Lesson 8: “You Must Be Born Again
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did (24) But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men (25) and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.
(1) There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night . . .”
As John chapter 2 concludes it tells of those who were following Jesus only because of the miracles He performed. And we see that Jesus did not commit Himself to them in terms of teaching and discipling them because He knew they were actually only interested in the thrill of miracles, etc. (as in verses 23 through 25.) But in contrast to these people, John 3 tells us of Nicodemus.
The contrast is evident in the original language, because the word “but” appears in verse 1. Since there were no chapter divisions when the New Testament was written, the reader would see this contrast better because the text immediately went on to tell about Nicodemus. While some followed Jesus only because of His miracles, Nicodemus seemed to be in a different category. He was not a believer, but he had honest questions concerning the Lord Jesus Christ to which he needed solid answers. So, in contrast to those who had “a lack of commitment” in the previous verses, Nicodemus provides a lesson in commitment. The first thing we see is the introduction of Nicodemus in verses 1 and 2. First notice the title of the visitor in verse 1: He is referred to as “a man of the Pharisees” in verse 1. The Pharisees were a very conservative sect of the Jews that had come into being during the 400 silent years between the Old and New Testaments. They attempted to call people back to the Mosaic law, but in the process they got mired down in their own traditions and to a great extent subjected the law to them, rather than vice-versa.
But not only was Nicodemus a Pharisee, he was also “a ruler of the Jews,” verse 1 says. The highest ruling body in the Jewish nation was known as the “Sanhedrin.” So Nicodemus was probably a member of that organization and thus would have been expected to be thoroughly familiar with both the secular and religious aspects of the Old Testament law.
Now the time of the visit in verse 2 is also significant. Note that he came to Jesus by night”
Nicodemus didn’t rely on “hearsay” for his information about this new teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, but went directly to the source. But notice that he came to Jesus “by night.” He probably did this because he was afraid of what his fellow Pharisees would think. But at the same time, in the middle east of Jesus’ day, it was customary to visit in the cool of the evening rather than the heat of the day, so it may have been nothing more significant than that. But whatever the reason for the time of the visit, the theme of the visit is in the last phrase of verse 2.
“this . . . man came to Jesus. . . and said, 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 . . .” Now on the surface this would seem to be just a complimentary “conversation starter.” But Jesus’reply is going to show that what he really had in mind was “the kingdom of heaven.” But at the same time this greeting does show that Nicodemus, surprisingly, held Jesus in high regard. He calls Him “Rabbi” – a term of great respect, particularly among the “professionals.” And he admits that Jesus could not be doing the things he is doing without the power of God. Incidentally, this also shows John’s method of “picking and choosing” incidents in the ministry of Jesus to make his point about Jesus’ Messiahship. The only miracle he could have had specific details about at this time is the changing of water into wine. But Nicodemus speaks of in terms of many “signs” – and the same is true back in 2:23.
So that is the introduction of Nicodemus, but in verses 3 through 21 we find the instruction of Nicodemus. The first part of the instruction is about entrance into heaven in verses 3 through 8. Even though Nicodemus makes his polite remarks, Jesus knew what he really wanted to talk about, so he plunges right into a discussion of the new birth in verses 3 and 4. (Incidentally, this teaches us that we might as well go ahead and tell God what is on our mind when we come to Him, because He knows it anyway – no need to camouflage it.)
“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?
Here is another of those places where we have to divorce ourselves from out familiarity with a passage. (Remember that Nicodemus had never heard this story in Sunday School.) He was the first person ever to hear the words, “you must be born again.” And so his reaction is a very natural one. – and it helps us to think about exactly what Jesus was talking about. What in the world did Jesus mean by being born again? This is a very important question to be able to answer. And the next verses are going to clarify it. In answer to Nicodemus’ question about the new birth, Jesus makes an analysis of the new birth. First Jesus says that spiritual birth is similar to natural birth in verse 5
(5)Jesus answered, “most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Every person born into the world is born “of water.” Based on the context of Nicodemus’ question I believe that this is a reference to the “water” or amniotic fluid that is associated with physical birth. I am aware that there are other interpretations of this statement, but I believe that the key to understanding it is this context in which we find it. But some other ideas include: that it is a reference to water baptism, but that is doubtful because the scriptures never contradict themselves and there are too many other scriptures that say that salvation is by faith plus nothing. Others say that it is a reference to Ephesians 5:26, which says that salvation is accomplished by “the washing of water by the Word (of God). It is true that it is the Word of god through which we get our information about salvation, and therefore there is that sense in which we are born again by means of the Word of God. But that doesn’t fit the primary meaning of this particular statement in John 3:5 either. So spiritual birth is similar to physical birth in that it is a definite once-and-for-all event which happens at a specific time and place.
But verses 6 and 7 go on to say that although it is similar to natural birth it is separate from human birth.
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 unto you, you must be born again.”
This doesn’t have to be a hard concept. There are two kinds of birth, which although similar are distinct from each other. Spiritual birth is not some mysterious concept that only the “enlightened” can understand. It is not something that we have to “marvel” over. It is similar to natural birth, separate from natural birth, and, third, it is spirit directed birth – verse 8 says:
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.
To help Nicodemus understand, Jesus gave an illustration from nature – the blowing of the wind. Even though we can see and feel the effects of the wind, no one can actually see where it is coming from or where it is going. Spiritual birth is the same way: when a person receives Christ as Savior, others cannot see any physical change, but as time goes by and he or she grows in their faith there will be evident changes in that person’s life.
But apparently, even after Jesus’ illustration, Nicodemus still didn’t understand. He said, “how can these things be?” in verse 9. So in verses 10 through 21 Jesus gives Him some instruction about eternal principles and the first thing He talks about is the source of the principles in verses 10 through 13. The unsaved mind is not able to comprehend spiritual truths I Corinthians 2:14 says.
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned
Jesus said to Nicodemus in verse 10, Are you a teacher in Israel and do not know these things? Surely Nicodemus as a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, could have been expected to know these things. The heart relationship with God that comes through spiritual birth had been promised to Israel in Jeremiah 31:31-33. And Pharisees were supposed to be experts in the Old Testament, but Nicodemus seemed to only understand physical birth. And Jesus points this out to him in verses 11 through 13.
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 we have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you of heavenly things? (13) No one has ascended into heaven, but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.”
Here Jesus is saying that the source of these principles is God Himself. And he is obviously claiming to be God from heaven in verses 11 and 13. Then Jesus brings out another thing that Nicodemus seems never to have thought of. And that is the sacrifice inherent in the principles in verses 14 through 16. Again we would think that Nicodemus would have understood this from Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 53, which talks about the sufferings of Christ as the “Lamb of God.” But Jesus chooses another familiar Old Testament passage to illustrate it. Look at verse 14:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
This verse is a summary of the story in Numbers 2, with which Nicodemus would certainly have been familiar, of the brass serpent that was placed on a pole when the Israelites were being killed by snakes in the wilderness because of their rebellion against God. The illustration emphasized that all one had to do to have salvation is to believe in – in that case simply looking up at the pole. And Here Jesus compares himself to that brass snake. And in the next verses he makes it crystal clear what is involved in salvation. The one condition or “requirement” for salvation is in verse 15:
“that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Just like those Old Testament Israelites, all one today has to do is to “look” with the eyes of faith to the Lord Jesus Christ “lifted up” on the cross. Of course, the person who is willing to do that has already realized that he is a sinner and cannot help himself. John 3:16, which is probably the best known verse in the Bible is an explanation of what was stated in verse 15.
“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.”
The word “for” at the beginning of the verse, has the sense of “because.” Having read that whoever believes in Christ will not perish but have eternal life, one might wonder, “why would God do all of this? And the answer is “because He loves us.” The words “only begotten” do not mean that Jesus Christ was actually “born” to God the Father. The first chapter of this book makes it clear that Jesus Christ Himself is God, and as such He never had a beginning. The words “only begotten” mean “one of a kind” or “unique.” And it was because He was willing to die in our place that God could save those who believe in Him.
In verses 17 through 21 Jesus then teaches Nicodemus (and us) something that is widely misunderstood, even by some Christians today, and that is the searching nature of the principles. First He talks about the order of condemnation in verses 17 and 18.
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.
Many people have the idea that God sends people to hell because He is angry with them because they won’t accept His Son. But the opposite is true; God sent His son into the world not to condemn, but to save them, according to verse 17. And why? Because everyone in the world was already condemned. Christ came to save us out of that condemnation! If we were not already condemned there would be no need for salvation. In verses 19 through 21 he talks about the operation of that condemnation – the way it works.
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.”
Now these verses seem kind of confusing at first – how can the coming of light into the world be considered a condemnation?” In this sense: before there was light people couldn’t see that what they were doing was wrong. Everybody was doing the same things. But when the light came, in the person of Jesus Christ, evil could be seen for what it was. But in a situation like that, who would ever come to the light anyway? Verse 21 answers: “He who does the truth” In other words, out of that darkness, anyone who comes to the light of Jesus is “doing the truth” and is saved out of that darkness.
As we wrap up this lesson, let me say that the truth of salvation is one of the simplest and clearest truths in all of creation. But because of Satan’s opposition it has become muddled to an extent unlike almost any other doctrine. (unless it would be “creation” or “the inspiration of scripture”) This is demonstrated by the fact that even a man like Nicodemus, who was “a teacher of Israel” was confused about it.
As we conclude, let me go over it with you again carefully, for two reasons: First, in case there is anyone reading this who is already confused about what the gospel really is. And second, so that you may have “the bare essentials” from this passage to share with someone else. And those bare essentials are these: Everyone in the entire world is already condemned in God’s sight because of their sin, according to verse 18, but God loves human beings, and provided His only begotten son to pay for those sins, verse 16 says. And “whoever believes that about Him” will be born a second time – this time spiritually, verse 3 says, and have a new and everlasting life.
The purpose of these studies is to help people come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Romans 3:23 says that “All of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” “And Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” And John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. If you already know Him as your savior it is my hope that the lessons will help you grow in grace and bring others to know Him as well. If you would like more information you may contact me at “firstname.lastname@example.org