If I have told you earthly things, and you believe not, how shall you believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
Jump to: Alford • Barnes • Bengel • Benson • BI • Calvin • Cambridge • Chrysostom • Clarke • Darby • Ellicott • Expositor's • Exp Dct • Exp Grk • Gaebelein • GSB • Gill • Gray • Haydock • Hastings • Homiletics • ICC • JFB • Kelly • KJT • Lange • MacLaren • MHC • MHCW • Meyer • Parker • PNT • Poole • Pulpit • Sermon • SCO • Teed • TTB • VWS • WES • TSK
EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Earthly things—i.e., things upon earth, having the sphere of their action upon earth. These are not necessarily restricted to the subjects of this interview. The context includes previous witness borne by Him, and there must have been much which is unrecorded. (Comp. John 2:23.) But the new birth is not excluded from “earthly things,” because it is the entrance to a life which, while it is spiritual, is still a life upon earth.
Heavenly things, in the same way, are things which have the sphere of their action in heaven, the full development of the spiritual life, of which the birth only is on earth; the divine counsels of redemption; the Messianic mysteries, of which this ruler of Israel does not understand even the initiation. Comp. the question in the Wisdom of Solomon, “What man is he that can know the counsel of God? or who can think what the will of the Lord is? . . . And hardly do we guess aright at things that are upon earth, and with labour do we find the things that are before us: but the things that are in heaven who hath searched out?” (John 9:13; John 9:16).
The earthly things are the elements of spiritual knowledge, having their test in the moral sense and in their fitness to supply the spiritual wants of man. When these elements are learnt, the mind is then, and then only, fitted to receive heavenly things. The teaching can only proceed step by step from the known to the unknown; but if the will refuses or the intellect neglects to know the knowable, the man cuts himself off from the power to receive truth. The message from the spirit-world has come, and others read it; but he has not learnt the alphabet. (Comp. Note on John 16:12.)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.
How shall ye believe - How will you believe. Is there any probability that you will understand them?
Heavenly things - Things pertaining to the government of God and his doings in the heavens; things which are removed from human view, and which cannot be subjected to human sight; the more profound and inscrutable things pertaining to the redemption of men. Hence, learn:
1. The height and depth of the doctrines of religion. There is much that we cannot yet understand,
2. The feebleness of our understandings and the corruptions of our hearts are the real causes why doctrines of religion are so little understood by us.
heavenly things—the things of the new and more heavenly evangelical economy, only to be fully understood after the effusion of the Spirit from heaven through the exalted Saviour.John 3:31; and this doctrine of regeneration was an heavenly doctrine; and the thing itself required supernatural power, and grace from above: but either they were the more easy doctrines of the Gospel; or were delivered in a plain and easy style, and illustrated by similes taken from earthly things, as from human birth, from the water, and from the wind:
and ye believe not; i.e. those things; ye do not receive them, nor give credit to them; or "me", as the Ethiopic Version adds, who relate them on the best evidence, having fully known, and clearly seen them:
how shall ye believe; give credit to me, or receive my testimony:
if I tell you of heavenly things? of the more sublime doctrines of the Gospel, such as the descent of the Messiah from heaven; the union of the two natures, human and divine, in him; his being the only begotten Son of God; his crucifixion and death, signified by the lifting up of the serpent on a pole in the wilderness; and the wonderful love of God to the Gentile world in giving Christ to, and for them; and the salvation, and eternal happiness of all that believe in him, whether they be Jews or Gentiles; and these delivered in language suitable to them, without figures, or natural similes, which help the understanding, and convey ideas of things more easily to it.If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)John 3:12. How grievous the prospect which your unbelief regarding the instructions I have already given opens up as to the future!
τὰ ἐπίγεια] what is on earth, things which take place on earth (not in heaven). We must strictly adhere to this meaning of the word in this as in all other passages (1 Corinthians 15:40; 2 Corinthians 5:1; Php 2:10; Php 3:19; Jam 3:15. Comp. Wis 9:16, and Grimm, Handbuch, p. 189). To the category of these earthly things belonged also the birth from above (against Baeumlein), because, though brought about by a power from heaven, it is accomplished on earth; and because, proceeding in repentance and faith, it is a change taking place on earth within the earthly realm of our moral life; and because it is historically certain that Christ everywhere began His work with this very preaching of μετάνοια. The Lord has in His mind not only the doctrine of regeneration just declared to Nicodemus, but, as the plural shows, all which thus far He had taught the Jews (εἶπον ὑμῖν); and this had been hitherto only ἐπίγεια, and not ἐπουράνια, of which He still designs to speak. It is therefore wrong to refer the expression to the comparison of the wind (Beza) or of corporeal birth (Grotius), as prefiguring higher doctrine; for the relation to the faith spoken of did not lie in these symbols, but in the truths they symbolized. The meaning of the words is quite altered, moreover, if we change the word ἐπίγεια into “human and moral” (B. Crusius), or take it as meaning only what is stated in the immediate context (Lücke), or, with De Wette, make the point of difference to be nothing more than the antithesis between man’s susceptibility of regeneration as a work within him and his susceptibility of merely believing.
The counterpart of the ἐπίγεια are the ἐπουράνια, of which Jesus intends to speak to them in future, things which are in heaven (so in all places, Matthew 18:35; 1 Corinthians 15:40; 1 Corinthians 15:48-49; Ephesians 1:3; Php 2:10, etc.). To this category belong especially the Messianic mysteries, i.e. the divine decrees for man’s redemption and final blessedness. These are ἐπουράνια, because they have their foundation (Wis 9:16-17) in the divine will, though their realization commences in the present αἰών, through the entire work, and in particular through the death of Jesus and the faith of mankind; but while still unaccomplished, belongs to the divine counsel, and shall be first consummated and fully revealed in the kingdom of the Messiah by the exalted Christ, when the ζωὴ αἰώνιος will reveal itself at the goal of perfection (Colossians 3:4), and “it will appear what we shall be.” To the ἐπουρανίοις, therefore, does not first belong what is to be said of His exaltation, Matthew 26:64 (Steinfass); but that very statement, and indeed as the first and main thing, which Jesus immediately after delivers in John 3:14 ff., where the heavenly element, i.e. what is in the counsels of God (John 3:15-16), is clearly contained. According to the connection, it is to be inferred that what is heavenly is difficult to be understood; but this difficulty has nothing to do with the word itself, as Lücke holds.
 εἶπον is dixi, not dixerunt, as Ewald thinks, who regards the ancients in the O. T. as the subject, and upon too feeble evidence reads ἐπιστεύσατε instead of πιστεύετε. This new subject must have been expressed, and an ἐγώ should have stood over against it in the apodosis. Comp. Matthew 5:21-22. The earthly might be appropriate to the law (following Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 9:5; Hebrews 10:1), but not to the prophets.John 3:12. εἰ τὰ ἐπίγεια … πιστεύσετε; The reference of τὰ ἐπίγεια is fixed by the εἶπον ὑμῖν. They are such things as Jesus had been speaking of: things verified in human, earthly experience, the necessity of a spiritual birth and the results of it. Regeneration was a change made in this earthly life. The kingdom of regenerate men was to be established on earth, as apprehensible in certain of its aspects as the kingdom Nicodemus was proposing to found. The ἐπουράνια are matters not open to human observation, matters wholly in the unseen, the nature and purposes of God. Cf. the remarkable parallel in Wis 9:16.12. earthly things] Things which take place on earth, even though originating in heaven, e.g. the ‘new birth,’ which though ‘from above,’ must take place in this world. See notes on 1 Corinthians 15:40 and James 3:15.
heavenly things] The mysteries which are not of this world, the Divine counsels respecting man’s salvation.John 3:12. Τὰ ἐπίγεια, earthly things) To the heavenly sense of Jesus Christ there are earthly things, ἐπίγεια, which, having to be accomplished on the regions of earth by us who creep on the ground, appear in the highest degree heavenly. The whole style of Scripture is full of συγκατάβασις [condescension]. Regeneration is from heaven, not however in heaven: it is indeed [a process] on the margin of heaven.—πῶς, how) The cause why Scripture is silent about many things.—τὰ ἐπούρανια) heavenly things, the inner principles of the kingdom of God, John 3:3; Wis 9:16, μόλις εἰκάζομεν τὰ ἐπὶ γῆς—τὰ δὲ ἐν οὐρανοῖς τίς ἐξιχνίασε; He does not, at John 3:13, so much speak out, as hint at.—πιστεύσετε, will ye believe) The less anything seems credible to reason, often the more heavenly it is.Verse 12. - If I told you earthly things and ye believe not, how will ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things? Our Lord here drops the plural form of address, and returns to the singular. He is about to refer to matters in which the testimony of disciples was not available. It has sometimes been said that the "earthly" and "heavenly" things refer to the wind parable and its interpretation. But, on the supposition that there is a parable or metaphor in ver. 8, which we have seen reason to doubt, there would be no perplexity about the reception of the earthly illustration; none could in that day have made a moment's question touching the invisibility and incomprehensibility of the motion of the wind. The birth from water has been supposed by others to be the (ἐπίγειον) "earthly" thing of which he had spoken, as contrasted with the heavenly thing, the birth anew from the Spirit. But this also is improbable, for of all the things of which Jesus spoke, that was the least likely to have been rejected by the Pharisaic party. The "earthly things" are the subject matter of the discourse as a whole, in apprehending which Nicodemus manifested such obtuseness. The change, renovation of human nature, the new beginning "from the Spirit" of each human life, was indeed operated on the ground of an earthly experience, and came fairly within the compass of common appreciation. Though produced by the Spirit, these things were enacted on earth. When Nicodemus asks the question "how?" he launches the inquiry into another region. There is wide difference between the question "what?" and the question "how?" The one in physical science refers to the whole range of phenomena, and the answer states the facts as they present themselves to the senses; the other question inquires into what Bacon called the latens processus - into verae causae, into the movements and method of the creative hand. So the answer to the question "what?" may be an "earthly thing," the answer to the question "how?" a "heavenly thing." If Christ answer the "how" of his listener, he raises his mind to the "heavenly" and transcendental realities which Nicodemus and we too will have to receive on an authority which entirely outsoars that of daily experience or temporal phenomena. Truly he does proceed to do so, but the difficulty of acceptance is indefinitely augmented. The answer of Christ to the matters of personal experience, verifiable by conscience and affirmed by Scripture, was difficult to the master of Israel. The answer of Jesus to the question "how?" may prove far more formidable. It involves the revelation of "the Son of man," and the redemption by the cross, and the ascension of the Son of man into heaven, and the love of God to the world, and the gift of eternal life to faith.
Rendering the aorist more strictly, Itold.
Earthly things (τὰ ἐπίγεια)
Compounded of ἐπί, upon, and γῆ, earth. In Colossians 3:2, the adjective appears in its analyzed form, τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, things on the earth. It is in this literal sense it is to be taken here; not things of earthly nature, but things whose proper place is on earth. Not worldly affairs, nor things sinful, but, on the contrary, "those facts and phenomena of the higher life as a class, which have their seat and manifestation on earth; which belong in their realization to our present existence; which are seen in their consequences, like the issues of birth; which are sensible in their effects, like the action of the wind; which are a beginning and a prophecy, and not a fulfillment" (Westcott). The earthly things would therefore include the phenomena of the new birth.
Heavenly things (τὰ ἐπουράνια)
Compounded with ἐπί, upon or in, and οὐρανός, heaven. Not holy things as compared with sinful, nor spiritual things as compared with temporal; but things which are in heaven, mysteries of redemption, having their seat in the divine will, realized in the world through the work and death of Jesus Christ and the faith of mankind (John 5:14-16). Thus it is said (John 3:13) that the Son of man who is in heaven came down out of heaven, and in John 3:31, John 3:32 that He that cometh out of heaven beareth witness (on earth) of what He has seen and heard; and that, being sent from God, He speaketh the words of God (John 3:34).
It has been urged against the genuineness of the fourth Gospel that the lofty and mystical language which is there ascribed to Jesus is inconsistent with the synoptical reports of His words. That if the one represents truthfully His style of speaking, the other must misrepresent it. Godet's words on this point are worth quoting: "It would be truly curious that the first who should have pointed out that contrast should be the Evangelist himself against whose narrative it has been brought forward as a ground of objection. The author of the fourth Gospel puts these words (John 3:12) into the mouth of Jesus. He there declares that He came down from heaven to bring this divine message to the world. The author of the fourth Gospel was then clearly aware of two ways of teaching adopted by Jesus; the one the usual, in which he explained earthly things, evidently always in their relation to God and His kingdom; the other, which contrasted in many respects with the first, and which Jesus employed only exceptionally, in which He spoke directly, and as a witness, of God and the things of God, always naturally in connection with the fate of mankind. The instructions of the first kind had a more simple, more practical, more varied character. They referred to the different situations of life; it was the exposition of the true moral relations of men to each other, and of men to God.... But in that way Jesus could not attain to the final aim which He sought, the full revelation of the divine mystery, of the plan of salvation. Since His baptism Jesus had heaven constantly open before Him; the decree of salvation was disclosed to Him; He had, in particular, heard these words: 'Thou art my well beloved Son;' He reposed on the Father's bosom, and He could descend and redescend without ceasing into the depths of the Father's fathomless love, of which He felt the vivifying power; and when He came, at certain exceptional moments, to speak of that divine relationship, and to give scope to that fullness of life with which it supplied Him, His language took a peculiar, solemn, mystical, one might even say a heavenly tone; for they were heavenly things which He then revealed. Now such is precisely the character of His language in the fourth Gospel." Compare Luke 10:18, sqq., where Jesus' words take on a character similar to that of His utterances in John.
LinksJohn 3:12 Interlinear
John 3:12 Parallel Texts
John 3:12 NIV
John 3:12 NLT
John 3:12 ESV
John 3:12 NASB
John 3:12 KJV
John 3:12 Bible Apps
John 3:12 Parallel
John 3:12 Biblia Paralela
John 3:12 Chinese Bible
John 3:12 French Bible
John 3:12 German Bible