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John 3:1-8

By Tim Butterfield, 07 October 2013 · 1,342 views

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 have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”  Jesus answered and said to 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?  He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?”  Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into 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 be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.’  “  The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  (John 3:1-8 NASB)


Commentary

In Jesus’ day the common teaching was that everything was ready for the reestablishment of the Davidic Kingdom (also called the Kingdom of God)
They saw the (at least partial) return of Israel to the land after the Babylonian exile, and strong religious movements (like the Pharisees) which they took for the promised spiritual transformation and believed that all that was now lacking was the coming of the Messiah.

At that time people believed that great signs could be worked only by those who God approved of, that was and still is wrong (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22; 1st John 4:1) but Jesus kept to the point.

Nicodemus began with “we know that You have come from God as a teacher.”  Nicodemus understood that Jesus was from God, but because He didn’t look like the Messiah as they expected Him, assumed He was sent as a teacher.

So Jesus began to teach, but Nicodemus had no idea as to the breadth and depth of the message Jesus was going to reveal about the person and nature of God.  

Jesus began by correcting Nicodemus’ ideas about the Kingdom “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  There are two ways that this can be taken, each valid.  

Jesus, Himself, taught: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15) indicating that the Kingdom (at least at that time) was not of this world (John 18:36), but spiritual in nature.  And, since things spiritual things can only be perceived through spiritual means, we must be born again in the Spirit to see them.  (1st Corinthians 2:10-14)  At the same time God puts his Spirit into us, we are given a new regenerated human spirit.

As an example, Jesus is the embodiment of the kingdom of God, but to see that you would have to be able to see Him through spiritual eyes.  (Luke 17:20-21)

Alternately, scriptures talk of entering into the Kingdom, which would lend credence to a physical Kingdom.  But, again, the only ones who can enter into it (see it) are those who have been born again.

Jesus uses the example of two births to reveal a truth there must not only a physical birth, but also a Spiritual birth in order to see, let alone enter the Kingdom of God.  

John 3:10 indicates that Nicodemus should have been familiar with the concept of being born of water and of the Spirit.  There are two ways he could know of birth by water one being from daily life and the other from Old Testament references.  

Some people have speculated that being born of water means baptism, or being born into the Word of God (Ephesians 5:26; 1st Peter 1:23) or being regenerated by the Living Water (John 7:38-39).  But there is no Old Testament foundation laid for any of these, so Nicodemus could not be familiar with them.  Also, this point of view inevitably leads to belief in Baptismal Regeneration (it is through baptism that we are saved).  This runs contrary to one of the basic tenets of Christianity (Ephesians 2:8-9) that it is by grace we are saved, not by works.  

I personally favor the thought that born of water refers to our physical birth, since birth from mother’s womb had just been mentioned in the preceding verse.  While there is no Old Testament foundation for this, Nicodemus would have been familiar with the concept, since it is such a basic fact of life, it merely stated the obvious.  Besides that, it makes an excellent parallel with “that which is born of the flesh in John 3:6.

Another excellent “contender” is the water cleansing prophesied in Ezekiel 36:25-28 which Nicodemus would certainly have been aware of.

Nicodemus’ marveling at the idea of being born again wasn’t so much with the concept; the Jews, part of the ceremony marking the conversion from Gentile to Jew there was a baptism after which the participant was considered born again into the people of the covenant.  

Nicodemus thought he already had that both because he was already a Jew, and Jews thought that being born a Jew guaranteed their entrance into the kingdom of God.  On top of that, he was a Pharisee, among the strictest observers of the law and so the most Jewish of the Jews.  But the rebirth was not about physical, outward changes (like observance of the Law), but a complete regeneration…born of God’s grace acting through the Holy Spirit causing a new birth that affected the very heart and soul of the person.

The wind cannot be seen, nor can it be directed or tamed by man’s efforts, likewise the Spirit cannot be seen, but its effects on someone’s life certainly can be, nor can the Spirit be directed or controlled by the human wants and desires.  Nor can we control our spiritual birth; it is a gift of God through the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 8:16; 1st Corinthians 2:10-12; 1st Thessalonians 1:5-6)
Just because we cannot completely understand something does not make it any less real, nor do we need to understand our new birth in order to experience it.  (Ecclesiastes 11:5)