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Note of the Day – May 17 (John 3:15-16, 34-36)

John 3:15-16, 34-36

The explanation by Jesus in Jn 3:5-8 (of the central saying in verse 3) is followed by a second, more detailed exposition in verses 10-21. It is introduced by a second question from Nicodemus, again indicating his lack of understanding: “How are these (thing)s able to come to be?” (v. 9). Thus the exposition which follows builds upon the previous discussion in vv. 3-8, dealing with idea of being born “from above” (i.e. from God, “out of the Spirit”). This setting of vv. 10-21 in the context of the discourse is vital to any proper interpretation. The exposition is divided into two parts:

  • Vv. 10-15—The testimony of the Son of Man
  • Vv. 16-21—The witness and work of the Son of God

Two important motifs are introduced in the first section, appearing together in verse 12:

“If I said to you th(ing)s upon [i.e. about] (the) earth and you do not trust, how will you trust if I say to you th(ing)s upon [i.e. about] Heaven?”

The two motifs are: (1) the idea of trusting (vb. pisteu/w) and (2) the contrast between heaven and earth, i.e. above vs. below. This latter motif relates back to the central saying (and theme) from verse 3—of being born from above (a&nwqen). Verses 13-15 introduce the figure of the “Son of Man”, as used by Jesus in the Gospel Tradition, according to two important aspects:

  • The Son of Man as a heavenly/divine figure who will appear on earth (at the end time) to attend/oversee the Judgment
  • “Son of Man” as a self-designation by Jesus

Both aspects are combined together here, and are related to the two key motifs identified above. There is a definite progression to the line of thought in vv. 13-15:

  • The Son of Man (Jesus) is the one who has come down out of heaven (i.e. from above) [v. 13]
    • He will be “lifted high” [v. 14]—an expression of ascent (i.e. back to heaven), parallel to his descent (from heaven), understood as a comprehensive symbol entailing three aspects:
      (a) Jesus’ death—lifted up on the cross (the immediate reference to Num 21:9)
      (b) His resurrection, rising from the dead
      (c) His return to God (in Heaven)

      • Trust in him, in the entire context of his person and work (vv. 13-14), leads to Life [v. 15]—i.e. being born from above (v. 3)

As indicated above, there is a shift from Jesus as “Son of Man” to his identity as the “Son of God” (vv. 16-21)—a title which encapsulates two concepts: (1) Jesus’ relationship to the Father (as an only Son), and (2) Jesus as the one sent by the Father as His perfect representative (i.e. a “Son”). Verses 15-16 serve as the hinge joining the two sections (vv. 10-15, 16-21)—”Son of Man” and “Son of God”. The verses contain parallel statements involving the motifs of “trust” and “life” (zwh=). This parallelism can be seen by comparing the formula used in vv. 15 and 16b respectively:

  • “(so) that every one trusting in him might hold (the) Life of the Age” (v. 15)
    (so) that every one trusting him should not (come to) ruin, but might hold (the) Life of the Age” (v. 16b)

Centered in between these statements is the famous declaration of v. 16a:

“For God loved the world this (way)—so (that) he even gave his only (born) Son…”

I discussed the background of the expression “Life of the Age” (zwh= ai)w/nio$) in the earlier notes on Jn 11:20-27. It is an eschatological idiom, referring to the blessed (divine) life which the righteous will inherit at the end-time, in the Age to Come. However, this eschatological meaning was transformed in Christianity—and in the Gospel of John, especially—so that it also refers to the life which believers possess in the present, through union with Christ. This is often described as “realized” eschatology. It should be pointed out, however, that the use of the subjunctive in 3:15-16 (“might hold, should [come to] hold”) retains much of the original eschatological (future) orientation of the expression. The end-time Judgment features prominently in vv. 16-21, but it has been reinterpreted entirely in terms of faith (trust) in Jesus. The “realized” aspect of this eschatological theme is clear enough:

“The one trusting in him is not judged; but the one not trusting has already been judged, (in) that he has not trusted in the name of the only (born) Son of God” (v. 18)

More nuanced (but equally clear) is the concluding exposition beginning in verse 19:

“And this is the Judgment: that the Light has come into the world and the men [i.e. all those in the world] loved the darkness rather (than) the Light…”

In other words, Judgment is realized already (in the present) when a person comes to the Light (Jesus) and/or does not come to it (because he/she prefers darkness).

John 3:34-36

The motifs of “Spirit” (pneu=ma) and “Life” (zwh=) occur together in the closing verses of chapter 3—part of a separate discourse (vv. 22-36) involving John the Baptist (rather than Jesus), but one which has a number of features in common with that of vv. 1-21. In particular, the exposition by Jesus in vv. 10-21 runs parallel, in certain respects, with the exposition (by the Baptist [?]) in vv. 31-36. I have outlined the common elements in an earlier (Saturday Series) discussion. For the purposes of this particular series of notes, the following parallels are of special importance:

  • V. 34: Jesus, as the one sent by God, speaks the words of God—this word/speaking is connected with the giving of the Spirit
    —In vv. 5-8ff, being born “out of the Spirit” is related to trust in the testimony of Jesus, as the one sent by God (vv. 11-12ff, 16ff)
  • V. 36: Trust in the Son (Jesus) results in the believer possessing Life; by contrast, the one failing to trust (lit. being unpersuaded) will not see Life, but will endure the Judgment (“the anger of God remains on him”)
    —Vv. 15-16 is a precise parallel to v. 36a; while vv. 18ff more properly relates to v. 36 as a whole.

In particular, verses 35 and 36a, taken together, result in a formulation close to that of v. 16 (common words/expressions in italics):

  • “The Father loves the Son and has given all [pa=$]… the one trusting in the Son holds Life of the Age…” (vv. 35-36a)
  • “God loved…he gave his only Son, so that every [pa=$] one trusting in him…should hold Life of the Age” (v. 16)

It is interesting to consider the different ways that the verb give (di/dwmi) is used in these two discourses of chapter 3:

  • God (the Father) has given all things/people [spec. the Elect/Believers] to the Son (v. 35, cf. also v. 27)
  • God gave his Son to the world [i.e. humankind, spec. the Elect/Believers] (v. 16)
  • The Son (Jesus) gives the Spirit [to Believers] (v. 34)

The idea of Jesus giving the Spirit to believers will take on greater prominence later in the Gospel, in the Last Discourse (and following). I discussed the interesting expression “not out of measure” (ou) e)k me/trou)—i.e., “for (it is) not out of measure (that) he gives the Spirit”—in the previously mentioned discussion on v. 34.

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