Lord himself said to Nicodemus, John 3:11-13. He that hath received his testimony — That hath understood and believed it; hath set to his seal that God is true — Hath made a most just and substantial acknowledgment of the veracity of God, who by his prophets in ancient times foretold what the nature of his kingdom under the Messiah would be, and who speaks to men now by his only-begotten Son, in such a manner as he never did by any other prophet. As sealing was employed for vouching the authenticity of writings, to seal came, by a natural and easy transition, to signify, to vouch, to attest. Our acceptance of God’s message by his Son, through an unshaken faith, vouches on our part the faithfulness of God, and the truth of his promises. For he whom God hath sent — His only-begotten Son; speaketh the words of God — Declareth doctrines which ought to be regarded as divine oracles, showing themselves to be such by their own native light of truth, and proved to be such by a great variety of the most extraordinary miracles. For God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him — Or, under such limitations, and with such interruptions, as he hath given, or still gives, that blessed gift to all his other messengers; but it dwells in him by a constant presence, and operates through him by a perpetual and unprecedented energy.

He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.
For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.
The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.
John 3:35-36. The Father loveth the Son — Incomparably, beyond the most faithful of his servants, and with an affection very different from the regard which he hath manifested, does, or ever will manifest to any of his other messengers. They were servants, and were treated as such, being endued with scanty portions of the Spirit, compared to those of which he is possessed; whereas this is the Son, for which reason God has anointed him with the oil of gladness above his fellows. And hath given all things into his hand — Hath not only made him the greatest prophet and priest, but the greatest king also, that ever was; even king and judge universal, by whose laws men must govern their lives, and at whose bar they shall all be finally tried. He, therefore, that believeth on the Son — With a living faith, a faith of the operation of God, Colossians 2:12; he that receiveth him in all his offices and characters; hath everlasting life — Hath a title to it, being a child of God, is an heir of it, has an increasing meetness for it, and an earnest of it by the Holy Spirit in his heart. And he that believeth not the Son — That does not receive his doctrine in faith and love, and with an obedient mind; or, who is disobedient to the Son, as the original expression seems more properly to signify; and continues in unbelief and disobedience, shall not see, or enjoy life — Either spiritual or eternal; but the wrath of God abideth on him — Being unpardoned and unrenewed, he remains under the guilt of all his sins, and is continually exposed to that wrath of God which, if his repentance, faith, and new obedience do not prevent, will quickly sink him into final condemnation and ruin. It is justly observed here, by Dr. Doddridge, that “it is of great importance to preserve a difference in the translation between ο πιστευων εις τον υιον, he that believeth on the Son, and ο απειθων τω υιω, he that is disobedient to the Son; because the latter phrase explains the former, and shows that the faith, to which the promise of life is annexed, is an effectual principle of sincere and reserved obedience; and it is impossible to make one part of Scripture consistent with another, unless this be taken into our idea of saving faith.” It must be observed, also, that in Scripture the word abide has frequently a particular signification, denoting the adhesion and permanency of the thing that is said to abide. Of this signification we have an example here, for the Baptist does not speak of that momentary wrath, or displeasure of God, whereby he often chastises his people for their offences, or even cuts them off by a premature death, but of that abiding wrath which torments and does not kill, and being once inflicted never comes to an end. “Thus the Baptist bare testimony to Jesus anew, setting forth his dignity, in the plenitude of his commission, the excellence of his gifts, the nearness of his relation to his heavenly Father, as his only Son, and the greatness of his power, as universal judge:” and thus he concluded those of his testimonies to Christ, which are recorded in the gospel; and was quickly after imprisoned by Herod.

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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