Jesus’ Kingdom in John 3
Some evangelists use Jn. 3:16 to show how simple it is to be saved. Just believe in Jesus and you will have everlasting life. What could be easier?
But this verse is in the middle of a chapter that begins with Jesus challenging Nicodemus: unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God (3:3). In 3:5-8 this new birth that enables entrance into the kingdom of God is above all being born of the Spirit.
The Spirit from above has been depicted already in 1:32-33; at Jesus’ baptism the Spirit descends from heaven (from above) and remains on Jesus; so Jesus has the Spirit continuously, and will baptize (others) with the Holy Spirit in the future. This future is already introduced in 1:12-13; but all who received him, he gave authority (power) to become children of God, to those believing into his name, who were born of God. The Spirit from above is the power given to those believing into Jesus so that they are born from above and become children of God.
Jn. 3:16 also speaks of whoever is believing into him. Just as the Spirit remains on Jesus continuously, the believing in 1:12 and 3:16 is also a continuous action (because it is present tense in Greek). A child of God is continuously believing in Jesus, who gave his powerful Spirit to remain in the one born from above (of the Spirit). Nicodemus is the great teacher in Israel but cannot understand this, does not receive it, and does not believe (3:10-12).
The continuous believing is moreover into Jesus. This remaining in Jesus is portrayed later by the vine (Jesus) and the branches (his disciples). Only the branches that abide in him, that remain united with the vine, will not be thrown into the fire and burned (15:1-6). This abiding in Jesus includes his words remaining in the disciple, who abides in his love and keeps his commands (15:7-10). This life of an obedient child of God and faithful disciple of Jesus is the “eternal life” that begins now and continues forever.
Thus Jn. 3:36 concludes that whoever is believing (continuously) into the Son has (already) eternal life; but whoever does not obey (as an obedient child of God and faithful disciple) the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. Because 3:36 summarizes 3:16, it is clearly not so simple as a one-time belief (in one’s “heart”) that leads to a future life in heaven. Just as Jesus’ kingdom of heaven in Matthew is a kingdom of disciples, the same is true for the kingdom of God in the Gospel of John.