Yesterday we finished chapter 2 by discussing Jesus’ cleansing of the temple and today we move into chapter 3. Chapter 3 recounts two major episodes: Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus and a discussion between John the Baptist and his disciples. Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus is one of the most famous episodes in the Bible. Despite his learning and reputation, Nicodemus still needed to be born again. This discussion is an elaboration on what John wrote in the prologue—that one must be born of God. John the Baptist’s final words, which are recorded in this chapter, reveal his joy at seeing his ministry decrease as Jesus’ ministry increased. The chapter concludes with an explanation of why Jesus is superior to John and to everyone else.
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”—3:1-3
Nicodemus is an example of those referred to in John 2:23-25. He was impressed by Jesus’ signs but did not yet have genuine faith. He was a member of the Pharisaic sect in the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court for religious matters. He appeared to express a sincere desire to learn more about Jesus. Despite his esteemed position, he needed to experience a new birth. Nicodemus made three comments during their conversation, each of which Jesus answered. Nicodemus began by acknowledging that Jesus came from God, evident because of Jesus’ signs. His use of the pronoun “we” implies that his inquiry was not just for himself. But Jesus cuts right to the heart of the issue by declaring that a person must be born again. The term “born again” can also be translated “born from above.” John probably intends both thoughts, meaning that the new birth is a work of God and results in a dramatic transformation.
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”—3:4-8
This is Nicodemus’ second comment/question and Nicodemus interpreted Jesus’ words literally. Jesus noted that if someone is to enter God’s kingdom, they must be born of water and the Spirit. This phrase “water and the Spirit” is parallel to being “born again,” but it expands on the concept. Jesus’ words allude to Ezekiel 36:25-27. When one is born again, they receive a spiritual cleansing (Titus 3:5). People become members of an earthly family by natural birth, but they become members of God’s family by spiritual birth. Jesus was emphatic that there is no other way to join God’s family than by rebirth. Jesus illustrated his point by comparing the work of the Spirit to the blowing of the wind. The words “wind” and “spirit” translate the same Greek and Hebrew words. While the wind’s origin is invisible, its effects are apparent; the same is true of those born of the Spirit.
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven —the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”—3:9-15
Nicodemus asked one final question here. Nicodemus, as a prominent teacher, should have understood these things. Jesus’ us of “we” probably refers to the Father and himself. This twofold witness confirmed the truthfulness of his words. The “earthly things” (v. 12) refers to the new birth. The key to understanding Jesus’ teaching is faith in a crucified Son. Jesus explained that there is a great distance between this world and heaven. He bridges that distance, validating his divine stature by defeating death and returning to heaven. Jesus illustrated his statement by pointing to events recorded in Numbers 21:8-9. When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, God sent a plague of snakes to punish them for their rebellious attitudes. If they obeyed God’s command to look at the “lifted up” bronze snake after being bitten, they would be healed. The idea of Jesus being “lifted up” speaks of his death, resurrection, and exaltation. This is the first of three “lifted up” sayings in this Gospel. Those who look to the “lifted up” Son of Man and believe in him will have eternal life. John 3:15 is the first reference to “eternal life” in this Gospel. Eternal life is the life of God, which resides in Christ and is given to all believers. This life is a present reality for those who believe.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.—3:16-18
Verse 16 may be the most well-known and beloved verse in the Bible. Jesus is God’s unique Son, and his death is the supreme demonstration of God’s love. The purpose for Jesus’ coming is brought out both negatively and positively. In verse 16, God sent Jesus so that those who believe in him will not perish (negative) but have eternal life (positive). In verse 17, God sent Jesus not to condemn the world at this time (negative) but to bring salvation (positive). Love and salvation are the reasons the Father sent his Son. Salvation was and is central to Jesus’ mission. Belief in Jesus is the decisive issue. Those who believe in him are not condemned, while those who do not believe in him are condemned already.
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.—3:19-21
These verses look back at Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus and explain why some believe and others do not. The refusal to trust in Christ is part of a cosmic battle between light and darkness. Those who trust in him and live in obedience to the truth are in the light, while those who do not come to the light are described as loving the darkness, hating the light, and refusing the light. The difference between the believer and the unbeliever is their differing attitudes toward the light. The refusal to believe is a moral issue more than an intellectual one. Therefore, what was going on with Nicodemus was more significant than just an intellectual discussion between two rabbis; it was a cosmic battle between truth and error, light and darkness, eternal life and final judgment.
So the question for you to consider now is what side of this great cosmic battle are you on? Are you are on the side of light or are you on the side of darkness? Are you on the side of truth or are on the side of error? Are you on the side that live with the present reality of eternal life or are you on the side that lives in fear of final judgement? If you like Nicodemus have questions and if you those questions have been answered for you today, then here is how you move from darknesses into light, from living in error to living in truth, and from living in fear of final judgement to living in the present reality of eternal life: put your faith and trust in Jesus, by acknowledging the fact that you have sinned and that the penalty for that sin is spiritual death which is eternal separation from God and by acknowledging the fact that nothing you can do can change your standing before and that it is only through the sacrificial death of Jesus that you can gain right standing with God. But most importantly of all you must “declare with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.” And here is how you declare what you believe in your heart:
Dear God, I know that my sin has separated me from you. Thank you that Jesus Christ died in my place. I ask Jesus to forgive my sin and to come into my life. Please begin to direct my life. Thank you for giving me eternal life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Ruth 2-4, John 4:43-54, Psalm 105:16-36 and Proverbs 14:26-27