Question: "What is the meaning of "we speak of what we know" in John 3:11?"

Answer: In John 3:11, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony” (ESV). We will begin with a consideration of the immediate context of John 3:1–15.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, comes to Jesus at night (John 3:1). In John’s Gospel, the word night often has moral and spiritual overtones (John 9:4; 11:10; 13:30). While it is doubtless that Nicodemus went to Jesus after sundown, it is equally true that Nicodemus was in spiritual darkness. This is why Nicodemus saw Jesus as “a teacher who has come from God” (John 3:2) and not as “the Messiah, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

So, Jesus shifts the conversation to the necessity of spiritual regeneration: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, ESV). The words for “born again” can also be translated as “born from above.” Either translation is sufficient. The idea is that God must impart life to spiritually dead people before they can see or enter His kingdom (cf. John 6:44).

Unsurprisingly, Nicodemus cannot understand Jesus’ words: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4). Even when Jesus restates the truth (John 3:5–8), Nicodemus still does not understand (verses 9–10). This brief review of John 3:1–10 lays the groundwork for Jesus’ statement that “we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony” in verse 11.

Perhaps most puzzling is Jesus’ repeated use of the word we. Who is the “we” that Jesus says speaks and testifies? Some scholars have postulated that Jesus is talking about the knowledge and testimony of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see 1 John 5:7). Others interpret the “we” (John 3:11) in a royal sense, assuming it to be a rhetorical device whereby Jesus communicates His divine authority to speak on heavenly matters (verse 13; cf. 5:19–29). The plural we (John 3:11) could also be a counter to the “we” Nicodemus used in verse 2: “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God.” Or Jesus could have been referring to His disciples or John the Baptist, who was also involved in preaching.

In any case, there is a contrast between Jesus’ omniscience (and authority) and Nicodemus’ limited, earthly perspective: “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12, ESV). Earthly things probably refers to Jesus’ teaching on the new birth (see John 3:3, 5), which takes place in the here and now and extends into eternity future. Jesus’ testimony about earthly and heavenly things is not based on human wisdom or speculation, but on firsthand knowledge of spiritual truths: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19, ESV).

When Jesus said, “We speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen,” He was assuring Nicodemus that everything Jesus taught was of the greatest certainty. Jesus spoke nothing but was backed up by His own knowledge and personal observation. He was an expert on spiritual matters.

Unfortunately, many people do not accept Jesus’ testimony (John 3:11). Based on Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus, it should be clear that people do not reject Jesus on intellectual grounds alone. No, they reject Him because of the darkness in their hearts (John 3:19). This all-encompassing darkness prevents sinners from seeing the light of truth even when it is staring them in the face.