Study Series in John's Gospel

The Witness of the Friend of the Bridegroom

Study Series: The Gospel of John

Larger Context: Jesus’ Self-Disclosure in Word and Deed (1:19-10:42)

This Study: The Witness of the Friend of the Bridegroom (3:22-36)

Murray McLellanAgain we are going to continue to see how Jesus fulfills and surpasses Judaism. He is the new and better wine, making obsolete the stone waterpots of purification. He is the new temple – the ultimate point of mediation between God and man, and thus, replaces the old temple. He fulfills the prophecies of a “water and spirit” regeneration, and in His death, He is the ultimate antitype of the bronze serpent lifted up in the desert. Now we will see that Jesus surpasses John the Baptist and any baptism or rite of purification that he might represent. Don’t miss the theme of this section. It is not baptism. It is Christ!

V. 22 – 26 “After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized. Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized. For John had not yet been thrown into prison.

Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification. And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified – behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!’

We see that the early part of Jesus’ ministry overlapped with John’s. We see here that even some of John’s disciples missed his message. Their fear seemed to be that soon John would have no followers as all were coming to Christ. Hearers can definitely miss the message of the preacher!

V. 27 “John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.”

Paul reiterates this truth when he says in his letter to the Corinthians, ” For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7)

John is content with the role that God had given him. He was pleased to be the friend of the bridegroom! Does someone else or your flesh suggest to you that you should have a higher position or are you glad to fulfill you God-given role that Jesus be exalted over all?

We are going to see the joy in humility as we listen to John’s words in the next few verses. Humble people are bold in the faith, as evidenced by John the Baptist, for they care not about their own reputation. They are not crippled by what others think of them, their concern is Christ. Pride gives us a fear of man. I dare say that some (and maybe much) of what is called “shyness” today, is pure fear of man grown out of pride and self-centeredness. This does not come out of love but out of self-absorption. This shy withdrawal is not being an “others-centered” person or one who looks to the needs of another. Jesus Himself is the most humble, and He is definitely not “shy”. Moses was humble, but not “shy”. John the Baptist, though humble, is definitely not “shy”.

V. 28-29 “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ,” but, “I have been sent before Him.” He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.

John is not disturbed by news of Jesus’ popularity, but rather rejoices. He finds His greatest joy in the bride and the Bridegroom being united.

The church belongs to the Messiah! This was the promised glory of Israel (Isa. 62:3-5; Hosea 2:16-20). Glory to God, we, too, believing Gentiles, have been gathered into Israel’s glory! We are Israel – the new covenant people of God – through faith in Christ. The New Testament Scriptures pick up on the Old Testament promise of the marriage covenant and proclaims it fulfilled in Christ (see Eph. 5:25- 27, 32; Rev. 21:2, 9; 22:17).

The rising prominence of Jesus, floods John with surpassing joy. This is proof of his friendship! The friend of the bridegroom rejoiced to hear the bridegroom’s voice. How much more should the bride rejoice! Let us hear His voice. His words are precious. Each word is a gem, a treasure, and a joy! This is the Father’s beloved Son, hear Him! Hear Him in these days of confusion. Hear His voice among the chaos of human views. Dear saints, betrothed to this Man above all men, let us respond as in the Song of songs. “The voice of my beloved. Behold he comes ? My beloved spoke and said to me, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away?” Go forth and see the greater King than Solomon with the crown? on the day of His wedding; the day of the gladness of His heart.

V. 30 “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

This must be because?

V. 31 “He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.

He is above all – all the shadows, all the previous expressions. He is the pinnacle of the purposes of God. Everything and everyone else is earthly, physical, and temporary. John is a man – mere dust and clay. Jesus has come from heaven and is above all.

V. 32-33 “And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.

Jesus gives us the truth about all things. His is a first-hand testimony (yet people aren?t receiving His testimony). Though crowds flock to Him, yet, as time reveals, there are very few who truly believe in Him.

To not believe Jesus is to call God a liar (John 12:44-50; 1 John 5:10). Whose testimony do you want about life? A Hollywood director’s? A philosopher? One who is earthly? Or that of Jesus, the One who comes from above and is above all? This is no second-hand information. God has sent His own Son. We’d better listen.

All those who have “received His testimony” have “certified that God is true.” (i.e. to His promises in the Old Testament Scriptures.) Jesus is the fulfillment!

V. 34 ” For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.

To Jesus, God gives the Spirit without measure. Elijah had a portion and Elisha a double portion. However, Jesus is not just a prophet. He is much more than a prophet. Men, like John the Baptist, know in part and prophesy in part, but in Jesus’ humanity we have the fullness of the Godhead bodily. Jesus is the possessor and the dispenser of the Holy Spirit (See Isa. 11:1-2; 42:1, for He will do a far greater thing?v.5-7; 61:1-2).

V. 35 “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.

This Jesus who is getting a following, is the Son, eternally loved by the Father, and into whose hands all things concerning man’s salvation has been given. He has the keys of death and hell in His hand. It is good that God, in His infinite wisdom and love, has given all things, including our salvation, into His hands. We are so weak and feeble that if anything was left in our hands, we should never be saved. But Christ will take care of all committed to His charge. It seems to me then, a very wise thing indeed, to commit all things to Him (2 Tim. 1:12). He is no mere man. He is the Son of whom it is written, “Kiss the Son lest He be angry and you perish in the way when His wrath is kindled but a little.” (Ps. 2:12) He is the Son to whom the Father has said, “I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (Ps. 2:7-9) And God has put all things under His feet. Kiss the Son, for you are under His feet.

Do you dare taunt the One who will one day stomp down and trample all unbelievers under His feet in the great winepress of the wrath of God? Do you forget He is righteous and the hour of His judgment is coming, and it will come swiftly, like a thief in the night. If you have not already done so, go straight to Him now. There is safety in Jesus Christ and no other. Go to Him in repentance, with all your worthlessness and evil. He is willing to bless and able to save to the uttermost.

John tells his disciples that instead of being jealous of His increase, you should serve Him with fear and rejoice before Him with trembling. (Ps. 2:10-11) God has united believers to His beloved Son. Thus, He is greatly desirous of blessing us, for in blessing us, He is honoring the Son of His love. What security for blessing this gives us – the Father’s love to His own Son! We are sure of blessing because we are sure that the Father loves the Son.

V. 36 “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.’

We read of two vastly different alternatives in this verse to close off this chapter. Life or death; heaven or hell; all turns on believing in this Jesus who was then in the land of Judea baptizing.

In this verse we see that believers already enjoy the eternal life that will be consummated in the resurrection of their bodies at the parousia. Unbelievers stand under the looming wrath of God that will be consummated in their resurrection and condemnation. The one who does not believe in the Son will not see life. He will have no true happiness. Unless he turns to Christ, there will be no escaping that wrath that abides on him even now. Such is the miserable condition of the sinner without Christ. That wrath and curse that fell upon Adam, as a result of the fall, and resulted in the man and woman being cast out from the presence of God and the tree of life; this wrath remains on those who disobey – who do not believe in the Son. Whoever believes in Him has life! (See Rev. 22:1-5)

There are two alternatives: genuine belief or defiant disobedience, which is really what the term “not believe” declares. The word translated “not believe” is a strong word that means to defiantly disobey; to refuse to believe and bow. The same word is used in Romans 2:8 – “?but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness – indignation and wrath?.” It is also used in Rom. 10:21 and 1 Peter 2:8.

So, unbelief is clearly a rebellious, defiant, disobedient act worthy of God’s wrath and condemnation. That’s why you were a child of wrath as long as you were in unbelief (Eph. 2:3). We were born in sin; children of wrath. Our sins are all upon us, unpardoned, unforgiven, and untaken away, until that day when we believe in the Son of God and are made children of grace.

Some tell us that there is no more anger in God – that He is only love. However, in this verse (v. 36), we are plainly told of “the wrath of God.” It is clear God hates sin. There is a hell. God can be angry. Sinners ought to be afraid.

He who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. God’s wrath constantly abides on him – abides on him without end. Oh what despair – to have no hope – to have no relief. Dear unbeliever, will you not repent and believe in the only Son of God and thus escape God’s wrath of eternal torments? Consider what it is to suffer extreme torment forever and ever. From one age to another, in pain and wailing and lamenting and gnashing of teeth, your body full of wracking torture without ever the possibility of getting ease or moving God to pity with your tears. There will be no possibility of hiding yourself from Him. You will never be able to divert your own thoughts from your pain. You will be utterly destitute of any possibility of help or change for the better.

Wicked men will not let their carnal lusts go, but death will knock it out of their hands. Oh the endless despair that is coming to the damned soul. Wake up, sinner, that you not be consumed in your iniquities. The lepers reasoned in 2 Kings 7:3-4, “If we sit here, we’ll die.” Arise, sluggard, shake off your excuses. As the angels said to Lot, “Arise, lest you be consumed. Escape for your life.” Let reason prevail. Is it a reasonable thing to contend with your Maker or to harden yourself against His Word, as though the Strength of Israel would lie? Should the man God has nourished and brought up, rebel against Him? Judge for yourself. Is it reasonable for briers and thorns to set themselves in battle against the devouring fire? Come, let us reason together – though hundreds perish at your side into endless perdition – will you not hear me? Will you not immediately turn and repent, believing in the Almighty Deliverer? Do not be deluded by your sincerity. You need a Savior. “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet are not washed from their filthiness.” (Prov. 30:12)

Why do I speak so much of this?

How can I leave you alone when you are ready to perish? As the Lord lives, I have not the least hope of seeing your face in heaven except you be converted. Better to never have been than to not be converted. Oh, you need the righteousness of Another – a perfect righteousness. Christ alone has this. Will you not forsake all to have a part with the righteous? Will you not go to Jesus who can cleanse the most defiled and clothe the most wretched sinner with the robes of His own righteousness?

How can you stay in this state of resistance?

If Baal is god then serve him, but if Jesus the Lord is God, and even now extends the offer of mercy and pardon, go to Him in repentance and faith. “He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” (Prov. 29:1)

I think of the horror that came upon Samson as he played with the harlot once too often. This prideful man woke up too late and found his hair gone and the Philistines upon him. How many multiplied times worse will your horror be! That water you drink from will become wormwood. If God is against you, who can be for you? All God’s attributes are against you.

His justice is like a flaming sword unsheathed against you (Deut. 32:41-42). Justice cries out, “Bind him hand and foot; cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire” (Matt. 22:13; 25:41).

The holiness of God is against you (1 Sam. 6:20). The power of God is mounted like a mighty cannon against you (Rom. 9:17). God will display His power in His abiding wrath against you, impenitent one (Isaiah 45:9).

The wisdom of God is set to foil your plans. He has ordained His arrows and prepared instruments of death, and made all things ready (Ps. 7:11-13; Jer. 18:11).

The truth of God is sworn against you. He is faithful to His threatenings as well as to His promises (Matt. 5:18).

Sinner, all the attributes of the infinite God are bound by an oath to punish you. Oh, despair of yourself and flee for refuge to lay hold of the only hope a sinner has. Flee to Christ!

Unbeliever, your life is but a continual gathering of wood for fuel for your own burning. You are such a slave to your lusts that you go on anyway. Though you see it will be to your condemnation, you continue to go your own way. What a pitiful and sorrowful state. Consider. There is One who can set the captives free! Do not blind your eyes. Do not deceive yourself. See your misery while it can yet be prevented. Think of what it is to be a vile outcast; a vessel of wrath into which the Lord will be pouring out His tormenting fury onward into eternity where there is no recovery. (See Heb. 10:28-29)

Even now your pride is resisting. Your flesh is trying to hang on to its mastery over you. The devil himself is seeking to blind you – to silence your awakening conscience. Has he bewitched you? Do you not see these are not true friends? Will you perish for the sake of your pride? What will your pride be in that day of judgment when every knee will bow? Humble yourself. So what if all the world sees? When Christ at once takes off your shackles and sets you free, you will rejoice with the angels in heaven! We, who are already rejoicing in our salvation, are no different from you. We are all deserving of death. We, too, loved darkness rather than light, but the truth will prevail! God will prevail! Let the truth break you that you might lose your life and truly find life!

We consider a man a fool who plays with death. How much more so, one who toys with the second death – who ventures out on a limb over the lake that burns with fire and brimstone? “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” (Isa. 55:6-7) There is but one door of escape. The Lord Jesus is the Door (John 10:9).

If the Lord Himself has not spoken these things, then ignore me. But if it is the very Word of God – that all this misery is about to befall you – what a state you are in! I am not saying these truths to torment you before the time, but in order to have you make your escape. Do you not realize that your sin is poisoning you while it is pleasing you? Break away from Delilah’s embrace before you are undone. Though she flatters you, she will destroy you in the end.

God has set before you the way of life – Jesus Christ dying on the tree. My aim is to set Him before your mind’s eye that you might be saved and not go to that awful place of torment – though you stand tottering on the brink of the bottomless pit. As Paul cried out to the Philippian jailer, “Do yourself no harm. ? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

Do not think that your praying, reading, hearing, confessing, or amending, will bring about the cure. Christ alone is the cure.

Consider the perfections of Christ. Consider the One who will receive you as a bride:

To be loved and cared for to the uttermost for all of eternity!
To have Christ Himself satisfy our every longing and to be our overflowing happiness!
To have such a protector as the Sovereign Lord Himself!

Will you not be content to depend upon His faithfulness? Will you be content to labor and to suffer and will you have the patience to wait for the reward to come? What do you say to this? Will you have this God to be your God? Will you be content to live by faith and trust Him for unseen happiness, an unseen heaven, and an unseen glory?

Come to Christ as your Prophet , Priest, and King. Do you not approve of His terms? May His love overcome you. Unworthiness is no hindrance. In fact, it is a prerequisite! Will your unwillingness be your undoing? Surrender – for happy is the man whose God is the Lord! Do you not see the treasure in this field? Do you see the value of such a Pearl as He is? (Matt. 13:44-46)

Do not quench the Spirit whose word is the Scripture. In fact, let one from hell itself preach to you and call you to repent …

Then he [a certain rich man in torments in Hades] said, ‘I beg you therefore, father [Abraham] that you would send him [Lazarus – a comforted believer in Paradise] to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ ” (Luke 16:27-29)

The same message that I am trying to impart to you is coming from one who is already in hell. Please hear Moses and the Prophets. Please hear the Word of the living God. Do you see that the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever? Is this where you will take up residence? It will be, unless you repent and believe in the Son of Man who was lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life!

Please weigh these things and consider. Does not your conscience tell you that it is most reasonable that you should repent and believe in Christ, the Lord of tender mercies? The King holds forth the golden scepter that you might approach today. Approach – run to Him – before the thread that holds your life from tumbling into the pit breaks in death. Let go of your hold on the world and lay hold of eternal life, and you will be made happy forever. God will be a Father to you and withhold no good thing from you. How long will you linger in Sodom? He provides all we need. We were poor, but He provided a salvation we buy without money and without price. We were naked and He clothed us with white clothing. We were blind but He anointed our eyes with eye-salve that we might see.

I am so happy being saved! I wish for you this happiness, my friend. Behold the Christ in whom is mercy, pardon, blessedness, and life. What hinders you from being saved?

It is hard for me to make an end of my exhortation to you, if I must leave you as I found you – if you are but only “almost persuaded to be a Christian.” Will you reject the compassion and mercy of the Savior? I can only entreat you and warn you. I cannot make you to be happy for all of eternity. If I could, I would. But the witness of God, should you continue in self-deception, is that it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, indeed for Sodom and Gomorrah, in the Day of Judgment than for you!


About Murray McLellan
Murray is the lead church planter and Bible teacher at Grace Fellowship Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife Cheryl have labored in the Gospel for many years despite the many discouragements along the way. Our brother is associated with “InDepth Studies”, the Acts 29 network of church planters, and more recently the uniquely Canadian C2C church planting network. In new covenant circles Murray is a long time contributor to new covenant thought and discussion.