He That Cometh From Above Is Above
There are many ways to evaluate the life of our Lord while he was on earth, but there is none more challenging than to look into his own mind to see how he thought of himself. What did Jesus think, what did he teach about his own relation to the living God while he was yet on earth? Did he know that he was one in nature with him? What does his own estimate of himself in relation to those who had gone before tell us? What do his works say on this question? What does Jesus himself say on these matters?
His Relation To Those Who Had Gone Before
Jesus' life and ministry on earth was within a certain historical setting. They were connected with what the prophets had foretold and with the message of John the Baptist. Yet, even though this connection is there, one is at once struck by the conscious assurance with which Jesus himself detaches and differentiates himself and his work from those who had gone before. There is yet fulfillment and consummation, and Jesus had come to bring this to pass. All that had gone before was only the breaking of the road, a period of preparation. He had come to bring to completion what had been begun by his predecessors.
With reference to himself Jesus declared, "Behold, a greater than Jonah is here.... Behold, a greater than Solomon is here" (Matt. 12:41,42). He informed the people of his time about these truths concerning himself in order to impress upon their minds these two important facts: (1) If more than Jonah was here and the people of his time repented, then the people of Christ's generation were under greater obligation to repent than were the Ninevites. (2) If the queen of the south came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear Solomon, and more than Solomon was here, then the people of Christ's generation were under greater obligation to hear the one of whom this is affirmed.
What may we learn about the work of Jesus from this statement? We may learn that the most exalted figures among prophets and kings are not so great as Jesus. Along this same line Jesus says, "Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see. For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye hear, and have not heard them" (Lk. 10:23,24). In a similar way, John the Baptist is said to be greater than all the prophets and kings under the Old Covenant, and yet "he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matt. 11:11). Jesus sets his own work higher, and he does not do so only relatively, but absolutely. His work transcends all that had been done previously by the prophets and kings of all the former generations. He is conscious that his teaching is something wholly incomparable and perfect (see Lk. 4:18ff).
His Relation to Messengers of His Day
What is true of those who had gone before was also true of Jesus' contemporaries, including the twelve disciples whom he had chosen. John the Baptist and others who were messengers of God. Jesus was no ordinary messenger. It is true that like other messengers he received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38), and did much of his work by the Spirit of God (Matt. 12:28). But to say this is not to tell the whole story. The rest of the story is what makes him greater than all the others. Others received the Holy Spirit, and did mighty works by the Spirit of God, but there was this major difference: they could not communicate anything from God to man except what was revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. They had not come down from heaven, they were "of the earth," but "he that cometh from above is above all" (John 3:31). In this passage Jesus is contrasted with others like John the Baptist. One "of the earth" speaks from an earthly standpoint and experience. One who "cometh from above" speaks from a heavenly standpoint and experience. He is "above all." Of the one who is "of the earth." Alvah Hovey says, "Such a man cannot speak as one from heaven; for he has never been there, and is a stranger to the experience of that higher world. The Evangelist does not here deny his own inspiration, or affirm that his teaching is confined to earthly things; but he confesses that he cannot bear witness of heavenly things, or teach more than is given him by another" (Commentary on the Gospel of John 108).
Our brethren who are contending that Jesus did not know anything except what was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit, thus making him no different in this respect than other messengers of God, need to explain this passage. How was Jesus "above all," as this passage of Scripture affirms, if it is not in the way we have explained it in the preceding paragraph? Even if Jesus received the Holy Spirit "without measure," as some believe, this does not explain the statement in John 3:31 that Jesus is "above all." The differences brought up in this verse between Jesus and other messengers is not a difference in degrees of Spirit which one may have. The difference is from whence one comes to bear his testimony. Jesus is "from above," all others are "of the earth."
This means that while on earth Jesus had those things that would be required of one who had come down out of heaven to bear direct testimony of heavenly things. He had the same mind he had as God while he was in heaven, and he had a divine will, divine emotions, and divine consciousness. Let those who affirm that Jesus was divine, but that he was without a divine mind, will, emotions and consciousness while on earth, explain how without these divine characteristics he could have borne direct testimony of things he had heard and seen in heaven? Without these qualities how could he recall his experiences while he was in heaven, and thereby bear direct testimony of the Father, as this passage (John 3:31) claims for him? Such testimony would have to arise out of his own personal experience of having been in heaven, having known the Father there, and having heard and seen the things of the Father while he was in heaven. What I have written before on this passage of scripture still holds.
It was because Jesus was "from above" and not "of the earth" (Jn. 3:31) that he could testify of what he had "seen and heard" (Jn. 3:32). What he testified was not simply truth that was "revealed" to him in the same way that truth was revealed to John the Baptist, Peter, or Paul who were just ordinary men chosen by God to be his inspired messengers. These men who were "of the earth" were "sent from God" (see Jn. 1:6), but they were not "from above" so that they could speak what they had "seen and heard" of the Father in the same way that Jesus could. One who "speaks of the earth" is one who "has not looked on truth absolute in the heavenly sphere" (Wescott). All men including even the apostles, were different from Jesus in this respect. The Holy Spirit was not given to Jesus to enable him to "remember" what he had "seen and heard" when he was in heaven, nor was he given to "lead" and "guide" him into all truth, in the same way he was promised to the apostles. Jesus was the truth (Jn. 14:6), and he spoke what he "knew" and what he had "seen" (Jn. 3:11-12; 7:29; 8:55) of the Father in heaven. What is meant by the word "know" in these passages where Jesus says he speaks what he knows of the Father? It means that he had immediate knowledge of heavenly things. He knows because he is from above and is above all (Jesus: God and Man, Or, "Just a Man"? pp. 39-40).
It was Jesus' origin (he came down out of heaven) and divine nature (he was God manifest in the flesh, John 1:14; 1 Tim. 3:16) that set him apart from all earthly messengers. It is this truth about Jesus that explains the other things that separate Jesus from all other messengers. A good example is what is said of Jesus and the Holy Spirit that is not said of messengers who are "of the earth." There were some things which Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and all earthly messengers had in common: they were all "sent" by God, and they all "bear witness." But one important difference should be noted: the Son "sends" the Holy Spirit to the disciples (John 15:26; 16:7), just as the Father does (John 14:26). Surely Jesus was not given the Spirit "without measure" (as some wrongly understand John 3:34) to enable him to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples, was he? The promise of Jesus to send the Spirit to them puts him on an equal with the Father and lifts him above all of the other messengers of God.
His Relation To the O. T. Institutions
The new and absolutely transcendent element in Jesus' teaching had its ultimate roots in his boundless authority, and in his own person. Comparing him to the Old Testament institutions there was nothing great and holy in the Old Covenant, not even its temple, nor the Sabbath day, and not even its law which was now subject to his will and authority. The Sabbath was an institution of God (Exod. 20:8f; Deut. 5:12,14), yet, Jesus said, "But I say to you, That in this place is one greater than the temple" (Matt. 12:6), and the temple was superior to the Sabbath. Claiming superiority over the temple meant he had authority over the Sabbath as well. But to leave no doubt on the matter, Jesus went on to say that the Son of man was "Lord even of the Sabbath day" (Matt. 12:8). Jesus had full authority to control and regulate the Sabbath day as he saw proper Jesus was also superior to Moses and the law. This superiority over the law was reflected in his manner of teaching, for the people marveled at his teaching, "for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matt. 7:28,29). Instead of quoting from the rabbis of former times, as other teachers were accustomed to do (this, they thought gave authority to their message), Jesus spoke as one who had authority in himself, and the people noted the difference. Also, unlike the prophets of old, Jesus did not appeal to a special divine commission. He acted of his own right. We never hear him say, "Thus says the Lord," words used by the prophets to indicate that they were speaking by divine commission from Jehovah. He speaks only of his own authority, out of his own knowledge, of his own right: "But I say unto you" (Matt. 5:18,20,22,26,28,32,34,39,44; 6:2,5,15,29; 8:10,11, etc.)
What is the significance of these claims of Jesus to be superior over the two leading institutions of the law (temple and Sabbath), as well as superiority over the law itself? In the mind of the Jews the temple, the Sabbath, and Moses and the law were all inseparably linked with Jehovah God. In them the will of the all-holy God was expressed, and, for this reason, it was hard for them to understand the claim of Jesus to be superior to them, except in the sense that in his inmost being he knew himself to be wholly one with Jehovah. Jesus took his stand exactly where to Jewish minds only one stands, God himself.
His Relation to Miracles Done By Others
Others besides Jesus worked miracles. Even in the Old Testament we have reports of miracles worked by some of the prophets. Elijah and Elisha even restored the dead to life (1 Kgs. 17:19ff; 2 Kgs. 4:32ff; 13:21). Jesus did not work greater miracles than those worked by others in either the Old or New Testament, but the manner in which he worked his miracles in absolute concurrence with the Father (Jn. 5:19f). In raising Lazarus he "lifted up his eyes and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me" (Jn. 11:41). With the Father's assent to what he was about to do, "He cried in a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth, and he that was dead came forth." This, and all the other Jesus' miracles, were worked as natural operations of his own being. It is not from the Father (though always in absolute concurrence with him) but from himself that the influence proceeded: "I will; Be thou clean (Mk. 1:41); "Ephphata. . . . Be opened" (Mk. 7:34); Talitha cummi ... Damsel, I say to thee, arise" (Mk. 5:41); "Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house" (Mk. 2:11).
Someone may ask, "But how is this different from how miracles were worked by others?" The answer is that others did not use the same language Jesus used; language which shows that Jesus saw himself working miracles of his own will and by his own power, and yet in perfect union (being of one nature and one will) with the Father. This disciples worked miracles in Jesus' name (Lk. 9:49; 10:17; Acts 3:6; 16:18; 19:13); they readily conceded (even if his name was not always pronounced) that the mighty works which they did were by his will and by his power. Not one of them ever thought of himself as in union with the Father in the same sense that Jesus thought of himself in relation to him. They were but disciples and acknowledged Jesus to be their Lord, and they thought only in terms of doing what they did in his name and by his authority and power.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 14, p. 14-15