Site hosted by Build your free website today!


If so please EMail us with your question and we will do our best to give you a satisfactory answer.EMailus. (But preferably not from, for some reason they do not deliver our messages).

FREE Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.



By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

John the Baptiser Decreases (John 3.22-36).

At this stage Jesus began His ministry alongside that of John the Baptist in a supporting role. It was not His intention at this stage to supersede him. Indeed, when He learned that His success was diminishing John He retired to Galilee. Meanwhile on being approached by the Pharisees John pointed to Jesus as a greater than himself. The two worked together in perfect harmony.

3.22 ‘After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there he stayed for a time with them and baptised.’

The land of Judea is in Southern Palestine, below Samaria. Galilee was above Samaria in northern Palestine. Across the Jordan from Judea was Perea. All are differentiated from Jerusalem which looked on itself as a city on its own. This had been true from the days of David, when Jerusalem was his own personal possession having been taken by him from the Jebusites, and not being a part of Israel or Judah (see Mark 1.5 and often in the Old Testament).

Thus Jesus may have ‘come into the land’ of Judea from Jerusalem. It is significant that until 6.1 John makes no mention of a Galilean ministry. He does of course mention the visit to Cana and Capernaum in chapter 2, which appears to have been for a few days, and he will mention a further visit in 5.43-54, but there is only the slightest suggestion of any ministry there in that we are told that ‘the Galileans welcomed Him’ (4.45). Nothing further is said. There is no suggestion of a public ministry.

This agrees with Mark’s statement that Jesus’ Galilean ministry, of which the other Gospels are full, commenced after John the Baptiser was put in prison (Mark 1.14), which has not yet happened at this stage as he is still baptising at Aenon near Salim (John 3.23).

Thus we have in John’s Gospel valuable new material about the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry which is not mentioned by the other Gospels. It demonstrates that His first ministry was in Judea, and carried out in parallel with, and alongside, John the Baptiser’s. It may suggest that, while He clearly had a following of ‘disciples’ at this point (some of whom would leave him - John 6.66), that may not have included many of the twelve. We cannot, in fact, be certain which of the twelve were with Him. They are never mentioned until 6.67 where they are looked on as a specific unit, and this is after we know that the Galilean ministry has been in progress for some time (6.1).

This agrees with the other Gospel accounts where the twelve are appointed before the feeding of the crowds, but clearly after the first Judean ministry. In 6.67 John just assumes that the appointment of the twelve will be known to his readers.

Furthermore, it is clear that John is very sparse in his dealings with the Galilean ministry. Except when it suits his purpose he leaves it out of the reckoning. This is because he is not trying to write a full scale life of Jesus, but is drawing on material of which he has special knowledge in order to present Jesus to his readers in a certain way. If he writes long after the others, as some think, he would, of course, be aware that the details of the Galilean ministry were already public knowledge in the churches. But hiowever that may, be he is happy to ignore them for his purposes. Yet he constantly assumes what is in the Galilean tradition, for he mentions such things as John’s imprisonment as a matter of course rather than as new information (John 3.24). Note also how in chapter 5 He is in Jerusalem and then in 6.1 he is suddenly continuing a Galilean ministry.

‘There he remained with them and baptised.’ Jesus is at this stage carrying on a similar ministry to John the Baptiser, identifying Himself with the work of John. The work of the Spirit which that baptism symbolises has already begun. This is evident from the constant mention of the Spirit in John’s Gospel (John 3.5-6; 4.24; 6.63) and in His indication that ‘the life of the age to come’ is available already (3.15). Indeed it is evident in John’s ministry also. But as yet it is to a certain extent localised and not the great outpouring that was to follow the resurrection (John 7.39). To suggest that somehow this ministry was not effective in the power of the Spirit, but simply symbolic, is to ignore the evidence of both Old and New Testament that the Spirit has worked through the ages.

The new age of the Spirit would be notable for the power manifested and its widespread nature, but it was not a totally new work. Ezekiel in 18.31 could tell his listeners ‘cast away all the transgressions you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit’, which in view of Ezekiel 36.26-27 must mean the work of God’s Spirit. Compare also Psalm 51.10-12; 139.7; 143.10 and the mention of Holy Spirit inspired people in the early chapters of Luke.

While baptism is important as a commitment to God and to a new way of living, and a declaration of a desire to take part in the pouring out of the Spirit, it is that inner work that is most important. As Paul makes clear, to him baptism is secondary to preaching the Gospel, for it is the latter which produces the saving work which the former confirms (1 Corinthians 1.17-18).

It is stated in 4.2 that Jesus Himself did not baptise, but left the responsibility to His disciples. Aware of His special status, it would certainly have been wise for Jesus to leave baptising to His disciples, as otherwise all kinds of problems could arise as people fought to be baptised by Him. Jesus knew what was in men. He would therefore know very well the complications that could arise later if some people had been specifically baptised by Him. We can compare how Paul clearly left the baptising of people to others (1 Corinthians 1.11-17) and was thankful that he had done so. Thus this is not a case of special pleading.

We do not know how such baptisms were carried out although we know they required ‘much water’ (v.23). It seems probable therefore that people went down into the water. Perhaps the water was poured over them, symbolic of rain, or possibly they were dipped under the water. It is probable that John’s disciples also acted on John’s behalf as well in the work of baptising. In view of the great crowds this seems likely.

3.23. ‘And John was also baptising at Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.’

John the Baptiser did not feel that his work was over because the One to whom he pointed had come, nor did he feel it necessary to become a disciple of Jesus (in the technical sense). The relationship between Jesus and John is informative. John is happy to go on preaching but to ‘decrease’ and turn people to Jesus. Jesus on the other hand is careful not to bring discredit on the ministry of John, but to work alongside him. Both recognise that each has a purpose to fulfil in God’s service.

The reference to ‘Aenon near Salim’, an obscure place, is again evidence of the author’s personal knowledge, and of the genuine basis of the narrative. Various identifications have been made but certainty is not obtainable.

‘Because there was much water there.’ The need for much water arose from the success of his ministry. Huge crowds were coming to be baptised.

3.24 ‘For John had not yet been put in prison.’

John had not yet been put into prison. Thus this is before the ministries of Jesus mentioned in the other Gospels. Jesus is quite happy at this stage to be connected with John for whom He had profound admiration and they engage in parallel ministries. It was only when He learned that there was talk about His greater success than John, that He took the step of moving to Galilee so as not to upstage John.

It is clearly around this time that John was put into prison, and it is only then that Jesus was prepared to commence a wider, active ministry. While John was around, Jesus wished to act as support to his ministry and did not draw on his pool of disciples. But once John is in prison Jesus feels free to commence a new ministry in the power of the Spirit. We should note that we learn from the other Gospels that crowds followed Him ‘from Judea’. This tends to confirm that there had been an initial Judean ministry (Mark 3.7).

3.25 ‘A discussion therefore arose between John’s disciples and a Jew (or ‘the Judaisers’) about purifying’.

A discussion arose between John’s disciples and ‘a Jew’ (or ‘the Judaisers’). As John’s disciples were in fact Jews this demonstrates that the term Jew or Jews, when used in the Gospel, is not to be taken as referring to the nation. It rather refers to those who were particularly zealous for Judaism. It was they who would be concerned about purification rites, and as we know some of the Judaisers had already challenged John on the matter (1.25).

Possibly one of the representatives of the Jewish eldership (or a group of them - the authorities are relatively equally divided on the question) was seeking to pin down the meaning of John’s baptism, possibly mistakenly seeing it as an aspect of ceremonial purification or connecting it with the proselyte initiation ceremony, for when a non-Jew became a proselyte he would be required to undergo a ceremonial bath, although that was self-administered and thus of a very different nature. It may be that while seeking to argue this theological point, he commented to them concerning the fact that Jesus was more successful than John (4.1). He was probably seeking to cause a division between John and Jesus. The fact that the author is aware of what the discussion was about shows how close he was to the action, but he deliberately leaves the matter vague. The fact that he does so shows that it is not important to the meaning of this section. It is only mentioned because it happened. There was clearly constant communication between John the Baptiser’s group and the disciples of Jesus (see 4.1-3).

But the reader is, of course, aware that there is no argument. He knows that the old purificatory waters of Judaism have been replaced by the new wine of the Spirit.

3.26 ‘And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond Jordan, to whom you have borne witness, behold the same baptises and all men come to him.” ’

John’s disciples bring to their teacher the news of Jesus’ great successes. Had they listened as carefully to their teacher as the writer had previously, they would not have been so disturbed. But even genuine people very often only hear what they wish to hear.

‘All men come to Him’. Typical Hebrew exaggeration. It really means huge crowds, more even than came to John.

3.27-28 ‘John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing except it has been given him from Heaven. You yourselves bear me witness that I said ‘I am not the Christ (Messiah), but that I am sent before him’.” ’

John recognises that each man must do well the task he has been given. He has been given the position of being ‘the voice’ preparing the way, and he is satisfied with that. It is Jesus Who has been given the greater task of being the Messiah. John is happy at doing well the job he has been sent to do. There is no room for jealousy under the Kingly Rule of God.

‘A man can do nothing except it has been given him from Heaven.’ Nothing, that is, that is worthwhile and effective in God’s work. He recognises that Jesus’ very success is proof of God working through Him so that John is well content. Indeed he has stressed in his ministry that he is not himself the Messiah but has come to prepare the way for Him (the Christ). Note the constant emphasis on the fact that Jesus is the Christ.

3.29 “He who has the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and listens to him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. This my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase and I must decrease.”

In the Old Testament Israel was regularly pictured as God’s bride (Isaiah 62.4-5; Ezekiel 16.8; Hosea 2.19-20), so when John says that it is right that she should listen to the bridegroom, there is an implication of Jesus’ status as Son of God. The bridegroom’s helper can only be glad at hearing the Bridegroom’s voice, because it means that he has been carrying out his duties successfully. The depiction of Jesus as the Bridegroom is another indication of His status, for in the Old Testament God was the bridegroom and Israel the bride. John gladly recognises the total superiority of Jesus as a unique divinely chosen figure.

‘The friend of the bridegroom’. Not strictly ‘the best man’ but with a fairly similar function. He would make all arrangements for the success of the bridegroom. Thus having prepared the way John is delighted that the One has come Who is the Way (14.6). Just to hear His voice brings joy to John’s heart and he is fully satisfied.

‘He must increase, and I must decrease’. John does not hide the truth from himself, nor does he wish to. These words should be written on all our hearts. We are most successful when we are seen as unimportant because men’s eyes are turned on Jesus. John is content to become unimportant, so that the One to whom he testifies is recognised for what He is. The very fact that Jesus is the Christ makes His increase certain, and John accepts that this must lead to he himself being put into the background. These verses bring out John’s greatness, and the even greater greatness of Jesus.

3.31-34 ‘He who comes from above is above all. He that is of the earth is of the earth, and of the earth he speaks. He who comes from Heaven is above all. What he has seen and heard, of that he bears witness, and no man receives his witness. He that has received his witness has set his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives not the Spirit by measure.’

It is sometimes difficult in this Gospel to know when the speaker’s words cease and the comments of the writer begin, and many would see these words as the comment of the writer, in which case he now summarises what he has been writing.

‘He that is of the earth is earthy, and speaks of the earth, He Who comes from Heaven is above all’. He contrasts the One Who has come from above (compare v.13) with the one who is but an earthling. The latter can only speak of earthly things, however exalted, for he is limited to earthly knowledge even if it is revealed knowledge. But the One Who comes from Heaven is above all. This is repeated twice for emphasis. He has knowledge both of earthly things and of things that none on earth can know, even by revelation, for He is over everything in Heaven and earth. This contrast is true not only of John in contrast with Jesus, but of all men in contrast with Jesus. Men who claim special heavenly knowledge deceive themselves. It is beyond their understanding.

‘What He has seen and heard, of that He bears witness.’ Only the One Who has come down from Heaven can understand such things. This is because He has actually seen and heard them. So He bears witness to what He has seen and heard above. Even John in Revelation only had a partial revelation of such things in dreams and visions which were largely symbolic, for they are beyond man’s vision even when in the Spirit. But Jesus, being Himself ‘Spirit’, and being above the spiritual and angelic world, has full knowledge of all things. This is the most emphatic statement possible of the uniqueness and unique knowledge of Jesus.

Yet still ‘no man receives His witness’. Men as a whole reject His testimony. It is only man as enlightened by the Spirit of God Who can even begin to receive it for such things are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2.11-14). But it is not true of all that they fail to receive His witness. There are those who do hear Him (1.12), and by doing so they are in fact certifying that God Himself is true.

‘They set their seal to this, that God is true’. By believing His words and acting on them they put their stamp on them as being true and genuine. They recognise that the One Whom God has sent is uttering God’s words. And by believing those words they are believing God Himself. And in believing God they are testifying to the fact that God is true, for no one believes someone unless they accept him as true.

They accept Jesus Christ’s words because He has the Spirit in full, without measure. In contrast to this Midrash Rabbah on Leviticus 15.2 declares that the prophets received the Spirit by measure. (Midrash is the subjecting to writing by the Rabbis of oral testimony about the Torah in the long period since the time of Ezra. It is not possible to date its contents). Thus Christ’s experience exceeds that of the prophets. He is supremely blessed.

‘He gives not the Spirit by measure.’ The above interpretation sees this as referring to God’s giving of the Spirit to Jesus enabling Him to speak the words of God.. Others see it as referring to Jesus as the giver ‘without measure’ in speaking the words of God, a giving which is not restricted in any way. Still others see it as a general statement that God always gives the Spirit overflowingly, He does not give by measure, and that this is especially exemplified in the ministry of Jesus. However, experience suggests that God does give the Spirit to individuals ‘by measure’, therefore if either of the last two meanings is accepted they must indicate ‘to the whole church’.

3.35 ‘The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.’

Jesus receives the Spirit without measure because He is ‘the Son’ and ‘the Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hands’. This is the first mention of Jesus as ‘the Son’ in this Gospel, but the first of many such mentions. It is a frequent title in John’s Gospel. The title stresses His total uniqueness. He is not one of many but the only One, with a unique relationship to ‘the Father’ above that of the angels. Indeed it is a ‘family’ relationship. He is of the same essence. Compare Matthew 11.27; Luke 10.22; Mark 13.32. This is why all things without exception are given into His hand.

‘Has given all things into his hand.’ There is no restriction to what has been committed to Jesus. He has been set over all things and has power to do whatever He will. He is sovereign over all.

But why was Jesus called ‘the Son’? Did this indicate subordination to the Father? The answer is that it was only for the period during which He carried out His work of salvation that He was subordinate to the Father. In eternity there was no ‘father-son’ relationship (they are earthly terms based on earthly experience). Each member of the Godhead was co-equal and co-eternal. The application to Jesus of the term ‘Son’ is based on using as a picture the earthly relationship of father and son. Its stress is on the fact that both share the same nature, and that the latter performs the will of the former. Thus as the One Who has the same nature as the Father, and has been sent by the Father, Jesus is ‘the Son’.

3.36 ‘He who believes on 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.’

Not to listen to the Son is dangerous indeed. ‘He who believes on (believes into) the Son has eternal life, ‘the life of the coming age’, spiritual life, immortal life. He who does not obey the Son will not see such life, but God’s divine anger will rest on him with its consequent results. Notice that believing and obeying are used synonymously. Those who believe will always obey, although belief precedes obedience, and lack of obedience indicates lack of faith. The believer has God abiding in him (14.17, 23). In contrast the non-believer does not obey God and has God’s wrath, and the results of that wrath, abiding on him. God’s wrath is not anger as we know anger. It is not because He cannot control His feelings. The word is describing His total antipathy to sin and all that sin involves, expressed by judgment on that sin and on the sinner. It is thus steady and unchanging unless the sin is atoned for through the means that He has provided. God’s antipathy to sin cannot cease. What was therefore necessary was to deal with that sin in such a way that it could be removed as being a hindrance to man’s relationship with God.

Note that the last part of this passage had moved from Jesus’ Messiahship to His Sonship. Jesus is being revealed as ‘the Christ, the Son of God’.

4.1-3 ‘When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptising more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptise, but his disciples) he left Judea and departed again into Galilee.’

‘When therefore the Lord knew --’. The use of ‘the Lord’ by John when speaking of Jesus is elsewhere limited to after the resurrection except for 6.23 and a comment in 11.2 . Many ancient manuscripts have ‘Jesus’ here, but on balance there is considerably stronger, more widespread and earlier evidence for ‘the Lord’, and in view of the other references there would seem good grounds for accepting it here as the ‘harder’ reading .

In view of what we have just read about the exalted Son it seems quite feasible that the writer is wishing to stress the huge contrast between Jesus and John by using of Jesus the title ‘kurios’ which Paul certainly equates with the name above every name, the great name of God, ‘YHWH’ (Philippians 2.9-11). The writer wants us to know just Who it was Who was doing this.

Thus the writer is stressing the greatness of the One to whom he is referring. He stresses that it was none other than ‘the LORD’ Who heard and responded as He did.

‘That the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptising more disciples than John.’ The reference to ‘more disciples’ demonstrates that the term ‘disciples’ is used here of all those coming for baptism. The term is sometimes very general in the Gospel, varying with the context.

‘The Pharisees had heard.’ Clearly some Pharisee, possibly hoping to gain favour, had told Jesus that it was common knowledge among them, as a result of reports from their agents, that He was gathering more ‘disciples’ than John. It is probable that they had considered it their duty to weigh the two men up. As ‘guardians of the faith’ they would see it as their responsibility to assess them. Whatever their reason was, the imprisonment of John and disappearance of Jesus to Galilee interrupted their inspection, although, as we discover elsewhere, the assessment of Jesus went on in Galilee (e.g. Mark 2.6, 16, 22).

So in His greatness ‘the Lord’, who had every right to exert His superiority had He wished, when He learned that a certain amount of ignominy was being cast on John the Baptiser, withdrew into Galilee. And it was not in order to change His sphere of ministry, but simply to prevent His activity from interfering with John’s, for in Galilee He did not begin a public ministry until after John was imprisoned. Such was His sensitivity that He wished to protect His servant John from embarrassment.

What a lesson lies here for all who compete to make a name for themselves at the expense of others, and think that they are so important that they can ignore the effect of their ministry on other works of God. Each should be concerned that other’s work may prosper. And we should note that had Jesus not done what He did the great revival in Samaria, which we will next consider, would not have occurred.

‘Although Jesus himself did not baptise, but his disciples.’ It may be asked, why did Jesus not baptise? The answer is twofold. Firstly, He was no doubt conscious of the great danger that might arise in the future when men could claim that they But there is an even more important reason why it would have been the wrong thing to do for Jesus to baptise. Baptism at this stage was a pointer forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit. It was a declaration that One was coming Who would ‘drench (baptise) in Holy Spirit’ (Mark 1.8). John baptised with water in order to proclaim that that day was coming and he was especially thrilled when he saw it actually fulfilled when He had baptised Jesus. He immediately knew that this was the One Who would ‘baptise’ in Holy Spirit, although he did not know when. It was equally right for Jesus’ disciples to baptise. They too proclaimed that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was coming, and that One would come Who would baptise in Holy Spirit. It pointed from them to Another. But He was not ready to reveal Himself until John’s ministry was complete.

So Jesus could not point to another, for He was, and is, the baptiser in the Holy Spirit. He is the reality of which the baptism was the shadow. Thus for Him to have baptised would have been constantly misleading. He would have been pointing them to His own future coming. He would have been denying that He was present as the baptiser in Holy Spirit. And that He could not do, for it was the reason why He had come, the reason revealed to Nicodemus, shortly to be revealed to the Samaritan woman, and more and more to be revealed through His ministry until He gave the Holy Spirit, first in the Upper Room to the apostles (John 20), and then to the world at Pentecost (Acts 2).

Go to Home Page for further interesting articles

Back to John 3.1-21

Forward to John 4


If so please EMail us with your question and we will do our best to give you a satisfactory answer.EMailus. (But preferably not from, for some reason they do not deliver our messages).

FREE Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.