To Believe, Believing and Believe. John 3:15

15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
15 ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

This is the first time the phrase “eternal life” is mentioned in the Gospel of John. The reason for its appearance here is that “Eternal Life” is associated to the new kife that is the result of the “born of water and Spirit,” written in verses 5 – 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. and “born from above” in verse 3 – 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” and verse 7 – “7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.'”

Furthermore, ‘Life’ was mentioned briefly near the beginning of this Gospel as being “on him,” that is, “in” the Word, and here too “eternal life” is “in Him,” that is, “in” the Son of man. Observing the order of the words; there is a suggestion that the matter of “believing in” the Son of man, the verb “to believe” (pisteuein) is never used with en (the preposition for “in”) in the Gospel of John, but always with eis, which literally means “into” as in John 1:12 – 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God; 2:11 – 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him, and verse 23 – 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. Or with a noun in the dative case, which means to accept something as true, as written in John 2:22 – 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the Word that Jesus had spoken.

Jesus is not speaking explicitly of “believing in him,” hence, but simply of “believing,” and as a result, “having eternal life in him.” “Eternal Life” is where the emphasis lies. Ironically, this life is promised to “everyone who believes” precisely in a context in which some have “believed in his name” and yet not been given “eternal life” because Jesus “would not entrust himself to them” in John 2:23-25. The promise of the verse is contingent on the Son of man being “lifted up.” Just as the new birth is “necessary,” in verse 7, in order to enter the kingdom of God, now defined as “eternal life.” Here if anywhere, is the turning point of the chapter. (J. Ramsey Micheals, The Gospel of John, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI.)

Edward W. Klink III, in his book John, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, writes; that Jesus concludes with a purpose summary of his work and person, denoted by “that” with the subjunctive “may have.” In light of verse 14, this statement carries with it all the weight of humanity’s plight and the exaltation of the crucified God. It can only be offered after the cross, and it can only be received by those “who believe in him.” The nature of this life is “eternal life.” This addition of the qualifier “eternal” occurs here for the first time in the Gospel and is only ever used to qualify “life.” Since the prologue already defined life employing the Word, its qualification here is necessarily related. The phrase “eternal life” speaks not merely about the quantity of life but also the quality of life. Eternal life is life in Christ.

This concludes the final statement by Jesus. Although the majority of translations imply that Jesus is seeking to the end of verse 21, the expression and tone change, ad the apparent change to past tense strongly suggest that the narrator takes over in verse 16. One reason verses 13-15 are often considered not to be Jesus’s words is that they seem disconnected from what has come before. Therefore, when understood as the end of the social challenge dialogue, these final words, belonging to Jesus by right of his victory, are remarkable. At the moment when Jesus could be heralding the honour due to him, he announces his impending shame. Hence, it is Jesus’s shame that Nicodemus can become victorious, albeit in a manner quite different than expected. While the proof of Jesus’s victory will only be in the resurrection, as mentioned in John 2: 18-19 – 18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”, the power of his victory must go through the cross (shame). The strange irony with which Jesus ends his dialogue with Nicodemus needs to be explained by the narrator regarding its meaning and significance.

R. C. H. Lenski writes in The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, Hence, this being lifted and its divine purpose constitutes a unit; neither could be possible without the other. When considering both type and antitype, this must be retained, “lifted up, in order that.” The universality that lies already in the title “the Son of man” (see 1:51) comes out with wonderful clearness in πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων, “everyone.” This “whosoever” of our versions is like a check or a deed, signed by God himself, with the place for the beneficiary’s name left blank, thus inviting each of us (here Nicodemus) by the act of faith to write in his name. Note the singular: faith, life, and salvation are personal. “To believe” (see 1:12) is to have the true confidence of the heart, kindled by the Word, even as this was seeking with its power of grace to win the heart of Nicodemus. The present tense ὁ πιστεύων describes the person by its durative action.

The reading ἐν αὑτῷ is textually assured. However, since John always uses εἰς αὑτόν when he employs a phrase with πιστεύω, we should here not construe “believing in him” but leave the participle absolute, “every believer.” In the New Testament, πιστεύω, ἐν is infrequently used. On the other hand, ἔχειν ἐν appears in 5:39; 16:33; 20:31. So we read, “may have in his life eternal,” i.e., in union or in connection with him. The objection is ill-advised that the Israelites did not have healing “in” the brazen serpent but in the kind will of God, for they, too, had it only in connection with that serpent—whoever failed to look at it died. The verb ἔχῃ matches the durative πιστεύων. The believer has life the moment he believes, and as long as he believes, he is not compelled to wait until he enters heaven.

On ζωή compare 1:4. John has “life eternal” seventeen times. Therefore, this is the life principle itself which makes us alive spiritually. Its beginning is the new birth or regeneration of which Jesus spoke to Nicodemus. Nothing dead can give itself life; least of all that life has its source in the Son of God himself. He bestows it alone, but he does this by kindling faith in us. Thus faith has life, and life is found where faith is. The faith that clasps the Christ uplifted on the cross makes us alive in and through him. A thousand shreds of evidence show the change from death to life, namely every motion of that life Godward, Christward, against sin, flesh, world. Furthermore, this life is “eternal,” it goes on endlessly, unaffected by temporal death, except that this life is transferred into the heavenly world. While its nature is “eternal” and deathless, it may be lost during our stay in this sinful world, but only by a wilful and wicked cutting of the bond “in him,” a deliberate renunciation and destruction of faith.

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