The earthly gives way to the heavenly
“If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12). In the quiet of the night, Nicodemus came to the Lord Jesus Christ. He had seen the signs our Lord did (v.2; also 2:23). Surely this was God’s kingdom. God sends, man obeys, miracles result.
The Lord Jesus surprised Nicodemus. He said that to see or to experience the kingdom of God, one must be born again. Nicodemus tried to understand. After all, he was the teacher of Israel (v.?10); he knew the Old Testament well. But if Nicodemus didn’t know the earthly things that the Old Testament prepared him for, how could he believe the heavenly things of the New Testament? This tells us that the Old Testament prepared the way for the New Testament which, in turn, fulfilled the Old (Heb. 8:13).
Our Lord’s answer to Nicodemus’ question “How can these things be?” (v.?9) shows how we should use the Old Testament. He reminded Nicodemus of Numbers 21:4-9. Moses lifting up the brass serpent was a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ being lifted up on the cross for the salvation of all who would look to Him in faith (vv.?14-16). The Old Testament identified the Christ and revealed what He would do while on this earth. (See also Jn. 5:39; 6:45, 46; Lk.?24:26)
But when the Christ came, “His own received Him not” (Jn. 1:11). They failed to recognize their own Messiah because they did not know their own Scriptures. Had they paid closer attention to the Old Testament, they would have known Him. He came to fulfill the Law (Mt. 5:17f). He was the living reality of all that the Old Testament spoke.
But we must not end there. We must “go on to perfection not laying again the foundation of repentance…and faith” (Heb. 6:1). Once men recognized our Lord as the Messiah of the Old Testament, He prepared them for new, heavenly things (Jn. 3:12; 16:12). Let us consider some of them.
A new worship
John begins by saying “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us…full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). Old Testament temple worship found its reality in the person of Christ. Our Lord purged the temple (Jn. 2:13ff), calling it His Father’s house (Jn. 2:16). When challenged, He spoke of the cross: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn. 2:19). The temple pictured His body.
Then He spoke to a Samaritan woman. When she argued religion (Jn. 4:19ff), He said, “the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:23). The Jews worshiped to the letter of the Old Testament, not in spirit. The Samaritans worshiped in error, not in truth.
The Old has been fulfilled and replaced. We worship the Lord in Spirit, not in a temple. We may meet under a shady tree in the heat of the day (as many do) and worship the Father. A building can be a help or a hindrance. When we worship in spirit and truth, the Lord Himself is the attraction.
Such worship demands a new priesthood (Heb. 7:11f). All believers are now priests. We must not go back to a priestly caste who officiate in planned worship and teach the Word of God. Nor should we return to wearing robes, bearing special titles, or using altars and equipment. Our priesthood gives us “boldness to enter into the holy of holies…” (Heb. 10:19) and to “draw near” (Heb. 10:22). No Old Testament priest could do that. Our needs are a pure heart, an assured faith, etc., not old types. Our worship begins where the Old Testament’s worship left off.
Such worship includes ministering to one another as the context shows (Heb. 10:24f). But we must not worship in word only. Worship in spirit and truth demands…
A new spirit
The Lord Jesus said, “if anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (7:37f). John says that He was speaking of the Holy Spirit who “was not yet given.” The Holy Spirit certainly existed from all eternity. He also worked on the earth from the beginning (Gen. 1:2; 1 Sam. 10:6). Yet, it was God’s plan to give the Spirit in a new and special way. And why was He not yet given? John explains: “because Jesus was not yet glorified”. The Holy Spirit would be given as the Spirit of the risen, glorified Christ.
In the Old Testament, animal blood was presented by the hands of a priest. In the New Testament, the blood of Christ was presented and is applied by His eternal Spirit (Heb. 9:14). The work of salvation is finished. There is now no reminder of sin (Heb. 10:2f). Our conscience is clean. We are “free from dead works to serve the living God.” The Old covenant could make nothing perfect (Heb. 7:11, 19; 9:9). But grace has freed us from the works of the Law.
As God’s children, we now walk in the Spirit. Thus we have a quiet heart (Jn. 14:1, 27), comfort (Jn. 14:16-18), a new hope (Jn. 14:2), fruitful lives (Jn. 15:5), and full joy (Jn. 15:11). As His friends, we live a life of love to Him and to one another (Jn. 13:33f; 15:14). We can know His will (Jn. 15:15; 17:7) and the true nature of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 16:8-11). This keeps us from self-righteous judgment and mere moral teaching. We are free to preach the gospel of God’s grace. Life in the Spirit then produces…
A new glory
John “beheld His glory” (Jn. 1:14) but Nicodemus could not see the Kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3). Christ’s glory was “full of grace and truth,” and John adds, “of His fullness we have all received” (Jn. 1:16). How wonderful that “as many as received Him…were born of God” (Jn. 1:12f). Ours is the glory of being His children.
In Christ, we have “heavenly things” (Jn. 3:12). So we are told, “set your mind [affection] on things above and not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2). We are also “blessed…with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ” (Eph. 1:3), transcending the earthly.
How sad, then, when believers live earthly lives. Many act as if material well-being depends on obedience. Sincere obedience that “fails” often shakes their faith. How good to live generously, having received of His grace and fullness (2 Cor. 8:7-9). Some talk of Christian nations. But the church has no national borders to defend. Others look to political leaders. How good instead to recognize elders—men with a shepherd’s heart for fellow believers. They care for our spiritual well-being at their own cost. They show godly lack of interest in material wealth, having gained the riches of His glory (Eph. 3:16-19).
Joyfully, we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ. We are accepted in God’s beloved Son. Because we love Him, we desire to do His good will, to honor Him in word and in deed. Not all can see such glory now, but, one day, all will (Col. 3:4). As we gaze upon His glory, we are changed into His likeness (2 Cor. 3:18). It is a work of the Spirit of Christ.
So ours is the “work” of worship. With satisfied hearts and nothing to gain, we seek to honor Him. We know Him (Jn. 10:14). The worth of His person is revealed by His saving ways. As we worship Him, we desire to act like He does. The Holy Spirit honors our desire by giving occasion to act like Him. So we are “transformed…from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). Such fellowship with the Spirit glorifies Christ (Jn. 16:14) and bears fruit (Jn. 15:8) to the glory of the Father.