The New Birth
3 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 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.”
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.”
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?”
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.’ 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.”
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. 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. 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. 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. 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.”
John the apostle in his gospel records the encounter of Nicodemus with Jesus. As one studies the Gospel of John, it seems that John’s record of events is not in a chronological order. Rather, John is inspired by the Spirit of God to record in a way that best testifies to the deity of Jesus. Nicodemus is said to have come to Jesus while it was night. This is symbolic of two things, the first being the literal meaning that it was late at night, so Nicodemus was trying to avoid being seen. The second being it was representative of a moment of confusion in the life of Nicodemus.
Why visit at night? Nicodemus was not a common and ordinary man, but a man of note and eminence, of dignity and figure; a Pharisee, which was the strictest sect for religion and holiness, among the Jews. It was also the most intellectual sect in regard to knowledge of the expected Messiah, and to all the writings of the Old Testament. The Pharisees unlike the Sadducees believed the doctrines of angels and spirits, and the resurrection of the dead. Despite all this, they were enemies of Christ and most responsible for His crucifixion.
As we read through the gospels, we get a sense that the Pharisees had heard about Jesus’ teachings and the stories of the wonders He worked. This is evidenced in John’s earlier record that they had sent men to ask who John was (John 1:24-26). Also Nicodemus starts out his conversation with Jesus saying “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.” (1:2). The Pharisee council had discussed the teachings of Jesus, how people flocked to Him, and the miracles He did. There was likely a division among them with some believing He was the Messiah, and others in denial.
Given Nicodemus’s high standing in the council and in the nation, by the reference “the teacher of Israel” (verse 10). It is generally understood that the definite article here indicates that Nicodemus was the most prominent and respected teacher of his day. It suggests to us why Nicodemus would go visit Jesus at night to discuss. He didn’t want to be seen with Jesus because the ruling council were beginning to label Jesus as a rebel leader even though deep in their hearts they knew that He was a man sent from God.
How can I be a part of the kingdom of God?
Following Nicodemus acknowledgment of Jesus, Scripture records that Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (verse 3). It makes sense that Jesus answered Nicodemus because he asked Him a question. Given the response of Jesus, we can infer that the question asked was “How does one be a part of the kingdom of God?”
Jesus message was that of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15). He didn’t come to preach religion. He had preached the good news of the kingdom so much and worked miracles to testify of the same, emphasizing the importance of being a part of this kingdom. This was probably what puzzled the Pharisees and most especially Nicodemus. Despite his credentials and knowledge of the Torah, he could not understand how being a Jew was not all that there is to being God’s elite. Jesus must have emphasized the superiority of the kingdom of God over the practices of Judaism. The intellectual discourse of the kingdom of God, its gospel and its application must have far exceeded what their natural minds could fathom.
Jesus says that one must be born again to see the kingdom of God. To “see,” here, is put evidently for enjoying – or to be fitted for it and partake of it. Nicodemus still puzzled in his natural thinking (for the things of the spirit are foolishness to the natural mind, 1 Cor.2:14) asks “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 responds accordingly, explaining that a person must be born of water and then of the Spirit to partake and enjoy the kingdom of God because That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. This is in reference to natural birth and spiritual birth. A person is first born of a natural birth where “the water breaks”. But until a person is born of the spirit, they remain a natural person.
Jesus continues His discourse and teaches Nicodemus that spiritual things cannot be judged with natural things: “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 wind is heard and felt but cannot be seen. So are the things of the spirit. When a person is born again, there is a heart change, it is a spiritual experience. It is not seen in the way a person looks, and cannot be judged by outward appearance. But there are fruits of salvation that are evident of the inner working of God’s spirit in the heart of the person.
How can these things be?
Verse 9 “Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?””
At this point Nicodemus is dumbfounded. Not because he does not understand what Jesus had said, but as a Pharisee he had judged the Jews superior to all other races in the eyes of God. The thinking was that being born a Jew they had been predestined for salvation, and their expectation of a Messiah was for a social and political king that would conquer nations.
Jesus repudiated this thinking by teaching that being born again was the answer. The kingdom of God, His influence and authority will be spread through the inner working of God’s spirit in the heart of men―an experience that is available to all who believe, Jew or Gentile.
We see here that it is possible for a person to be religious and highly intellectual, but yet not have a good understanding of spiritual things. Intimacy with God is not dependent on your works or your intellectual prowess; rather it is dependent on your revelation of God in your heart. To grow intimately with God, you must be born again!
Jesus proceeds to enlighten Nicodemus further saying “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (verse 14, 15). He was referring to the experience of Israel in the wilderness. They had been complaining towards God. Their bitterness and negative attitude towards God opened up the door for the enemy to kill them. Serpents in the wilderness began to bite and kill them. God’s solution was that Moses wrap a bronze serpent on a pole and lift it up. All who were bitten and looked upon the serpent were healed. (Numbers 21:1-9)
Bronze was the symbol of divine judgment. Jesus is making reference to the fact that the bitterness and wickedness in the heart of man is to be healed by the judgment of sin which He was to carry. It is in this way that God is demonstrating His love towards humanity, sending His son, Jesus, to die for the sins of humanity, that all who believe in Him would not perish but enjoy eternal life (John 3:16). God’s purpose was not to condemn humanity, but to save the world through the death of the Son.
The act of merely looking up to the bronze serpent was an act of faith. So far as the people could see, there was no direct link between the snake bite they had received and the healing for which they hoped. But it was the means God provided for their salvation. It was the means God declared through Moses. It was the one way God said His people could be saved. Those who looked to the bronze serpent were saved from the death they deserved.
The message here is in John 3:16, one must be born again. To reject Jesus is to reject His love. Many people say that God is a “God of love” and do not submit to His demonstration of love when He sent Jesus to die for the sins of the world. These go on to say that such a God would never condemn anyone to hell. Our text tells us just the opposite. The God of love who sent Jesus Christ to save the world from sin is the God who will send Him a second time to judge the world for sin.
If God thought it just to judge Jesus for the sins of the world, would it not be common sense and just to think that he will condemn anyone to hell who refuses His greatest sacrifice of all. It is a decision each person has to make on their own, to embrace the love of God in accepting Christ’s sacrifice. If He could make that decision for everyone, all would be saved.