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John 3:14-15

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." ESV. My emphasis.

  1. Here, looking to the serpent as an external object is contrasted with a different sort of faith. When we are in him, when his light has penetrated our internal darkness, then, as a result, we believe.

I think regarding this verse Ellicott's commentary supports this view e.g. "The object of faith is not here expressed".

  1. He is the object of our faith; we believe in him.

Regarding this verse Barnes has him as the object of our faith. e. g. "Whoever puts confidence in him as able and willing to save".

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  • I am not clear as to what you are asking. Why is 1. different to 2. ? Could you clarify, please ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 15:50
  • @Nigel 1. Where faith comes from; how it comes to be. 2. The object of faith. Where it is going.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 15:57

1 Answer 1

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John 3:15 - so that everyone believing/trusting in Him may have eternal life.

The matter in John 3:15 "in Him" [Jesus] can be stated as follows. Is it:

  • to those trusting, eternal life is granted by the mechanism/because of Jesus death. The John 3:15 becomes: "everyone trusting, in Him may have eternal life".
  • to those believing/trust in Jesus, will be granted eternal life. Then John 3:15 becomes: "everyone trusting in Him, may have eternal life".

That is, does "in Him" mean that Jesus is the object or the means of eternal life? Either is grammatically possible and both are consistent with NT theology. For example:

1 John 5:11, 12 - And this is that testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

However, as Ellicott, Cambridge, Expositor's, etc, all point out, "to believe in Him" is not consistent with John's theology. Note Ellicott's comments in John 1:12 -

To them that believe on his name repeats the width of the condition, and at the same time explains what receiving Him means. It seems natural to understand the “name” of the only name which meets us in this context, that is, of the Logos or Word, the representation of the will, character, nature of God. (See on John 1:18.) To “believe on” is one of St. John’s characteristic words of fuller meaning. To believe is to accept as true; “devils believe and tremble” (James 2:19). To believe in is to trust in, confide in. To believe on, has the idea of motion to and rest upon: it is here the going forth of the soul upon, and its rest upon, the firm basis of the eternal love of the eternal Spirit revealed in the Word. (Comp. Pearson On the Creed, Art. 1, p. 16.)

See also John 5:39, 16:33, 20:31, etc.

However, let me now demonstrate that whether one believe/trusts Jesus as the object or means of eternal life, the net result is the same. For example:

  • If one trusts that Jesus is the only means of salvation (Acts 4:12), then this means that one must trust Jesus to accomplish this.
  • If one trusts/believes Jesus' and His promises, then we believe and trust the only person who can grant and provide eternal life.

Thus, while the Johannine usage might favor John 3:15 being understood with Jesus the means of salvation, a good case can be made for both and the net effect on the believer is the same.

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  • + Jesus is the right answer because the bronze serpent didn't give eternal life.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 23:35

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