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John 3:9-15

By Tim Butterfield, 13 October 2013 · 1,921 views

Nicodemus said to Him, "How can these things be?”  Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?”  Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony.  "If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? “  No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. (John 3:9-15 NASB)

Commentary


Nicodemus has been pretty well set back on his heels; he came to see Jesus, acknowledging that He was a teacher sent by God and ready to ask Him questions apparently (by Jesus answers) about the Kingdom of God.  But he has had the very roots of his understanding of the Kingdom shaken and shattered.  

I believe that his question “How can these things be?” reflects this confusion…part “How could I have been so wrong in my understanding?” and part “If I didn’t know you were from God I would never believe it.”  What Jesus was telling him went against what he had been expecting; if it were true many of his cherished hopes and beliefs would have to change.

The promise of regeneration and rebirth are found through out the Old Testament scriptures.  Nicodemus should have been able to see it plainly, but he allowed the teachings of traditional beliefs and interpretations to cloud his understanding.  (Deuteronomy 30:6; Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 18:31; Ezekiel 36:26; Jeremiah 31:33; Joel 2:28-29)

When Jesus says “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?”  He is not being unkind, but He is removing the last of the walls of pride that had bolstered Nicodemus’ false beliefs.  Nicodemus believed himself to be ready for the Kingdom first because he was a Jew and Jews were automatically God’s people going to enter God’s Kingdom.  Jesus made him see that everyone, including the Jews needed to undergo a spiritual rebirth.

Nicodemus was also a teacher of Israel, but Jesus needed to demonstrate to him that what he taught was based on the rote memorization of scripture constrained by a narrow grove or rut of ritual and custom until their ability to apply scripture to their lives and understand the need for a relationship with God had atrophied and rotted.  Archibald Thomas Robertson called this the three terrible R’s of traditionalism.  (rote, rut, rot)

It is not for nothing that Jesus says that new wine is not to be put into old skins.  (Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37)

Nicodemus was beginning to see that his two greatest sources of pride were false, but he needed to be shaken further outside of his rut if he was going to see and understand the answers to the questions he came to ask because, the answer to every one of his questions was Jesus.  (John 5:39)  

Notice Jesus says “we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen” He is talking about all who preach the Gospel; stating that we testify about what we have seen, that is, experienced.  When Christians speak of the new birth in the Spirit and what it has done in their lives they are testifying and witnessing, not to something that is totally subjective, but to what can be seen to have had an effect on our lives.

The operations of the Spirit which had occurred “on earth,” bears witness in those effects that are visible and verifiable demanding belief.  If he could not accept and understand the evidence of his eyes, even when it was backed up by many signs and wonders, what chance would he have of understanding and accepting Heavenly things, spiritual perceptions to be understood by faith?

Jesus then shows his “credentials” for speaking of the Kingdom as well as things spiritual.  “"No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.”  (The Messiah)  Only someone who had been there, the Son of Man, can speak of it authoritatively.  Surely Nicodemus knew Proverbs 30:4 and, recognizing the reference, began to understand that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah and God incarnate (Immanuel).

What Jesus says next draws a parallel between the Old Testament occurrences in Numbers 21:4-9, showing it to be a prophetic picture of God’s plan of salvation.  Because they had, once again, sinned by speaking against God and Moses, God sent fiery serpents into the camp, and those who were bitten died.  

The people were quick to understand their error, and begged Moses to intercede on their behalf, expecting God to remove the serpents.  Instead God has Moses make a brass (or bronze) serpent and mount it on a pole in the midst of the camp.  If anyone was bitten, they need only to look to the serpent on the pole, and they would live.  

2nd Kings 18:1-4 details what became of that serpent and why it had to be destroyed.

Just as (for the same reason) Moses lifted up the brass serpent, Jesus states that He must be lifted up (on the cross) so that anyone who has been bitten by the serpent (sin) may, by looking to Him will be given, not merely life, but eternal life.

If the problem of sin were not addressed before the Kingdom of God arrived, there would be no one who could enter into it, as all would still be dead in their trespasses and sins because there would have been no sacrifice to take away our sins and impute Jesus’ righteousness to us.  (Romans 4:22-25; 2nd Corinthian 5:21)