John 3:31 – 36

31 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. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.

34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 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.

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These six verses taken just by themselves can be extremely difficult to follow and to understand.  Often, when we encounter a difficult teaching passage like this, there are at least two ways that we can gain help from Scripture to understand Scripture.  I will do my best here to try to unearth what I believe are the deep truths being taught here.

First of all, we must try to see if we can find a key thought or central message that is being taught here.  It seems to me that verse 35 may be the most important truth which will shed light on the rest of the passage, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand”.  This shows the preeminent place that Jesus holds, and establishes His divine authority.  Keep this in mind as we unravel the rest of the passage.

Secondly, it is always important to see the larger context in which a passage is found.  The last verse revisits the themes of spiritual life and salvation to those who believe in Jesus, vs. spiritual death and condemnation to those who don’t believe.  That was the concluding thought in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.  Verses 31 – 33 become clearer when we realize that this comes immediately after John the Baptist states that Jesus must become greater and he (John) must become less significant.

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It would probably be very helpful if we were to replace the many pronouns “he” with the person who is in view, and to bring out explicitly the things that are implicit (i.e. the things that are truths below the text but can be brought up to the surface of the text to be seen more clearly).  See if this helps:

31 He (Jesus) who comes from above (Heaven) is above all (greater than any other). He (John) who is of the earth (i.e. is a human) belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way (speaks about matters that concern us in this earthly life). He who comes from heaven is above all.

 32 He (Jesus) bears witness to (shares a message concerning) what he (Jesus) has seen and heard (in Heaven, ie. “spiritual truths”), yet no one (humanity in general) receives his testimony. 33 Whoever (a person who has faith) receives his testimony (Jesus’ message) sets his seal to this (gives his approval, or agrees), that God is true (that the message about God is true).

You can see how tricky it can be to understand these verses unless we first carefully define each person and idea in these verses.  But once we do that, then the meaning becomes so much clearer.  There is a fundamental reality here, namely that there is an earthly existence (that which you and I are experiencing right now), but that there is also a spiritual existence.  That is the realm of God.

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These two realms though, that of Heaven and that of earth, are not to be thought of as separate and isolated from each other.  No, we see immediately in verse 34 that “the Father sent him (Jesus)” to come into the world and “utter the words of God”.  In simpler terms, Jesus came down from Heaven to teach us all about who God is and what the Kingdom of God is like.

Note one very important detail here.  Even though God had sent many messengers before to proclaim the truths of God, namely prophets, Jesus is different from these messengers for it says in verse 34 that God gave His Spirit to Jesus “without measure”, i.e. completely and without limitation.  Prophets had a portion of the Spirit to declare divine truths, but Jesus was given limitless access to God’s Spirit which gave him full ability to bring messages of divine truth to mankind.

Regarding John 3:33-34, Carson’s Commentary on John says:

Throughout redemptive history, God spoke to his people through many accredited messengers. Each received that measure of the Spirit that was required for his or her assigned task. Three centuries after John wrote, Rabbi Aha rightly commented that the Holy Spirit who rested on the prophets did so according to the measure of each prophet’s assignment.  Not so to Jesus: to him God gives the Spirit without limit.

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This brings us to the key verse of 3:35, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.”  And verse 36 goes on to state specifically what it is that God had given to His Son.  As Heaven and Earth connect through the Person of Jesus, it is declared by the Father that the Son has the right to give eternal life to whoever would believe in Him.  The opposite is also made clear.  To those who do not believe in Jesus and thus disobey God, to them comes condemnation and eternal punishment.

Dear friends: this life is the prelude to the next life.  What you decide here in this earthly realm will determine your fate and condition in the spiritual and eternal realm.  What will you decide?

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