We are looking at the testimony of John the Baptizer who was the forerunner to Yeshua, the last Old Covenant prophet. In our last study we saw John in Samaria preaching repentance and baptizing. And for a short period Yeshua was doing the very same thing that John was doing, preaching repentance, preaching the arrival of Messiah, in the area of Judea. So John and Yeshua had overlapping ministries.
Because Yeshua is carrying on the same ministry as John but drawing a larger crowd John's disciples are jealous for their rabbi, John the Baptist. This is rather ridiculous because John's ministry was to point people to Christ. They were following the man John but didn't even understand what his message was. John tells them:
"You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent ahead of Him.' John 3:28 NASB
He points out that he's not the Messiah, he's not the bridegroom, but he's the friend of the bridegroom. And he stands and hears the bridegroom and rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice:
"He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. John 3:29 NASB
John is saying that Yeshua is the bridegroom, those who believe in Him are His bride, and he is only a friend of the bridegroom. Now that the bridegroom has come calling for his maiden bride he feels no jealousy but complete joy for his friend and his friend's bride. John in effect says to his disciples, "The thing that is causing you concern is the thing that really causes me to rejoice."
John, who represents the Old Covenant, is being replaced. Yeshua is replacing Judaism. Yeshua will fulfill the role Judaism had failed to carry out: to be a witness to the nations. As we have seen the Father sent the Son because he loved the world—Jew and Gentile alike.
John's view of his ministry and Christ's is:
"He must increase, but I must decrease. John 3:30 NASB
It was time for John's ministry to decrease. He's simply a witness; he's simply the friend of the bridegroom. He's not the Messiah, he's not the groom. He is now finished speaking about himself (verses 27-30) and why he must decrease and he set out to prove the supremacy of Yeshua and to show how vastly superior Christ is to him in verse 31-36. This pericope explains why Yeshua must increase.
As we look at verses 31-36 let me say again that there has been much discussion among commentators over whether these verses are; John the Baptist's continuing verbal affirmations; the words of Yeshua; or the words of Lazarus. The ESV closes the quotation of John the Baptizer at the end of verse 30 with quotation marks. Which means that the ESV translators think that the writer of the Gospel starts talking in verse 31. Some versions continue the quote from John the Baptizer to the end of the chapter. We really can't be sure who's words these are, and it really doesn't matter whether these are the words of John the Baptizer or Lazarus or Yeshua, they are equally inspired by God, and profitable to us.
I see this section (31-36) as a continuation of the quote of John. I see them as expounding what it means when he says, "He must increase." John is giving an exposition in this section of the greatness of the Son of God. He is in a sense, giving us his Christology. He must increase because He's the one who comes from above.
"He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. John 3:31 NASB
Notice the contrast here, "above/of the earth" These words are very similar to what Yeshua said to Nicodemus in:
"If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? "No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. John 3:12-13 NASB
In both texts we have earthly things and heavenly things and one who comes from above. This dualism of above and below, of God's realm and mankind's earthly realm, is characteristic of John Eleazar. It is different from the eschatological dualism of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is also different from the Gnostic dualism of spirit and matter. In Lazarus creation itself and the human body are not in and of themselves evil or sinful.
"He who comes from above is above all...He who comes from heaven is above all"—here we see that "above" (anothen) and "heaven" are synonyms. And "above" is the same word used earlier in this chapter in verse 7, "you must be born from above." This helps us see that Lazarus uses anothen in the sense of "from above."
Yeshua is from above, He came from heaven, His existence didn't began at
Bethlehem. His heavenly origin becomes a very important part of Yeshua's testimony. Speaking of Himself he says:
"For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world." John 6:33 NASB
"For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. John 6:38 NASB
"This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. John 6:50 NASB
"I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh." John 6:51 NASB
"This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever." John 6:58 NASB
Get the point? Yeshua came from heaven. Why is that so important? It's important because in the incarnation the eternal God, who was in heaven, was joined to humanity. This man that John pointed to was in fact Yahweh incarnate.
We saw earlier in our study of the book that in verse 1 Lazarus says, "And the Word was God"—these four Greek words may be the clearest declaration of the deity of Yeshua in all the Scripture. The Greek verb eimi (was) means: "to be" or "to exist," and suggests continued existence. So the man, Yeshua, had previously existed as Yahweh.
So John's Christology is that Yeshua is from heaven. And not only is He from heaven, there were may hosts in heaven, but He is above all. And he says it twice in order to stress the fact that He is absolutely preeminent. The claims that John the Baptizer makes about Yeshua's preeminence are found by various writers throughout the New Testament. This is the testimony of the whole of the New Testament. Look at what Paul says in Romans 9:
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. Romans 9:1-5 NASB
Paul is saying that the Messiah Yeshua is "over all" He is the sovereign Yahweh, their covenant God, whom they have rejected.
In Ephesians chapter 1 Paul again says that Yeshua is above all:
which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:20-23 NASB
Paul piles up four different words: "rule, authority, power, and dominion," to encompass all spiritual powers. These words indicate different gradations of rank or power among the gods. But whatever levels of spiritual power exist, Yeshua is over them all.
So who are these rulers and powers in the heavens that Yeshua is over? I believe these are divine beings who were once part of Yahweh's divine counsel. In the Hebrew Bible we see a divine council, a ruling body consisting of Yahweh as the supreme monarch and various supernatural attendants.
All ancient Mediterranean cultures had some conception of a divine council. But the Hebrew Bible describes a divine council under the authority of Yahweh, the God of Israel:
God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers. Psalms 82:1 NASB
"His own congregation"—is referring to the divine council. "Congregation" is from the Hebrew edah, and means: "a stated assemblage (specifically a concourse, or generally a family)." The term "divine council" is used by Hebrew Bible scholars to refer to the "heavenly host" (the pantheon of divine beings who administer the affairs of the cosmos). It is the consensus among ANE scholars that every society from the time of the ancient Sumerians to the time of the Babylonians and the Greeks believed in a pantheon of gods.
Here "God" and "rulers" are both the Hebrew word elohim; this is speaking of the divine counsel, or the "watchers," as Daniel calls them. Yahweh is going to judge these other gods for their unjust rule:
How long will you judge unjustly And show partiality to the wicked? Selah. Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked. They do not know nor do they understand; They walk about in darkness; All the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, "You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. "Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like any one of the princes." Psalms 82:2-7 NASB
Yahweh reviewed their performance as "gods" and judges of the Gentiles and condemned them for failing to rule justly. They're supposed to copy the rule of the Father of all. They're supposed to rule in justice and law, keep the order of things. If these elohim were men, why would Yahweh say, "You will die like men"? Yahweh is saying here that He will judge the disobedient watchers.
Now notice the last verse:
Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations. Psalms 82:8 NASB
Who is the God here who is to judge these disobedient gods and the earth? In the LXX the word "arise" here is anasta in Greek. This is the term used in the New Testament every time for resurrection. This is a reference to Yeshua, the resurrected One. He is the God who arises and judges the earth. Yeshua is from above and over all!
Peter also speaks of the preeminence of Yeshua over all heavenly beings:
who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. 1 Peter 3:22 NASB
Look at what the writer of Hebrews said:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. Hebrews 1:1-4 NASB
"Upholding all things by the word of His power"—the word "upholding" is the Greek word, phero, which means: "supporting or maintaining." It is in the present tense, implying continuous action. What is in view is Divine providence. Everything in the universe is sustained at this moment by Yeshua. He is over all!
What is interesting about John saying that Yeshua is "over all" is that John the Baptist, was a good Jewish man. And being a good Jewish man, he would daily site the great text of Judaism:
"Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! Deuteronomy 6:4 NASB
And yet in spite of the fact that he regarded Yahweh as being the one true God, he is able to say concerning Yeshua, "He that cometh from above is above all." How can John elevate Christ to the level of Yahweh and yet believe that Yahweh is one? The Hebrew faith had a Binitarian Godhead. They understood that there were two powers in heaven.
Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, "I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up." When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Exodus 3:1-4 NASB
"The angel of Yahweh appeared to him...when Yahweh saw that He turned aside." There is more than one being in the bush. The rabbis noticed this, they were very familiar with the text. They saw that there were two Yahwehs in the text. This is the Jewish Godhead. The Jews understood and taught two powers in heaven until the second century A.D. The Hebrew Scriptures taught a second Yahweh. The Hebrew faith had a Binitarian Godhead.
Here is John who recited the Shema Israel which testifies to the unity of God, finding no difficulty and contradiction what so ever with that doctrine of the unity of God in affirming also the supremacy and deity of the second person of the Trinity. John's testimony of Yeshua is that He is Yahweh!
"He who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth"—John the Baptizer is speaking of himself and every other person. We are all terrestrial, but Yeshua is celestial. He comes from heaven. Finite humans can only reveal things that they experience on the earth, but Yeshua could reveal things about heaven.
The term for earth here is ge and it is not the same as the term "world" (kosmos), which is often used negatively by Lazarus. Ge doesn't have any moral connotation. This is simply an affirmation that Yeshua spoke out of that which He knows, heaven, while all human beings speak out of that which they know, earth. Therefore, the testimony of Yeshua is far greater than that of any earthly prophet or preacher.
John, just like all the rest of us, was just human. He had a powerful testimony for Christ, but he was just human, and we see this when he was thrown into prison:
Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?" Matthew 11:2-3 NASB
John was a great prophet but even he was human. Even the best of men, even the greatest of prophets live with elements of their fallenness that show up in doubts. His circumstances were causing him to question his faith.
Listen to this amazing explanation from Paul of what Yeshua is saying here:
The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. 1 Corinthians 15:47-49 NASB
So Paul and Lazarus see two categories of people: those in Adam, the earthly and those in Christ, the heavenly:
"What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. John 3:32 NASB
"What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies"—how many books have been written about people who say that they have died and gone to heaven? Well I wouldn't really trust them but Christ, on the other hand, has come from heaven and we can trust His word. Everything that Christ says is true because He tells what He has seen and heard. He can speak of heavenly things because He has seen those heavenly things. The things that have to do with the true God He has seen and heard, His testimony is certain.
This isn't the only time that John asserts this:
So Yeshua answered them and said, "My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. John 7:16 NASB
So Yeshua said, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. John 8:28 NASB
D. A. Carson writes, "Jesus so completely says and does all that God says and does, and only what God says and does … that to believe Jesus is to believe God." The converse is also true: To reject Jesus' testimony about God is to reject God (see John 12:44-50). Even worse, to reject God's testimony about Jesus is to call God a liar (1 John 5:10). [D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apol-los], p. 213)
"And no one receives His testimony"—the next verse, "He who has received His testimony" is an illustration of the fact that the first statement is not to be understood in strictly literal fashion. So what he means is that the general response of men to the testimony of God is to refuse to receive it. "Men loved darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil." This is quite opposite of what John's disciples said (3:26), that "all are coming to Him."
So the general attitude of the world toward the testimony of God is rejection of it, but there are some who do receive. Yeshua had previously said that people do not
typically receive His witness:
He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. John 1:11 NASB
John goes on to say:
"He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. John 3:33 NASB
The person who receives the testimony about Christ attests the veracity of God. If we do not receive the testimony, we in effect, as Lazarus will say in his first Epistle, are calling God a liar:
The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 1 John 5:10 NASB
Yeshua so completely says and does all that God says and does, and only what God says and does, that to believe Yeshua is to believe God. Conversely, not to believe Yeshua is to call God a liar.
"For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. John 3:34 NASB
This is the third time in a couple of verses that John tells us that Yeshua does not have His origin on earth but with God in heaven. At the beginning of verse 31: "from above." At the end of verse 31: "from heaven." At the beginning of verse 34: "God has sent." "Thirty-nine times in this Gospel it refers to Yeshua being sent from God. This affirms Yeshua's deity and heavenly origin.
The Son speaks the words of God. In John 8 our Lord reiterates what John the Baptizer says here.
"I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world." John 8:26 NASB
Yeshua so exactly revealed God's words, that to believe Yeshua is to believe God, and to disbelieve Yeshua is to disbelieve God.
"For He gives the Spirit without measure"—all of God's former messengers received a limited "measure" of God's Spirit."The Spirit came on the Old Covenant prophets only for limited times and purposes. However, God gave His Spirit to Yeshua without limit. In the rabbinical writings, reference is made to the fact that the Spirit was not given without measure to the prophets:
"I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, 'He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.' "I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God." John 1:33-34 NASB
The one on whom the Spirit remains according to 1:33 is the one who gives the Spirit as a gift to others. Christianity has always understood that the Spirit is mediated through Christ. That is to say that the Spirit does not operate independently, but operates in relationship to Christ.
Everything Yeshua did in His ministry was the work of the Holy Spirit, that's why in Matthew 12 when they called Him satanic, they said, "You do what You do by the power of Satan." He didn't say you blasphemed Me, He said, "You blaspheme the Holy Spirit."
The prophets foretold the Holy Spirit coming upon Christ:
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. Isaiah 11:1-2 NASB
Look also at:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; Isaiah 61:1 NASB
Yeshua quoted this verse in Luke 4:18 as He preached in Nazareth, and then in verse 21 He applied to Himself.
"The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. John 3:35 NASB
"The Father loves the Son"—because of His love for the Son, the Father has given the Spirit to Him without limit, and has placed everything in His hands. This affirmation is repeated in John 5:20 and 17:23-26.
"Has given all things into His hand"—this is a perfect active indicative. This is a Hebrew idiom for power or authority over another (i.e., John 10:28; 13:3; Acts 4:28; 13:11). This idea is expressed throughout the New Testament and is seen clearly in Matthew chapter 11:
"All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Matthew 11:27 NASB
Does that sound familiar to you? The wording is similar to what we see in the Fourth Gospel. Von Heizer, the German scholar, called this verse from Matthew, "A thunder bolt from the Johannine sky." What this verse is saying is that the sovereign possessor of the knowledge of God is the Lord Yeshua. And only the individual to whom He reveals the Father comes to know the Father:
"He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." John 3:36 NASB
Compare this with:
"He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:18 NASB
According to John 3:18 and John 3:36, what is the outcome of believing or not believing in Yeshua? He who believes "is not condemned" (John 3:18) and "has everlasting life." (John 3:36) He who does not believe "is condemned" (John 3:18) and "the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36) It's one or the other. There is no third option.
The word translated "he who does not obey" in the NASB, and "believeth not" in the KJV is not the common word to not believe, which is apisteo, but the word used here is the verb apeitheo. The leading Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, by Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, makes a very insightful comment about apeitheo, which sheds light on John 3:36:"Since in the view of the early Christians, the supreme disobedience was a refusal to believe their Gospel, apeitheo may be restricted in some passages to the meaning: "disbelieve, be an unbeliever" (BAGD, p.82).
Look at what Paul said in Romans:
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake, Romans 1:5 NASB
Paul was the apostle to the nations and his calling was to "bring about the obedience of faith." The significance of the genitive pistis (of faith) is disputed. Some take it as a subjective genitive giving it the sense of obedience that comes from faith. It can also be taken as an appositional construction and should be translated as: "the obedience that is faith." Acceptance of the Gospel in faith can be described as an act of obedience.
However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?" Romans 10:16 NASB
The word "heed" is the Greek word hupakouo, which means: "to obey." Paul uses it four times in Romans, and the other three are all translated: "obey." The parallelism of the two lines reveals that disobedience consists in failure to believe:
Therefore they said to Him, "What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?" Yeshua answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." John 6:28-29 NASB
It is an act of obedience to God to believe in His Son.
Many Lordship Salvationists use this phrase "who does not obey the Son" to enforce their view of commitment salvation. My favorite Lordship writer, John MacArthur, writes, "The result of faith is obedience. Show me someone who says he believes in Christ and lives a life of disobedience and I'll show you someone who is not redeemed."
And He said to him, " 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' "This is the great and foremost commandment. "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' Matthew 22:37-39 NASB
Who do you know that loves Yahweh with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind and loves their neighbor as much as they love themself? Not to live like this is disobedience, which, according to MacArthur, means you are not redeemed. Don't we all live in some disobedience? If so, how much is acceptable to make it into heaven? NONE!
For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:19 NASB
I am seen by God not as disobedient even though at times I am. I am seen by God as righteous because of Yeshua; I am in Christ. I possess His righteousness.
For those who do not believe in Yeshua, "The wrath of God abides on him"—this is the only reference to God's wrath in this Gospel. To die without Christ is to perish, life is over forever, which is God's wrath abiding on you.
This text is John the Baptizer's Christology. Here he explained that Yeshua came from heaven with greater authority than any former prophet. He was from heaven and above all. What He revealed came from His own observations in heaven. His words accurately and fully represented God. All of these things show that He was far superior to John the Baptist, as well as every other divine representative. Christ was increasing and John was decreasing. This is John's last witnesses of Christ. Not long after this Herod had John arrested and beheaded.
J. C. Ryle sums up why we should believe in Yeshua: "We can never make too much of Christ… We can never have too high thoughts about Christ, can never love Him too much, trust Him too implicitly, lay too much weight upon Him, and speak too highly in His praise. He is worthy of all the honor that we can give Him. He will be all in heaven. Let us see to it, that He is all in our hearts on earth." (J. C. Ryle; Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], 3:172)