Read: John 3:22-36
The episode with Nicodemus comes to a close in the first part of chapter 3. It’s as if John says, “next slide,” and continues his presentation with a completely different thought that builds his case for Christ. In some respects, this is the challenge of reading one excerpt at a time, at least for me. I have to keep reminding myself of the previous events. That’s one reason I really appreciate The Bible Project’s image that portrays the entire Gospel of John on one page. While it’s a bit overwhelming to look at all at once, it does help remind me of where we are in the story.
John the Baptist Teaches about Jesus the Christ — Again
The latter half of chapter 3 is not included in the picture above. John segues into verse 22 by writing, “After this…”
After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. John 3:22
From a literary perspective, it suggests we need to keep the previous picture in mind as we continue to read. Think about this, Nicodemus was the central character in the previous narrative, but all of the disciples were gathered around listening. They were learning at the same time. This was all new information for them as well.
The gospel narrative was written in hindsight so John is able to insert thoughts that were developed over many years as he looks back. He obviously has a lot of respect for John the Baptist since he included the Baptist’s work at the beginning of his account, then again after the lesson with Nicodemus.
Sidenote: John clarifies in John 4:2 that Jesus wasn’t actually the one baptizing people. This is significant once His true identity is revealed. It’s not that it was beneath Jesus to perform the baptism, rather, it seems more important to demonstrate that you don’t have to be the Son of God to baptize.
Jesus and John have parallel ministries going on in this scene and it creates some confusion among those who are working with John the Baptist.
An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” John 3:25-26
It’s interesting to note that the argument is about ceremonial washing. Nicodemus is wondering what it takes to see the Kingdom of God and John’s disciples are arguing about becoming clean through this washing ministry. Both are seeking to gain favor with God, to restart. There are many theories about John’s ministry of baptism, but it seems clear that those who were drawn to John had a change of heart. They were committed to demonstrating their new life by publicly being baptized.
John the Baptist Defers to Jesus
John was never confused about his role or place on earth. To be honest, I’m envious. His calling is laser focused. Many are attracted to him because of his single-mindedness. His own disciples might be a bit confused, but they are serious about life change. I want to be that kind of person.
John the Baptist sets the record straight.
He must become greater; I must become less.” The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. John 3:30-31
One of the amazing things about the Bible is how complete thoughts are summarized into short phrases. We can read this chapter aloud in a few minutes, but the conversations recorded probably went on for hours. John’s disciples certainly didn’t have just one question or one argument. They were in ministry together. There were lots of conversations and words about these events. We’re only getting the highlights, the key principles behind significant statements.
The temptation is to get lost in a single sentence, but I hope we can learn to hear God’s voice through the words and not get lost in thought. From my perspective, that’s why John, the gospel writer, ends this lesson with the following:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. John 3:36
Whoever believes, anyone and everyone. Whether you’re a scholar like Nicodemus or a new disciple following the teaching of another disciple, the key to eternal life rests in your ability to humble yourself and believe in the Son.