John 3:14-21 - Sacrifice so one will not perish but have eternal life

Updated: Mar 2

Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.


“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.


“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”


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This is the Gospel selection to be read aloud on the fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. It will be read following the Old Testament reading from Numbers, where we learn of the bronze serpent raised on a pole. It is preceded by Psalm 107, which sings, “Let all those whom the Lord has redeemed proclaim that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.” It also follows the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, where he taught: “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses.”


This reading selection from John’s Gospel takes the words of Jesus out of context, which makes them have a different effectual meaning than the deeper truth these words contain. The context is John’s third chapter begins with a visit made to Jesus by Nicodemus to where Jesus was staying near Jerusalem; and, the conversation of that visit is found in verses 1 through 21. Here, verses 14-21 are when Jesus seems to be making a soliloquy, because nothing else is said by Nicodemus; but one has to realize the context and know Jesus was speaking to a young ruler of the Jews, who was educated in religious matters, while dumb as a stump about spiritual matters.


To recall the context, Nicodemus had covertly watched Jesus make his first appearance at Herod’s Temple, when John wrote about him upsetting the order of business there, where livestock was sold within the courtyard. Jesus then quoted a verse from Isaiah and spoke in spiritual terms about rebuilding a true temple unto God in three days. Nicodemus watched how the Jewish pilgrims took to Jesus and that attraction made the leaders of the Temple see Jesus as a raw but talented recruit, which prompted this visit after the Passover was over, so a ruler of the Jews was allowed to walk outside the city limits, as far as Bethany.


The exchange that caused Jesus to remark to Nicodemus, asking, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” was Jesus saying one must be reborn. Nicodemus wanted to know how a full-grown adult could re-enter his mother’s womb and be born again. That ignorance in a highly intelligent Jewish leader becomes the same context from which this excerpt from that conversation is taken, where highly intelligent Christians today are just as ignorant, letting their brains be just like that of Nicodemus.


This Gospel reading is begun with the verse that has Jesus tell Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” That beginning point makes this selection be a perfect match for the Old Testament selection that tells of what Jesus is referencing to Nicodemus, who [as a wise and intelligent lawyer of Judaic religion] would have instantly known. Still, Nicodemus did not understand the story from Numbers 21, just like most Christians today do not understand it.


The parallel being told to Nicodemus is relative to rebirth. In the Numbers account, Israelites were being bitten by poisonous snakes (serpents) that were killing them. The snakes came because the Israelites wanted to break off their marriage to God. Without God protecting them, they became easy prey for poisonous snakes and the death they brought to the Israelites. After confessing to Moses they had sinned and wanted back into the marriage, God told Moses to make a replica of a poisonous serpent and hang it on a pole, which would then be carried around with them and stuck in the ground when they rested. Anyone who got the bite of death had to then look upon the icon [called a Nehushtan], so he or she would not die. That story becomes one of death, rebirth, and eternal life; so, that is why Jesus mentioned it to Nicodemus.


This is where the Son of man is being compared to the poisonous serpent hung on a pole. The translation that capitalizes “man” is wrong, as John wrote “Huios tou anthrōpou,” where “anthrōpou” is not capitalized and means, “man, the human race, mankind.” (Strong’s) The capitalization of “Huios” gives it divine importance, as “the Son” of God. When “Son of man” is understood as meaning one who has gained eternal life, which can be transferred to all others who are going to die [mortals, thus “of man”], Jesus said the “Son of man” was just like what saved the Israelites who were going to die in the wilderness, but did not because of faith in God.


It is the erroneous capitalization of “anthrōpou” that makes most Christians today see Jesus as the one and only “Man” that can ever be the “Son” of God, so their brains [much like that of Nicodemus] hear “Son of man” and think that is a pseudonym for Jesus of Nazareth [i.e.: Jesus Christ]. Those brains cannot read Numbers 21 and hear how God told Moses to make of himself a likeness as a “fiery serpent,” which means a “seraph.” A “seraph” is one of the “seraphim,” which were six-winged angels (“elohim”).


For Moses to see himself as a seraph, he understood God was telling him [a true leader of God's people] to imagine his eternal soul hanging dead on a pole, so all the Israelites who were going to die could look upon. When those dying Israelites saw the symbolism of the soul of Moses sacrificed to God, in order to gain eternal salvation, the dying Israelites had to have faith that the same could happen to their souls, so they regained life over death. Jesus was then making a comparison of his eternal soul being raised upon a cross of death, upon which others could look and have faith in God, granting all who saw themselves as Jesus eternal salvation.


To be like a fly on the wall that was there along with John, as a witness to this scene, one must hear with the brain of Nicodemus when Jesus said the words “son of man.” A brain using ears cannot detect any capitalization as a sign to read into those words as importance to be known. To be there in that way, as was Nicodemus, one can imagine Nicodemus thinking, if not actually asking, “Excuse me sir, but when you say “son of man,” who are you talking about? I want to make sure I am following you correctly here.”


If Nicodemus did not physically say that to Jesus, his brain had to be calculating, “Just what ‘son of man’ is he talking about now?” Here, one has to realize that Jesus is alone with Nicodemus, who is not one of his disciples, so there is no one around who knows what the “son of man” means [relative to the Christian mindset].


This is then where not reading verse 13 becomes most important in any and all assumptions that have to be made, by Nicodemus and all secret witnesses, then and now. That verse says (NRSV translation), “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” Jesus explained to Nicodemus [thus us too] who the "Son of man" is.


To ponder that definition, as a comma mark sets off the definition from that being defined, “the Son of man” [heard in the lower case] is: “one [who] has ascended into heaven, who descended from heaven.” In that, order is important to catch.


When “heaven” is heard [from “ouranou”] and knowing Jesus has just insulted Nicodemus because he thought being reborn meant returning to his mother’s womb, the use of “heaven” means the spiritual place ruled by God. When the word “son” is heard [lower case], it implies there is a “father” involved. When “heaven” and “son” are put together in the same definition, “Son” becomes capitalized, as the “Son” made by God. That means Jesus defined, and Nicodemus heard [thus did not question], “the Son of man” is the “man” known to Christians as Adam [the Hebrew word meaning “man”]. As such, “the Son of adam” is synonymous with “the Son of man.”


Because Adam [and Eve] lived in Eden, which must be seen as “heaven,” his banishment says his soul and flesh “descended from heaven.” While the Bible only says that Adam lived 930 years and then died, with nothing saying what happened to his soul, we see the order of what Jesus said becomes a statement of the creation of Adam, by the hand of God, as a heavenly creature. This came first, so Adam “ascended into heaven.” That order of Adam’s spiritual being [his soul in a body fashioned out of clay] says he was raised as an eternal being, who then was lowered into the realm of “man” [lower case “anthrōpou”]. Therefore, Jesus was not directly talking about himself as a “Son” made by the hand of God, who became “man,” even if that was the deeper truth.


This means John 3:16 becomes a soundbite for Christianity, with nothing said that explains this as being spoken to Nicodemus about why Adam was allowed by God to sin and be banished from heaven. That is the way to hear these words; because to hear them any other way become misleading and false.


To clarify that the “Son of man” meant Adam, Jesus then said to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” This says Adam was created in heaven by the hand of God for the purpose seeding the world of lesser beings called “man” with a soul-body who personally knows God, so those lesser beings could escape their mortality – souls born into bodies of flesh that were bound to eventually die [“perish” or “apolētai”] by coming to know God personally also. The only way “eternal life” [“zōēn aiōnion – “existence through the ages””] is possible for a soul in a normal human being [intelligent life form on earth] is to be saved from the repetition of death [eternal souls reincarnated endlessly]; and, that was what Adam brought into the world, as intended by the Father - to allow souls to return forever and be with God.


Here it is imperative to recall the lead-in to this being the story told in Numbers. The comparison Jesus was giving to Nicodemus had nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus knowing his fate, such that he knew it called for him to die, hanging on a cross, in the same way Moses made a bronze serpent and nailed it to a pole. He was referring to the comparison of Adam having been symbolically killed [made to die as a mortal, after 930 years] and hung out in the physical realm, so anyone who looked upon his story of there being a God – and believed – would have their souls saved too. Adam held no exclusive rights as a mortal made from the hand of God, neither did Moses, and neither did Jesus [all were born, lived, and died as mortals]; we know this because all were divine teachers of salvation brought to “man.” We have been taught of God by them.


To further this reality, Jesus then told Nicodemus (NRSV translation), “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” There was absolutely no way that Jesus would be making a statement about himself being so special, as if saying, “I am the Son [and I capitalize that word purposefully] of man, sent by God to save this world, including you Nicodemus.” God does not have any of His wives speak in the first person, as they keep their faces bowed to the ground and let God do all the talking.


Nicodemus, on the other hand [along with all the other rulers of the Jews] only knew how to condemn people, based on pointing out how often they broke Mosaic Law. The Jews were perplexed by always being reminded what they did wrong, told what they should have done, but never being told how to make that happen. Nicodemus and pals had no idea how to save themselves, so they could not teach about such spiritual matters [the aspect of rebirth].


The point made to Nicodemus is relative to Jesus having told him, “You call yourself a teacher of religion, but you know nothing about spiritual matters.” That becomes Jesus telling Nicodemus [and any and all who would hold the same position of worthless teacher or false shepherd], “You have the same Word of God at your disposal, which includes Genesis and Numbers [parts of the Torah], but you have no clue that Adam was sent into the world, not as a sentence of failure, but as a redeemer who had to know what sin was before he could save others from their sins.”


Jesus could have then added, “You – as a lawyer of Mosaic Law – don’t even know that Moses made an image of himself as a lower-g god [“el”] that had to die figuratively, on a pole for others to see, have faith that they too can be the same and be saved. You cannot see a soul as a seraph that is trapped in a world of death means you are the bronze serpent impaled in mortal flesh."


In what John wrote, where the translation says “saved through him,” the Greek word “autou” becomes ambiguous to both listener and reader. Does that means Adam (or Moses, or Jesus) is the “him through” whom another soul can be saved?


The word “him” becomes reflective of the embedded pronoun coming from “krinē,” translated as “he might judge,” which the NRSV omits by simply translating it as “to condemn.” The same “he” that is the judge of all souls is the same “him” that has the power to save a soul.


To think that Jesus is the one who actually saves souls [rather than God] is the same as thinking Moses saved the Israelites from snakebites, and Adam is not the only Son who descended from heaven, made by God. It is the same thing as going to school to learn how to be a doctor and thinking all one has to do to be a doctor is believe teachers make doctors out of thin air. Believe in the teachers of medicine and <poof> you are a doctor.


It is like thinking Nicodemus could save a Jew’s soul by teaching a Jew nothing true about spiritual matters.


Because what Jesus said means God is the one who saves souls, he then continued his conversation with Nicodemus by saying, “Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (verse 18) Here the pronoun “him” cannot possibly refer to Adam, Moses, or Jesus. The common denominator for all is God.


Belief in a “Son of man” cannot save one’s soul. It was belief that one’s own soul is condemned to eternal death by rebelling against marriage to God that one must be led to realize; and, that becomes the role of the teacher to pass onto the student. Nicodemus certainly was not one worthy of belief, as he too was a swinging single, not married to God.


The purpose of talking about judgment [omitted by the NRSV, stated as “condemned”] and condemnation means Jesus told Nicodemus all human beings were born condemned, simply by being mortals that were not married to Yahweh. All the Jews fell into the same classification of those judged as condemned. The judgment was not punishment, as much as it was simply a statement of fact.


One can only be released from the sentence of mortal death, if one is led to the altar so one’s soul marries God. That becomes why God sent Adam, why Adam led to Moses, and why the Israelites led to Jesus. All needed to be taught to love God totally, through marriage to Him, through one's soul merged with His Holy Spirit. Anything less is a self-condemnation, so God just needs to see a soul released from its body of flesh arrive in heaven and immediately know, “You are not My wife, so back you go.” That is judgment to return to death.


Included in verse 18 is Jesus saying, “because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” This is where so many Christians are led astray and become condemned through self-negligence. They are not taught to read this as saying “belief can only come by being in the name of God.”


This becomes a statement that says a soul must give up its human body’s name and take on the “name” of God. This is commonly accepted in human rites of marriage, where the wife takes on the name of the husband. All children born of such a marriage then take on the name of the father. The name of “the only Son of God” [“monogenous Huiou tou Theou”] can then be seen as “Jesus,” a name that means “Yahweh Will Save.” Still, the “only begotten Son of God” is Adam, whose name means “man.” Thus, being in the name of the “Son” means one’s soul takes on the right to identify as “Son of man.”


To this realization, Jesus then added more clarification, telling Nicodemus, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” Here, the “judgment” [“krisis”] must be realized as death, from having been born as a soul [God’s breath of life, an eternal “el” as a soul] imprisoned in a body of flesh [death bound to come, as mortal]. To escape that prison sentence [through continual reincarnation], God sends a “light” [“phōs”], which is not to be grasped as the physical “light” of photons and such, but the “light” of inspiration, which comes from marriage to God. This “light” becomes depicted as a saint’s halo. Being in the name of God makes one become righteous and saintly. However, wearing a halo means giving up self-gratification, through love only for God; and, the world routinely refuses to make that commitment to righteousness.


To this rejection, Jesus then told Nicodemus, “For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.” Here, it is worthwhile to recall John writing in verse 2, “[Nicodemus] came to Jesus by night.” The symbolism of what Jesus now said to Nicodemus, as it was closer to dark by that time, is the same as saying, “You are here to do evil.”


Jesus had the “light” of God’s halo surrounding him, so everything about Nicodemus was exposed to him, as soon as he saw him. It says Nicodemus was a condemned man, because he was not a wife of God. He refused to make that commitment, because it was more fun to be a rich young ruler of the Jews, having forgotten all about his mortality and his own death sentence by sneaking around in darkness.


In the last verse in this reading, John then had Jesus say (NRSV translation), “But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” This was the opportunity to come clean of one’s sins and gain the halo of light surrounding a saved soul.


When Jesus said, “it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God,” the clarity becomes the way of life a wife of Yahweh lives, such that all things done are for God, never for self. There the preposition “en” means the truth of a soul being in God, just as God is in one’s body of flesh, having married the soul that lives there. Without the presence of God in one’s heart, one cannot show lasting deeds of light to the world.


As the Gospel reading for the fourth Sunday in Lent, the element of self-sacrifice must be seen in the character Nicodemus, even though he is unnamed in this portion of the reading. Lent is about not remaining in a Nicodemus state of being, where the darkness becomes the illusion of secretly hiding all the sins one is doing, all while pretending to be some rich young ruler of religious philosophy. Nicodemus reflects the intellectual who knows nothing of truth, who can only lead others to ruin in the wake of his or her path. The only option one can take other than be Nicodemus reborn is marriage to God.


Lent now becomes a period of time when one becomes alone with the concept, “God’s only begotten Son” was not Jesus, but Adam. It becomes a time of testing how Adam was sent into the world on purpose, to bring it knowledge of God, so one could learn God wants to marry one's soul, in order to save it from death. Adam was the first evangelist, but not the last or only one. The wilderness of Lent is now, when one chooses willingly to enter the void, where no others will be found to pat you on the back and tell you, “Yes, dear. That is correct. You are so wonderful.” The wilderness becomes where only your soul and God can be, together to freely talk. Without being married to God’s Holy Spirit, one goes alone into a wilderness excursion, condemned to failure.


When John ended this reading by having Jesus offer to Nicodemus (and all like him in the world) hope for eternal life, Lent becomes one’s honeymoon with God, so God can share all the truth your heart desires to know. Ask and you shall receive.


Lent is a proving ground for commitment, a commitment that lasts the rest of your mortal life. It is the proving ground before you take God’s command and go out into ministry, as the latest representative of Adam’s school of true religion, for the world to accept. Lent is when God molds your body and soul into Jesus, so your name will mean “Yahweh Will Save” me and those He sends me to save.

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