3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 3

Contents

Chapter 3: Nicodemus, and darkness

gogh.starry-night
This is part 3 of a 21-part series which traces “seeing” and “hearing”, and looks at how they relate to “believing”, through the Gospel of John.

In Chapter 3 we have an encounter with Nicodemus, which is quite famous. We also find the most famous verse in the Bible – John 3:16, and then a look at John the Baptist again, and testimonies about Jesus’ deity.

But our job is to look at those key ideas of “seeing” and “hearing”. They are certainly in play, with strong rhetorical force, throughout the chapter.


REVIEWING THE TEXT – Chapter 3

Nicodemus

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’

– John 3:1-3

If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.

Chapter 3 opens with an encounter “by night”. Many have suggested that this is because Nicodemus is being secretive. Perhaps they are right. But it should come as no surprise in the context of light/dark, hear/see, that John would include the fact that at this time, the world is benighted. Jesus is quite explicit:

Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. – John 3:3

This is a central part of the whole lesson we are exploring. There is no point “looking” until you have heard, and believed. Only then can you see. So then, what shall we do if we cannot see the kingdom?

The spirit (literally “wind”) blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. – John 3:8

… we “hear the sound of it“!

Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

– John 3:10-15

He goes on to say, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” (3:10). Jesus and his disciples, of course, do see, and have seen (3:11). It is flabbergasting then, that Nicodemus and his fellow Jews (Jesus uses plurals to address them), who are in the dark, refuse to “receive our testimony” (3:11), which is perfectly audible, and they “do not believe” (3:12).

In another odd expression, Jesus likens himself to the Numbers 21 snake on a pole. In Numbers 21, here is how it worked:

And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

– Numbers 21:8-9

But Jesus says something slightly different. It would be reasonable to expect him to say, “… so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that anyone may look at him and live‘. But he didn’t say that. When making an allusion to something, any change of the key idioms is important, and relevant. Notice carefully what Jesus does:

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

– John 3:14-15

He whom God has sent speaks the words of God

Jesus is commentating Numbers 21, as much as anything else, and essentially saying that it was the belief of the people that healed them, not the “seeing” itself. Jesus has declared the people of this world, “this generation”, to be corrupt. “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” (Luke 11:29). Indeed, even a Resurrection would not be enough: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:31).

Darkness

In verses 17-21, Jesus talks about this “dark” and “light”, indicating that “people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (3:19).

And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

– John 3:19-21

 

Speaking, Voice, Testimony, Hearing, Believing

As we continue through the story, John again uses an unusual phrase to make this point about hearing instead of seeing. He says:

The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. – John 3:29

There is no point “looking” until you have heard, and believed.

Really? At his voice? Normally the wedding party see the bridegroom before hearing him. But John makes the point emphatically here. It is all about what you hear. The chapter closes with another affirmation of hearing and believing which, if it was not trying to emphasise hearing, would surely have been worded very differently:

The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath. – John 3:31-36


Questions to Ponder from Chapter 3

How does the theme of “darkness” work in this chapter?
If nobody can “see the kingdom” unless they are born again, how will they come to be born again?
When you look at a crucifix (Jesus dying on the cross), what do you see? What does it suggest that you should believe, if you knew nothing about Christianity? How does that differ from Romans 10:9? “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Other posts in this series:

Gospel of John

Posted on May 24th, 2012 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Gospel of John: Many people's favourite book, but scholars neglected it for centuries! Historicity Differences between John and the Synoptic…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 1

Posted on May 3rd, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 1: Prologue, and John the Baptist introduces Jesus This is part 1 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 2

Posted on May 10th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 2: Signs This is part 2 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at how they relate to "believing", through the…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 3

Posted on May 16th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 3: Nicodemus, and darkness This is part 3 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at how they relate to…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 4

Posted on May 23rd, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 4: The Samaritan Woman, the Harvest, and the Return to Galilee This is part 4 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 5

Posted on May 30th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 5: Sabbath, and the Son of God This is part 5 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at how they relate to…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 6

Posted on Jun 6th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 6: Feeding the 5000, Bread from Heaven, Words of Life This is part 6 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 7

Posted on Jun 13th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

 Chapter 7: The Festival, The Living Water This is part 7 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at how they…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 8

Posted on Jun 20th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

 Chapter 8: The Adulteress, Light of the World, and Abraham's Sons This is part 8 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 9

Posted on Jun 27th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

 Chapter 9: To see This is part 9 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at how they relate to "believing", through…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 10

Posted on Jul 4th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 10: The Voice of the Shepherd This is part 10 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at how they relate to…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 11

Posted on Jul 13th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 11: The Resurrection and the Life This is part 11 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at how they relate to…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 12

Posted on Jul 18th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 12: This is part 12 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at how they relate to "believing", through the Gospel…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 13

Posted on Jul 25th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 13 This is part 13 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at how they relate to "believing", through the Gospel…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 14

Posted on Aug 22nd, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 14 This is part 14 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at how they relate to "believing", through the Gospel…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 15

Posted on Sep 5th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 15 This is part 15 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at how they relate to "believing", through the Gospel…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 16

Posted on Sep 19th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 16 This is part 16 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at how they relate to "believing", through the Gospel…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 17

Posted on Oct 3rd, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 16 This is part 17 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at how they relate to "believing", through the Gospel…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 18

Posted on Oct 31st, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 18 This is part 18 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at how they relate to "believing", through the Gospel…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 19

Posted on Jan 2nd, 2015 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 19 This is part 19 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at how they relate to "believing", through the Gospel…

Continue Reading

3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 20

Posted on Jan 11th, 2015 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

Chapter 20 This is part 20 of a 21-part series which traces "seeing" and "hearing", and looks at how they relate to "believing", through the Gospel…

Continue Reading


 

facebook comments:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *