Nicodemus, a Jewish ruler, visits Jesus because he sees that Jesus is a teacher and miracle worker sent from God. Jesus tells Nicodemus a spiritual truth that perplexes the Jewish ruler: A person must go through a second birth by the Spirit of God to enter God’s kingdom.
Nicodemus does not understand why someone must be born again in the Spirit to enter God’s kingdom. Jesus points out that he should understand these things since he is a teacher of the Scriptures. Then Jesus reveals something incredible about Himself: He is the Son of Man, the Messiah sent by God, and He has come down from Heaven.
Jesus explains why He, God’s Messiah, has come to earth: He must die so that the world can receive eternal life. He compares himself to the bronze serpent in the wilderness which Moses raised up for snakebit Israelites to look upon. Jesus too will be lifted up on a cross, and anyone who looks on Him with the belief that they will be healed of sin will be given eternal life.
Jesus has not come into the world to judge or rule it just yet; He has come to die the death of a suffering servant for the world’s sins. Whoever believes in Him will be saved from judgment, and will be reconciled to God, but whoever does not believe already stands condemned to separation from God. Jesus declares He is the Light, but men choose darkness so that they may sin continually. There is one fundamental choice in life: to either hate and fear the Light so that you can persist in sin, or to go to the Light and practice the truth and deeds ordained by God.
Jesus and his disciples go south into Judea. His disciples baptize repentant Jews. Nearby, John the Baptist’s disciples are inspired to jealousy by seeing that Jesus attracts larger crowds than John. John answers his disciples, saying that the whole point of his ministry was to prepare people for Jesus’s ministry. Now that Jesus’s ministry is growing, John is happy for him, and will intentionally fade into the background.
John the Baptist tells his disciples that Jesus has come from Heaven and will teach of the things of Heaven, because He has firsthand knowledge of Heaven and of God. He speaks the words of God Himself. Indeed, Jesus is God the Son, son of God the Father. Whoever lives a life of faith in the Son will experience the fullness of life, but whoever disobeys the Son will experience punishment from God.
This chapter provides a succinct summary of the basic proposition of John’s gospel. In John 20:19, John states a specific reason why he chose to write what he included in his gospel, among the myriad of things he could have written.
Accordingly, John will demonstrate throughout his gospel the starting place for the gospel, to believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, as well as the application of the gospel, to believe in the commands of Jesus, so that we experience the great benefit of the gospel: to experience “life in His name.”
In Chapter 3, John does both. First, he tells us of an interview Jesus had with Nicodemus, and provides a powerful witness for us to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Then he describes an interview between John the Baptist and one of his apparently disgruntled disciples, and provides us with a clear message that those who believe can choose between living in active belief, resting in obedience to Jesus, and experience life, or we can choose the adverse consequences that come from sin. It is a binary choice: life or death.
John makes clear that there is a gift of eternal life to be received by faith, and a great prize of experiencing “life in His name” through the obedience of faith. John gives us this through Jesus’ testimony to a ruler of the Jews, and John the Baptist’s explanation to his apparently disgruntled disciple.