John 3:31
(31) He that cometh from above.--Comp. Note on John 3:13, and John 8:23. It is expressed in another form in the last clause of the verse.

Is above all--i.e., above all persons, and, as the context limits the sense, specially above all teachers.

He that is of the earth is earthly.--This is the right sense, but the force of the words is lessened by not preserving the three-fold "of the earth" which is in the Greek. "He who is of the earth, of the earth he is, and of the earth he speaketh." The first marks out the Baptist's origin, as opposed to Him that cometh from above; the second asserts that the nature is, in accord with this origin, human and limited in faculty, as opposed to that of Him who is above all; the third declares that his teaching is from the standpoint of human nature and limited faculty, embracing indeed divine subjects and receiving divine revelation (John 1:33), but having this treasure in earthen vessels, imperfectly realising it, and imperfectly teaching it (John 3:33). Then the contrast carries him away from this thought of self, in all its weakness, to dwell on the fulness of the teaching of the perfect Teacher, and he emphatically repeats, with the change of words suggested by "of the earth," what he has before said of it, "He that cometh from heaven is above all."

This repetition is the answer to the jealousy of his disciples, who wished to place him in a position of rivalry with Jesus. It is the answer to all self-assertion on the part of human teachers.

Verses 31-36. - A large number of commentators of all schools hold that the remaining verses of this chapter give us the reflections of the evangelist rather than a continuous discourse of the Baptist. Strauss, Weisse, Reuss, and Bretschneider, who make the supposed proof of this Johannine appendix to the Baptist's words an evidence of inhistoricity throughout the Gospel, and the school of Baur, which finds in the entire representation simply an artistic endeavour on the part of a second century falsarius to show that John's disciples were absorbed into the Catholic Church, are joined here by Bengel, De Wette, Westcott, Moulton, and Edersheim, who see no difficulty in the introduction of these sentiments, which correspond with those of the Epistles of John, as an appendix of the evangelist, and not a reminiscence of the teaching of the Baptist. The reasons in favour of this view are that the ideas and phraseology are said to be far in advance of John the Baptist's theological position, and certainly reflect the later teaching of the Master. We will consider some of these seriatim, but cannot accept the argument as final. Hengstenberg, Meyer, Godet, Alford, Lange, even Renan, do not yield to the positions thus assumed, nor will they admit any word of the Baptist here uttered to be inconsistent with the known doctrine of the forerunner; whereas they urge that the simple communication to John of the substance of our Lord's discourse to Nicodemus is adequate explanation of the similarities between the two. It may be admitted that some subjective colouring from the apostle's own mind may have been transfused by him into his report of both discourses, which we cannot doubt (whatever may be said about the Galilaean ministry) were conducted in the Aramaic tongue. Weiss makes the pertinent suggestion that we cannot think that John the son of Zebedee beard the final testimony of the Baptist. It may easily have been communicated to the circle around Jesus by Andrew and some other disciple of the two masters. This may account for the appearance throughout the discourse of more Johannine language than usual. If we cannot, or may not, make these simple hypotheses, then we too should be disposed to think that the subjective element had so predominated as almost to hide the historic quality of the whole of this swanlike song of the Old Testament dispensation. But the hypotheses seem to be highly probable and extremely natural, and the coherence of the passage with what has gone before to be obvious and complete. The discourse contrasts the entire prophetic ministry with that of the Son of God (vers. 31, 32), which then sets forth the menus of appropriating the Divine gift of the Son of God (vers. 33-35), and predicts the awful issues of rejecting the supreme claims of the Divine Lord (ver. 36). The teaching is in accord with Old Testament doctrine, illumined, as we learn that John's was, by special visions, and by communications to him of the significance of the Lord's uttered words. It is quite irrelevant, if not absurd, to say that such a testimony of the forerunner makes the cotinuance or spread of John's teaching and baptism impossible; for

(1) the words were obviously addressed to a small group only of the many thousands who heard John preach, and

(2) it does not follow that all those who heard these memorable words should have deserted their first master, even in deference to his own advice. The words that follow, whether a simple record of John's discourse or one deeply coloured by the subjectivity of the evangelist, are as follows: - Verse 31. - He that is coming from above is above all. Now, it is obvious that Jesus had spoken of the Son of man as having come down from heaven (ver. 13), and of his own power to speak of heavenly things (i.e. of causes and measures of Divine operations); and he contrasts these with the "earthly things" of which he too had spoken - "earthly" they were because they dealt with experiences felt and witnessed and realized on earth. Now, John is represented, on the occasion of the baptism of our Lord, as being convinced that Jesus was "the Son of God," and that his existence was prior to his own, and that his rank in the universe was one utterly transcending his own. These statements have been already put into the lips of John by the fourth evangelist, and are scarcely exceeded, if at all, by the utterance before us. We find a bold contrast between the Logos himself and the witness to the manifested Logos. He who cometh from above, being before John, and being, therefore, in his essential dignity, superior to him, is above all, and therefore above him. He that is, in his origin and the entire self-realization of his life, from the earth, and not incarnate Logos, is of the earth in quality, and speaketh of the earth (observe, not κόσμος, but γῆ is here used). The experiences to which he refers are enacted on the earth, and he has no power to go back and heavenwards for the full explanation of them. Higher than heaven are the thoughts and revelations of the Son of God. He can unveil the heart of the eternal Father. Christ can link his own work with the ministry of the mightiest of the Heaven-sent messengers; but John starts from the consciousness, the perils, the self-deceptions and contrition of man. He that cometh out of heaven is above all. This great utterance is repeated, and it involves little more than what John had implied to the Sanhedrin (John 1:30-34).

3:22-36 John was fully satisfied with the place and work assigned him; but Jesus came on a more important work. He also knew that Jesus would increase in honour and influence, for of his government and peace there would be no end, while he himself would be less followed. John knew that Jesus came from heaven as the Son of God, while he was a sinful, mortal man, who could only speak about the more plain subjects of religion. The words of Jesus were the words of God; he had the Spirit, not by measure, as the prophets, but in all fulness. Everlasting life could only be had by faith in Him, and might be thus obtained; whereas all those, who believe not in the Son of God, cannot partake of salvation, but the wrath of God for ever rests upon them.He that cometh from above,.... Meaning Christ; not that he brought his human nature with him from heaven, or that that is of a celestial nature; but he came from heaven in his divine person, not by change of place, he being God immense and infinite, but by assumption of human nature; which he took upon him, in order to do in it his Father's will, and the work of our salvation.

Is above all; above John, before whom he was preferred, for he was before him; above the prophets of the Old Testament, and even above Moses, the chief of them; yea, above all the angels in heaven, being God over all, blessed for ever: wherefore all glory is to be given him; no honour is to be envied him, or detracted from him.

He that is of the earth; as John was, and all mankind are, being descended from Adam, who was, made of the dust of the earth; and who dwell in houses of clay, and in earthly tabernacles, which are at last resolved into their original dust:

is earthly; of an earthly nature, frame, temper, and disposition; see John 3:6. Men naturally mind earthly things; and it is owing to the Spirit and grace of God, if they mind and savour spiritual things, or have their affections set on things above, or their conversation in heaven; and even such, at times, find that their souls cleave unto the dust, and are hankering after the things of the earth:

and speaketh of the earth; of earthly things, as in John 3:12; and indeed of heavenly things, in an earthly manner, in a low way, and by similes and comparisons taken from the things of the earth; not being able to speak of celestial things, as in their own nature, and in that sublime way the subject requires: but

he that cometh from heaven is above all; men and angels, in the dignity of his person; and all prophets and teachers, in the excellency of his doctrine, and manner of delivering it: and therefore it is not to be wondered at, that he should be followed as he is; but rather it should seem marvellous, that he has no more followers than he has; in the Apocrypha:

"For like as the ground is given unto the wood, and the sea to his floods: even so they that dwell upon the earth may understand nothing but that which is upon the earth: and he that dwelleth above the heavens may only understand the things that are above the height of the heavens.'' (2 Esdras 4:21)

John 3:30
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