Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 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. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
” For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
Jesus is in Jerusalem. He has run the merchants and bankers out of the Temple and he has been doing signs throughout Jerusalem. And many believed in him as a result. That is the context in which Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus because he recognizes Jesus is from God. He does not yet recognize he is God. The summary of Christ’s interaction with Nicodemus is this. To be Jesus’ true disciple we must become new men. Here Jesus reveals our true nature is a depraved nature. The introductory course in Jesus’ school is titled: “Understanding Who You are and who I am”.
Nicodemus was a Pharisees. Today we equate Pharisee with hypocrite. But that was not so in first century Judea. Pharisees were experts in the Law. They forsook ordinary life and common customs. People regarded Pharisees as honorable men. But the evangelist’s intent is not to give Nicodemus honor. His intent is to show how Nicodemus position and status prevented him from coming to Christ.
Nicodemus recognized Jesus was from God because of the signs He performed. This is faulty reasoning. If a faith depends on miracles it can be misled with ease. Such a faith is subject to confusion by things it cannot understand or explain.
Even so, the elect recognize the miracles from God. Paul said God confirmed his apostleship by signs and wonder and mighty deeds. (2 Corinthians 12:12)
Many have made a distinction between “seeing the Kingdom” and “entering the Kingdom.” This is a false distinction. They are one and the same. Jesus is not saying you have to be born again to see the Kingdom. Then when you are baptized in the Spirit you enter the Kingdom. He is saying the same thing two different ways.
There is also another confusion about the Kingdom of God and heaven. The Kingdom of God is not heaven. The Kingdom of God is a spiritual life. It begins by faith in this world and increases every day according to the progress of faith. What does it mean to enter the Kingdom of God? One enters the Kingdom of God when God makes them a new person. When God renews us, we become members of the Church invisible. We become children of God. We enter the Kingdom of God.
The expression “born again” is not found in the law and the prophets. But, renewal is a frequent theme in Scripture. It is one of the first principles of faith.
Many have tortured Jesus’ comment, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit”. Some claim water refers to embryonic fluid at birth. This an attempt to make a distinction between physical birth and spiritual birth. But that distinction tortures the text. Nothing in the context even suggests that interpretation. The scripture nowhere speaks of physical birth as birth by water.
Some have said water refers to baptism. That too is reading into the text. Baptism is not mentioned anywhere else in this conversation with Nicodemus. So, it is unreasonable to think it makes a short cameo appearance here.
A clear simple reading is water and Spirit refer to the same thing. This is a common way of speaking in Scripture. Jesus uses water and fire to express the Spirit’s power. For example, Christ baptized with the Spirit and fire, Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16.
Water refers to an inward purification produced by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus mentions being born again he does not mention water. This also contributes to the idea the use of the terms water and Spirit are referring to the same thing. Jesus is saying the Spirit alone produces new life.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh. Here the flesh includes both body and soul. Jesus contrasts the flesh with the Spirit. The flesh is corrupt polluted crooked. The Spirit is not corrupt, straight, holy and pure. With this simple phrase, Jesus communicates the condemnation of man’s whole nature.
But if our whole nature is corrupt, how can any we do any good thing? The answer is easy. The gifts God left in us if judged by themselves, are praiseworthy. But our wickedness spreads through every part of us. Nothing in us that is pure or free from defilement. Just a good meal is contaminated when prepared by a sick person, a good work is defiled when performed by man.
We feel the wind’s power even though we do not know its source or cause. The Spirit’s movement and operation of the Spirit are no less perceptible than the wind. The idea of regeneration was incredible to Nicodemus. It was beyond his capacity to understand. Christ shows him that even in the physical world there are things we experience but do not understand.
We are not different from Nicodemus. We too reject things we do not understand just because we do not understand them. We try to limit the God’s power to our understanding.
The text has what appears to be a strange use of the plural pronoun “we”. “…we speak of what we know…” Who is this “we”? Why plural instead of singular? Jesus has already shown renewal is a common theme in scripture. So, I believe Jesus is connecting himself to the prophets. He is showing yet again what he is teaching was not new or radical. It is common throughout scripture. That is why he said, “You are the teacher of Israel and you don’t understand this!”
Christ is speaking of heavenly things but in earthly terms. Yet Nicodemus does not understand. Christ’s words do not match Nicodemus’ presuppositions. Christ recognizes this and gives Nicodemus a reason to believe Him. Nicodemus can believe Jesus because Jesus Jesus came from heaven. He is the Son of Man.
The story of Moses raising up the serpent is well known. (Numbers 21:4-9) Christ mentions it to show God will place Him so everyone can see the Gospel. All who look to Him by faith will have salvation. God lifts Christ up so that no one can complain they did not know.
“God so loved the world…” Here Christ presents the first cause of our salvation. It is the unmerited love of God. Christ brought life because the Father loves the human race. He did not want the human race to perish. Faith in Christ brings life.
We ought to note the order of salvation. It is our nature to believe we have done something which initiates our salvation. God saved me for a reason. He has not saved others for a reason. We conclude the reason is something in us or the individual. No! God is the first mover. God sent His Son. God regenerations and rebirths us.
Christ is clear. The cause of our salvation is the love of God. Paul tells us the basis of God’s love and mercy is the purpose of His will (Ephesians 1:5). Christ is telling us we had nothing to do with our rebirth. It is God’s mercy alone.
A rebirth is an act of God. So the order of salvation is rebirth then belief. Rebirth and belief are always joined together. But the certainty of salvation is, we live because God loves us. He does not impute our sins to us.
Since He does not hold our sins against us those who believe in Christ, they are free from condemnation. But those who not believe remain condemned. They stay condemned. i.e. they are already condemned.
The world does not think those who do not believe in Christ should be subject to destruction. They forget God is holy and pure. Being pure, He cannot excuse impurity. That is why we must be remade. But when God acts with justice rather that mercy, the world thinks God’s actions are unjust. The reality is His justice requires His condemnation of impurity. And because God is just he makes Christ known to the world. Those who face the wrath of God have only themselves to blame.
So, repent and trust in Christ for your salvation.