Conversation with Nicodemus
Now a certain man, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council, came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”
New English Translation (NET)
Nicodemus was initially attracted to Jesus because of the miracles He did. He wanted to know more about Jesus and the doctrines that He taught. Nicodemus himself was “the teacher of the Jews” and he had great respect for the Teacher from Galilee.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, which meant he lived by the strictest possible religious rules. Not all of the Pharisees were hypocrites, and evidence indicates that Nicodemus was deeply sincere in his quest for truth. He came to Jesus by night, not because he was afraid of being seen, but most likely because he wanted to have a quiet uninterrupted conversation with the new Teacher “come from God.” He was a man of high moral character, deep religious hunger, and yet profound spiritual blindness.
Jesus: I tell you the truth: only someone who experiences birth for a second time can hope to see the kingdom of God.
The Voice (VOICE)
Our Lord began with that which was familiar, birth being a universal experience. Though all human beings have experienced natural birth on earth, if they expect to go to heaven, they must experience a supernatural spiritual birth from above.
Nicodemus: I am a grown man. How can someone be born again when he is old like me? Am I to crawl back into my mother’s womb for a second birth? That’s impossible!
The Voice (VOICE)
Once again, we meet with the blindness of sinners: this well-educated religious leader, Nicodemus, did not understand what the Savior was talking about! Jesus was speaking about a spiritual birth, but Nicodemus thought only of a physical birth. The situation is no different today. When you talk with people about being born again, they often begin to discuss their family’s religious heritage, their church membership, religious ceremonies, and so on.
Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
New English Translation (NET)
Being a patient teacher, our Lord picked up on Nicodemus’ words and further explained the new birth. Upon repentance, a new order of life opens to the believer in Jesus Christ. Jesus used the figure of “new birth” to dramatically indicate three things:
- Without New Birth, there is no life and no relationship with God. (John 14:6)
- In New Birth, new perspective comes as we “see the kingdom of God,” God’s word becomes clear, and the Holy Spirit’s works and wonders are believed and experienced – faith is alive.
- Through New Birth we are introduced – literally we “enter” – to a new realm, where God’s new kingdom order can be realized (2 Corinthians 5:17). New Birth is more than simply being “saved.” It is a re-qualifying experience, opening up the possibilities of our whole being to the supernatural dimension of life and fitting us for a beginning in God’s kingdom order.
Of course, birth involves life; and spiritual birth from above involves God’s life. The opposite of life is death, and the person who has not believed on Jesus Christ does not have God’s life, eternal life, and abundant life. You do not manufacture Christians any more than you manufacture babies! The only way to enter God’s family is through the new birth.
Birth involves a future, and we are “born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). A newborn baby cannot be arrested because he or she has no past! When you are born again into God’s family, your sins are forgiven and forgotten, and your future is bright with a living hope.
So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’
New Living Translation (NLT)
Nicodemus must have had a surprised and yet bewildered look on his face, for the Lord had to say, “You must not be surprised that I told you that all of you must be born again”. But Nicodemus was born a Jew! He was a part of God’s covenant people! (Rom. 9:4-5) Certainly his birth was better than that of a Gentile or a Samaritan! And his life was exemplary, for he was a faithful Pharisee! He could well understand Jesus telling the Romans that they had to be born again, but certainly not the Jews!
The wind blows all around us as if it has a will of its own; we feel and hear it, but we do not understand where it has come from or where it will end up. Life in the Spirit is as if it were the wind of God.
The Voice (VOICE)
It is likely that the evening wind was blowing just then as Nicodemus and Jesus sat on the housetop conversing. The word wind in both Hebrew and Greek can also be translated “spirit.” One of the symbols of the Spirit of God in the Bible is the wind or breath (Job 33:4; John 20:22; Acts 2:2). Like the wind, the Spirit is invisible but powerful; and you cannot explain or predict the movements of the wind.
Everyone who is born of the Spirit is like the wind: you cannot fully explain or predict either the wind or the child of God! For that matter, human birth is still a mystery, in spite of all that we know about anatomy and physiology. Each new life is exciting and different.
The spirit realm was as real to Jesus as the wind was to natural man. The spirit realm is real just like the wind is real. We can’t see the wind, but we can see the effects of the wind. Likewise, we can’t see into the spirit world, but we can see the effects of the spirit world all around us. Those who don’t believe that spiritual things exist are as blind as those who don’t believe there is wind because they can’t see it.
Nicodemus: I still do not understand how this can be.
The Voice (VOICE)
Nicodemus was just like most people today who don’t believe anything exists that they can’t see, taste, hear, smell, or feel. There are none so blind as those who only see with their eyes and don’t see with their hearts. The Lord has given us spiritual eyes and ears to see and hear things that we can’t perceive with our five natural senses.
Jesus said, “You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics? Listen carefully. I’m speaking sober truth to you. I speak only of what I know by experience; I give witness only to what I have seen with my own eyes. There is nothing secondhand here, no hearsay. Yet instead of facing the evidence and accepting it, you procrastinate with questions. If I tell you things that are plain as the hand before your face and you don’t believe me, what use is there in telling you of things you can’t see, the things of God?
The Message (MSG)
Nicodemus came “by night,” and he was still in the dark! He could not understand the new birth even after Jesus had explained it to him. Our Lord stated clearly that Nicodemus’ knowledge of the Old Testament should have given him the light he needed. Alas, “the teacher of the Jews” knew the facts recorded in the Scriptures, but he could not understand the truths.
What was the problem?
For one thing, the religious leaders would not submit to the authority of Christ’s witness. We will see this “authority conflict” increase as we continue in our studies. The religious leaders claimed to believe Moses, yet they could not believe Jesus (John 5:37-47). The Pharisees were more concerned about the praise of men than the praise of God (John 12:37-50).
“I have used earthly illustrations,” said Jesus, “and you cannot understand. If I began to share the deep spiritual truths, you still would not believe”.
And yet no one has ever gone up to heaven, but there is One Who has come down from heaven—the Son of Man [Himself], Who is (dwells, has His home) in heaven.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert [on a pole], so must [so it is necessary that] the Son of Man be lifted up [on the cross], in order that everyone who believes in Him [who cleaves to Him, trusts Him, and relies on Him] may not perish, but have eternal life and [actually] live forever!
John 3:13-15 (AMP)
There were Old Testament examples of people who were caught up into heaven, but they didn’t return to tell of what they saw (Genesis 5:21-24 and 2 Kings 2:11). Jesus wasn’t caught up into heaven until after His resurrection, but He is the only one who came down from heaven (John 6:38) to give revelation of what it is truly like. Others had visions, but Jesus had been there. This is a direct reference to His divinity. He existed as God before His physical incarnation.
The story in Numbers 21:4-9 was certainly familiar to Nicodemus. It is a story of sin, for the nation rebelled against God and had to be punished. God sent fiery serpents that bit the people so that many died. It is also a story of grace, for Moses interceded for the people and God provided a remedy. He told Moses to make a brass serpent and lift it up on a pole for all to see. Any stricken person who looked at the serpent would immediately be healed. So, it is also a story of faith: when the people looked by faith, they were saved.
The verb lifted up has a dual meaning: to be crucified and to be glorified and exalted. In his Gospel, John points out that our Lord’s crucifixion was actually the means of His glorification. The cross was not the end of His glory; it was the means of His glory (Acts 2:33).
Much as the serpent was lifted up on that pole, so the Son of God would be lifted up on a cross. Why? To save us from sin and death. In the camp of Israel, the solution to the “serpent problem” was not in lolling the serpents, making medicine, pretending they were not there, passing anti-serpent laws, or climbing the pole. The answer was in looking by faith at the uplifted serpent.
For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.
John 3:16 (AMP)
When did God commend this love toward us?
The focus of this verse isn’t really on us not perishing, but rather it is on us having everlasting life. According to Jesus’ own words in John 17:3, everlasting life knows God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and it’s not just knowing them but knowing them in the biblical sense of the word. This is speaking of intimacy.
A person who comes to the Lord for forgiveness of sins but doesn’t go on to experience intimacy with the Lord is missing the true point of salvation. It is a wonderful benefit of salvation to avoid hell and all its torments. But everlasting life begins on earth (John 3:36) in the form of intimacy with the Father and Son.
Sin was like a barrier that blocked our access to God. Without the removal of that barrier, there could be no true fellowship with the Father. Therefore, Jesus did take the sin of the whole world upon Himself (John 12:32) and has reconciled us to God (2 Corinthians 5:19). But if we don’t go past where the barrier used to be, into intimacy with the Father, we are missing the true point of salvation in this life.
For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.
He who believes in Him [who clings to, trusts in, relies on Him] is not judged [he who trusts in Him never comes up for judgment; for him there is no rejection, no condemnation—he incurs no damnation]; but he who does not believe (cleave to, rely on, trust in Him) is judged already [he has already been convicted and has already received his sentence] because he has not believed in and trusted in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [He is condemned for refusing to let his trust rest in Christ’s name.]
Amplified Bible (AMP)
The whole world has been bitten by sin, and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). God sent His Son to die, not only for Israel, but also for a whole world. How is a person born from above? How is he or she saved from eternal perishing? By believing on Jesus Christ, by looking to Him in faith.
The difference between perishing and living, and between condemnation and salvation, is faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus could well have come to this world as a Judge and destroyed every rebellious sinner; but in love, He came to this world as our Savior, and He died for us on the cross! He became the “uplifted serpent.” The serpent in Moses’ day brought physical life to dying Jews; but Jesus Christ gives eternal life to anyone who trusts Him. He has salvation for a whole world!
And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Why will sinners not come into the “light of life”? Because they love the darkness! They want to persist in their evil deeds, and this keeps them from coming to the light; for the closer the sinner gets to the light, the more his sins are exposed. It is not “intellectual problems” that keep people from trusting Christ; it is the moral and spiritual blindness that keeps them loving the darkness and hating the light.
Sinners run from the light of God the way cockroaches run from light.
This is why the ungodly fight so hard against morality and every institution and person that uphold a standard of morality. They don’t want their deeds to be shown for what they are under the true light of God. It’s not a liberal versus conservative issue. It’s a light versus darkness struggle.
Please note that Nicodemus finally did “come to the light.” He was in the “midnight of confusion”, but eventually he came out into the “sunlight of confession” when he identified with Christ at Calvary (John 19:38-42). He realized that the uplifted Savior was indeed the Son of God.