Jesus and Nicodemus - John 3:1-21

The Gospel According to John is the fourth gospel narrative in the New Testament. The authorship is ascribed to St. John, the disciple of Jesus, but it is often disputed. The teachings and testimonies of John are evident in the gospel. The date and place of composition of the gospel are also not certain. It might have been written at Ephesus in Asia Minor about 90-100 AD.


Though no audience is mentioned in the gospel, John might have in mind Christians of Hellenistic background. Readers include both Jewish and Gentile Christians living in a Greco-Roman world. For his Greek readers, John frequently explains Jewish customs and Palestinian geography. The mention of "logos" is a reference to the Greek philosophical concept about the ultimate reality, which is God. At the same time, John’s Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. The seven "I AM" statements have direct relation to Exodus 3:14.


Exodus 3:14 And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"


John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.


John wrote his Gospel almost 65–70 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. John wrote his gospel, epistles, and the Book of Revelation after all the other gospels and epistles were written. The epistle of James was written during AD 44-49 and Paul’s epistle to Galatians were in AD 49-50. Both were written before the gospel of Mark. The gospel of Mark was written by 50–60, Matthew by 50–60, and Luke by 60–61. The last one before the epistles of John was Jude, which was written about AD 68–70. John wrote his gospel and the three epistles almost in the same period of 80–100. So John is the last writer.


John wrote after the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple. Jews were dispersed throughout the Greco-Roman world, living in many places mixed with Greeks and Romans. John wrote his gospel to the dispersed Jewish and Gentile readers in the Greco-Roman world.


The central theme


While all three other Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are similar in many aspects, John’s Gospel differs from them. It covers a different time span than the others. It locates much of Jesus’ ministry in Judaea. John aims to lay a philosophical foundation for Christian faith. He presents a well-developed theology. John does not follow the same chronology of events as the synoptic gospels. John uses long discourses and selected events to achieve his purpose. The major difference from other gospels lies in John’s overall purpose.


John 20:30, 31

30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book;

31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.


The writer is admitting that recording all events in the life of Jesus was not his intention in writing the gospel. He has narrated selected events and explained the spiritual truth in them so that the readers "may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." This also means that if you disbelieve that Jesus is the Christ, you will lose eternal life. Losing eternal life is "perish" and "condemned" (John 3:16, 18). Because Jesus is the only way to salvation. This is the central theme of the book.


All narrations and arguments in the gospel permeate the imperative theme: believe and have eternal life, or disbelieve and perish. The writer wrote everything to convince us of this truth.


Miracles and John’s interpretations


The four gospel writers together have recorded 37 miracles. Some miracles are recorded by more than one writer. Matthew has recorded 21, Mark 20, Luke 20, and John 7 miracles of Jesus Christ.


John’s story of miracles starts with the changing of water into wine and ends with the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 2:1-11). While the Synoptic writers narrated the miracles as signs of the imminence of God's kingdom, John focused on revealing the spiritual mysteries implicit in them. In the gospel of John, miracles are signs of the presence of the Logos, or God.


The miracles recorded by John are as follows:


1.     Turning water into wine at a marriage feast in Cana (John 2:1–11)

2.     Healing a nobleman's son who was at the point of death (John 4:46–54)

3.     Healing a man at the sheep-gate pool (John 5:1–16)

4.     Feeding five thousand (John 6:1–13)

5.     Walking on water (John 6:16–21)

6.     Healing the man born blind (John 9:1–7)

7.     Raising Lazarus (John 11:1–44)


The only miracle recorded by all four gospel writers is the feeding of more than 5000 people out of five loaves and two fishes. The incident is recorded in John 6:1–13. After the event, Jesus went to Capernaum, which is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The multitude followed Him there also. During the conversation between Jesus and the people, they asked:


John 6:28, 29

28 Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?"

29 Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."

Here Jesus was drawing the attention of the people from "work the works of God" to "believe in Him whom He (God) sent."


As the conversation continued, they asked for a sign "that we may see it and believe You". They reminded him of the sign that their forefathers received in the desert.


John 6:31 "Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"


Catching this thread, Jesus replied to them:


John 6:35 And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.


This is the mystery John wished to reveal. The spiritual truth hidden in the miracle of feeding the 5000 is that Jesus is the manna that the forefathers ate in the desert. Jesus is the bread of life. Believe in Him so that one shall never be hungry or thirsty again. And those who believe will have eternal life.


Another example is the resurrection of Lazarus. John interprets this event as an appropriate symbol of what happens to spiritually dead people when they are receptive to the power of God made manifest in the person of Jesus.


John 11:25, 26

25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.

26 "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.…


Lazarus is a type for all human beings without the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. All unregenerated humans are lifeless. When the Spirit of God enters their lives, they are alive in a spiritual sense and become partakers of everlasting life. They will have fellowship with the eternal source of life. In chapter 12, John informs the readers that Lazarus was one of those who "sat at the table" with Jesus for supper.


John 12:1, 2

1    Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.

2    There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.


Chapters 12-21


John stops the narration of miracles with the story of the resurrection of Lazarus in chapter 11. Chapters 12–21 are a record of the closing days of Jesus' earthly ministry. Here, John is more interested in the theology of the Son of God, regeneration, and eternal life. Lengthy discourses are recorded to forward the motif, "these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." (John 20:31).



No single verse in the Bible is canonical in and of itself, separated from the context. It is canonical only if it stands as a part of a book in the Bible. So, all verses in the Bible must be studied and understood against other verses in the book.


John records a long conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in his gospel, chapter 3:1–21. Nicodemus appears three times in the gospel of John. (John 3:1–21; 7:45–53; 19:38–42).


The main topic of the conversation is spiritual regeneration and entering the Kingdom of God. This is the main theme of John’s gospel. This theme appears repeatedly in Jesus' discourses recorded by John. An example is the conversation with the Samaritan woman (John 4). Jesus spoke to the lady about the living water that He alone can provide, which "springing up into everlasting life."


John 4:13, 14

13 Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again,

14 "but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."


We may rightly infer that all the words spoken by Jesus and Nicodemus are not recorded here. John the apostle might have been a witness to the meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus, but he did not write it down at once. It was recollected from memory after so many years and written down with the intention of revealing the mystery of the kingdom of God.


By using the method of discourses to convey the core message of the Bible, John was ranking Jesus equal to and above the level of the Greek-Roman Philosophers. Jesus was no less than the ancient philosophers. In fact, He was higher than them. The Greek-Roman philosophers used discourses to communicate their thoughts to their disciples and followers. Some of them did not write it down themselves. Their disciples wrote down the conversation at the same time or sometimes later. John is also following the same method to explain the philosophy and theology of Christian belief. There is no deeper theology in Christianity than what John presents here.


Verse 3:1


John 3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.


John mentions three identities for the man who came to visit Jesus. He was "a man of the Pharisees", his name was "Nicodemus", and he was a "ruler of Jews". These words are not casual, unintentional insertions.


Pharisees denote his religious zeal for the Messiah and the kingdom of God; Nicodemus is a Greek name that signifies that he was an educated man and ruler of the Jews. He is one of the members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish legal court.




The name Pharisee means the Separated One. The Pharisees were a group of orthodox Jews, who had separated themselves from all ordinary life and were fastidious about keeping every detail of the Jewish law.


Though Jesus often criticized their spiritual hypocrisy, the Pharisees were respected throughout the country. Most of the Pharisees were common workers. The group also included priests who were not wealthy like the Sadducees. The common people approved of the Pharisees and respected them. They also had a measure of political power, but not as much as the Sadducees.


The estimated total population of the Pharisees before the fall of the Second Temple was only 6,000. They were known as a brotherhood. They entered this brotherhood by taking a pledge in front of three witnesses that they would spend all their lives observing every detail of the Law.


The Pharisees considered the Jewish Oral Traditions (Mishna) and the written Word of God equal in authority. They believed that the oral traditions were also spoken by God to Moses. God gave the written Law during the daytime and explained it at night. Moses did not write down the laws given in the night. So, it remained an oral tradition. Moses passed them on to Joshua, his descendant. Joshua passed the oral traditions on to his descendants.


After the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 and the rebellion of Simon bar Kokhba in AD 132-136, the Jewish Rabbis were afraid that Jews would be scattered into the world and the Oral Traditions would be lost. So they decided to make a written document of it. It was compiled by numerous scholars over a period of two centuries. The codification was done at the end of the 2nd century CE or early 3rd century CE, under the leadership of Rabbi Judah HaNasi (Rabbi Judah the Prince/Patriarch), who was a student of Rabbi Hillel.


The Pharisees did believe in the resurrection of the dead, life after death, and an appropriate reward and punishment for individuals in the afterlife. They believed in the existence of a spirit realm, angels, and demons. They also believed that the whole universe is under the authority of God; God can intervene at any time in human life, but humans have Free Will to make choices in their lives.


The Pharisees controlled the synagogues, while the Sadducees controlled the Temple. Politically, the Pharisees were not so friendly with the Roman Empire. They resisted the influence of Greek culture and philosophy on Jewish beliefs and lives.


They often opposed Jesus throughout His ministry because Jesus questioned their legalistic interpretations. Jesus interpreted the Oral Laws differently.


So, the meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee, is important. He came to Jesus to talk about entering the kingdom of God. He was a man who taught the law, rites, and rituals for purification and the atonement of sins. He was a master at interpreting spiritual mysteries. Still, he was not sure whether all these works could help him inherit the Kingdom of God.


Nicodemus, the Jewish ruler


The name Nicodemus is Greek. It means, "conqueror of the people". The Jews at the time used a Latin or Greek name in addition to their Hebrew name. It is because of the influence of languages and cultures. Another example is the Apostle Paul (Latin), whose Hebrew name was Saul. We do not know the Hebrew name of Nicodemus. John mentions only his Greek name to denote that he was a learned man in Jewish law and Greek philosophy.


The third identity of Nicodemus is that he was "a ruler of the Jews". John 7:50 says that Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling body of the Jews. The Sanhedrin was a court of Israel that consisted of 70 members, including both the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Each Jewish province had a Sanhedrin, which functioned as a lower court. The Sanhedrin in Jerusalem was the supreme court of appeals for matters regarding Jewish law and religion. Under the Romans, its powers were limited, but they still had religious jurisdiction over every Jew in the world. One of their duties was to examine and deal with anyone suspected of being a false prophet. They evaluated every claim for the Messiah and declared it true or false.


During the time of Jesus Christ, the Roman Empire allowed the Jews a measure of self-rule in matters of religion and culture. But they had no authority to impose the death penalty,which was under the jurisdiction of Roman law. So they condemned Jesus to death, and pleaded for the final sentence from Pilate, the Roman Governor.


Both the phrases "Pharisee" and "a ruler of the Jews" give us the impression that Nicodemus was a man well versed in the rites and rituals in the Mosaic Law for the atonement of sin. This is very important to understand the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. At one point in the conversation, Jesus asked him:


John 3:10 Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?


Though this question is recorded later, the whole conversation was held under the assumption that Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a teacher of Israel, and a learned man in theology. Since the Sanhedrin functioned as a watchdog to decry the false messiahs and approve the true Messiah, it must know who Jesus is. A chief Pharisee and a ruler of the Jewish Sanhedrin must know how to inherit the Kingdom of God.


Here, Nicodemus stands as a representative of all Pharisees, members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish community, and the Jewish religion.


Verse 3:2


John 3:2 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."


We are not sure why Nicodemus came to meet Jesus by night. It may be because he was timid or because he wanted an uninterrupted interview with Jesus. By custom, the Jewish scholars preferred to study the scripture at night, undisturbed.


Nicodemus said, "we know that You are a teacher come from God". We do not know who the "we" he represented was. It may be that some among the Pharisees, the scholarly people, or the Sanhedrin believed that Jesus was a teacher who came from God. But we are not sure what he really meant. It is neither discussed in the conversation nor explained by John.


Nicodemus came to meet Jesus not because he believed that Jesus was the Messiah, or God who became flesh. But he was expressing positive volition toward Jesus. Though he failed to grasp the messianic implications of the "signs", he knew that they indicated something unusual about Jesus. His understanding went forth to the fact that "God is with him". Nicodemus admitted that Jesus had some kind of spiritual authority.


Nicodemus was a well-intentioned but theologically puzzled man. He came to Jesus for a talk in the darkness of the night so that he might find light.


Born Again


Verse 3:3


John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."


The first question of Nicodemus is not recorded in the gospel, but from the answer, it is assumed that he asked about the kingdom of God. The question might have been like this: "Rabbi, how can a man enter the Kingdom of God?". Jesus answers this question in the following conversation. Jesus told him that he must go through a spiritual rebirth to enter the kingdom.


Why did Nicodemus ask this question to Jesus? Nicodemus was not sure of his own teaching about the kingdom of God. And he heard Jesus teaching a different doctrine. He wanted to settle the matter once and for all.


The conversation was not about seeing the kingdom from afar but about inheriting it. When Jesus said, "… unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3). He was emphasizing the minimum qualification to inherit the kingdom. That is "born again".


The Jews had the law, the oral traditions, and rabbinic interpretations, but were still not aware of how to inherit the Kingdom. Jesus’ reply simply means that the Law is not the way to the Kingdom, but He is the only way to the Kingdom. The law only leads us to the Way.


John 14:6 "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."


The synoptic gospels narrate the story of a rich young man who approached Jesus to know what good he should do for eternal life. (Matthew 19:16–30, Mark 10:17–31, Luke 18:18–30). Jesus told him to "sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." There was little confusion about His statement. What did Jesus mean? Was Jesus asking all rich people to sell their properties? Did it mean that rich people would not enter the kingdom of God? The disciples and others were confused, but Peter understood the key meaning. He responded to Jesus:


Matthew 19:27 Then Peter answered and said to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?"


Peter and his friends did two things: they left all possessions of the world and followed Jesus. This is the secret key to inheriting the Kingdom of God. Leave the world and follow Jesus. We cannot serve two masters at the same time.


Matthew 6:24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.


James 4:4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.


The secret to inheriting the kingdom of God is to leave the world and follow Jesus Christ. But no man can do this unless he is born again.


Jesus’ reply to Nicodemus shattered the Jewish assumption that their racial identity as the children of Abraham assured them of the Kingdom of God. Jesus made it plain that a man’s first birth, which is physical, does not assure him of the kingdom; only "born again" people inherit it.


Pharisees’ beliefs were different. The physical descendance from Abraham and obedience to the Law are the ways to the Kingdom of God and eternal life. They depended on good works, rites, rituals, physical sanctifications, fasting, prayer, and many more. But Jesus preached a different doctrine. He said, He is the Way to the Kingdom of God, and He is the only Way. Jesus disowned the works of the Pharisees; He publicly denounced their fasting and prayer. In fact, Nicodemus came to Jesus to learn about the veracity of the new teaching.


Born again


The Greek word for ‘born’ is gennao, and for ‘again’ is anothen.gennao’ means "be born" or regenerate," and ‘anothen’ means ‘again’, ‘anew’ or ‘from above’. Thus, the phrase "born again" literally means, ‘born again’ ‘born anew’ or "born from above." Some versions of the Bible translate this phrase as "born from above". The King James Version, the English Standard Version, and the New International Version translate as "born again", whereas the New Revised Standard Version and Young's Literal Translation have "born from above" in their text with the alternative note "born anew".


So, Jesus’ replay may be understood in this way:


John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again and "born from above", he cannot see the kingdom of God."


To be born from above is to be born again. This means having a new life. A theological term for "born again" is regeneration. It isn’t simply a moral or religious reform; it is acquiring a new life. It is born into eternal life and the Kingdom of God.


Born again is not about another physical birth, but about experiencing a spiritual renewal. It is "spiritual rebirth," or a regeneration of the human spirit. Being born again means having a transformation of the soul and spirit through the work of God’s Spirit. This spiritual transformation is a change in the way we think, the way we manage our emotions, and the choices we make with our will.


Being born again is not renovation. It is not accomplished by resolutions or re-information. It has nothing to do with educating ourselves to be better people. Regeneration is a supernatural work of God whereby He imparts eternal life through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Agent of regeneration.


Being born again is not an experience that may be inherited from our parents. Our fathers and mothers may be born-again Christians, but that doesn’t make us born-again. God’s gift of rebirth is not through our human effort or merit but comes through God’s grace alone.


Titus 3:5, 6

5    not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,

6    whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,


Being born again is an act of God whereby eternal life is imparted to the person who believes in Jesus Christ. Being born again is not becoming a better person. It is not reforming our lives according to a new philosophy. All our works, even the good works of the best man in this world, are "like filthy rags" before God. (Isaiah 64:6). It is the death of the old person and the birth of a new person through the regenerating process of the Holy Spirit. It is clearly ‘born from above’. Born again is not a physical reformation but a spiritual transformation.


So, Nicodemus needed more than the Law for eternal life and the Kingdom of God. He must be born again to enter the Kingdom.


Verse 3:4


John 3:4 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?"


Nicodemus could not grasp the doctrine of "born again". He took it for a second physical birth, which is impossible. Nicodemus's reply reflects his imperfect understanding. He could not understand the spiritual mystery of it. He was rather confused.


Jesus’ doctrine about the new birth was so strange to Nicodemus. He thought that the Jewish people already had it. They are a chosen and regenerated people. They certainly weren’t looking for another regeneration of the spirit. They only looked for a triumphant Messiah.


Verse 3:5-7


The answer to the question in verse 4 is an emphatic repetition of the doctrine that "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." It is a repetition of the former doctrine, not a new one.


John 3:5-7

5    Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

6    "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

7    "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'


In verse 3, Jesus spoke about ‘seeing’ the kingdom of God. In verse 5, Jesus spoke of ‘entering’ it. There is no great difference in meaning.


Theologians offer more than one explanation for the verse, "born of water and the Spirit". Some think that to be born of water means to be baptized. Jesus never mentioned water baptism in the conversation. He never preached water baptism as a means of being "born again". The "born again" Jesus talked about is "born from above" by the Holy Spirit. And when Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, the ordinance of Christian baptism was not yet in effect. Christian baptism as identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ came into existence only after the crucifixion of Christ.


Some others think that water refers to the Word of God. Ephesians 5:26 speaks about sanctifying and cleansing the church "with the washing of water by the word". Jesus used "water" to refer to the Holy Spirit as well.


John 7:37-39

37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.

38 "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."

39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.


Considering the Old Testament background of Nicodemus, some think that "born of water" means the cleansing prophesied in Ezekiel 36:25–28 as part of the New Covenant.


Ezekiel 36:24-28

24 "For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.

25 "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.

26 "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

27 "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.

28 "Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.


Nicodemus was familiar with this verse. The Pharisees believed that the return of the Jews to the land and the regeneration of their hearts with a new spirit had already happened. The only remaining prophecy is the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of the kingdom in Israel.


Many scholars approve of this interpretation because of its firm connections to the Old Testament prophecy, which Nicodemus should have known.


As the conversation proceeded, Jesus talked more about the Old Testament scriptures. He explained and interpreted scriptural passages. Jesus was talking to a person who was "the teacher of Israel" and he must "know these things".


John 3:10 Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?


So, Jesus was explaining the spiritual mystery of "born again" against the background of the Old Testament to a teacher of the Law and one who eagerly waited for the Messiah.


A Pharisee and a member of the Jewish court must know the Old Testament very well. He is also an authority on making fresh interpretations and revelations. Jesus was talking about simple truths that are elucidated in the scriptures. Still, Nicodemus seems ignorant about it. So ‘born of water and the Spirit’ must be an Old Testament truth revealed by Jesus.


The phrase, ‘born of water’ is a reference to the Jewish ceremonial washings. Nicodemus knew when and how ceremonial washing was prescribed in the Old Testament. He also must know the mystic meaning of the ritual.


In the Old Testament, if a person becomes unclean, he should wash himself and his clothes in water to become clean. Cleansing in the Old Testament was a physical act with the mystic effect of spiritual cleansing. The renewal of the inner man is the mystic change that was supposed to happen through the ritual washing of the body. A Jewish Rabbi must know the spiritual meaning of the physical act.


When a person of gentile belief converts to Judaism, he must go through a ritual baptism by immersing himself in water, pouring water on his head, or at least sprinkling water on him. Washing by water was a symbol of the spiritual renewal of the gentile person. The old man is washed off, and a new man is born. So the mystic meaning is the death of the old person and the birth of a new man. Nicodemus must know this mystic truth.


Jesus is referring to the spiritual truth of renewal in washing the unclean and a converted gentile. For a spiritual renewal, one must give up the old man and accept a new man.


This is what John the Baptist preached: ""Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3:2). He was revealing the mystery of repentance that leads to regeneration. John baptized all who repented. Nicodemus had heard the preaching of John the Baptist.


Luke 3:3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,


But the perfect interpretation may be that being born again by the Spirit and water is one and the same in meaning. For Jesus, water is a symbol of life.


John 7:38, 39

38 "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."

39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.


Jesus is bringing home the doctrine of regeneration of the human soul and spirit by the Holy Spirit. The phrase "born again" spoken by Jesus is a birth from above. It is not a rite or ritual.


Regardless of the multiple interpretations, the core message remains the same: spiritual transformation is essential for entering the kingdom of God. Jesus further explains that this transformation is brought about by the Holy Spirit.


In verses 6 and 7, Jesus emphatically said that "born again" is not reformation, it is not obeying the letters of the Law. It is not a physical birth. "Born again" is a radical conversion that happens through the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. It is a change of heart that happens from above. He must be born of water and the Spirit.


John 3:6, 7

6    "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

7    "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'


What is born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of the spirit is spiritual. So, no human can "born again" himself. No ritual can make it happen.


Jews have been waiting for a Messiah, the anointed one, who will defeat all their enemies and establish an earthly Kingdom for them. For them, the Messiah is a political leader, and the Kingdom is a physical kingdom. But the Kingdom Jesus preached is a spiritual kingdom into which only spiritually born people can enter. So, a physical birth in the lineage of the great patriarch Abraham is not sufficient to inherit it. He was reinterpreting the Jewish interpretation.


The doctrine of Jesus is logical, clear, and based on the Old Testament scriptures. But they ran completely contrary to everything Nicodemus had been taught. It was radical and unsettling. It is giving up his traditional interpretations about the Kingdom of the Messiah. For his entire life, he believed that salvation came through his own merit. Now he found it exceedingly difficult to think otherwise. But now he has confronted the truth and must accept it. He could never inherit the Kingdom of God on the merit of his works.


Here Nicodemus is facing a serious dilemma: Should he stand with Jesus and His kingdom? If only Nicodemus understood and accepted this new revelation, he could progress into the ‘born-again’ experience.


Verse 3:8


John recorded the question of Nicodemus, "How can these things be?" in verse 3:9. But verse 3:8 is the answer to this question. Nicodemus asked about the process of being born again. But Jesus did not explain the mystical process of being born again by the Holy Spirit, but he told him to watch the effects of regeneration. The fruit of regeneration is the proof of inward transformation. They are the outward proofs of being born from above. To explain the mystery, Jesus used the analogy of wind.


John 3:8 "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." 


The Greek word for "wind" is pneuma. It is the same word used for "spirit." Only the Holy Spirit can perform a spiritual transformation in a repentant heart. The wind cannot be controlled; it blows where it wishes. And though its general direction can be known, where it comes from and where it is going cannot be precisely determined. Nevertheless, the wind’s effects can be observed.


When the wind blows, we cannot see it, but we see what it does. Tree leaves move, plants bend, clouds fly, and we feel the wind brushing our faces. When the wind blows, its presence is felt, and it changes everything it touches. We may not understand its beginning and destination, but we see its effects.


So it is with the Spirit. Spiritual birth is an act of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is invisible, but He moves, causing evident changes. His sovereign work of regeneration in the human heart is neither controlled nor predicted. Yet its effects can be seen in the transformed lives of those who are "born again".


Verse 3:9-13


John 3:9-13

9    Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?"

10 Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?

11 "Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness.

12 "If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

13 "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.


Nicodemus was confused. He was so set in his thinking that the new birth had already happened to him and all of faithful Israel. He could not think differently. Jesus had to keep explaining.


In verse 10, Jesus asked him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?" From this question, we understand that Nicodemus was a scholar of Old Testament theology.


So he must be familiar with the teaching of the new birth. A new birth or a transformed life is not a new teaching. The problem with Nicodemus is that he knew the scripture about a spiritual regeneration but believed that it had been fulfilled in his life. The spiritual awakening among the Jews after the Babylonian exile and the Pharisee movement are proofs of this spiritual regeneration. But Jesus is talking about a birth from above by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is reinterpreting their interpretations.


Since "born again" is a spiritual regeneration that comes from heaven, only a person who has ascended to heaven and come down can explain it. Jesus is the only one who has ascended to heaven and come down from there. He is the Word who was in the beginning, who was with God, and who is God. He is the God who became flesh to be a light to men. He has the authority to interpret spiritual regeneration.


Verse 9 is the last dialogue of Nicodemus, recorded by John in this passage. We are not told whether he believed in Jesus or not. But later, we see him again defending Jesus in the Sanhedrin and joining Joseph in the burial of Jesus. So, it is right to assume that he remained a believer in Jesus.


God so loved the world


Verse 3:14-15


Jesus continues to explain how the "born again" happens. The spirit is regenerated by the Holy Spirit when we believe in Him. To explain this truth, He cites the incident of the brazen serpent from the Old Testament.


John 3:14, 15

14 "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

15 "that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.


Jesus explicitly claimed that the "serpent in the wilderness" lifted by Moses was a type for his crucifixion. (Numbers 21:4-9). Serpents are symbols of evil in the Bible (Genesis 3:1–5; Revelation 12:9). However, Moses’ serpent was made of bronze and was a picture of judgment.


Numbers 21:4-9

4    Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way.

5    And the people spoke against God and against Moses: "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread."

6    So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.

7    Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people.

8    Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live."

9    So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.


The "fiery serpent" made with bronze spoke of sin being judged. In the same way, Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us on the cross, and our sin was judged in Him. The bronze serpent was not an atonement for their sins; it was a finished punishment. The punishment of the Israelites was transferred to the bronze serpent. That is how it becomes a symbol of the crucified Christ.


In the account of events in Numbers, the Israelites were saved by simply looking at the bronze serpent. They had to trust that something as seemingly foolish as looking at such a thing would be sufficient to save them. It demanded faith that the punishment for sin was fully paid for by the bronze serpent.


In verse 15, Jesus carries the idea of healing by looking to the bronze serpent, believing in Him, and having eternal life.


John 3:15 "that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.


Jesus, the Messiah, descended to earth that He must die so that the world can receive eternal life. Jesus, too, will be lifted on a cross. Anyone who looks on Him, believing that their sin is fully punished there, will be healed of sin and receive eternal life. Jesus was predicting His death on the cross and the consequent salvation of all who believed in Him.


Jesus did not mean that the Israelites who looked to the bronze serpent would live for ever in this world. The eternal life Jesus spoke of is a life in a spiritual kingdom. To enter that kingdom, one must believe in Him and be born again. The doctrine of being born again is well connected to faith in Jesus Christ. Look to Him, believe that He can save you from damnation, and inherit eternal life.


Verse 3:16


John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.


John 3:16 has long been celebrated as a powerful, succinct declaration of the gospel. Of the 31,102 verses in the Bible, this may be the most popular single verse used in evangelism.


God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to save it from the condemnation of sin. The word "world" in this verse was used during the time of Jesus to refer to the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire was the only civilized and rich nation. It included the Roman citizens, and other communities that lived within the boundaries of the Empire. All others outside the Empire were uncivilized, poor barbarians. Luke 2:1 is another example of using the word "world" for the Roman Empire.


Luke 2:1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.


So, the word "world" refers to the Jews and the gentiles living in the Roman Empire. In a broader sense, the word denotes both Jews and gentiles all over the earth.


The Jews of that day thought that God loved only Israel. But Jesus was telling Nicodemus that God loves the Jews as well as the gentiles. God offers salvation to both the Jews and the gentiles. Jesus was presenting a different doctrine than Jewish theology.


This really unsettled all of Nicodemus' doctrines as a Jew. Jesus was telling him that the kingdom of God is not only for the Jews but for the gentiles as well. The qualification to enter it is not a physical descendance of Abraham but belief in Christ. Jesus is extending salvation beyond Israel.


This is the most gracious and wonderful offer conceivable: eternal life for all who believe. Yet the offer has an inherent consequence for those who refuse to believe. They will perish.


The Greek word translated "perish" in John 3:16 is "apollymi" (ap-ol'-loo-mee) which means, to destroy, to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to ruin. The opposite of "perish" in this verse is "eternal life".


Here we find two profound principles.


1.     Whoever believes in Jesus Christ shall have "eternal life."

2.     Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ will "perish."


Verse 3:17-18


John 3:17-18

17 "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

18 "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.


The Apostle John continues the proclamation of the great news concerning God’s love toward humans. The doctrine in verse 16 is continued in verses 17 and 18. Why did God send His only begotten Son to this world?


God sent Jesus to redeem humanity, not to condemn them to eternal punishment. But this statement does not mean that no human is condemned after the coming of Jesus.


Verse 18 explains that "he who does not believe is condemned already". The world is already under condemnation for human sins. Jesus did not come into a spiritually or morally neutral world. He came to a world of darkness, already condemned for their sins. Nothing new must be done to condemn the world. But something must happen to change the condemnation. If nothing happens, all human beings will perish.


Therefore, God sent his Son for humanity’s salvation. But to not believe in Jesus Christ is to continue in condemnation. Belief is "born again" and "born from above." "Born again" makes the change in our status.


In the story narrated in Numbers 21:4–9, those who believed and looked at the bronze serpent on the pole were healed. Those who refused to believe and look at the bronze serpent on the pole perished. They died not because they did not look at the bronze serpent, but because they were bitten by poisonous, fiery serpents. The biting of serpents was a punishment for their rebellion against God. They were dying even before the bronze serpent was lifted. The bronze serpent did not condemn anybody, but they were condemned to death by the biting of the fiery serpents that God sent among them. The bronze serpent only saved those who looked at it.


Verse 3:19-21


Verse 19–21 are the last words of the conversation. Jesus goes on to explain how humans are condemned.


John 3:19-21

19 "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

20 "For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

21 "But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."


This is the final verdict. Jesus came to save the world. But the world rejects Him because they love "darkness rather than light". Their deeds are evil. That exempts God from the responsibility of condemnation. If anyone is condemned, he alone is responsible. But whoever does the truth comes to the light and receives eternal life in the Kingdom of God.


Sinners try to cover their sins, and the righteous reveal their righteousness.

No comments:

Post a Comment