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The Context of John 3:16

This site is built around the well known verse of John 3:16.  The verse is the way of salvation in a nutshell, and as such offers the unbeliever the essence of the Gospel message in an instant.  The following is the text surrounding that verse showing the context in which the Lord spoke those words.

 3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
 
3:2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
 
3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
 
3:4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
 
3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
 
3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
 
3:7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
 
3:8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
 
3:9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
 
3:10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
 
3:11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.
 
3:12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
 
3:13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
 
3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
 
3:15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
 
3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
 
3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
 
3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
 
3:20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
 3:21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

This is a great example of salvation in action.  A man came to Jesus asking what he must do, and the answer surprised him.  Nevertheless, Nicodemus believed and we find continued in the faith as in John 7:50, when he tried to defend the Lord, and in John 19:39, when he helped bury him following his crucifixion.  No doubt, the whole situation was confusing.  Not knowing then, the plan of God, what happened must have seemed like a disaster.  Similarly, today people are confused about the message of the gospel, and they are just as confused about what is going on in both their lives and in the world around them.  But, as with Nicodemus, all we have to do is believe, be born again, and trust in God.  Remember, it is not by sight that we walk, but by faith.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and he will see you through to the end.

The account of Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night is not recorded by accident. It is here to encourage people.  Nicodemus was obviously fearful, seeking the Lord at night, when it would have been far easier to speak with Him in the day-time when He was going about preaching.  We are not told what he was frightened of, but it is probably safe to say that it would have included what other Pharisees and people he knew would have said and thought.  This is often the case with people today.  Like Nicodemus we may feel drawn to the Gospel, but having so many doubts and fears we hesitate.  Nevertheless, we should, like Nicodemus, make every effort to find answers to our questions, not simply hide away.

The were two things that Nicodemus learned, both of which must have surprised him. The first is that salvation was through spiritual re-birth and the second, that this came about by faith.  He had to believe and be born again.  This is an important combination for it is not enough to simply give intellectual ascent to the ideas contained in the Gospel, it is necessary to believe from the heart, casting yourself upon the mercy of God.  We are told quite clearly that he questioned the idea of being born again, when he asked how it was possible to enter his mother's womb for a second time.  But, as a Pharisee he would have also be surprised by being saved through faith.  This is because the Pharisees misunderstood the essence of the Law, thinking that by following the acts in a mechanical way saved you.  They made a big thing of how they obeyed and applied the Law to the nth degree, failing to see that the Law was a means to an end, not an end in itself.

As we read on in the Gospel of John we see this timid man change in his behaviour becoming bold, firstly defending the Lord (7:50) and helping in his burial (19:39).  This is the case with all who are born again.  Their fear is still there: no one wants to be treated badly; but the Lord makes us bolder than we could ever hope to be.


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