Christ Received All Authority From the Father
“The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (3:35–36)
This last point explicitly states what the first four imply. Because of His love for the Son (cf. 5:20; 15:9; 17:23, 26; Matt. 3:17), the Father has given Him supreme authority over all things on earth and in heaven (Matt. 11:27; 28:18; 1 Cor. 15:27; Eph. 1:22; Phil. 2:9–11; Heb. 1:2; 1 Peter 3:22). That supremacy is a clear indicator of the Son’s deity.
John’s affirmation of Jesus’ absolute authority demonstrated his humble attitude, even as his heralding ministry faded into the background. Having fulfilled his mission on this earth, John realized that his work would soon be finished. In fact, not long after this, he was arrested and beheaded by Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee (Matt. 14:3–11).
But before he faded from the scene, John the Baptist gave an invitation and a warning that form a fitting climax, not only to this chapter, but also to his entire ministry. Like Moses (Deut. 11:26–28; 30:15–20), Joshua (Josh. 24:15), Elijah (1 Kings 18:21), and Jesus (John 3:18) before him, he set forth the only two choices available to lost sinners: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
The blessed truth of salvation is that the one who believes in the Son has eternal life as a present possession, not merely as a future hope. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (5:24; cf. 1:12; 3:15–16; 6:47; 1 John 5:10–13).
But on the other hand, the one who does not obey the Son will not see life. The juxtaposition of belief and disobedience is a reminder that the New Testament portrays belief in the gospel as obedience to God, an essential element of saving faith (cf. Acts 6:7; Rom. 1:5; 15:18; 16:26; 2 Thess. 1:8; Heb. 5:9; 1 Peter 1:2; 4:17). The fearful reality is that the wrath of God (His settled, holy displeasure against sin) continually abides on disobedient sinners who refuse to believe in Jesus Christ. Just as eternal life is the present possession of believers, so also is condemnation the present condition of unbelievers. The idea here is not that God will one day condemn sinners for their disobedient unbelief; they are already in a state of condemnation (3:18; 2 Peter 2:9) from which only saving faith in Jesus Christ can deliver them. The ultimate consequence of refusing to believe will be to experience God’s wrath for eternity in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10–15). But it was to save helpless, doomed sinners from that terrifying fate that God sent His Son to be the Savior of the world (1:29; 3:17; 4:42; Matt. 1:21; Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10; 1 John 4:14).
In this way, John the Baptist clearly declared the sovereignty and supremacy of Jesus Christ, emphasizing that He alone is able to save sinful men from the consequences of their disobedience. And what John proclaimed with his lips, he exemplified with his life, actively promoting Jesus’ ministry even at the expense of his own. Thus, the weight of John’s witness can still be felt today—as a warning to unbelievers, that they must repent and follow Christ, and as an example to believers, that they should seek the Savior’s glory rather than their own.
The Revealer Has Come
“The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
In a small but very excellent book written by A. W. Tozer, there is an illuminating paragraph that refers to the inferential character of the average man’s faith in God. This means that for most people God is the end result of a chain of reasoning rather than a reality. According to such people there may be much to suggest God’s existence. There is the beauty of nature, the immensity of space, the order of matter. “He must be,” they say. “Because these things are, he is.” Other people argue in the same way from the experience of a parent or friend. “God was real to my mother,” they say, “so he must be real. I believe in him because others believe in him.” Still others find their belief in God linked to their belief in such things as truth, goodness, beauty, or ethical ideals.
Quite obviously, each of these chains of reasoning is unique. Still, as Tozer notes, those who hold them have one thing in common. “They do not know God in personal experience. The possibility of intimate acquaintance with Him has not entered their minds. While admitting His existence they do not think of Him as knowable in the sense that we know things or people.”
Unfortunately, although this is primarily true of non-Christians, there is also a sense in which it is at least partially true of some believers. For although they believe in Christ and trust him in one sense, still for them God is unreal and they go through life attempting to love an ideal or be loyal to an abstract doctrine or principle.
If you are at any point of this wide spectrum of those for whom God is unreal, then the verses to which we come now are for you especially. They are about Jesus Christ, and they speak of him as the great witness to God, the great revealer of him. They say, “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:31–36).
The Perfect Witness
What is it that makes a person a good witness? We know something of the answer to this question because of our knowledge of the procedures in courts of law. The first thing that is required if a man is to be a good witness is that he must have firsthand information. He must have seen or heard that about which he is testifying. For this reason, no judge in the land will accept hearsay evidence.
Second, a good witness must be willing to testify. He must be willing to speak up, to get involved.
Third, the witness must be reliable. That is, his witness must be substantial and possess enough self-consistency to be believed. These three requirements make for a perfect witness. By this standard—and this is John’s point—Jesus Christ is the perfect witness concerning God. Thus, in verse 31 John stresses the fact that Jesus has firsthand information concerning God because of his origins. In verse 32 he points out that Jesus did bear witness to this knowledge. Finally, in verse 34 he shows that the witness is reliable “for God gives the Spirit without limit.”
The first point is that Jesus Christ possessed accurate knowledge of God the Father. This is linked to his supremacy over all other teachers and prophets. These may have possessed part of the truth, but even at the best their insights were secondary. They reported only what God had revealed to them. Jesus was God incarnate. His origins were heavenly. Consequently, he has revealed the truth perfectly out of the fullness of his knowledge.
On this point William Barclay writes, “If we want information, we have to go to the person who possesses that information. If we want information about a family, we will only get it at firsthand from a member of that family. If we want information about a town, we will only get it at firsthand from someone who comes from that town. So, then, if we want information about God, we will get it only from the Son of God; and if we want information about heaven and heaven’s life, we will only get it from Him who comes from heaven. When Jesus speaks about God and about the heavenly things, says John, it is no carried story, no secondhand tale, no information from a secondary source. He tells us that which he himself has seen and heard. To put it very simply, because Jesus alone knows God, he alone can give us the facts about God, and these facts are the gospel.”
In his Gospel, John has a special way of emphasizing the fact that Jesus alone possesses such knowledge. It is not present, or at least is not present in the same degree, in the other Gospels. John stresses the fact that Jesus is the perfect witness because he alone has been sent into the world by God.
Here a few statistics will be helpful. In John’s Gospel the phrase “he (or ‘the Father’) who sent me” is found on the lips of Jesus twenty-three times. The Greek verb in that phrase (apostellein) occurs seventeen times in phrases that speak of God’s commissioning of the Son, and there are other phrases that speak from man’s perspective of the fact that Jesus Christ has “come.” Jesus is the One who “came down from heaven.” He “has come into the world.” He “came from the Father,” or God. In the final discourses, as the time of Jesus’ death draws near, the emphasis shifts quite naturally from the fact that Jesus came into the world to the fact that he is now to return to the Father. In John 16:28, the themes of the coming and the return are bound together. “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” These phrases have little or no reference to the identification of Jesus as the Messiah as similar phrases do in the other Gospels. Instead, they refer to Jesus’ ability both to impart heavenly gifts and to speak the words of God to men. Jesus is the perfect witness because he is able perfectly to reveal God. “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:18).
Moreover, according to the Bible and to the Gospel of John particularly, the sending of Jesus Christ into the world involves much more than the sending of a prophet, as in Old Testament times, or the sending of the apostles into the world as evangelists in the New Testament era. These men were messengers. They were sent by God. But Jesus is not a messenger. He is the messenger. It is true that John the Baptist is also said to have been sent by God (1:6, 33; 3:28) and that the disciples later are sent in their turn into the world (17:18; 20:21). But neither the Baptist nor the disciples exert a claim to any independent revelation. They are only sent to bear witness to Jesus Christ. He alone speaks and acts out of the fullness of his knowledge of his Father.
In John 9 there is a story that illustrates all that I have been saying. It is a story of how a blind man came to know God through Jesus. The man has no knowledge of God at the beginning of the story. His physical blindness is a symbol of his spiritual blindness. Jesus heals him. As he does so he says, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (v. 5; cf. 8:12). Through this contact the man begins to understand something of who Jesus is, and he increases in spiritual sight until he eventually comes to argue pointedly for the truth of Christ’s heavenly origin. The high point of the story is reached in the contrast between the testimony of the man who had been born blind and the denial of Christ by the Jewish rulers. The Jews argue from the basis of their knowledge of the law and Moses. They say, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (v. 29 rsv). The man who had been born blind replies, “Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. … If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (vv. 30, 33 rsv).
The man who was blind had been led by the healing of his eyes to the spiritual perception that Jesus had come from God and therefore spoke and acted out of a true knowledge of God. Thus, while his understanding of Jesus began with the confession that he was merely a “man” (v. 11), it soon progressed to the fact that he was “a prophet” (v. 17) “of God” (v. 33) and then to a worship of him (v. 38). By contrast, the failure of the leaders to recognize the truth of Christ’s coming from God actually intensified their spiritual blindness and led to their rejection of Christ’s testimony entirely.
Where do you stand in this picture? Are you one for whom God is only an inference? Or have you come to “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6)?
A Willing Witness
There is also, as I have indicated, a second requirement for a perfect witness. Not only must a witness have firsthand information about that which is to be testified; the witness must also be willing to testify. Was Jesus willing? Of course, he was. He got involved. Therefore, John writes, “He testifies to what he has seen and heard” (v. 32).
It is interesting to me that John puts the verb “testify” in the present tense here, as indeed he does with all the other verbs that speak of Christ’s witness. We would tend to use the past tense, for we would reason that Jesus came, bore his testimony, and then returned to heaven. This is not what John does. For John, Jesus is still testifying. Well then, we ask, where do we hear his testimony? The answer is: in the Bible. Is the Bible something that is dead, irrelevant, or dated, then? Not for John! And not for any who have come to know Christ and to have experienced the living power of the Bible to speak on his behalf. The Bible is living. Christ is living. Moreover, it is through the Bible that he continues to speak and bear his witness to heavenly things in our days.
Jesus also fulfilled the third requirement for the perfect witness. His witness was consistent. It was complete and therefore totally reliable. John indicates this when he writes, “For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands” (vv. 34–35).
I must admit that because of the way this phrase is written in the Greek, several different interpretations of it are possible. It could mean three things. First, it could mean that Jesus Christ gives the Spirit to believers without measure. The verse has often been taken in that light, but this view is faulty. Certainly Jesus does not withhold the Spirit from his own. But whatever the case, none of us possesses the Spirit in the measure that he is possessed by Jesus; and it is far more true to say of ourselves, as is said elsewhere, that “to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it” (Eph. 4:7).
The verse could also mean that the Spirit does not give by measure; that is, that the Spirit himself gives liberally. That is true in one sense, but it does not seem to fit the context of these verses and is at best only a barely possible reading of the Greek text.
The third view, the one that is to be preferred, is that the Father has not withheld any measure of the Spirit from the Son. This is John’s way of saying that there is perfect communion and communication between the Son and the Father, with the result that the Father guarantees the truth and total reliability of Christ’s words. This is not true of any other religious teacher; in fact, no other teacher (except a madman) would claim it. In all the teaching of all the other religious teachers of this world, truth is always mixed with falsehood. Therefore, those who teach, if they are wise, always point beyond themselves to that which is higher. This was never done by Jesus. Others pointed down the road to a far destination. Jesus claimed that he was that destination. Others taught that they had aspects of the truth. Jesus said that the truth had come in his person. Others offered to show the way to God. Jesus said that he is the way to God. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Are these things true? If they are, Jesus is the only truly reliable witness to who God is and to what he requires. Since he requires your life and total allegiance, you ought (as the man who had been born blind) to worship him.
At the end of his book, Runaway World, Michael Green, the principal of London Divinity School, deals with the means men and women use to escape an honest investigation of Christ’s claims. Sex is one obvious means of escape, according to Green. So are drugs, mysticism, conformity to our culture, the rat race, vice, even (for some persons) social involvement. Perhaps you are involved in one or more of these pursuits as a means of escape from the claims of Jesus.
But what of him? Is he the One he says he is? If he is, none of these means of escape will do. In fact, in order that no one might miss this, John ends his whole presentation of Christ’s claims with a forthright statement of the issues, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (v. 36).
What will you say when you meet him? What possible excuse can you offer? Green writes: “ ‘I didn’t believe you ever existed?’ What utter nonsense; what culpable ignorance of the evidence! ‘I didn’t think your life was attractive enough, noble enough’? What manifest hypocrisy: it was rather that the standards of the man of Nazareth were too high, too costly, was it not? Or shall the excuse be simply ‘I did not bother’? How do you think that will look to the Son of God, who became man for you, loved and died for you, rose again in order to take over your life and make a new man of you? No, all excuses will wither and wilt before the truth, the love, the self-sacrifice of Jesus. Final truth about the world, mankind and God has been disclosed by the Other who came into our very midst, the one who declared ‘I am the truth.’ By our relation to him we shall be judged.”
It is my profound prayer, as we close our studies of this great third chapter of John’s Gospel, that you will not ignore Christ’s witness but instead will enter into eternal life through believing in and committing yourself to him who died for you and rose again.
The Revealer from Heaven
He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. (John 3:31)
John chapter 3 is widely regarded as one of the great chapters of the Bible. It should be, because it presents concentrated teaching from Jesus himself on God’s way of salvation. There is no greater question than what God plans for our salvation. In this chapter we have the answer provided by none less than God’s own Son, who came into the world to reveal and accomplish that salvation. Therefore, what we make of Jesus’ teaching—accepting it in sincere faith or rejecting it in unbelief—is the decisive issue in our lives.
It is fitting that John 3 concludes with words that most scholars attribute to John the Evangelist, the author of this Gospel. His purpose is to bring together the important themes of this great chapter and to highlight why Jesus is the one person who most deserves to be heard, believed, and followed. Whereas all others are earthly witnesses to God, Jesus Christ is uniquely the Revealer from heaven, whose words truly hold the power of eternal life.
An Able Revealer
We remember that some of John’s followers had complained that people were leaving him to follow Jesus. They did not realize that this was the very thing that John most wanted; it was the purpose of his ministry to see people go to Jesus in faith. John’s was a divinely ordained ministry; he was a true prophet of the Lord. But Jesus is uniquely exalted even above a prophet such as John the Baptist. John explains: “He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all” (John 3:31).
John asserts that Jesus possesses a personal authority that is greater than that of anyone else. Unlike everyone else who has ever taught about God, Jesus actually came into this world from heaven: “He who comes from heaven is above all.” This alludes to Jesus’ identity as the very Son of God—one of the most important truths that the Gospel of John was written to reveal. The opening words of this Gospel inform us that Jesus is one with God and is therefore the true revelation of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). John sums up the significance of Jesus’ coming: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). Because of who he is, Jesus possesses an authority that no one else has.
This was something that people were about to experience as Jesus began his ministry. It was around this time that Jesus preached his famous Sermon on the Mount, after which, Matthew tells us, “crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority” (Matt. 7:28–29). Jesus was not like the scholars of his time—and most other times—who mainly recited the opinions of others. Instead, he revealed truth that he knew and had authority to proclaim as One sent from heaven to earth for that purpose.
Jesus speaks of things he knows firsthand: “He bears witness to what he has seen and heard” (John 3:32). When we read Jesus’ teachings in the Bible, we are not dealing with mere speculation. That is what everyone else has to do, apart from direct inspiration from God. But Jesus, alone even among the true prophets, is an eyewitness of God and heaven. If you want to know about the army, it is best to talk to someone who has served in the ranks. If you want to know about a family, the best source is a member of that family. Likewise, “if we want information about God, we will get it only from the Son of God; and if we want information about heaven and heaven’s life, we will only get it from Him who comes from heaven.… Because Jesus alone knows God, he alone can give us the facts about God, and these facts are the gospel.” This is why there is no better source for truth about God and salvation than Jesus Christ, who came into this world from heaven to reveal such truths to mankind.
This answers a common objection to the Christian faith. Some say, “What makes Jesus so different? Aren’t all religious leaders basically the same: Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, or some other guru?” The answer is No. Jesus Christ alone is the very Son of God who came into this world with firsthand truth from heaven. No other religion even claims to have such a leader, but the New Testament is explicit in teaching that Jesus is the Son of God who came from heaven with ultimate truth.
Not only is Jesus a different kind of spiritual leader, he also brings a different message. People ask, “Don’t all religions say basically the same thing?” The common opinion is that they do, but only because people have not seriously faced the message of Jesus Christ. This was John’s point in saying, “He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way” (John 3:31). That is why, despite their distinctions, every false religion—be it Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, or Roman Catholicism—teaches that we come to God at least in part by being good. This is what you will find in the writings of Muhammad and Confucius, in the popes and the rabbis. We must somehow merit entry into heaven. But Jesus and his apostles teach something entirely different. Nicodemus thought he was good, but Jesus told him, “You must be born again” (3:7). The only way for anyone to be saved, Jesus revealed, was for “the Son of man [to] be lifted up” (3:14), by which he referred to his own death on the cross. Jesus alone teaches that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). Jesus taught that salvation is through faith, not by works.
This is not the kind of thing that men imagine; it is not of the earth but of heaven. This produces an absolute antithesis between Christianity and every other religion. If Jesus is who he says he is, then his message is the only true one and must be accepted to the exclusion of every other. If Jesus is not who he says he is, then he is a monstrous fraud who must be utterly rejected. A Christian, therefore, is one who has seen the truth of Jesus in God’s Word and accepts him to the exclusion of every other savior and lord.
John reminds us that we all begin as those who are “of the earth” and therefore earthly in our thinking. When you start studying the Bible, you will find it contradicting many things that you have always assumed. Since Jesus is the one person who is able to reveal truth from heaven, we should hunger for his truth in order to escape the errors in which we have been trained, as willing disciples eager to advance from earthly to heavenly thinking through Christ’s Word.
A Willing Revealer
In order to be an effective witness, one must be not only an able revealer but also one who is willing. Often, the eyewitness in a criminal case is not willing to testify because he or she does not want to get involved. But Jesus was willing to come from heaven to earth to reveal God’s truth to the world. John states this simply: “He bears witness to what he has seen and heard” (John 3:32).
Jesus was highly motivated to teach God’s Word. In Mark’s Gospel, we find Jesus beginning his ministry by going into the synagogues of Galilee to teach. While there, he encountered a demon-possessed man and he delivered him. Then Peter’s mother-in-law had a fever, so Jesus went and healed her. As word of these healings spread, many sick and possessed people were brought, and Jesus ministered to them because he could. As a result, there was great excitement about his ministry. Mark tells us that Jesus went to a quiet place to pray, but Peter came to get him to continue with the miracles. To Peter’s mind, this was the way to build a great religious movement—by drawing attention with spectacular events. But Jesus disagreed. “He said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came’ ” (Mark 1:38). The purpose of Jesus’ ministry was to preach God’s truth; that must be the focus of our ministry as well. Mark summarizes, “And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues” (1:39).
Jesus is able and willing to reveal God’s Word. The problem is that people are not willing to receive him. John says, “He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony” (John 3:32). John means that comparatively few accept Jesus’ teaching, because he goes on to speak about some who do. The fact is that Jesus’ teaching is generally rejected by the world. People have worldly attitudes and opinions that clash with Jesus’ teaching so that they reject him. A. W. Pink explains that most people refuse Jesus because “the message is too heavenly for them. They have no relish for it. They have hearts only for things below.” This is why so few people are in church. They have other things that interest them. They prefer to watch the ball game rather than learn about God. They are making lists about work, and this seems more important than the state of their immortal souls. They are occupied with trying to hit white balls into holes in the ground, which they find more edifying than worshiping the God of heaven. Man condemns himself by his lack of interest in God and salvation. When worldly society was forced to pay attention to Jesus, it hated him and unjustly put him to death. Jesus said it plainly: “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (3:19).
Do you see why faith in Christ is so important and valuable? Do you see why it is precious to God when we believe in his Son and receive his Word? John says, “Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true” (John 3:33). In the ancient world, people had signet rings that they used as seals. When they wanted to mark something they owned, or to affirm something as carrying their authority or approval, they set their seal to it in wax. That is what our faith does to God. It glorifies God when we believe in Jesus, for in doing so we affix our seal to his Word. George Hutcheson says, “Faith embracing the doctrine of Christ doth also glorify God by subscribing to the truth of his word, and doth, so far as believers can, ratify the truth of the word, that others may embrace it.”
This answers another objection to Christian faith. People argue that we cannot be sure of what Jesus meant when he taught so long ago, especially since his teaching is preserved only in the writings of the apostles. Our answer is that Jesus’ revelation was a divine act of communication to us. This was not a merely human process, subject to human error. As the very Son of God, sent by the Father to reveal heavenly truth to the world, Jesus had as his purpose to effectively communicate to the world—and that is what he has done. During his trial, Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). The Son of God did not fail in that purpose. Our faith is a seal testifying to Jesus’ success in revealing salvation.
It is noteworthy that John 3:32 does not say that Jesus “bore witness” but that he “bears witness.” This is present tense, not past. Jesus did not come into the world, speak the truth, and then leave it to merely human agencies to present it to the world. Instead, by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, he speaks even now through God’s living Word. James Montgomery Boice writes:
Where do we hear his testimony? The answer is: in the Bible. Is the Bible something that is dead, irrelevant, or dated, then? Not for John! And not for any who have come to know Christ and to have experienced the living power of the Bible to speak on his behalf. The Bible is living. Christ is living. Moreover, it is through the Bible that he continues to speak and bear his witness to heavenly things in our days.
A Certified Revealer
Not only is Jesus an able and willing Revealer, he is also certified to reveal God’s truth. When you go to a doctor’s office, you look on the wall to see a proper medical-school diploma. When a police officer shows up at your door, you ask to see proper identification. How much more important is a proper certification for One who claims to bring saving truth from heaven and from God!
Jesus bears two credentials. The first is his full possession of God’s Spirit: “He whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34). This contrasts Jesus with even the prophets, to whom God gave the Spirit only as their ministry required. But Jesus had every endowment of the Spirit. Isaiah foretold: “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isa. 11:2). Jesus began his ministry in Galilee by reading from the scroll of Isaiah 61, starting with the words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Luke 4:18). God did not provide his Son with the Spirit in part, but “without measure.”
This full endowment of God’s Spirit is reflected in the perfect accord between Jesus and the Father. He always knew and did the will of the Father perfectly. He was never at a loss for God’s Word. Moreover, through the Spirit, Jesus performed great miracles that certified his teaching. These Spirit-wrought miracles are a remarkable credential that prove his divine authority (see Luke 4:18–19). On one occasion, Jesus was teaching in a crowded house when four men dug a hole in the roof to let down a friend who was paralyzed. Jesus told the man that his sins were forgiven because of his faith. The Pharisees complained: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (5:21). Jesus replied, “ ‘Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Rise and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the man who was paralyzed—‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home’ ” (5:23–24). When the man picked up his mat and walked out, Jesus’ authority was proved.
Ultimately, God’s Spirit certified Jesus by raising him from the dead. Paul says that he “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:4). One who has been publicly executed, is buried in a sealed grave for three days, and then comes to life before numerous witnesses has the right to claim authority to speak for God. In all these ways—Jesus’ perfect knowledge of God’s will, his ability to perform true miracles, and his resurrection from the grave—the Holy Spirit marks Jesus as a true Revealer from God.
Jesus’ second credential is his commission from the Father: “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” (John 3:35). John was one of those who heard the voice of God speaking from heaven, after he had baptized Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). As such, God gave “all things into his hand.” This means that Jesus has the authority to declare God’s Word and to send the Spirit into the hearts of his own so that they receive it in faith. God had told John the Baptist, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” John therefore testified, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:33–34).
This answers yet another objection to faith in Christ. You might say, “I should believe something this important only on proper authority and with certifiable proof.” But Jesus has that authority, and it is certified by his full possession of God’s Spirit and by his commission from the Father. If you are looking for a “spiritual” teacher, there is none like Jesus: he possesses the fullness of God’s Spirit as the provision of his loving Father. From the lips of any other spiritual leader, such a claim would be preposterous. But Jesus makes that very claim in the New Testament, and his record completely backs it up.
How wonderful it is for believers not only to read of the Father’s blessing on his beloved Son, Jesus, but also to realize that through faith in Christ these same blessings now belong to us. Being joined to Christ in faith, we, too, receive the Spirit of God and are received into the Father’s love. Moreover, we enter into Christ’s mission of bearing witness to the gospel before the world. To be sure, Christians never speak on our own authority. But as Christ’s present disciples in the world, we may speak God’s Word with the authority of those commissioned to declare the gospel and in the joyful knowledge that God’s blessing will attend our ministry just as he previously blessed that of Jesus.
The Great Question
John 3 is one of the great chapters in the Bible because it answers the great question: What has God planned for the salvation of the world? Jesus teaches of our need to be born again, of God’s gift of his only Son to die for our sins, and of eternal life for all who believe. But that answer leads to another question that is now the most important of all for every individual: What do you make of Jesus Christ? Do you respond to him in trusting faith or in hardened unbelief? According to the final verse in this great chapter, the answer determines nothing less than your eternal destiny: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
According to John, there are only two options. The first is to receive in faith this Savior who reveals truth from heaven. Having sent his Son to reveal God’s way of salvation and to open that way by shedding his own blood in our place, God requires us to believe on him. Notice the present tense of this verse, which says that as soon as we believe, we “have” eternal life. J. C. Ryle explains: “Pardon, peace, and a complete title to heaven, are an immediate possession. They are a believer’s own, from the very moment he puts faith in Christ.”
The other option is to reject Jesus. John warns, “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life.” Notice that to reject God’s Word about Jesus is to “not obey”—to commit treason against heaven. God has made faith in Jesus the one way to enter heaven; to deny him faith is to forfeit the life he offers. Moreover, it is to leave your sins unforgiven, so that God’s holy wrath remains on you. Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
People become angry at the mention of God’s wrath. But a God without wrath would be a moral monstrosity; a God who is not furious against evil is not a worthy God—and there is no greater evil than to reject God’s holy Son. Christians are sometimes scolded for teaching that people will go to hell simply for holding different views from ours. But that is not what we teach. Unbelievers will suffer the pains of hell for rejecting not our truth but God’s truth, which he sent into this world through his Son, the Revealer from heaven, whom the world once murdered on a cross and whom it crucifies today in prideful unbelief. It is to exhort us to faith that John warns us: “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
If there is one thing for us to take away from our studies in John 3, surely it is that we must treasure God’s Son, Jesus Christ. J. C. Ryle sums up our response to Jesus in words that cannot be improved on: “We can never make too much of Christ.… We can never have too high thoughts about Christ, can never love Him too much, trust Him too implicitly, lay too much weight upon Him, and speak too highly in His praise. He is worthy of all the honour that we can give Him. He will be all in heaven. Let us see to it, that He is all in our hearts on earth.”
36. He who believeth in the Son. This was added, not only to inform us that we ought to ask all good things from Christ, but likewise to make us acquainted with the manner in which they are enjoyed. He shows that enjoyment consists in faith; and not without reason, since by means of it we possess Christ, who brings along with him both righteousness and life, which is the fruit of righteousness. When faith in Christ is declared to be the cause of life, we learn from it that life is to be found in Christ alone, and that in no other way do we become partakers of it than by the grace of Christ himself. But all are not agreed as to the way in which the life of Christ comes to us. Some understand it thus: “as by believing we receive the Spirit, who regenerates us in order to justification, by that very regeneration we obtain salvation.” For my own part, though I acknowledge it to be true, that we are renewed by faith, so that the Spirit of Christ governs us, yet I say that we ought first to take into consideration the free forgiveness of sins, through which we are accepted by God. Again, I say that on this all our confidence of salvation is founded, and in this it consists; because justification before God cannot be reckoned to us in any other way than when he does not impute to us our sins.
But he who believeth not in the Son. As he held out life in Christ, by the sweetness of which he might allure us, so now he adjudges to eternal death all who do not believe in Christ. And, in this way, he magnifies the kindness of God, when he warns us, that there is no other way of escaping death, unless Christ deliver us; for this sentence depends on the fact, that we are all accursed in Adam. Now if it be the office of Christ to save what was lost, they who reject the salvation offered in him are justly suffered to remain in death. We have just now said that this belongs peculiarly to those who reject the gospel which has been revealed to them; for though all mankind are involved in the same destruction, yet a heavier and double vengeance awaits those who refuse to have the Son of God as their deliverer. And, indeed, it cannot be doubted that the Baptist, when he denounced death against unbelievers, intended to excite us, by the dread of it, to the exercise of faith in Christ. It is also manifest that all the righteousness which the world thinks that it has out of Christ is condemned and reduced to nothing. Nor is any one enabled to object that it is unjust that those who are otherwise devout and holy should perish, because they do not believe; for it is folly to imagine that there is any holiness in men, unless it have been given to them by Christ.
To see life is here put for “enjoying life.” But to express more clearly that no hope remains for us, unless we are delivered by Christ, he says that the wrath of God abideth on unbelievers. Though I am not dissatisfied with the view given by Augustine, that John the Baptist used the word abideth, in order to inform us that, from the womb we were appointed to death, because we are all born the children of wrath, (Eph. 2:3.) At least, I willingly admit an allusion of this sort, provided we hold the true and simple meaning to be what I have stated, that death hangs over all unbelievers, and keeps them oppressed and overwhelmed in such a manner that they can never escape. And, indeed, though already the reprobate are naturally condemned, yet by their unbelief they draw down on themselves a new death. And it is for this purpose that the power of binding was given to the ministers of the gospel; for it is a just vengeance on the obstinacy of men, that they who shake off the salutary yoke of God should bind themselves with the chains of death.
36 Verse 36 underscores a major truth that runs throughout the entire chapter. The destiny of every person is determined by his or her personal response to the Son. Those who put their faith in the Son receive eternal life; those who reject the Son will not see life but will endure the wrath of God (cf. 1 Jn 5:12, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life”). The issue is clearly drawn. Worth noting is the fact that it is disobedience, not disbelief, that John sets in contrast with faith. The Greek apeitheō (GK 578) means “to disobey.” The verb is used regularly in the LXX of disobedience to God. Not to believe is to willfully reject. In Acts 14:2 the NIV translates the same term with “refused to believe.” Saving faith involves obedience as well as believing, a point often overlooked by those for whom correct doctrine tends to eclipse the necessity of a changed life.
Whoever “rejects the Son” (refuses to believe the words he speaks and consequently rejects the obvious implications regarding who he is) “will not see life” (i.e., the eternal life given to those who believe). Instead, God’s wrath remains on him. The wrath of God is not an emotional and vindictive reaction toward individuals. The rejection of divine love carries serious and necessary consequences. As G. Stählin observes, “Where mercy meets with the ungodly will of man rather than faith and gratitude, … love becomes wrath” (TDNT 5:425). That God’s wrath remains on the disobedient indicates that those who have not accepted the Son are already under condemnation (cf. 3:18).
3:36. Before moving on with his narrative of Jesus’ ministry and message, John wanted to state one more time the essence of the gospel—believing people receive eternal life; rejecting people receive God’s wrath. What is the wrath of God? By his very nature which is perfect, God opposes the disobedience and rebellion which come from unbelief.
The word orge, from which we get our English word orgy, describes the anger of disapproval. It can arise gradually and is usually guided by reason and understanding. Hundreds of passages in the Bible refer to God’s wrath. Morris quotes Hodgson: “The wrath of God and divine punishment are essential elements in a doctrine which is to face the facts of evil and retain a fundamental optimism. The belief that God has sworn in His wrath that men who do certain things shall not enter into His rest enables the Church to open its worship each day with the words, ‘Come let us sing unto the Lord. Let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation’ ” (Morris, p. 250).
Any approach to God apart from Jesus Christ is futile. Religions, cults, and civic groups miss the message of the Bible when they talk frequently about God but do not want to disturb the pluralistic harmony of their members by emphasizing Jesus Christ. God allows no approach to himself apart from his Son. Whoever rejects the Son has forfeited eternal life and receives instead the wrath of God. This is what the Bible means when it says life is in the Son.
MAIN IDEA REVIEW: Our response to the Son of God determines our destiny.
36. In verse 36 the testimony of the Baptist reaches its final climax. A kind of climax was also noted in 1:29 and again in 1:34. By combining the three we get the following:
“Look, the Lamb of God who is taking away the sin of the world.”
“And I have seen and I have testified that this one is the Son of God.”
“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; but he who disobeys the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
Whereas all things are in the hand of the Son (verse 35), everlasting life too is in his hand. Accordingly, we read, He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; but he who disobeys the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
This passage leads us back to the very similar words of Jesus himself in 3:16–18. (See on 3:16–18.) Christ’s climax is also John’s. Everlasting life is given to those who have an abiding faith in the Son. It is not for thrill-seekers (who “believe” in him as a worker of miracles; cf. 2:23) but for trusters.
Over against the destiny of believers Jesus had placed that of unbelievers (cf. 3:16 with 3:18). The Baptist does the same when he closes his remarks by stating that he who disobeys the Son shall not see life, the wrath of God remaining on him. Note that over against abiding faith stands disobedience; i.e., refusal to accept Christ by a true and abiding faith. Such base rejection of the Son of God (for explanation of this term see on 1:14) who confronts sinners with the invitation and the demand to “trust and obey,” results in the punishment described in the final clause: they shall not see life; i.e., they shall not experience its joys and delights. The wrath of God, moreover, abides on them. The Baptist had spoken about this wrath of God in another connection (Matt. 3:7; cf. Luke 3:7). Luke refers to God’s wrath in his Gospel (21:23). Paul speaks of it again and again (Rom. 1:18; 2:5, 8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; 12:19; 13:4, 5; Eph. 2:3; 5:6; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10; 2:16; 5:9). The concept is also found in Hebrews (3:11; 4:3), and in the book of Revelation (19:15; cf. 6:16, 17; 11:18; 14:10; 16:19). Upon one occasion this attitude is ascribed to Christ (Mark 3:5), who in his parabolic teaching does not hesitate to ascribe it to the King, Lord, or Householder in heaven (Matt. 18:34; 22:7; Luke 14:21).
Though in the light of Rom. 1:18 and Eph. 2:3 it is surely erroneous to limit this divine disposition too narrowly by defining it as God’s displeasure with those who reject the Gospel (it also rests on those who have never heard the Gospel!), it is, nevertheless, true that man’s impenitent heart, his obduracy and sinister unwillingness to embrace Christ by a living faith, often furnishes the setting for these wrath-of-God passages. That is true also with respect to the passage which we are now studying (3:36). It is the only instance of the use of this word wrath (ὀργή) in the Fourth Gospel. It indicates settled indignation (sometimes in contrast with anger, θυμός, which is then defined as turbulent commotion, suddenly blazing up and quickly extinguished, like fire in straw, but especially when applied to God it is probably wrong to press the distinction between the two words).88
The mention of man’s disobedience, his base refusal to accept the Gospel, causes the mind to travel back to the story of the fall in Paradise. As a result of this fall Adam and Eve had been refused access to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24), and the wrath of God had been visited upon mankind. John 3:36 now teaches us that this wrath remains on those who disobey the Son. (For further comment see comments on 3:18.)
This conclusion of the Baptist’s testimony is beautiful because of its clear implication: Embrace the Son of God by a living and abiding faith, and have everlasting life. Cf. 3:21.