Lesson 14

The Gospel of John

World English Bible translation

 Today's Scripture

3:9 Nicodemus answered him, "How can these things be?"

3:10 Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and don't understand these things? 3:11 Most assuredly I tell you, we speak that which we know, and testify of that which we have seen, and you don't receive our witness. 3:12 If I told you earthly things and you don't believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 3:13 No one has ascended into heaven, but he who descended out of heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven. 3:14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 3:15 that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.


 Today's Lesson

Jesus has told Nicodemus that in order to enter the kingdom of God a man must be born anew. Flesh gives birth to flesh and Spirit gives birth to spirit. In order to enter the kingdom of God a man must be born anew of the Spirit of God.


Today's scripture begins with Nicodemus' question, "How can these things be?"  Whether he was seeking more information or being dense we can only speculate. Jesus chastises him for his lack of understanding. Are you not the one who should be teaching Israel the things of God? Are you not one in authority, and still you cannot understand the things of the Spirit? Jesus does not classify what He has spoken of so far as lofty or high ideas. He has only spoken "earthly things" so far, only the most basic of ideas about God. And still Nicodemus, who is a man of religious authority in his nation, questions these things.


Jesus uses this lack of understanding by Nicodemus to re-enforce His own identity. The writer of the Gospel of John returns again and again to the identity of Jesus. "No one has ascended into heaven, but he who descended out of heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven." Jesus' understanding and teaching of the things of the Spirit is proof of His identity as the Son of Man. This title, the Son of Man, is the messianic title that Jesus claims for Himself most often. It originates from the Old Testament book of Daniel. There, one "like unto a Son of Man" is described. When others describe Jesus, He is most likely to be called the Son of God. When He describes Himself, He is most likely to use the title Son of Man.


One must turn to the Old Testament book of Numbers, chapter 21, to understand verses 14-15. This story comes from the time when the people of Israel were wandering in the dessert because of their lack of faith in God. The people were grumbling against God and God sent a plague of venomous snakes into their midst. He had Moses make a bronze snake and carry it on a pole in the middle of the people. Whoever a snake bit would die, unless he looked at the bronze serpent that Moses had made. Those who obeyed and looked at the serpent would live.


Jesus says that He is just like that bronze serpent. God has sent Him, that He might be lifted up (His crucifixion?). Whoever looks to the Son of Man will not perish, but have eternal life. To understand Jesus' idea one must assume that we are all bitten by the snake already. We are separate from God. We are dying. And God has made a way for us to be saved. This theme will be carried over into the next lesson.


The story of the bronze serpent is completed in II Kings 18:4. The serpent that Moses had created under direction of God so that the people would be saved became to later generations an idol that was falsely worshipped. It was not the serpent that saved the people from the venomous snakes. It was God. He was trying to show the people of Israel that they need only look to Him for all their needs, even their most desperate needs.


Many modern Christians see a parallel between the bronze serpent that became an idol and the symbol of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. The cross itself is not to be worshipped; it must not become an idol to us. It was the Lamb of God that was slain on the cross that is to be glorified, not the cross itself. It is the sacrifice that is holy, not the means of His execution.


As Jesus said, "so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life." Have you seen the Son of Man? He is lifted up. He is our hope and our salvation!


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