John (Part 9): Nicodemus, the End (Ch 3:11-21)
Jesus continues his explanation to Nicodemus by emphasizing again the contrast of the two categories of human beings—of image bearers: those born of God who faithfully follow the covenant and those born of Adam who have broken the covenant. Jesus, of course, is the only one of the righteous (the covenant followers born of God), but his discussion so far has hinted at the possibility of others moving through rebirth to also become offspring of God. And so in verse 12 Jesus draws the line between “we” and the plural “you.” Those who know and testify of what they have seen are those from God. That probably refers to Jesus and John the Baptist and others like him who have put their trust in Jesus.
But Jesus now moves into a discussion answering Nicodemus’s question, “How can these things be?” Jesus has spoken of the new birth—this change that must be effected moving a person from an offspring of Adam to the offspring of God. But how does it happen? Here Jesus begins to explain about himself—about how he accomplishes salvation.
Jesus begins by alluding to Nicodemus’s opening line. Nicodemus had said, “we know that You have come from God,” without truly realizing what that statement entailed. Jesus now tells him. Only Jesus is from God because only Jesus has descended from heaven as the Son of Man.
The phrase Son of Man emphasizes Jesus’ likeness to, and therefore representational association with, human image bearers. But the fact that he descended from heaven—is the Son of God—emphasizes his difference in sinlessness (or covenant faithfulness). So this verse gives us both thoughts: the Son of God came to earth as the Son of Man. And verse 14 tells us that he is to be the focus that will result in salvation.
The attention that now is turned to Jesus himself is the buildup for John 3:16, the great verse that provides the encapsulated gospel message—the “how” of new birth accomplishment. The KJV has almost missed this statement of love by miscommunicating it as a degree of love rather than the method of ultimate love. The “so” in “For God so loved the world” does not mean to emphasize how much but rather simply how. The HCSB translation, “For God loved the word in this way:” better conveys that meaning.
This verse presents a stumbling block to Calvinists. Not only does the use of the word “world” indicate a greater than particular redemption (neither John nor any NT writer ever uses “world” to limit consideration to a subset of the world), but the purpose and mood of the rest of the verse does not follow Calvinistic logic. We see first that God “gave His One and Only Son that” or, better, in order that everlasting life could result. But notice the order. The verse tells us that God’s gift of the Son accomplishing atonement makes possible believers or faith holders to have eternal life. It is not, as the Calvinists suggest, new birth is assigned to those who would follow in belief. The Greek uses the subjunctive mood. It argues that “God loved the world in this ways: He gave His One and Only Son in order that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” The subjunctive mood argues for the “may” rather than the “will” which gives us sequence from belief to the salvation (regeneration).
Furthermore, as we have worked through the context of this passage, we have found Jesus’ emphasis on the belief step of spiritual response as necessary for the movement (regeneration) from offspring of Adam to offspring of God. That ordered movement is thrust to the forefront again in the last part of Jesus’ explanation in verses 19 through 21. In winding up the discussion, Jesus here speaks of the judgment. Once presented with this light (the light of the gospel—Jesus himself), those loving darkness reject it. But—notice carefully the wording—“anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light.” Does that clause show progression? Read it again—anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light. The living by truth seems to precede the coming to the light. The emphasis, then, is not that anyone who comes to the light then lives by the truth (although that is true as well). But rather the living by truth characterizes those and motivates those to continue to come to the light.
Calvinism emphasizes the opposite. Regeneration must occur first—the coming to the light—before we live by its truth. All is darkness beforehand. There is definite conflict in the Calvinist idea with this verse.
But the verse affirms the faith electionist belief. God works in series of revelation and response (enlightenment and acceptance—a living by the truth) as God continues to reveal up to and through salvific revelation.
In his explanation, Jesus, then, has emphasized both aspects of the new birth to Nicodemus: faith in God and atonement accomplishment by the Son of God / Son of Man. Here then is the atonement:
1. God established covenant relationship with his image bearers to provide them with life as they trusted in him for life.
2. God’s image bearers (Adam and Eve) broke covenant by removing their trust from God and, therefore, lost God’s provision of life.
3. Adam and Eve’s descendants, surviving by God’s grace, were and are likewise in broken covenant relationship with God.
4. God established a covenant relationship with Abraham so that his descendant could, on the basis of trust in God, bless (redeem) the world.
5. Jesus was born as a descendant of Abraham (Son of Man).
6. Jesus was born as the one and only (begotten) Son of God, and, therefore, not tied to the broken covenant as a son of Adam.
7. Based on his birth as the Son of Man and his sinless keeping of that covenant (trusting in God), Jesus inherited all of God’s everlasting blessings promised to Abraham, the collection and culmination of which is the New Covenant of Life.
8. As the Son of Man through Abraham (but keeping the Abrahamic covenant perfectly so he is not blemished by sin in life) and as the Son of God (not blemished by original sin), Jesus became the necessarily unblemished sin offering for humankind in dying on the cross, satisfying the penalty of the image bearers’ broken covenant relationship with God.
9. As the firstborn Son of God, Jesus adopted and would adopt all those who trusted in him for life, essentially making them also born from above—offspring of God.
10. Reborn offspring of God inherit Jesus’ satisfaction of the broken original covenant.
11. Reborn offspring of God inherit Jesus’ righteousness regarding the New Covenant of Life, making them participants in that covenant.
12. Reborn offspring of God are forgiven for their individual sins.