In the Fourth Gospel (John), Jesus encounters individuals who represent a specific type of person. Nicodemus is a Jewish scholar who is literally and metaphorically in the dark about Jesus. He is an honest individual,
one with well-formed beliefs, whose attitude to Jesus is positive, but limited by his own understanding of God.
He is impressed by the signs that Jesus has worked, but these do not, and cannot, bring him to a true appreciation of who Jesus really is. He seems to want to fit Jesus into his present system of belief, but Jesus challenges him to expand his vision beyond a narrowly Jewish way of thinking to one which is universal.
Jesus appeals to their common Jewish heritage by invoking the memory of Moses fashioning the bronze serpent and curing the Israelites who had been bitten by snakes as punishment for their complaining during the Exodus journey through the wilderness. By a play on the verb “to lift up”, he presents his own being exalted on the cross as a similar healing for all those who will look at him and believe. Jesus speaks of this concern of God
as being due to God’s love for the world, that is, for all human beings. It is on the response which the person makes to the revealing of God’s self in Jesus that judgement depends: it is not an act of God, but the result of the decision which each person makes for themselves which determines whether a person is condemned or not. Judgement is in the here and now, based on whether we accept or reject Jesus and his message.
Nicodemus is an interesting character. We first encounter him as a furtive figure, coming to Jesus under the cover of darkness: later he speaks up against the religious authorities’ attempt to convict Jesus without giving him the benefit of due legal process; finally, he emerges as a courageous person, risking his reputation, and perhaps more, to bury the body of the crucified Jesus. We can see in him an example of developing faith and commitment.
It is in this dialogue between Jesus and the Jewish scholar that we find perhaps the most concise summary of the Christian faith. Sometimes, we can see displayed at sporting events posters proclaiming “John 3:16”: this
is the four-line verse which says: “God loved the world so much/ that he gave his only Son,/ so that whoever believes in him may not be lost/ but may have eternal life.” Some people have said that if we were to lose the whole of the Christian scriptures except for this one verse, then we would still have the essence of the Gospel.
Nicodemus sincerely believed in the teachings he had received: Jesus did not tell him that he was wrong, but encouraged him to think more deeply about how God viewed the world, not just Nicodemus’ part of it. Perhaps we might put ourselves in Nicodemus’ shoes and broaden our understanding of Jesus and his message as well.
In the Gospel according to John, the crucifixion is “the exaltation” (“lifting up”) of Jesus as king and priest.
Light and darkness/night are symbols of belief and unbelief in the Fourth Gospel.
Judgement in John is the decision the person makes to accept or reject Jesus and his message: it is something which the individual does, not an external, divine action.
The Son of Man must be lifted up… so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
memorise the text of John 3: 16, given in the ‘ Reflect’ section