March 14, 2021
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: John 3:14-21, The Message or John 3:14-21, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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This text really begins back in Verse 3:1 with the visit of Nicodemus in the middle of the night. Verses 3:1-21 contain 3 questions / statements by Nicodemus, and 3 responses by Jesus - each beginning with Jesus giving his word of honour to his response, "Very truly, I tell you:"
- 3:3, no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above;
- 3:5, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit; and,
- 3:11, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.
These passages are thick with words that have double - or triple - meanings, and images that are presented as sharp contrasts:
- born 'from above" can equally be translated as born "anew."
- Spirit, wind, breath are all translations of the same word.
- Earth is contrasted with heaven; flesh with spirit; darkness with light; evil with truth; hate with love; condemnation with salvation; death with eternal life - and by implication, heaven, Spirit, light, truth, love, salvation and eternal life belong together.
Whereas in Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Spirit descends from heaven onto Jesus; in John, it is Jesus, the Son of Man, who has ascended into and descended from heaven. (Verse 3:13) Thus, the testimony of Jesus here is meant to be understood as his first-hand, eye-witness, family-insider testimony.
Verse 14. In John, the Son of Man is "lifted up" (on a cross), whereas in Matthew, Mark and Luke the Son of Man is killed. Indeed, in John, Jesus is not said to die, but rather he gives up his Spirit. (Verse 19:30) Instead of this being a shameful, brutal death, "being lifted up" reveals God's glory, for it is from on high - where God resides - that God sees the world, and so loves the world as to send his Son. Instead of simply dying, Jesus breathes his Spirit into his followers.
In John, the action of saving the world is not to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Unlike Matthew, Mark and Luke, John is not proposing the coming of a new political structure on earth. Rather he is proposing the formation of an alternative society "from above."
And so, salvation lies in being born anew; in being born from above - in re-defining one's "family of origin." John really means that we become God's off-spring, children of God, and in that way we receive from God the same honour and character that God has; and owe God the same loyalty that blood relations show one another (or ought to).
In Verses 16 to18, "belief" needs to be read as "trust and bond with:"
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who trusts and bonds with him may not perish but have eternal life.
17 Indeed, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who trust and bond with him are not condemned; but those who hesitate and are disloyal to him are condemned already, because they have not become one of the family of the only Son of God.
That is, no one is saved by intellectual agreement with a "belief." Salvation is all about the restoration of broken relationships. Being "saved" means being restored to the proper bond and trust of true kinship with God.
It is important to note, the organic "logical consequences," of these words. That is:
- The action starts with God so loving the world - the whole world - without any qualifications, hesitations, exceptions or prior demands.
- Then the Son comes.
- Those who trust and bond with the Son, become part of the Son's family (being born anew from above), and thereby
- become heirs to the family estate: heaven, Spirit, light, truth, love, salvation and eternal life.
- Those who hesitate and don't bond with the Son, don't become part of the family, and don't becomes heirs.
To be more clear. The logic of John is NOT: If you believe, then God will love you and save you. God's salvation is not a reward for belief. Nor does God withhold God's love, forgiveness and salvation until we believe.
On the other hand, since love is not coercive, we do have to accept the invitation in order to actually be part of the family. And this decision will have natural consequences. However, this does NOT mean that God's offer of love and kinship is withdrawn. God does not make one-time, take it or leave it, time limited offers.
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, pages 80-89; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See link below.
John 3:14-21 (NRSV)
14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 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."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
John 3:14-21 (The Message)
14 In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—15 and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.
16 "This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. 17 God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. 18 Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person's failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.
19 "This is the crisis we're in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. 20 Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won't come near it, fearing a painful exposure. 21 But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is."
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.