John Calvin Complete Commentary - John 3:2 - 3:2

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John Calvin Complete Commentary - John 3:2 - 3:2


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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

2.He came to Jesus by night. From the circumstance of his coming by night we infer that his timidity was excessive; for his eyes were dazzled, as it were, by the splendor of his own greatness and reputation. (55) Perhaps too he was hindered by shame, for ambitious men think that their reputation is utterly ruined, if they have once descended from the dignity of teachers to the rank of scholars; and he was unquestionably puffed up with a foolish opinion of his knowledge. In short, as he had a high opinion of himself, he was unwilling to lose any part of his elevation. And yet there appears in him some seed of piety; for hearing that a Prophet of God had appeared, he does not despise or spurn the doctrine which has been brought from heaven, and is moved by some desire to obtain it, — a desire which sprung from nothing else than fear and reverence for God. Many are tickled by an idle curiosity to inquire eagerly about any thing that is new, but there is no reason to doubt that it was religious principle and conscientious feeling that excited in Nicodemus the desire to gain a more intimate knowledge of the doctrine of Christ. And although that seed remained long concealed and apparently dead, yet after the death of Christ it yielded fruit, such as no man would ever have expected, (Joh_19:39.)

Rabbi, we know. The meaning of these words is, “Master, we know that thou art come to be a teacher. ” But as learned men, at that time, were generally called Masters, Nicodemus first salutes Christ according to custom, and gives him the ordinary designation, Rabbi, (which means Master, (56)) and afterwards declares that he was sent by God to perform the office of a Master. And on this principle depends all the authority of the teachers in the Church; for as it is only from the word of God that we must learn wisdom, we ought not to listen to any other persons than those by whose mouth God speaks. And it ought to be observed, that though religion was greatly corrupted and almost destroyed among the Jews, still they always held this principle, that no man was a lawful teacher, unless he had been sent by God. But as there are none who more haughtily and more daringly boast of having been sent by God than the false prophets do, we need discernment in this case for trying the spirits. Accordingly Nicodemus adds:

For no man can do the signs which thou doest, unless God be with him. It is evident, he says, that Christ has been sent by God, because God displays his power in him so illustriously, that it cannot be denied that God is with him He takes for granted that God is not accustomed to work but by his ministers, so as to seal the office which he has entrusted to them. And he had good grounds for thinking so, because God always intended that miracles should be seals of his doctrine. Justly therefore does he make God the sole Author of miracles, when he says that no man can do these signs, unless God be with him; for what he says amounts to a declaration that miracles are not performed by the arm of man, but that the power of God reigns, and is illustriously displayed in them. In a word, as miracles have a twofold advantage, to prepare the mind for faith, and, when it has been formed by the word, to confirm it still more, Nicodemus had profited aright in the former part, because by miracles he recognizes Christ as a true prophet of God.

Yet his argument appears not to be conclusive; for since the false prophets deceive the ignorant by their impostures as fully as if they had proved by true signs that they are the ministers of God, what difference will there be between truth and falsehood, if faith depends on miracles? Nay, Moses expressly says that God employs this method to try if we love him, (Deu_13:3.) We know also, the warning of Christ, (Mat_24:14,) and of Paul, (2Th_2:9,) that believers ought to beware of lying signs, by which Anti-Christ dazzles the eyes of many. I answer, God may justly permit this to be done, that those who deserve it may be deceived by the enchantments of Satan. But I say that this does not hinder the elect from perceiving in miracles the power of God, which is to them an undoubted confirmation of true and sound doctrine. Thus, Paul boasts that his apostleship was confirmed by signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds, (2Co_12:12.) To whatever extent Satan may, like an ape, counterfeit the works of God in the dark, yet when the eyes are opened and the light of spiritual wisdom shines, miracles are a sufficiently powerful attestation of the presence of God, as Nicodemus here declares it to be.



(55) “De sa grandeur et reputation.”

(56) “Qui signific Maistre.”