Here in a brief sentence is the hope and despair of mankind. “A man can receive nothing.” From the context we know that John is speaking of spiritual truth. He is telling us that there is a kind of truth that can never be grasped by the intellect, for the intellect exists for the apprehension of ideas, and this truth consists not in ideas but in life. Divine truth is of the nature of spirit and for that reason can be received only by spiritual revelation. “Except it be given him from heaven.”
This was no new doctrine that John here set forth, but an advance rather upon truth already taught in the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah, for instance, has this passage, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Perhaps this had meant to its readers no more than that God’s thoughts, while similar to ours, were loftier, and His ways as high above ours as would befit the ways of One whose wisdom is infinite and whose power is without bounds. Now John says plainly enough that God’s thoughts are not only greater than ours quantitatively but qualitatively wholly different from ours. God’s thoughts belong to the world of spirit, man’s to the world of intellect, and while spirit can embrace intellect, the human intellect can never comprehend spirit. Man’s thoughts cannot cross over into God’s. “How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out”
To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.” John 3:27
God’s thoughts belong to the world of spirit, man’s to the world of intellect, and while spirit can embrace intellect, the human intellect can never comprehend spirit.
Father God, how unsearchable are Your ways. You are far above us.