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Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the Bible Kretzmann's Commentary
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on John 3". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ kpc/ john-3.html. 1921-23.
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on John 3". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://studylight.org/
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The Visit of Nicodemus.
The call by night:
v. 1. There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
v. 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.
v. 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.
Here is an incident from the happenings of this Passover week which shows the Savior's kind and searching love. There was a certain man in Jerusalem that belonged to the Pharisees, the sect of the Jews which was peculiarly zealous for the keeping of the traditions of the elders. The Pharisees were leaders of Jewish thought, many of them, if not all, teachers, but strongly imbued with the idea of self-righteousness. This man, Nicodemus, not only belonged to them, but he was even a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest council of the Jewish Church, John 7:50. He came to Jesus by night, partly because he feared his colleagues, whose enmity toward Jesus was evident from the first, and partly because he wanted to be undisturbed. He felt a growing dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Jewish leaders were condemning Jesus. He believed that this new Teacher had a wonderful message and should be heard; he had a desire to know more of His message. Addressing Jesus in a very respectful way, he frankly tells Him that he himself and the party he represented, probably a few earnest souls in the otherwise hostile council, knew, they had come to the conclusion, that Jesus was a Teacher come from God. They recognized in Him a divinely commissioned Teacher, which does not imply an understanding of Christ's miraculous origin. These Jews to whom Nicodemus belonged had simply drawn their conclusions from the evidence before their eyes. God had confirmed the teaching of Jesus by miracles of a kind that brought conviction. They were no tricks or sleight-of-hand performances, but such wonders as indicated the power of God beyond all question. There could be no doubt of God's being with the man that could perform such miracles. The knowledge of Nicodemus went so far as to recognize in Jesus a prophet on a level with those of the Old Testament, but it did not go so far as to accept Him as the Messiah. The position of Nicodemus is shared by many so-called Christians of our day. Their confession of Jesus is entirely in conformity with reason. They believe Him to be a great Teacher" they praise His doctrine. But they do not want to acknowledge Him as the Savior of the world. The statement of Nicodemus was a feeler. He indicated that he and his party were inclined to go still farther in their belief; he suggested that Jesus should express Himself as to His actual position and intentions. The idea of a temporal Messianic kingdom was always foremost in the minds of the Jews. But Jesus solemnly declares that an inquiry of this nature, and with that probable end in view, was useless without an understanding of the manner of the entering into the kingdom of God. Unless a person comes into being, is born, anew, again, is made over entirely into a new creature, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God which Jesus is preaching so earnestly. Without such complete regeneration a participation in the joys of the true kingdom of God is impossible. No one can be saved unless he is regenerated. Nicodemus, like all the Pharisees, believed that he could be saved by the works of the Law. His view is shared by millions of misguided people today. To be worthy of heaven by one's own merits, that is the aim of all modern Pharisees. But the demand of Christ differs radically from that assumption. It overthrows all self-righteousness and pride completely. It insists upon a complete change in the moral condition of a man, a thorough and all including transformation of the heart, of the mind, of the will of a person, which also must become evident in anew manner of living, so that such a person, in his thinking, willing, feeling, in words and in works, is anew man. Without such regeneration no one can enter into the kingdom of God.
The mode of regeneration:
v. 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?
v. 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.
v. 6. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
v. 7. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
v. 8. The wind bloweth where it listed, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.
The statement of Jesus, simple as it was, was at the same time so thoroughly at variance with the commonly accepted idea as to the way of getting to heaven that it almost took the Pharisee's breath. His question revivals his utter inability to grasp the idea of the Lord to its full extent. He knew, of course, that a physical rebirth was impossible. He understood that Christ's reference was to a spiritual transformation. But just such a change in the field of morality seemed to him impossible, verging on the ridiculous, preposterous. How can a person, especially one of advanced years, deny the habits and customs of years? If that is to be done, then every person must really begin his life all over again, just as he came into the world. The very suggestion is unthinkable from the standpoint of reason, just as the idea of conversion, of regeneration, is preposterous in the opinion of the average self-righteous person. And therefore Jesus explains, once more with solemn emphasis, that the rebirth out of water and Spirit is absolutely essential, it is a prime prerequisite, for the entering into the kingdom of heaven. Spiritual regeneration by Baptism, through which the Spirit of God is given, is unavoidably necessary. Baptism is the means by which the Holy Spirit works regeneration, the new birth. Conversion is therefore in no way the work of man, but it is the work of God the Holy Ghost. To be born again or anew is to be born out of the Spirit, to receive from Him a new heart, a new mind, a new will. To gain this object, God uses Baptism as one of His instruments. This Sacrament actually works and gives new life; the water is not merely a symbol, but an actual means, through the power of the Word, in working salvation. But one that has been converted in this way, and has thus become a partaker of the grace of God, thereby enters into the kingdom of heaven, into the invisible Church; for the kingdom of God and the kingdom, of heaven are identical. That this demand of an absolute regeneration is well founded is proved by the fact that all men, as they are born into the world, are flesh; theirs is a sinful, corrupted nature, alienated from God, hostile to God. The carnal-mindedness of natural man is enmity toward God. It is an irreconcilable contrast: all men carnally born, from carnal parents, by nature flesh and filled with the same sinful affections as the parents in their nature, and, on the other hand, that which comes into existence by the creative work of the Spirit in conversion, the new man, filled with divine life, with divine power from above, through the working of the Spirit. He that is born of the Spirit has the Spirit's manner; his heart, mind, and will are directed to God and to that which pertains to God; such a one, and he only, is fit for the kingdom of God; he alone can receive the kingdom of God with its heavenly gifts and blessings. It should therefore not be a cause for wonder that a new birth is required for entrance into the spiritual kingdom. To natural man, indeed, it is a marvel, something that he can never fathom and understand, in just what way the Spirit of God works. But this indispensable requirement. stands for all those that are born of the flesh: they must be born anew. No amount of quibbling and arguing will change that fact. The Lord tries to make His meaning clear by an example, by a phenomenon in nature. There is the wind: it blows where it chooses; it comes, it goes, and sound as a physical concept is well known, but the beginning and end, the why and wherefore of the laws of nature are unknown, just as it is impossible for mere man to understand creative power. The blowing of the wind is done in absolute independence of any man's will; no one can govern and fix its direction. And just so it is with the working of the Spirit of God: the process of regeneration cannot be ascertained by the application of the senses; that is a mystery of God. Only the results are apparent, and they are often of a nature to make us marvel. The regenerated person shows an entirely different manner than before his conversion. What he shunned before he now seeks; and what he sought and loved before he now hates. He is anew, a different person, all by the power of the Spirit. "As the wind is free, not bound to any place, person, or time, so also the Holy Ghost. Just as the wind moves, drives, comforts, and penetrates everything, so it is also with the working of the Holy Ghost. " Note: The Holy Ghost does His work how and when He wishes to; He does His work in His own peculiar way. But we men are bound by the external means which He has given us: we must use His Word and Sacrament to obtain the gifts of His grace.
The witness from above:
v. 9. Nicodemus answered and said unto Him, How can these things be?
v. 10. Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel and knowest not these things?
v. 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.
v. 12. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?
v. 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.
Nicodemus could not understand yet, and so proceeded to ask a human explanation of a divine phenomenon. He wanted to know how these things could be; he wanted a plausible exposition. His personal conviction was that it was impossible for God and His Spirit to accomplish such results, to make a man entirely different from what he was before, actually to regenerate him. Jesus begins His explanation with an exclamation of surprise at the bewilderment of the Pharisee. For Nicodemus was a teacher in Israel, he held the position of a scribe, who was supposed to be well versed in the Law. The subject of regeneration is treated so often in the Psalms and in the visions of the prophets that a teacher of the people should have been thoroughly familiar with its full import. Bad enough for the pupil, for the ordinary Israelite, to be so blind; what, then, shall be said of a master that shows such obtuseness! See Psalms 51:12; Ezekiel 11:19. The scribes anti Pharisees of the time of Jesus no longer understood the Scriptures. They clung to the outward letter, while the true sense was hidden from them. Most emphatically, therefore, the Lord declares that His case is not one of ignorance and denseness. He has a first-hand, thorough knowledge. He speaks such things as He knows; and what He has seen and is continually "seeing as the eternal, omniscient Son of God, that He bears witness of. He speaks with divine authority of the miracle of regeneration as well as of the inner mysteries of the Triune God. And Jesus knows in advance that His word will not be accepted, His witness will not be believed. Not only Nicodemus, but all men that are like him in their position toward divine revelation are so blinded by their reason that they cannot understand. Of things pertaining to this life challenging their attention Jesus had spoken, of regeneration and sanctification; and not even those did they credit, much less have faith in His words. But if they could not understand the easier, the more tangible, that which ought to engage their attention at once, what would be the result if Christ should begin to teach of matters not open to human observation and experience, things wholly in the unseen, the essence and purposes of God? Of those things He could speak and testify of His own personal experience. No human being has ever dwelt in heaven and thus gained a knowledge of heavenly things. One only has dwelt there and is able to communicate the true knowledge concerning God and all divine matters. The Son of Man, the God-man, in His great work of atonement, has come down from heaven to be a witness of heavenly things. And for this He is fully qualified, for He is still in heaven; He is in the closest, the most intimate connection with the two other persons of the Godhead, even though His body is walking the earth in weakness and humility. Christ here states expressly that He was in heaven from the beginning, for else He could not have come down; that He has now come down for the purpose of testifying of heavenly things; that He is still in heaven, also according to His human nature, as the Son of Man. See John 1:18. And finally, the time is coming when He will return to heaven, when His human nature will be finally and fully translated into the heavenly glory and majesty. "Flesh and blood cannot get to heaven; only He ascends up to heaven that came down from heaven, in order that the government over all may be in His hand. Whatever lives He can kill; and what is dead He can make alive; what is rich He can make poor. Thus it is here resolved, whatsoever is born of flesh does not belong into heaven. But this ascending into heaven and the coming down was done for our benefit, in order that we, who are carnal, might also get to heaven, but with this form, that the mortal body first be killed."
The purpose of Christ's coming:
v. 14. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
v. 15. that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
v. 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.
v. 17. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
The act of Moses in the wilderness, in erecting the brazen serpent before the eyes of the stricken people, was typical, symbolical, Numbers 21:1-9. The people that had been bitten by the fiery serpents and then looked upon this symbol in faith were healed, and the poison had no effect upon them, Jesus is the antitype of the brazen serpent. In accordance with the divine counsel of love, in which He Himself had taken part, the Lord took upon Himself the obligation that He also should be elevated upon a tree before the eyes of the whole world. There are three points of similarity between type and antitype in this story. The brazen serpent of Moses had the form and appearance of the poisonous reptiles after which it was modeled, just as Jesus was revealed in the form of our sinful flesh, had the needs and ways of an ordinary human being, was finally punished as a criminal, Just as the brazen serpent, however, had no poison, was altogether harmless, so Jesus, though in appearance like unto sinful men, was without sin, holy, harmless, undefiled. A strange curse was resting upon Him, and for the sins of others, imputed to Him, He hung upon the cross. And finally, just as he that looked at the brazen serpent in faith remained alive, so also every sinner that has been poisoned by sin in its various forms, but now looks up to Jesus, the Savior, in simple, trusting faith, shall not perish, shall not be punished with everlasting destruction, but have eternal life. For in Christ all sin has been conquered, all guilt has been taken away: there is complete redemption in Him. This thought Jesus now repeats in a burst of Gospel-preaching which is without equal in the world's literature, which, in fact, summarizes the entire Gospel in one short sentence. With the full emphasis of adoring wonder Jesus exclaims: For so God loved the world, so much, so greatly, so beyond all human understanding. The greatness of God's love is such as to call forth this cry of astonishment even from the Son of God, the Savior Himself. God loved the world, God is the Author of salvation, 1 Timothy 2:3. He loved the world, all the people living in the world, all that make up the human element in the world; there is none excepted. He proved this love with a deed so wonderful, so surpassingly beautiful, that it cannot be brought out strongly enough in words of human speech, God gave His only-begotten Son as a free gift and present for the whole world. And such is His will and intention that He makes no exception: Everyone that believes in Him shall not perish, shall not see destruction, but have everlasting life, the life in and with Jesus that shall have no end, but consists of bliss and joy through countless ages. What a contrast: the holy, eternal God and His equally holy and eternal Son giving the highest and best for the world, for the fallen, corrupt humanity, for the bitter enemy of God! The death of the Son of God is the punishment for the sins of the world; the Son of God dies that the world, all the people in the world, might live in all eternity. God's death, God's blood, was thrown into the scales in payment for the sins of the world. And there is nothing to be done on the part of sinners but to accept this atonement in faith; for faith accepts and appropriates the redemption of Christ. And the believer has eternal life even now, even here in time. He is sure of his salvation, because it is based upon the work of Jesus the Savior. "What shall, what can He do and give more? For since He gives His Son, what does He hold back that He does not give? Yea, He gives Himself altogether, as Paul says Romans 8:32: Who spared not His own Son, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things? Surely all must be given with Him who is an only-begotten, dearest Son, the Heir and Lord of all creatures; and all creatures must be made subject to us, angels, devils, death, life, heaven and earth, sin, righteousness, things present and things to come, as St. Paul again says, 1 Corinthians 3:22-23: All things are yours; and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's. " Jesus emphasizes the glorious fact of salvation also by bringing out the same truth in a negative statement. The mission of Jesus as the gift of God to the world was not to condemn the world, though the latter had richly deserved such condemnation. Though He Himself is the Holy One of God, yet He would not, in His capacity as Savior of sinners, judge and condemn them; The sole purpose of His coming was the salvation of the world. Thus Nicodemus heard from the mouth of Jesus the complete account of the way of salvation, a salvation which is absolutely all-encompassing.
The contrast between light and darkness:
v. 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.
v. 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.
v. 20. For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
v. 21. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
Jesus did not come to condemn the world, and yet the bulk of the world is condemned. This is neither the will nor the fault of Jesus, however, but that of the unbelievers themselves. The believer accepts the redemption of Christ, and thereby is saved from the judgment of damnation. Just as gaining mercy is a matter of God's grace, so believing is a free gift of His hands. But though the same gift was gained for, and is offered to, the unbeliever, he refuses to believe in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. And therefore this unbelief condemns him. By his unbelief he deliberately excludes himself from salvation, from eternal life. All men whom the judgment of condemnation strikes have only themselves to blame, since they refuse to accept the Redeemer and His atonement. Unbelief is thus the sin of sins, for it rejects the salvation which has been gained and is offered for all sins. There is a distinguishing mark, a touchstone, for all men in the fact that the true Light, Jesus the Savior, has come into the world, is now present before the eyes of men. Jesus was sitting before Nicodemus at that time, and He is present just as truly now, in His Gospel. But the majority of men did not, and still does not, pass the test. They find no pleasure in the Light nor in the illumination of His Gospel. They prefer the darkness of sin and unbelief. They have no love for the light and for the Author of light. They want nothing of Jesus the Savior. Their sin is no longer the result of ignorance, but of deliberate choice and preference. Their whole life and their works are evil, are the results of their love of darkness and its deeds. They are offered light, but they prefer to remain in darkness; they are offered salvation, but they prefer damnation. The unbelievers hate the light because their works are morally rotten, they will not bear exposure. Such is their dull, senseless, sullen objection to light that they shun it with all their might. They fear the revelation of their sinful, shameful, paltry, ugly, vulgar deeds and the subsequent reproof. They want to continue their base activity in murky darkness, where nothing of the radiance from above can reach them, as they think. It is a pity that men prefer their sin and its deeds even now, when Jesus has come to bring them deliverance from its bondage. This is a most impressive warning not to submit to the tyranny of sin, not to serve sin in any form. On the other hand, he that does the truth, that performs the deeds of truth, lives in accordance with the demands of purity, honesty, integrity, does the works that flow from a regenerated heart, such a one comes to the light.. He is glad to have his works revealed in order that they may speak for him. For they are in reality not his own, nor are they dune for his own glorification, but they are done and performed in God, who giveth both to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Those are truly good works that are done in communion with God. The strength, the ability to do them must be found in God and come from God. They bear the divine character. It is impossible for an unregenerate person, for an un-believer, to perform good works. Truly good works can be done only by him in whom the Lord has kindled faith, who lives ill and with God. Note: This statement of Jesus is a strong argument for the performing of good works. God works faith, God gives strength to do truly good works, God has the glory for them, and this he shares with us by giving us an ever greater amount of light of understanding. "Now we, in our turn, may not remain without works, as the impudent heads say: Why, then I shall do no good work anymore that I may be saved. Yea, thou darest not do any more that serves for salvation; for forgiveness of sins, for the redemption of the conscience, thou hast enough in thy faith; but thy neighbor has not enough, him thou must also help. Therefore God also lets thee live, otherwise people would soon be compelled to take off thy head. But therefore livest thou that thou with life servest not thyself, but thy neighbor."
John's Second Testimony of Christ.
Christ's ministry and John's baptism:
v. 22. After these things came Jesus and His disciples into the land of Judea; and there He tarried with them and baptized.
v. 23. And John also was baptizing in Aenon, near to Salim, because there was much water there; and they came and were baptized.
v. 24. For John was not yet cast into prison.
After the conversation with Nicodemus and after the days of the Passover Jesus left Jerusalem, but not Judea. He went out into the rural districts with His disciples, and there He spent some time with them. He had an opportunity at this time, when He was not yet so well known, to begin His special instruction of His disciples. Incidentally, His disciples performed the rite of Baptism in His name. The ministry of Jesus was not carried out on a large scale as yet, but the work of the Baptist had yielded some fruit. And John also continued his work, for men could still be prepared for the reception of the Messiah by his preaching and baptizing. He had at this time moved up the river into Samaria, almost to the boundary of Galilee. Here was the town of Salim, Genesis 33:18, and some seven miles north of it Aenon, the place abounding in springs. And the people continued coming; his ministry was still very successful, they still desired to be baptized by the prophet of the wilderness. This work John continued till he was thrown into prison by Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee. Then only did the public ministry of Christ in the full sense of the term begin. The Lord indeed had shown Himself to the people, in Cana as well as in Jerusalem. But it was only after John's removal that He began His work as the Prophet of Israel on a large scale. In the meantime, His Baptism was also one of repentance unto the remission of sins. The members of the Jewish Church should repent; they were in need of a purging from sins, which they could find in Christ the Savior only.
The dispute concerning purifying:
v. 25. Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying.
v. 26. And they came unto John and said unto him, Rabbi, He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to Him.
v. 27. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven.
v. 28. Ye yourselves bear me witness that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before Him.
v. 29. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. This my joy therefore is fulfilled.
"Then," at that time, in consequence of the proximity of the two great teachers, there arose a searching questioning, a dispute. On the one side were John's disciples, of whom many still clung to him in spite of his first testimony concerning Jesus, and on the other were one or more Jews, probably some that had received instruction and had been baptized by the disciples of Jesus in His presence. The question concerned the significance of Baptism, the relation of the two baptisms to each other and to the Jewish washings, and whether the true baptizing and cleansing from sins was to be found with John or with Jesus. The disciples of John brought the matter to the attention of their master, not without some show of jealous resentment against Jesus. They do not mention His name, but describe Him as the one that had been with John on the other side of Jordan, concerning whom John had given a testimony. They were much wrought up over the fact that this man was baptizing, and that all the people were showing a strong inclination to go to Him. They could not understand that Jesus should baptize as well as John. As a matter of fact they should have been surprised that John continued his baptizing after Jesus had made His public appearance. John continued his work only because he believed that by his preaching and testifying he could serve Christ better than by following Him as His disciple. And he here took the opportunity of bearing witness of Christ once more. A man can take nothing, cannot assume rights, powers, privileges, and can have no success, no abiding success in his labors, unless it come to him from heaven. This is a general truth which finds its application in the case of Christ as well as in that of John. God has given to each one his special work to do. And it is therefore God's doing that so many people are now turning to Jesus. Note: If any man does anything in the kingdom of God, that is the blessing of God. It is not like in the field of human endeavor, where each person selects the work that suits him best, and then expects results in proportion to the labor and ability expended. In the work of the Kingdom God alone gives the increase.
John therefore calls upon his disciples to bear witness to the fact that he has not presumed upon the rights of Christ. He had given a plain and unequivocal answer that he was not the Christ, the promised Messiah, but merely His forerunner. They should have been prepared for that which was now happening before them. John emphasizes this in a parabolic saying. Christ is the Groom; to Him the Church, the bride, belongs; to Him all the believers will turn and cling by faith. It should not occasion surprise, but should be deemed self-evident, that. poor sinners that are seeking help and salvation turn to Christ. To Him the souls belong. He has come to gain, to win, the souls of the sinners for Himself. John, as the friend of the Groom, stands by; he is satisfied with a secondary position; he is glad to be a mere listener. He rejoices greatly, with great joy, because the voice of the Groom is now heard in His invitation to all sinners to come to Him, the Redeemer. He has the fullness of this joy present with him, since Christ has come. The fact that men were turning to Jesus proved to John that his difficult task of preparing the way for the Messiah had not been performed in vain. There was not even the hint of a feeling of rivalry or jealousy in the words of John. It was all pure, unmixed joy and happiness at the success which was attending the ministry of Christ.
The value of Christ's testimony:
v. 30. He must increase, but I must decrease.
v. 31. He that cometh from above is above all; he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth; He that cometh from heaven is above all.
v. 32. And what He hath seen and heard, that He testifieth; and no man receiveth His testimony.
v. 33. He that hath received His testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.
v. 34. For He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God; for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him.
v. 35. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand.
v. 36. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.
The conclusion which John draws from the facts as stated by him is simple: Jesus must grow; that is a necessity connected with His work. And in the same proportion John must become less and smaller. John, the friend of the Bridegroom, points to Jesus, and urges all sinners to cling to Him alone. This is the motto of all true servants of the Lord. They see the fulfillment of all their hopes and expectations in the fact that the people in the congregations do not cling to the pastor's person, but accept the Word that is preached to them and put their trust in that alone.
So far as the content of the statement is concerned, it makes no difference whether the last words of the Chapter are spoken by John the Baptist or written by John the Evangelist. Jesus, who is characterized by the fact that He came down from above, from heaven, stands not only over John the Baptist, but is superior to all. He is above everything, omnipotent; everything is put into His power, under His feet. John and all earth-born preachers, in spite of their high calling, are still only of the earth, can only speak in the humility of earthly ability. What John preached and testified, though a testimony of Christ and heavenly truth, yet was something which he had not gotten out of himself, but by revelation of God. But Christ's origin must be referred to a higher, to a unique source. Though found in the likeness of a mere man, yet He is come down from above; He has a supernatural, a divine origin, as a result of which His supremacy is universal. And what Jesus speaks He does not declare as the mouthpiece of someone else, but as heavenly truth out of His own essence. His testimony is concerning things which He has seen and heard from eternity, which He knows to be true as the counsel of God for the salvation of men. But in spite of this fact the testimony of Christ shares the fate of Gospel-preaching in general. So universal is the disregard of His testimony that till now practically no one wants to accept it; a relative statement. But the fact that anyone receives the message of Jesus is to such a one a seal, and causes him to confirm with absolute certainty that God is Truth. The inherent power of God in the Word has a strength of conviction above and beyond any mere human persuasion. He that receives the testimony of Jesus thereby believes in God. And for this he has good reasons, for that Christ whom God has sent speaks the very words of God; the fact of His speaking in itself contains the assurance that God's words are being spoken. For God has not given the Spirit to Jesus only in a measure, but He has poured out upon Him the fullness of His Spirit, Psalms 45:7. The Spirit of God, which lives in Christ, speaks out of Him, and therefore there is no measure, no limit to the heavenly wisdom which issues forth from His mouth. And the love of the Father for the Son has prompted Him to give Him not only the Spirit, but to commit all things into His hand. There is a measureless communication of all the fullness of divine power and authority from the Father to the Son. We have here a glimpse into the secret of the Trinity. The Father from eternity gives to the Son His Spirit, and the Son receives all things from His Father in His human nature, also the Spirit. And therefore the Spirit is that of the Son as well as that of the Father; He proceeds from both the Father and the Son. And thus, by the working of the Triune God, faith is given, by which, in turn, eternal life is a definite possession and in no wise doubtful. It is faith in the Son that assures eternal life. By faith in the Son every believer appropriates to himself all the gifts and possessions of the Son. But he that refuses to believe the Son, that will not accept the Gospel-message for his salvation, will not see the life which is earned and prepared also for him, will not become a partaker of that life in any form. He will remain in spiritual death, and the wrath of God, which is upon all the children of unbelief, will continue upon him. To be under the wrath of God without ceasing, that is the death which will plunge all unbelievers into eternal damnation on the Day of Judgment. That is the curse which unbelief brings upon itself.
Summary. Jesus preaches the doctrine of regeneration by the water and the Spirit to Nicodemus, teaches His disciples, and has them baptize, and thus gives John the opportunity for a last great testimony concerning His mission.