A Guide to Reading the Gospel of John
Jesus’ Pastoral Conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21)
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, which was composed of the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and priests. The leaders’ sin was perversion of Truth by setting up a tradition of their own in place of the Word of God.
Why did Nicodemus come to speak with Jesus? Was he disturbed by the fanaticism and irrational attitudes of some of his colleagues? Was he dissatisfied with his own spiritual experience? In addressing Jesus as “Rabbi,” did he simply want to discuss with Jesus some aspects of the law?
Why did he come at night? Remember that the Gospel of John frequently uses symbolism. Was he afraid of other leaders, or of public opinion? Was it because he “belonged to the night?” As you read through this Gospel, note that very soon after this conversation he defended Jesus against his fellow Pharisees (7:50-52).
Take note of Jesus’ approach to Nicodemus.
- Jesus’ first words are blunt, possibly intended to shock Nicodemus out of his self-confidence. Nicodemus was looking for progress; Jesus speaks only of re-birth.
- After shocking Nicodemus, Jesus appeals to him. He explains the re-birth he was speaking of as a complete inward renewal brought about by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps they even talked about Ezekiel’s promise in Ezekiel 36:25-27.
How does Jesus use the setting of their conversation? Perhaps they are talking on the flat rooftop in the cool of evening, with a gentle breeze blowing. How does Jesus relate His message to the environment surrounding them?
John 3:12 — Jesus speaks of “earthly things” and “heavenly things.” What does He mean?
3. As Jesus talks of heavenly things, Nicodemus seems to close his interview with Jesus. But Jesus continues to proclaim the Gospel to him. He gave the clearest, simplest, most beautiful invitation found anywhere in the Scriptures. Jesus speaks of the sacrifice made in heaven “out of the fullness, uncalculating tenderness and grace of the Father’s love.” (H. R. Mackintosh)
John 3:16 ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
John Calvin, in his commentary on the Gospel of John, said: “Our hearts will never find calm repose until they rest on the unmerited love of God.”
- Read again John 3:16-21 to seek to understand how Jesus uses the word “light” as opposed to darkness.
- Did Nicodemus change at a later time? Read John 7:46-52 and John 19:38-42 and consider how he may have changed.
John the Baptizer’s Final Witness to Jesus (John 3:22-36)
As the last in a long line of Old Testament prophets, John was aware that God was the “Husband” of Israel, and Israel was the “unfaithful wife.” John began to understand his role as the “friend of the Bridegroom.” (John 3:29-30) His task was to work as the messenger of the Bridegroom, and to prepare the bride for the Bridegroom’s coming.
What was John’s greatest joy? (John 3:28-30) What did his joy cause him to confess?
John’s final witness is an appeal to his listeners to listen not to him, but to listen to Jesus, who “gives the Spirit without measure.” He closes with an appeal to his generation to choose eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
Spend some time meditating on John the Baptizer’s humility, and on his complete focus on Jesus.