John 3:9-21

Earthly and heavenly things. The serpent in the wilderness. Condemnation and salvation. This is the basis for judging.

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9Nicodemus replied, “How can these things be?10Jesus answered, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you don’t understand these things? 11I tell you the solemn truth, we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. 12If I have told you people about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? (John 3:9-12)

Nicodemus posed the question “How can these things be?” in response to Jesus’ explanation of the concept of being born again. Jesus intended to convey the heavenly idea of being born again, but he also discussed some “early things” with Nicodemus and his contemporaries. These earthly things refer to earthly matters related to the Old Covenant, such as the law and commandments. It appears that Nicodemus, the Pharisees, and many other religious followers misunderstood the true role of the law.

They believed that adhering to the law would bring them God’s righteousness, but this belief is contradicted by the following verse:

For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)

The misconceptions surrounding the law create challenges for its adherents to grasp the concept of being born again, which signifies salvation through faith. For countless millennia, God communicated with humanity through the Jews, revealing earthly matters like the law and commandments. However, they failed to comprehend that these teachings were meant to direct them towards the ultimate significance of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.


13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven – the Son of Man. 14Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” 16For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:13-16)

Verse 13 establishes Jesus’ divine origin, having come from heaven. In verse 14, the significance of the bronze snake in the wilderness is revealed as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross. Just as the snake and Jesus offered salvation to those who looked upon them, these verses emphasize the ultimate key to salvation: belief in Jesus. This requirement applies universally, without any exceptions, and it is enough to have faith in the One sent by God.


17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 18The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it because humanity was already under condemnation when they were expelled from the Garden of Eden, losing their eternal life. Jesus’ mission in coming into the world was to provide salvation. The crucial factor determining whether they remain condemned or not lies in their response to the call to believe in God’s Son.


19Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. 20For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. 21But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God. (John 3:19-21)

The foundation for someone’s judgment is their reluctance to come into the light, fearing that their deeds might be revealed. Nevertheless, verse 21 might be misinterpreted, as there are individuals who willingly step into the light because they “practice the truth.” However, it’s important to understand that no one truly practices the truth, as stated in Romans 3:10: “There is no one righteous, not even one.” This is how Jesus indirectly conveys to the world that everyone must approach the cross, acknowledging their inability to reach God on their own.

The basis for judgment does not hinge on one’s ability to cease sinning, but rather on whether they approach Jesus’ cross with faith and express belief in Him.

(Next study: John 3:22-36)

Nghi Nguyen

- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen

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