As far as the record goes, the Lord was alone when He told Nicodemus, “We speak that we do know” (3:11). Some-times men use “we” instead of “I,” but this is doubtful here, since Verse 11 begins with the Lord using “I,” as does the next verse. Nor is it likely the Lord spoke of Himself, John the Baptist and the disciples, for He also said “we…testify that we have seen” (v.11). What had the Lord seen with these men? Yes, the miracles, but it would seem strange to say that the Lord saw the miracles He Himself performed.
As we compare Scripture with Scripture, John 8:38 indicates that the Lord spoke of what He had seen with His Father. And what did the Lord “see” with His Father? “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God” (Ps.14:2). As you know, there were none (v.3). All needed to be born again—something the Lord just got fin-ished telling them. He had probably been telling the Jews about this, for He finishes John 3:11 by saying “and ye receive not our witness.” “Ye” is plural, and so we know He had been telling all the Jews of their need to be reborn.
Their need to be born again was part of the “earthly things” He’d been telling them about (v.12). While the new birth itself is heavenly, our need of it is earthly. The Jews didn’t believe Him when He told them about their earthly need for the new birth, for they thought their first birth as Jews was good enough, so the Lord asked how they can believe Him when He tells them “heavenly things,” i.e., how to be born again. No one is going to believe you when you tell them how to be born again unless they think they need to be.
Next, why would John 3:13 say no man had ascended to heaven except the Son? Because the only one qualified to talk about heavenly things is one who had been to heaven —Christ! Here it must be remembered that the Old Testament saints went to Abraham’s bosom in the heart of the earth until Christ died to pay for their sins, after which Paradise was moved to the third heaven (Luke 16:22; 23:43; Mt.12:40; II Cor. 12:2,4). Elijah didn’t ascend into heaven either (II Ki.2:1). He was caught up into the first heaven, i.e., where birds fly (Gen.1:20), then taken to Abraham’s bosom. Some say he did go to heaven, just not on his own power to “ascend,” but that would put a man in heaven before his sins were paid for.
Next, how could the Lord be standing there and say He was also “in heaven” (John 3:13)? He was not omnipresent as “the Son of man” (v.13). The solution is that the Lord stopped talking in Verse 12, and John is now speaking, writing years later after the Lord ascended into heaven.
But if he was writing after He ascended, how could John say the Lord still needed to be “lifted up” (v.14) if being lifted up was a reference to His death on the cross (12:32, 33)? Well, notice that 12:32 says the cross would “draw” men to Him. It didn’t, it repulsed them! His disciples fled, passersby and even the thieves jeered Him; people hid their faces from Him (Isa.53:3). It wasn’t the cross that drew men, it was hearing and learning about it (John 6:44,45). And what did they have to hear and learn? Well, His lifting up proved He was Christ (8:28 cf. Mt.27:54). That’s what they had to learn about the cross to be drawn to Him.
But as far as we know, the centurion was the only one close enough to the Cross to make the connection between the Lord’s death and the earthquake and other things that proved He was Christ. So what then needed to be done to draw men to Him? The message of the Cross, that He was Christ, needed to be “lifted up.” There is a double entendre in John 3:14. The Greek word for “lifted up” is usually translated “exalted,” and that is how “lifted up” is some-times used in the Bible (IChron.14:2; Isa.6:1). And that is what needed to be done with the message of the cross, that Jesus is Christ. It needed to be exalted and lifted up.
Men could not be saved from the serpents by looking at Moses, a type of the law, for men cannot be saved by the law (John 3:14 cf. Numbers 21:5-9). Men could only be saved by looking at the brazen serpent, a type of how men can only be saved from sin by Christ. He is represented by a serpent because He was made sin for us (IICor.5:21).