top of page

John 3:14-21

Lesson Focus 

As the church, we’re called to carry God’s light and love into the dark and loveless places. 

Lesson Outcomes 

Through this lesson, students should: 

  1. Understand the true nature of Jesus’ mission in the world is love not condemnation. 

  2. Understand that judgment comes upon us because we have loved darkness more than the light. 

  3. Contemplate how the church might bring God’s light and love to dark and loveless places. 

Catching Up on the Story

We pick up John’s story of Jesus as Jesus is just beginning his earthly ministry. So far, John the Baptist introduces and baptizes Jesus, Jesus calls his first disciples, performs his first miracle, and stirs up trouble in the Temple. While in the Temple, Jesus gets upset that his fellow countrymen are using the space as a way to make money and subsequently overturns some tables and utters, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” This last statement will only become intelligible to his followers after the resurrection, as Jesus was talking about his body and not the Temple where Israel worshiped. 

John shifts the story at the beginning of chapter three, though Jesus is likely still in Jerusalem with his followers. John now introduces another character in his story, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who John labels a “leader of the Jews.” How important or influential Nicodemus is remains to be seen. Regardless, his importance to the story John tells is significant. 

Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of night to engage Jesus in conversation. Unlike other conversations that Jesus will have, Nicodemus appears to approach Jesus with an attitude of curiosity and a willingness to learn. Whether or not Nicodemus gets to whatever his original question was is inconsequential. His opening statement about who Jesus is shapes the trajectory of the following conversation. Nicodemus rightly confesses that Jesus is a teacher from God. To this, Jesus responded, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 

Nicodemus finds Jesus’ statement incomprehensible, prompting him to ask more questions. While Nicodemus is confused about what Jesus says, Jesus is astounded that a teacher such as Nicodemus wouldn’t be able to follow what Jesus is saying. Nevertheless, Jesus does his best to help his ignorant friend understand the significance of his life and God-given mission. 

Snakes in the Wilderness

We pick up Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus partway through. The conversation at this point is one-sided, as we only have Jesus’ words and no further response from Nicodemus. We’re left to wonder how Nicodemus felt after Jesus was done speaking. Did he come to an understanding of what Jesus said? Did Nicodemus get upset at Jesus’ words? We’ll never know, and that’s ok. So often in the Bible, we’re left without a satisfactory ending. I suppose that’s ok, too, as the story of God’s love for creation has yet to conclude. 

This week’s passage starts with an Old Testament reference that Nicodemus was likely to have understood. Jesus refers to an episode in Numbers 21:7-8 where venomous snakes are sent as punishment for Israel complaining about how God was taking care of them. It wasn’t just that they were complaining, but they were fondly looking back at their old life in slavery in Egypt. At least they had good food in Egypt! 

As Moses often does, he intercedes for Israel, praying for God to take away the snakes that were killing God’s people. God listens and instructs Moses to craft a serpent out of bronze and mount it on a pole so that it would stand above the crowd. Anyone who had been bitten, or would be bitten, could look to the raised serpent and not die. 

There was nothing magical about the bronze serpent on a pole, however. The lifting of one’s eyes u