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Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life… (John 3.36)
Along with Psalm 23, John 3 may be the best-known passage in all of scripture, or at least one verse from John 3 can lay claim to this distinction. While many of us probably do know John 3.16 (For God so loved the world…) and can also most likely say it from memory, there are other significant ideas found in this chapter.
The chapter opens with Nicodemus, a “Pharisee” and a “member of the Jewish council” coming to Jesus at night. Why at night? John never tells us explicitly, but a safe assumption would be that the darkness of night provides a cover so that Nicodemus’ other council members would not know he went to Jesus.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be “born again” to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus finds this confusing and truthfully, reading this passage literally would result in the same reaction from us, as well. The confusion lies in the fact that Jesus is speaking of a spirit rebirth, not a physical one. What does it mean to be born again in the spirit? It means believing in Jesus, or more specifically, believing that it is through Jesus that we have eternal life.
John goes on to explain this in the next section of this chapter, verses 16-21. Here we find that famous passage, but do not miss the other parts of the section. For instance, John tells us that Jesus came not to judge the world, but save it. Many people have a view that Jesus’ (and God’s) only job is to smite down those who sin or fall out of line. John’s words here should be a comfort and a correction against such thinking.
John also explores a theme he uses often in his gospel: light versus darkness. Jesus, John says, exposes evil because he is the light. Those who love evil prefer darkness; they do not want to be exposed for who they are.
Finally, we wrap up the story of John the Baptist within John’s gospel. There is a moment in the conversation where it would appear that John might be expected to take a defensive stance against the actions of Jesus and his disciples, who were baptizing and having the crowds come to Jesus. Had John not understood his role as the one preparing the way for Jesus’ coming, it might have been easy for him to feel slighted, or like he was losing his influence. Instead, he rejoiced in the coming of Jesus. Like a best man helping a groom get ready for his wedding, John recognized that what was happening was what was supposed to happen. The things he had been preparing the people for was coming to pass.
John concludes this chapter with a reminder of what we read in John 3.16: Whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life.
Why do you think Nicodemus wanted to ask Jesus the questions he did? In what ways should have Nicodemus already known that answers to these questions? In what ways do you think Jesus was creating a new definition of what it meant to follow God?
As you read through John 3, what stands out to you that you have not read or seen before? In what ways does the famous passage of John 3.16 come to life more when you read the chapter in its entirety?
How hard would it have been for you to have the same attitude of John when he sees the crowds beginning to follow Jesus? In what ways might we be called upon to prepare others for a greater role in the kingdom of God than we ourselves have? How can understanding the importance of God’s kingdom help us to see things more important that just our role in that kingdom?