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John 3:22-36: He Must Increase, and I Must Decrease


After these things Jesus went [3S 2 Aor Act Indic erchomai], and his disciples, into the land of Judea, and there he passed time [3S Impf Act Indic diatribo] with them and he was baptizing [3S Impf Act Indic baptizo]. 23Now there was [3S Impf Act Indic eimi] also John baptizing [Nom MS Pres Act Part baptizo] in Aenon near Salim, for much water was [3S Impf Act Indic eimi] there; and they came [3P Impf Mid Indic paraginomai], and they were being baptized [3P Impf Pass Indic baptizo]. 24For not yet was [3S Impf Act Indic eimi] John cast [3S Perf Pass Part ballo] into prison. 25Then there arose [3S 2 Aor Act Indic ginomai] a question from the disciples of John with the Jews concerning purification. 26And they went [3P 2 Aor Act Indic erchomai] to John and they said [3S 2 Aor Act Indic lego] to him, “Rabbi, the one who was [3S Impf Act Indic eimi] with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have borne witness [2S Perf Act Indic martureo], behold, this same one is baptizing [3S Pres Act Indic baptizo] and all are coming [3P Pres Mid Indic erchomai] to him. 27John answered [3S 1 Aor Pass Indic apokrinomai] and he said [3S 2 Aor Act Indic lego], “A man is not able [3S Pres Mid Indic dunamai] to receive [Pres Act Inf lambano] not even one thing unless it be [3S Pres Act Subj eimi] given [Nom NS Perf Pass Part didomi] to him from heaven. 28You yourselves to me bear witness [2P Pres Act Indic martureo] that I said [1S 2 Aor Act Indic lego] [that], ‘I am [1S Pres Act Indic eimi] not the Christ, but that I am [1S Pres Act Indic eimi] sent [Nom MS Perf Pass Part apostello] before him.’ 29The having-the-bride-one [Nom MS Pres Act Part echo] the bridegroom is [3S Pres Act Indic eimi]; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands [Nom MS Perf Act Part histemi] and hears [Nom MS Pres Act Part akouo] him, in joy rejoices [3S Pres Act Indic chairo] because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this, my joy, is fulfilled [3S Perf Pass Indic pleroo]. 30It is necessary for him to increase [Pres Act Inf auxano], but for me to decrease [Pres Pass Inf elattoo].

The from-above-coming-one [Nom MS Pres Act Part erchomai] is [3S Pres Act Indic eimi] above all things; he that is [Nom MS Pres Act Part eimi] from the earth is [3S Pres Act Indic eimi] from the earth, and he speaks [3S Pres Act Indic laleo] from the earth. The from-heaven-coming-one [Nom MS Pres Act Part erchomai] [is above all things]. 32What he has seen [3S Perf Act Indic horao] and heard [3S 1 Aor Act Indic akouo], this he bears witness [3S Pres Act Indic martureo], and his witness/testimony no one receives [3S Pres Act Indic lambano]. 33The receiving-his-testimony/witness-one [Nom MS Pres Act Part lambano] has set his seal [3S 1 Aor Act Indic sphragizo] that God is [3S Pres Act Indic eimi] truth. 34For he whom God sent [3S 1 Aor Act Indic apostello] the words of God speaks [3S Pres Act Indic laleo], for not by measure does he give [3S Pres Act Indic didomi] the Spirit. 35The Father loves [3S Pres Act Indic agapao] the Son, and all things he has given [3S Perf Act Indic didomi] into his hand. 36The believing-inthe-Son-one [Nom MS Pres Act Part pisteuo] has [3S Pres Act Indic echo] eternal life; but the refusing-tobelieve-one [Nom MS Pres Act Part apeitheo] will not see [3S Fut Mid Indic optanomai] life, but the wrath of God remains [3S Pres Act Indic meno] upon him.

Comment: 3:22-24: Following Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus and his disciples head into the Judean countryside, “where he passed time with them, and he was baptizing.” The Greek word at the end of this sentence, ebaptizen, is clearly a 3MS verb, thus referring to Jesus himself, and not to “them,” his disciples. The confusion arises, however, when we get to John 4:2, where we read that “Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples.” The best explanation must do justice to both statements. To me, it sounds as though Jesus personally directed this ministry of baptism, but that Jesus never personally applied water to anyone. In this way, he would be baptizing, and yet Jesus himself would not be baptizing, but only his disciples. Interestingly, Calvin supposes that the baptisms would have been administered through immersion: From these words, we may infer that John and Christ administered baptism by plunging the whole body beneath the water; though we ought not to give ourselves any great uneasiness about the outward rite, provided that it agree with the spiritual truth, and with the Lord’s appointment and rule.1 Augustine notes how Christ baptized as one who himself had humbly submitted to baptism: Being baptized, He baptized. Not with that baptism with which He was baptized did He baptize. The Lord, being baptized by a servant, gives baptism, showing the path of humility and leading to the baptism of the Lord, that is, His own baptism, by giving an example of humility, in not Himself refusing baptism from a servant. And in the baptism by a servant, a way was prepared for the Lord; the Lord also being baptized, made Himself a way for them that come to Him.2 Furthermore, Augustine sees the baptism of Christ (and, by extension, the baptizing of Christ) as undercutting the pride of any who think that they are sufficiently strong spiritually so as not to need baptism themselves: And why must the Lord be baptized? Because many there would be to despise baptism, that they might appear to be endowed with greater grace than they saw other believers endowed with. For example, a catechumen, now living continently, might despise a married person, and say of himself that he was better than the other believer. That catechumen might possibly say in his heart, “What need have I to receive baptism, to have just what that other man has, than whom I am already better?” Therefore, lest that neck of pride should hurl to destruction certain men much elated with the merits of their own righteousness, the Lord was willing to be baptized by a servant, as if addressing His chief sons: “Why do you extol yourselves? Why lift yourselves up because you have, one prudence, another learning, another chastity, another the courage of patience? Can you possibly have as much as I who gave you these? And yet I was baptized by a servant, you disdain to be baptized by the Lord.” This is the sense of “to fulfill all righteousness.”3 Regardless, the larger point of emphasis here is that John the Baptist was also baptizing nearby, at Aenon near Salim, for he had not yet been put in prison. At this point, many people were still coming to John the
1 John Calvin, Commentary on John, vol. I <>. 2 Augustine, “Tractate XIII” in Homilies on the Gospel of John <>. 3 Augustine, “Tractate XIII” in Homilies on the Gospel of John <>.

Baptist; however, in John 4:1, we read that “Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John.” The backdrop of John 3:25-36 is the twilight of John’s ministry. 3:25-26: In the midst of this, a conversation arose between some of John’s disciples and “a Jew” concerning purification (meta katharismou). “Jew” probably does not refer simply to someone generally from the national of Israel, but rather to someone of particular importance and prestige among the Jewish people, e.g., a Pharisee or a Sadducee. The conversation may have been a continuation of the conversation that the Pharisees had with John in 1:25: “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” We know that the subject in 3:25 was “purification,” and it probably had to do with the role that John’s baptism was playing in the purification of the people who were coming out to see him. In particular, the word katharismos refers to Levitical purification from uncleanness. As an outsider to the Levitical system, what right did John and his disciples have to baptize for purification? This word also came up in John 2:6 to describe the water pots that Jesus used when he transformed the water into wine. Lenski understands the oun not as “then” (“Then a discussion arose...”), but as “accordingly”: With oun, “accordingly,” John indicates that this dispute arose out of the situation sketched in v. 22-24, hence was not about purifying in general, i.e., the old Jewish ways and regulations, [page] but about the Baptism of Jesus as compared with that of the Baptist. What the actual question of the dispute was the evangelist does not say since his concern is something more important. All we can gather from the complaint of the Baptist’s disciples in v. 26 is that the Jew maintained the superiority of Jesus’ baptism over that of the Baptist, which the disciples of the latter refused to admit as it would also involve that men should leave the Baptist and go to Jesus.4 Then the conversation apparently turns to Jesus. From an impartial, theological discussion concerning baptism, the conversation descends into rivalry over ministry turf: “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” The point is clear: they are jealous for the influence and prestige of their leader, and they do not like that Jesus is beginning to overshadow John. Lenski draws a fantastic psychological profile of John’s disciples from the language of their complaint: These are the disciples alone, and they go to their master who is near at hand. They lay before him not the question of dispute but the situation from which is arose, and this in the form of an aggrieved complaint. Hence they even avoid naming Jesus, they only describe him, but in a way that brings out first, their thought that Jesus is under great obligation to the Baptist and, secondly, that Jesus is showing himself ungrateful to the Baptist. In their complaint lies the question, “Is this right?” They refer to what is recorded in 1:29-34. By saying that this occurred “beyond the Jordan” they specify what testimony they refer to and at the same time indicate that they were now on the western side of the river. They speak as though the Baptist had done much for Jesus by testifying of him as he did. But, behold, houtos (see 1:7), “this man,” is now competing with him after having received so much from him! By adding the exaggeration that “all men” are running after Jesus these disciples betray their state of mind. In the perfect memarturekas we note the effect of the testimony as continuing in the present.5 John 1:7, to which Lenski refers above, identifies the Baptist as houtos, not Jesus:
4 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of John's Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 281-82. 5 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of John's Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 282-83.


There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7Houtos [This one] came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 3:27: John’s response betrays incredible humility as he refuses to pit his glory against that of Jesus. “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” This translation is smoothed out for English grammar, but the original Greek looks more like this: “A man cannot receive not one thing, if not (ei me) given to him from heaven.” Three negatives in the sentence form a super-emphasis on our inability to receive anything apart from a direct gift from heaven. To be precise, John is referring to his ministry. His ministry is not actually his ministry, but a ministry that he has received from heaven. He is commissioned and sent to perform a particular ministry, and therefore the ministry belongs to heaven, and not to him. If heaven now takes away that ministry to give it to Jesus instead, what concern is that to John? The phrase that comes up over and over in my mind is from the television series The West Wing, which follows a fictional presidential administration over the course of Jeb Bartlett’s two-term presidency. Again and again, members of Bartlett’s administration reminded themselves, each other, and even President Bartlett himself that “I serve at the pleasure of the president.” No member of the administration had a rogue job, where they did as they pleased according to their own agenda. They executed their duties as representatives of the president, with the goal of accomplishing his agenda in a manner that would make his presidency look good. The moment that the person no longer fits the needs, desires, or wishes of the president (for whatever reason, whether good or bad), that person is moved out of their position within the administration. As I have wrestled with disappointments in life, I have found this particular phrase helpful: “I serve at the pleasure of the King.” If King Jesus wants me exactly where I am right now, I serve at the pleasure of the King. If Jesus gives me a certain ministry for a time, and then takes it away, well, I serve at the pleasure of the King. If Jesus never grants me a ministry that I long for in my own heart, then I nevertheless serve at the pleasure of the King. The moment that my needs, desires, and wishes ascend above those of Jesus is the moment that I have fundamentally misunderstood my role in the Eternal Kingdom of the Great King. Everything I receive is given from heaven; I may not presume upon it, as though anything belonged exclusively to me, at any point in time. John gets this. The Lord gave him his ministry, and now the Lord is taking it away. Blessed be the name of the Lord! 3:28: John then reminds his disciples that he has been preaching this role from the beginning. He says, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’” This is exactly what he said in the first chapter of John’s Gospel, where both “priests and Levites from Jerusalem” (John 1:19), and then Pharisees (John 1:24) came to ask John who he was, and why he was doing what he was doing. The Evangelist’s emphatic description of the Baptist’s phrase is in 1:20: “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’” The Baptist’s message had remained clear throughout his ministry. Beyond denying that he was the Christ, John had also affirmed that “I have been sent before him.” In other words, his ministry was a ministry of preparation, making straight the paths of the people in the wilderness for the coming of the Lord. Here is John’s testimony concerning the one for whom he was preparing the people:


John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” … 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” John had always had a clear understanding that his ministry was preparatory and inferior to the ministry of the “after-me-coming-One” (1:27). It was only a matter of time before the people as a whole began to recognize that, as is happening here in chapter 3. 3:29: The metaphor John uses to describe his relationship to Jesus is that of the friend of the bridegroom versus the bridegroom himself, in particular as these two relate to the bride. As much as the friend might have had a friendly relationship with the bride, the friend does not get the bride—only the bridegroom gets the bride. And yet, the friend is not jealous of the bridegroom, but he rejoices to hear the voice of the bridegroom come to take away his bride, leaving his friend behind. Such is John’s role to Israel. He has been a friend of the bridegroom (Jesus), and while he has had a good relationship with Israel, his role to Israel is nothing compared to the role of the bridegroom. Rather than being jealous of Jesus’ relationship to Israel, he rejoices to see the bridegroom finally coming to take his bride. Lenski gives us a helpful caution in interpreting this verse: No special task is here indicated for the friend of the bridegroom, who, as the article indicates, is the one formally functioning as such during the celebration. We should not transfer into the picture our present weddings with their wedding ceremony in which “the best man” has a function. The Jewish wedding was only a joyful feast at the groom’s home, following the procession in which the groom brought the bride to his home. No special time in the progress of the wedding feast is in any way indicated, although commentators have tried to fix such a time, and some with gross indelicacy. The Baptist pictures only the relation and the proper attitude of the friend to the groom, for which alone also he uses this figure; for he intends to describe his own true relation and his attitude toward Jesus.6 3:30: And finally, the climax of the passage and of John’s practical theology: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John has a perfect understanding both of himself, and therefore a perfect understanding simultaneously about Jesus. John Calvin opens his Institutes of the Christian Religion by remarking first that a knowledge of ourselves drives us to a knowledge of God; but then second, that a knowledge of God leads us to a perfect understanding of ourselves: Each of us must, then, be so stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness as to attain at least some knowledge of God. Thus, from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and—what is more—depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord
6 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of John's Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 285.

alone. To this extent we are prompted [page] by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves. For what man in all the world would not gladly remain as he is—what man does not remain as he is—so long as he does not know himself, that is, while content with his own gifts, and either ignorant or unmindful of his own misery? Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find him. Again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself....[page] As long as we do not look beyond the earth, being quite content with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, we flatter ourselves most sweetly, and fancy ourselves all but demigods. Suppose we but once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and to ponder his nature, and how completely perfect are his righteousness, wisdom, and power—the straightedge to which we must be shaped. Then, what masquerading earlier as righteousness was pleasing in us will soon grow filthy in its consummate wickedness. What wonderfully impressed us under the name of wisdom will stink in its very foolishness. What wore the face of power will prove itself the most miserable weakness. That is, what in us seems perfection itself corresponds ill to the purity of God.7 Whether John found himself miserable, and therefore looked to God—or whether he looked to God, and in doing so discovered the misery of his own condition—he nevertheless comes to a perfect understanding of both himself and Christ. As he compares himself to Christ, he understands that he must decrease in order that he might make room for Christ to increase. Now, this entire passage obviously has much to teach the servants of God. We absolutely should take the attitude and humility of John in relation to our Lord Jesus. We without doubt should be content with whatever lot we receive from his hand, knowing that we serve at the pleasure of our King. We certainly should rejoice to hear the voice of the bridegroom as he comes to take his rightful place of primacy with his bride. Such an attitude, however, is difficult. We feel a heightened affection toward the people to whom we minister. We feel a sense of responsibility that we do not easily relinquish. We think we are wasting our time, treasure, and talents if we sense that there is more that we could do. And yet, we must step out of Jesus’ way if we are to allow him to take his rightful place among his people. We cannot be the Messiah to God’s people, and yet that is what we desperately desire. According to Calvin, there are two remedies to this problem. First, we might take an honest assessment of our own power, wisdom, and resources, and stack those against an honest assessment of the deep needs of those around us. Do I really have the tools to heal the deep heart-wounds that these people carry them? Even if I had all the right surgical instruments, do I have any idea how I would go about using them? Even if I did, would I actually have all the time needed to care for, comfort, encourage, and transform even a single person, much less the whole world? When we honestly evaluate our own capabilities, we should quickly become desperate for Christ to take this role—let me decrease, that he might increase! Second, we might evaluate the depth of the resources that Jesus has at his disposal for the salvation of his people. He is the eternal Son of God, infinite in wisdom, power, holiness, and goodness. He was made incarnate for us and for our salvation, that by entering into the human condition, he might exhaust the
7 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. I (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 36-38.

curse of sin and death, and heal every facet of human nature to the uttermost. He shed his own blood on the cross as he bore God’s wrath in our place, and we are told that his blood will cleanse us of every sin. And since he ascended to his Father’s right hand after receiving all authority in heaven and earth, he then sent his Holy Spirit to be with his people always, even to the ends of the earth. When we get a true glimpse of the power, wisdom, and resources of Jesus Christ, we quickly push Christ to the forefront—let him increase, even if it means that I must decrease! 3:31: While there is some debate as to whether 3:31-36 continues the speech of John the Baptist, or whether this is a monologue from John the Evangelist, I am not really in any position to offer a comment. I am content to leave that debate to the scholars and simply focus on what this passage teaches. The passage begins with a fairly noncontroversial statement: “He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.” If someone does indeed come down to earth from heaven, who would argue that this person would have a better vantage point and perspective than the rest of us who were of the earth? Would anyone argue that someone who descended from a mountain could understand the layout of the whole valley than someone who had never seen it from above? 3:32-33: As mentioned earlier, 3:31 is fairly non-controversial. The controversy comes in not so much in that statement itself as it does in the implied assertion that Jesus Christ is the one who has come from above. Even today, those who reject his authority do not so much wish to reject the principle taught in 3:31, but rather they wish to reject that Jesus has in any way come from above. So, in 3:32, we read that the one who comes from above “bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet not one receives his testimony.” The rubber hits the road when this from-above-having-come-One actually opens his mouth and begins to speak—will we believe that he is indeed from above (and therefore receive his testimony), or will we reject his claims to authority, and therefore reject his message? And yet, some do receive the testimony of this from-above-having-come-One: “Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true” (3:33). The language of “setting his seal” refers to the kind of seal used to authenticate a document. When a king issued a decree that was to be sent to the far corners of the kingdom, he would set his seal on the decree, assuring the residents who lived so far off that this did indeed come from the king’s own hand. (See Esther 8:9-14 for a great example of this.) The point, then, is that the one who receives the testimony of from-above-having-come-One sets his own seal to the fact that God is true. Lenski draws our attention to the breathtaking contrast between the powerful testimony of Jesus, and the wicked rejection of that testimony among men described here: The kai coordinates two contrary acts: this superlative testimony and its rejection. Not by mere revelation does Jesus speak as did the prophets of old, but from actual presence in heaven he “bears witness” at firsthand, absolutely directly. Nothing truer and more trustworthy can ever reach men. And the things he testifies thus are the very ones men need most of all, the facts and realities about God in heaven, his will, purpose, and plans concerning men. “And his testimony— this wondrous testimony—no one receives.” The very coordination of the statements lets us feel the enormity of the built implied, as in 1:10, 11. To receive testimony=to believe it; not to receive it=to disbelieve it, refuse to trust it, treat it as a lie.8
8 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of John's Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 288.

So, let’s break this down: when I receive the testimony of Jesus, I set my seal to the fact that God is true. The point cannot be that the world is waiting breathlessly to see whether or not I will set my royal seal to the fact that God is true—in other words, the seal-setting one is not the point of emphasis in this verse. The emphasis, then, is on the fact that God is true, and that the truth of God is made manifest in the testimony of Jesus. I am incidental to the story, really, because the most important thing is that God is true, and that the truth of God is tied up in the testimony of Jesus. When I receive the testimony of Jesus, I am confirming the truth of God, because the two are so interrelated. Lenski makes a powerful argument, though, that this statement refers not to me setting my seal to God’s truth, but of John the Baptist setting his seal: The Baptist refers to himself. There were, indeed, a few others besides the Baptist who also did receive Jesus’ witness. In a manner the words apply also to these. But in their [page] full sense they apply on to the Baptist himself. As far as the receiving is concerned, he stands first and foremost and helped the first of his own disciples also to receive Jesus’ witness. At this very moment he is trying to make his remaining disciples do the same. The actual situation is sometimes lost sight of, and the comment of some expositors reads as though the Baptist here utters abstract, general statements, like a man who is writing a book not like one who is talking face to face with a few men in order to move them to a definite act. The Baptist here virtually tells his disciples, “I did receive his witness, I did seal,” etc.... When the Baptist speaks of sealing that God is true, veracious, verax, he, or course, does not mean that God’s being true would not be sufficiently certified without such a seal. The declarative hoti (R. 1034) states what the seal attests. God is true even if all men called him a liar. A seal is not intended for the person issuing the document but for the one to whom it is issued, to assure him. So God himself adds seals to his truth not for his own sake or for the truth’s sake but for our sakes. What does the Baptist mean by saying, “He that did receive his witness did seal that God is true”?...The Baptist is speaking of himself and by no means of himself [page] as an ordinary believer. He is divinely commissioned (1:6), to him a special direct revelation was given (1:31, etc.). He had far more than his own personal faith to append as a seal, he had his word and testimony as a prophet of God, the word of the revelation he had received. For his disciples this seal ought to have great weight. There were to be others like this, namely the apostles (1:14). Their personal faith is an entirely minor matter. The seal they present is far higher.9 In favor of Lenski’s interpretation is the grammar of the Greek, which does not necessarily say “Whoever” (pace ESV), but rather, “The receiving-his-testimony-one.” This is a participial phrase that could refer to “whoever receives his testimony,” but could also refer to the one who receives his testimony. 3:34: John continues the theme of how the truth of God is bound up in the testimony of Jesus in v. 34: “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” Jesus (“he whom God has sent”) utters the words of God—that is, the testimony of Jesus is the testimony of God himself. This is the reason that receiving the testimony of Jesus is the equivalent of setting your seal to the fact that God is true—because the testimony of Jesus is the truth of God. Fascinating here, though, is the fact that the truth of God is not an A-->B dialogue between the Father and the Son exclusively. Rather, the truth of God is expressed in Trinitarian terms. Jesus utters the words of
9 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of John's Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 288-90.

God, “for he [God] gives the Spirit without measure.” The Father sends, equips, empowers, and anoints the Son with the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit ensures, protects, and sets his seal to the truthfulness of the Son. In the context of this passage, this verse points to the Spirit’s involvement as proof that Jesus should be trusted. An appropriate illustration here is that the Spirit serves as Sam to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. With a ferocious loyalty throughout, Sam assists, encourages, reminds, and serves Frodo on the journey, even though the mission was explicitly entrusted to Frodo alone. Frodo is not greater than Sam, but the two serve distinct purposes. What’s more, the ring would never have been destroyed unless both Frodo and Sam had undertaken the journey together. And yet Lenski makes me feel foolish again, insisting that “he whom God has sent” does not refer to Jesus, but to John the Baptist: The commentators who misunderstand v. 33 are also not clear with regard to v. 34. For he whom God did commission speaks the words of God; for the Spirit gives not from (insufficient) measure. What does gar prove or explain? The fact that faith acts as a seal? Impossible. The thought of v. 34 runs in an entirely different line. Only properly related statements can be joined by “for.” Therefore v. 34 does not refer to Jesus himself but to the Baptist. The simple story is this: John tells his disciples, in order to convince and assure them, that he himself puts the seal of his authority and his person on God’s truth that Jesus is the Messiah; and then, in order to establish the weight of this statement more fully, he explains (gar) that he, sent by God, utters nothing less than the words of God, and this he can do because the Spirit gives such utterance to him in adequate measure.10 It’s hard to argue with Lenski’s interpretation on this. 3:35: Jesus is not merely the mouthpiece of the Father (although he is not less than that). He is not merely God’s instrument—his tool—utilized to accomplish the Father’s mission (although he is not less than that). Beyond this, Jesus is the beloved Son of his Father: “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” The relationship of the Father and the Son is one of perfect love, perfect trust, and perfect loyalty. The Son is willing to do anything that the Father asks of him—even to go to the cross, that the will of the Father, and not Jesus’ own will, be done—and therefore the Father freely trusts his Son enough to give all things into the Son’s hand. This is a generic truth for our understanding of Trinitarian theology, but as in v. 34, there is a specific point in the context of this passage: we ought to trust the testimony of the Son because the Father himself has entrusted all things into the hand of his Son. If the Father withholds nothing from his Son, then how do we dare withhold belief from the testimony that the Son gives? Lenski offers a slight—but weighty—point of clarification on this principle: Not in the divinity of the Son but in his humanity must this gift be placed as we think of Jesus. Omnipotence belongs to all three Persons of the Godhead alike and thus cannot be given by one Person to the other. But in and according to his human nature Jesus could and did receive also this gift. The evidence for his possession of this gift lies in the miracles which Jesus wrought during the ministry of his humiliation when he used this gift only at times and in furtherance of his work.
10 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of John's Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 290.

After his exaltation he used it according to his human nature without such restrtiction....”Into his hand” means for Jesus, God’s Son in human flesh, to rule and to command at will. Did the Baptist’s disciples think that their master had merely done Jesus a favor by testifying of him as he did and had thus placed Jesus under obligation to him? Their ideas need a radical modification. And this also for their own sakes.11 3:36: John concludes his thoughts in this passage with the following summary statement: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” At this point, there can be no argument for such an absolute, rigid, blunt statement. Remember what John has already told us: • • The Son has a heavenly perspective that is “above all,” and he bears witness to what he has personally seen and heard. The testimony of Jesus is the truth of God, since the testimony that Jesus offers are the very words of God. [Alternately, according to Lenski’s interpretation, the testimony of John sets his seal to the authority of Jesus by testifying with the very words of God.] The Father has given his Spirit without measure in order to encourage, strengthen, and guarantee the veracity of the testimony of Jesus. [Alternately, the Father has given his Spirit without measure to confirm John’s testimony as a true prophet bearing witness to Jesus as the Messiah.] The Father trusts his Son so fully—equally to the extent that the Son loves his Father and is willing to do anything that the Father might ask of him—that the Father has entrusted all things into the Son’s hand.

If Jesus perfectly loves the Father, perfectly represents the Father, and has perfectly received all things from the Father, then how would the Father not tie up eternal life exclusively in his Son? What other conduit could so perfectly convey the fullness of the salvation that the Father offers? In whom could the Father confide in so perfectly apart from the Son? The exclusivity of Christ—apart from whom there is no salvation, but only the wrath of God—is not a doctrine based on our desire to feel superior over other people who adhere to other religions. The doctrine of the exclusivity of Christ stems from setting our seal to God’s own truthfulness. This truthfulness is found nowhere nearly as perfectly as in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Father’s only begotten Son. Whoever believes in this Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

11 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of John's Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 293.