The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up

Image by SeppH from Pixabay 

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Today, I will be doing a commercial for the New English Translation Bible (NET). Their footnotes are so helpful I thought it would be good for everyone to see how they explain such an important passage from the Gospel of John. I have cut out parts of the footnotes for clarity.

14 Just as[a] Moses lifted up the serpent[b] in the wilderness,[c] so must the Son of Man be lifted up,[d] 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”[e]

  1. Grk “And just as.”
  2. Or the snake, referring to the bronze serpent mentioned in Num 21:9.
  3. An allusion to Num 21:5-9.
  4. So must the Son of Man be lifted up. This is ultimately a prediction of Jesus’ crucifixion. Nicodemus could not have understood this, but John’s readers, the audience to whom the Gospel is addressed, certainly could have (compare the wording of John 12:32). In John, being lifted up refers to one continuous action of ascent, beginning with the cross but ending at the right hand of the Father. Step 1 is Jesus’ death; step 2 is his resurrection; and step 3 is the ascension back to heaven. It is the upward swing of the “pendulum” which began with the incarnation, the descent of the Word become flesh from heaven to earth (cf. Paul in Phil 2:5-11). See also the note on the title Son of Man in 1:51.
  5. This is the first use of the term ζωὴν αἰώνιον (zōēn aiōnion) in the Gospel, although ζωή (zōē) in chap. 1 is to be understood in the same way without the qualifying αἰώνιος (aiōnios). Some interpreters extend the quotation of Jesus’ words through v. 21.

16 For this is the way[f] God loved the world: He gave his one and only[g] Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish[h] but have eternal life.[i] 

  1. Or “this is how much”; or “in this way.” The Greek adverb οὕτως (houtōs) can refer (1) to the degree to which God loved the world, that is, to such an extent or so much that he gave his own Son, or (2) simply to the manner in which God loved the world, i.e., by sending his own son. Though the term more frequently refers to the manner in which something is done, the following clause involving ὥστε (hōste) plus the indicative (which stresses actual, but [usually] unexpected result) emphasizes the greatness of the gift God has given. With this in mind, then, it is likely (3) that John is emphasizing both the degree to which God loved the world as well as the manner in which He chose to express that love. This is in keeping with John’s style of using double entendre or double meaning. Thus, the focus of the Greek construction here is on the nature of God’s love, addressing its mode, intensity, and extent.
  2. Although this word is often translated “only begotten,” such a translation is misleading, since in English it appears to express a metaphysical relationship. The word in Greek was used of an only child. It was also used of something unique (only one of its kind) such as the mythological Phoenix. From here it passes easily to a description of Isaac who was not Abraham’s only son, but was one-of-a-kind because he was the child of the promise. Thus the word means “one-of-a-kind” and is reserved for Jesus in the Johannine literature of the NT. While all Christians are children of God (τέκνα θεοῦ, tekna theou), Jesus is God’s Son in a unique, one-of-a-kind sense. The word is used in this way in all its uses in the Gospel of John.
  3. In John the word ἀπόλλυμι (apollumi) can mean either (1) to be lost (2) to perish or be destroyed, depending on the context.
  4. The alternatives presented are only two (again, it is typical of Johannine thought for this to be presented in terms of polar opposites): perish or have eternal life.

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,[j] but that the world should be saved through him. 

  1. That is, “to judge the world to be guilty and liable to punishment.”

18 The one who believes in him is not condemned.[k] The one who does not believe has been condemned[l] already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only[m] Son of God. 

  1. Grk “judged.”
  2. Grk “judged.”
  3. See the note on the term “one and only” in 3:16.

19 Now this is the basis for judging:[n] that the light has come into the world and people[o] loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. 

  1. Or “this is the reason for God judging,” or “this is how judgment works.”
  2. Grk “and men,” but in a generic sense, referring to people of both genders (as “everyone” in v. 20 makes clear).

20 For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. 

21 But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God.[p]

  1. This verse provides an introduction to the (so-called) “realized” eschatology of the Fourth Gospel: Judgment has come; eternal life may be possessed now, in the present life, as well as in the future. The terminology “realized eschatology” was originally coined by E. Haenchen and used by J. Jeremias in discussion with C. H. Dodd, but is now characteristically used to describe Dodd’s own formulation. Especially important to note is the element of choice portrayed in John’s Gospel. As Brown observes, “If there is a twofold reaction to Jesus in John’s Gospel, it should be emphasized that that reaction is very much dependent on a person’s choice, a choice that is influenced by his way of life, whether his deeds are wicked or are done in God. Thus, there is no determinism in John as there seems to be in some of the passages of the Qumran scrolls”. Only when one looks beneath the surface does one find statements like “no one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

Numbers 21:8-9 has an interesting twist. God told Moses to make a bronze snake and the people merely needed to look at it to be saved. No faith was involved. That seemed contrary to the post-exile rabbis, so they began to teach that Moses directed them to turn their hearts to the Name of the Lord. Yes, look at the snake, but also believe in YHWH.

With Jesus claiming to be the Son of YHWH, he is also claiming that we must believe in him as well as in Him. In other words, Jesus is the same as God. If you believe in God but not Jesus, your yoke will be heavy. Jesus came to show us the right way, the Light Way, and to lift the heavy yoke from our shoulders.

While verses 20-21 may seem to suggest that our works condemn us or protect us, we should understand that we will do the works of the one or the One we face. Keeping our eyes on the Evil One will cause us to do evil. Focusing on God by knowing the life and ways of Jesus will produce goodness, truth, and light. Pray that God will lead you to His Son.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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