In the closing verses of the third chapter of the book of John, we are given a wonderfully succinct and sublime sermon by John the Baptist.
Jesus and His disciples were in Judea, the territory of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. John, we are told in verse 23, was in Aenon, near Salim, which was about 50 miles north of Jerusalem in Decapolis.
Verse 25 explains that a dispute had arisen between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification.
Inspiration tells us that “John proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, and called the people to repentance. As a symbol of cleansing from sin, he baptized them in the waters of the Jordan. Thus by a significant object lesson he declared that those who claimed to be the chosen people of God were defiled by sin, and that without purification of heart and life they could have no part in the Messiah’s kingdom.” The Desire of Ages, 104.
Not surprisingly, the Jewish leaders were shaken and upset by this lesson. These leaders “had led the people to entertain a high opinion of their piety.” Ibid., 105. By submitting to baptism, they were acknowledging that they had need of cleansing from sin. But to which baptism should they submit? That of John? Or that of Jesus?
Then jealousy arose in the hearts of some of John’s disciples, “and they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him’ (John 3:26)! ” John’s response was probably not what his disciples expected. Rather than support their jealous assertions, he proceeded to provide one of the most succinct statements of the gospel contained in sacred writ.
He began his response by declaring man’s dependence on God, though he stated it in different words: “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven” (verse 27). Paul may have been mindful of this concept when he wrote to Timothy, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” I Timothy 6:7.
John then reaffirmed that he was not the Christ but that he had been sent before Him. Using the illustration of the best man at a wedding, he explains that the real joy in a wedding belongs to the groom.
“John represented himself as the friend who acted as a messenger between the betrothed parties, preparing the way for the marriage. When the bridegroom had received his bride, the mission of the friend was fulfilled. He rejoiced in the happiness of those whose union he had promoted. So John had been called to direct the people to Jesus, and it was his joy to witness the success of the Saviour’s work. He said, ‘This my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease’ (John 3:29, 30).” The Desire of Ages, 179.
Then in the following five verses, John delivers a truly sublime statement of the truth.
“He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:31–36).
Here John begins with the statement that Christ came from heaven and is therefore “above all.” The word above occurs three times in verse 31. The first use, describing Christ as coming “from above,” uses the Greek word that means “from the beginning,” or first. John is asserting that Christ is the alpha. He has existed from the beginning and is therefore before all things. The impact of his assertion is clearly evident in Greek, but not so dynamic in English.
The second two occurrences of above in verse 31 are the same Greek word, meaning superimposed on top of. John contrasts that exalted position with “he who is of the earth,” no doubt referring to the worldliness of the Scribes and the Pharisees.
Then John asserts, in a somewhat oblique way, that Jesus came from heaven, though he was careful to make this assertion in a way that would not allow the Scribes and the Pharisees to accuse him of blasphemy. His soliloquy is phrased wisely. Never does he claim that Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, is the Christ. Rather he states acceptable truths about the Christ that cannot be controverted.
Who could argue with the statement, “He who comes from heaven is above all”? But note that John did not make the dogmatic statement that Jesus came from heaven. Only those being led by the Spirit would have the insight to understand that this statement applied to Jesus, while those who wanted to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah could continue to cling to that error just as the Jews continue to do to this day.
After stating this truism, John indeed makes statements that apply directly to the Christ and therefore to Jesus. Although he does not identify Him specifically, his listeners would have to be willfully blind to fail to recognize that he was speaking of Jesus.
He alludes to their willful blindness in his next statement: “no one receives His testimony.” Then John acknowledges that he has indeed accepted the prophecies pointing to Jesus and that the Holy Spirit has certified that these prophecies have been fulfilled in Jesus.
Again, without directly stating that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, John presents another irrefutable truth: “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.” Had John’s listeners accepted that Jesus was the Christ and therefore the Son of God, an entirely different chapter of church history would have unfolded here, but the stiff-necked Jews continued to hold tenaciously to their preconceived notion of a conquering redeemer.
John then concludes his remarkable sermon with a truth that is almost as powerful as that given by Jesus Himself to Nicodemus earlier in the chapter. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
The power of this statement is somewhat obscured in English, for two different Greek words are translated into the same English word. In translation from Greek to English, “He who believes” and “he who does not believe” seem simply to be two opposing statements. However, in the original language, the words “believe” and “believes” are not two forms of the same word, but are rather two entirely different words.
The first means “to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), that is, credit; by implication to entrust (especially one’s spiritual wellbeing to Christ): believe; commit (to trust)” (Strong’s Concordance). The second occurrence could be translated “disobeys.” Thus this revelation from John the Baptist could perhaps be more clearly stated, “He who entrusts his spiritual wellbeing to Christ has eternal life; and he who disobeys Christ will suffer the wrath of God.”
These are the last recorded words of John the Baptist, and powerful words they are. Try as we might, we cannot escape the fact that being fit to receive the gift of eternal life requires obedience to God’s word, a fact clearly understood by the Baptist and expressed in his last recorded words.
All quotes NKJV unless otherwise noted.
John Pearson is the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. After retiring as chief financial officer for the Grand Canyon Association, Grand Canyon, Arizona, he moved to Wichita, Kansas, to join the Steps team. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com.