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John 3:31–34

“He whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure” (v. 34).

We have seen that John 3:16–21 is most likely a theological commentary by John the Evangelist on our Lord’s encounter with Nicodemus in verses 1–15. Many commentators believe the same thing is true of verses 31–36, which would be a theological reflection on verses 22–30. If this is the case, then John the Evangelist is offering an explanation as to why John the Baptist had to decrease and Jesus had to increase (v. 30). As we will see, the reason for Jesus’ increase was not merely because He held a greater office than John. It is not that John the Baptist and Jesus were both mere men holding offices or roles that differed in rank, although Jesus’ office as the Messiah was indeed greater than John’s role as the Messiah’s forerunner. Instead, Jesus had to increase in the eyes of others because He is God incarnate.

Consider verse 31, which contrasts the one who is “of the earth” with the One “who comes from heaven.” Here, being “of the earth” refers to those who have a merely earthly origin, to those who are only human and do not come from the presence of God Himself. It is not inherently wrong or bad to be merely human; indeed, it is a great privilege to be made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26–27). Nevertheless, mere human beings are limited creatures. They are finite in their understanding. Despite having been called to be a prophet by the Lord, John the Baptist was limited in what he knew and could proclaim. This was true of all the prophets.

The same does not apply to Jesus, the One “who comes from above.” Yes, our Lord possesses a true human nature with all of its non-sinful limitations. As God incarnate, however, He also possesses a divine nature. His origin is heavenly; He comes from the presence of God. That which He reveals is not merely a testimony that He received from God and then passes on to others; rather, the things of which Jesus speaks are things that He has seen and heard as the second person of the Godhead (v. 32). As the second person of the Trinity, He possesses the Spirit without measure (v. 34). All other prophets had the gifting of the Spirit in a measured way; none of them possessed the fullness of the Spirit. However, Jesus is all that the Holy Spirit is in His deity and nothing is hidden from Jesus, according to His divine nature. The other prophets of God were not told everything. They had to work to figure certain things out, and even then they did not know all things (1 Peter 1:10–11).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

John Calvin comments on today’s passage, “We do not assign to the doctrine of Christ all that it deserves, unless we acknowledge it to be divine.” Many people see Jesus as a wise human teacher, but that is insufficient. He comes from God’s very presence and speaks God’s very words. To fail to obey Jesus is to fail to obey God, so let us seek this day and every day to obey our Savior.

For Further Study
  • 2 Samuel 7:28
  • Galatians 4:4–5
  • John 8:23
  • 1 John 4:9

Christ Increasing

The Father’s Love for His Son

Keep Reading Doing Theology

From the February 2018 Issue
Feb 2018 Issue