Gospel of John 3:13-21
13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And 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. ESV
Writing about 400 CE, Augustine added to his comments on verse 13. Spiritual birth happens when human beings, being earthly, become heavenly. And this can only happen when they are made members of me [Jesus]. So that he may ascend who descended, since no one ascends who did not descend. Therefore everyone who needs to be changed and raised must meet together in a union with Christ so that the Christ who descended may ascend, considering his body (that is to say, his church) as nothing other than himself. ACCS
The key in what Augustine wrote is that we humans cannot ascend to Heaven. But, by joining ourselves to Jesus, we can ascend with him. Jesus can sneak us into Heaven. It is like flying to another country without a passport but being with someone so important he does not need a passport, and who says, “It’s alright, he’s with me.”
The Son of Man—Jesus’s favorite name for himself—also happens to be the Son of God. Talk about dual citizenship. The Good News of the Gospels is that we get to take advantage of his status.
The Moses story is in Numbers 21. We have come to loathe this miserable food. The Lord sent seraph serpents against the people. JPS Torah The people complained about dying of snake bites and repented. God instructed Moses to make a copper snake on a pole. Anyone bitten could look at the copper snake and be saved.
You may not have noticed that Nicodemus disappears from the account during these verses. Since the ancient Greeks did not use quotation marks, it is not easy to know when someone stops speaking. This quotation is one of those times. Some translations end the quote somewhere along here, while others continue through verse 21.
I think John has taken this exchange as an opportunity to build a strong argument for Jesus as the Son of God who died and returned to life on earth three days later. Moses raising the serpent image is anticipating the raising of Jesus from the grave. John, partly in answer to Gnostics and other critics, connects the resurrection of Jesus with the resurrection from sin of you and me. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15, 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. He goes one before adding, 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. NIV
16 For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that every one who believes in him shall not be lost, but should have eternal life. Phillips
As famous as this verse is, it should not be divorced from its context, namely the raising of Jesus on the cross and from the grave. We should also not ignore all the other gifts God gave us; a universe, a planet, fellow humans, food, water, life.
In this verse, John introduces a whole new theme: God loves. Specifically, He loves the universe and the humans He created. We moderns have trivialized love. While it appears in many forms, love is a God thing. Love built the universe. We humans are wired for love. God wants us to love each other and to love Him. We can fight against it in our lives, but we must love to be with God. He who opposes love opposes God.
Because we have no chance of reaching Heaven, God, in His love, gave us the gift. That gift was a baby who became a child and then a man. He grew up with brothers and sisters. He learned to be a loving human in the thirty years before he began his ministry. Not only did Jesus show us God’s love in his actions and words, but he also taught us how to behave in love for other people. And then he did the unthinkable; he set himself up to be arrested and sentenced to death. What happens after the Gospel is described in The Revelation of Jesus to John.
17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but rather so that through him, the world might be saved. CJB
Love was a new theme in verse 16. Judgment is the new theme in verse 17. John is only setting the stage for later development of judgment. Here, it is only a stepping stone to salvation.
The Hebrew word, sheliach, refers to an agent sent on behalf of a superior. Today, the President sends an ambassador to carry the President’s message. In verse 17, we learn that Jesus is a sheliach sent by God and that Jesus is also God’s son. The Greek equivalent word is apostello. John uses the verb form, apostellein, at least 25 times to describe Jesus coming into the world. Oddly, he uses the noun, apostello—the English apostle—only once.
John Adams was sent to London in 1785 to be our first representative to a foreign government. He held the rank of minister. In 1893, our first ambassador to any country was appointed. Over the years, a nation would declare their displeasure over American policies by ordering our minister, envoy, or ambassador to return to the US.
The certain penalty for rejecting Jesus as God’s apostellein is to face rejection by God. To be banished from the presence of God, unlike for Adam and Eve, is to be gobbled up by Satan and eventually to be burned up in God’s holocaust. That is not what God wants for us. We need only accept the credentials Jesus presents to us, that is, to believe that he is the Son of God, and he has the power to carry us into the presence of his Father.
18 The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. NET
The result of judgment is condemnation. Chapter 25 of Matthew records the parable of the sheep and the goats, describing Jesus judging us. It ends with these two verses. 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” NIV
19 Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. 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. NET
Apollinaris of Laodicea wrote about 380 CE: Those who love darkness instead of the light have no excuse. They did not fail to believe Christ because of their ignorance but because they wanted to do what is evil, which Christ’s teaching would not permit. ACCS
Apollinaris takes us back to chapter one. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.4In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. NIV
Light and dark are always in a struggle. It is no surprise that burglars operate at night for the most part. They do not want us to see them, so they use the protection of the darkness to practice their non-Godly thefts
We must remember that the light spoken of here is not sunshine but rather the illumination of the Goodness of God. If I pick up someone else’s laptop and look at God, I will know I am wrong. That is why sinners try not to look in God’s direction. It is a conscious choice to sin.
Sin is so much more than stealing from another person. What if I pull my kids from the public school and send them to a Christian school and say, ‘I want them to get a Christian education,’ when I decided after several Nicaraguan students moved in? What if I buy handguns for my wife and I so we can shoot that pesky laptop thief? What if my church starts offering free meals to the homeless, so I change churches?
The list is endless because we take our eyes off Goodness.
Instead, we should not seek the limelight. We should strive to do what Jesus would do, but we do not advertise. It is enough to stand in the Light of God.
Be Righteous and do Good