Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews;
(a) Nicodemus enters the story as an inquisitive Pharisee and becomes a secret disciple of Jesus who was present at his burial (John 19:39).
(b) A ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, the 70-man ruling council of Israel.
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.”
A teacher. Nicodemus did not yet have a revelation that Jesus was the Son of God. He thought Jesus was merely a rabbi or teacher.
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Born again. To be born again (literally, to be “born from above”) is to be born of God (John 1:13, 1 Pet. 1:3) or born of the Spirit (John 3:8). It is being made alive by the Spirit of God (Col. 2:13). This rebirth happens when we put our faith in the Son of God (John 3:15). The moment we turn to Jesus in faith, we cross over from death to life (John 5:24, 1 John 3:14) and we receive the Spirit of God (Acts 2:38, Rom. 8:9). We leave Adam’s family and are adopted into the family of God.
Because your rebirth was an act of God, you cannot undo what the Lord has done. Because you have been born of imperishable seed (1 Pet. 1:23), you are eternally saved and secure.
Some say that evangelists put a disproportionate emphasis on a phrase that barely appears in scripture. But Jesus speaks plainly and he repeats himself for emphasis: “You must be born again” (John 3:7).
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?”
(a) Nicodemus; see entry for John 3:1.
(b) How? Nicodemus, the great teacher, completely misunderstands what Jesus is saying about rebirth.
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.
(a) Unless. Jesus identifies two conditions for entering the kingdom of God.
(b) One is born of water. Jesus is referring to our natural birth. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (see next verse). You have to be born before you can be born again. Only the sons and daughters of Adam can become sons and daughters of God.
(c) And the Spirit. To be born of the Spirit is to be made alive by the Spirit of God (Col. 2:13). “The flesh profits nothing; the Spirit who gives life” (John 6:63).
To be born of the Spirit is to be born again and made alive by the Spirit of God (Col. 2:13). When we come to Christ in faith, we are born of the Spirit and made brand new (2 Cor. 5:17). We get a new nature with a new understanding and new desires. We receive the Spirit of Christ which means we now have get the heart and mind of Christ (Eze. 18:31, Acts 2:38, 1 Cor. 2:14). We become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Only those who have been born of the spirit can walk in the spirit.
As the prophet said, we receive a new heart and a new mind because we receive the Spirit of God and he gives us the heart and mind of Christ (Eze. 18:31, Acts 2:38, 1 Cor. 2:14). “The Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom. 8:9). It is only by the Spirit’s aid that we can understand the goodness of God and all the good things he has given us (1 Cor. 2:12, I John 5:20).
When we are born of the Spirit, we are made brand new (2 Cor. 5:17). We get a new nature with a new understanding and new desires. Sin loses its appeal because we have found something better by far.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
(a) That which is born of flesh (natural man) cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). We all need to be born of the Spirit. We all need to be born again.
“Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
(a) You must be born again. All of us have gone astray and become captive to sin; every one of us needs to be made new and born again.
In context, Jesus is speaking to a man who had good reasons for being confident in his own pedigree and performance. Nicodemus was a descendent of Abraham, a law-abiding Pharisee, and a member of the ruling council. He was a teacher of Israel (John 3:10). By all accounts, wealthy Nicodemus was a walking success story. To this good man Jesus says, “Your pedigree and performance are not good enough. You must be born again.” See entry for Self-righteousness.
(b) Born again; see entry for John 3:3.
“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.”
(a) The wind blows where it wishes. The Spirit breathes where he wills and no one can tell where he comes from or where he is going. Jesus is talking about the mystery of new birth. The gospel is preached all over the world and some receive it while others don’t.
(b) So is everyone who is born of the Spirit. Why do some open their hearts to the Holy Spirit? It’s a mystery. Surely God wants all to come to him for new life; he is not willing that any perish. But the choice is ours.
(c) Born of the Spirit. To be born of the Spirit is to be made new by the Spirit or born again (John 3:3, Tit. 3:5).
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?”
(a) Nicodemus; see entry for John 3:1.
(b) How can these things be? Instead of accepting the truth of what Jesus was saying, Nicodemus questioned him.
“How can a man be born when he is old?” (John 3:4) “How can these things be?” His questions reveal his confusion. “What do you mean, Jesus? What are you saying? How does this happen?”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?
(a) The teacher of Israel. Nicodemus was a notable teacher, but his learning was no help in processing what Jesus was saying. He seems to have missed or forgotten those Old Testament prophecies that signalled the new birth (e.g., Eze. 11:19, 36:26).
(b) Do not understand. Nicodemus could not believe what Jesus was saying (see next verse). We do not need to understand how the wind blows to experience the wind. Similarly, we do not need to understand the new birth to be born again. We just need to accept or believe what Jesus said.
“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.
(a) We speak of what we know. Jesus had witnessed the entire unfolding of creation, yet Nicodemus was slow to accept what he was hearing.
(b) You do not accept our testimony. Nicodemus wanted to have everything figured out before he made the leap of faith, but in spiritual matters, understanding follows faith. We see because we believe (John 11:40).
“No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.
Descended from heaven. Nicodemus saw Jesus as little more than a godly teacher who was anointed to perform signs and wonders (John 3:2). Jesus reveals himself as something much more – he is the Man from heaven. First Adam was an earthly man who came from the ground; Last Adam came from heaven.
so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
(a) Whoever believes. Jesus has been speaking rather mysteriously of rebirth and wind; now he speaks plainly. The new life that we all need is found in him and received by faith.
All of God’s blessings, including forgiveness, salvation, righteousness and eternal life, come to us freely by grace and are received by faith (Eph. 2:8). Faith does not compel God to forgive us or sanctify us. But faith is the conduit through which grace flows. See entry for Faith.
(b) Have eternal life. Eternal life is not something we receive in the future, but something we can enjoy here and now (John 3:16, 6:40, 1 John 5:13). Where do we find this eternal life? “This life is in the Son” (1 John 5:11). He who has the Son has life (1 John 5:12). Those who believe in Jesus have eternal life.
(c) Eternal life We are not born immortal (Rom. 2:6–8, Eph. 2:1). Eternal life is a gift we receive when come to Christ. The moment you put your faith in Christ you crossed over from death to life and you shall never perish (John 5:24). Eternal life is not merely endless life; eternal life is divine life. It is Christ’s glorious life as opposed to the broken short-lived life we inherited from Adam.
Those who believe in Jesus have crossed over death into life (John 5:24). This new life can never be lost because it is eternal life. See entry for Eternal Security.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
(a) For God so loved. The original word for love means to be well pleased or fond of or contented with. This word describes the unconditional love God the Father has for his Son (John 3:35, 15:9, 17:26), and for his children (Eph. 2:4, 1 John 3:1). God is indiscriminate with his love. Even if you are the worst sinner in the world, he loves you with the same sort of love he has for Jesus (see entry for John 17:23).
(b) He gave. God sent Jesus because he wants us to know how much he loves us. He’s not interested in condemning us or treating us as our sins deserve. His desire is to rescue every last one of us, from the best of us to the worst of us. The Father’s heart of love beats for the whole world.
(c) Whoever believes. Trusting Jesus is the only condition for receiving his grace.
In the New Testament, there are more than 200 imperative statements linked with faith. Some of these statements exhort us to: receive Jesus (John 1:11-12, 5:43), receive the message of Jesus (John 17:8), obey or heed the message or good news of Jesus (John 17:6) and turn to God in repentance (Acts 26:20).
Other scriptures encourage us to accept the word (Mark 4:20), confess Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9), call on the name of the Lord (Act 2:21), eat the bread of life (John 6:50-51), be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20), submit to God’s righteousness (Rom. 10:3), and be born again (John 3:3, 7).
But the one imperative that appears far more than any other, is the instruction to believe in the Lord Jesus (John 3:15, 18, 6:29, 9:35, Acts 16:31, 1 Tim. 1:16, 1 Pet. 2:6). We believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31, Acts 8:37, 1 John 5:1, 13), who was raised from the dead (Rom. 4:24, 10:9, 1 Th. 4:14). To believe in the Lord Jesus is to believe in the One who sent him (John 12:44). Believing in Jesus is both the work of God (John 6:29) and the command of God (1 John 3:23).
(d) Shall not perish. Once upon a time you were dead in sins and separated from the zoe-life of God (see entry for Eph. 2:1). But the moment you put your faith in Christ you crossed over from death to life and you shall never die (John 5:24).
(e) Perish. The original word (apollumi) means fully destroy. It does not suggest an eternity of conscious torment. The ultimate wage of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), the ultimate expression of which is the final or second death (Rev. 2:11, 21:8).
It is a travesty that a few scriptures have been mashed together to create a theology of eternal conscious torment (e.g., Mark 9:44, Rev. 14:11, 19:3), when the Lord spoke plainly about the destructive consequences of rejecting life (Matt. 10:28, John 10:28). The apostles described the final judgment as a consuming fire (Heb. 10:27) which will result in the “destruction of ungodly men” (2 Pet. 3:7; see also 2 Th. 1:9, Jas. 4:12, Rev. 11:18). Unlike his boundless love, God’s wrath is finite (Rev. 15:1).
(f) Eternal life is living forever in union with Jesus; see entry for John 3:15.
To give us eternal life is the answer to the question, why did Jesus come (John 10:28, Rom 6:4, 1 Tim. 1:16). Jesus did not come principally to free us from sin or to give us a new nature. He came to give us a new life which includes those other things. “I have come that they may have (zoe) life” (John 10:10). When we preach the gospel, we are telling people about the new life that Jesus offers to all (Acts 5:20). See entry for New Life.
“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
Saved through Him. Jesus is the Deliverer who rescues us from our enemies (Luke 1:71, Gal. 1:4). He is the Savior who saves our souls from death (Ps. 33:19, 116:8, Jas. 5:20). He is the unsinkable ark of our salvation (see entry for Heb. 11:7).
“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
(a) He who believes; see entry for John 3:15.
(b) Judged already. Judgment is not merely something that happens in the distant future. Judgment Day is a future manifestation of a present reality.
During his time on earth, Jesus declared, “For judgment I came into this world” (John 9:39). He wasn’t saying, “I’m here to judge you,” for he also said, “I pass judgment on no one” (John 8:15). Judgment is what happens when we respond to Jesus Christ.
(c) The Son of God. Most of the time Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man (see entry for Matt. 8:20). But on a few occasions he acknowledged that he was the Son of God (John 5:25, 10:36, 11:4, Rev. 2:18).
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.
The Light and The Light of Life and the Light of the world and the Light of men and the True Light are all names for Jesus (John 1:4, 9, 8:12, 9:5).
Adam’s fallen race lives in the valley of the shadow of death. Into this dark valley comes Jesus with the bright and shining revelation that God offers us a new life.
(b) Their deeds were evil. Those who prefer the darkness are those whose deeds are evil.
People don’t love the darkness because they have inherited a sinful nature but because they have committed sin and are afraid of being exposed by the light (John 3:20). Think of Adam and Eve hiding in the garden. They weren’t hiding because they had a sinful nature. They hid because they had done an evil deed.
“He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full.
The bridegroom. In scripture, Jesus is sometimes portrayed as a bridegroom (Matt. 9:15, 22:2, 25:1, Eph. 5:25, Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 9).
“He must increase, but I must decrease.
I must decrease. John wasn’t being modest; he was prophesying.
John was the last old covenant prophet (Matt. 11:13), while Jesus was the herald of the new) covenant (Mal. 3:1). John was saying, “The old covenant ministry that I represent must diminish and make way for the new covenant ministry of Jesus.” The old covenant had served its purpose, but now Jesus had come it had to go.
“The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand.
(a) The Father; see entry for John 4:21.
(b) Loves the Son. The original word for love means to be well pleased or fond of or contented with. It describes the unconditional love God the Father has for his Son (John 3:35, 15:9, 17:26), for the whole world (John 3:16), and for his children (Eph. 2:4, 1 John 3:1). God loves you with exactly the same sort of love he has for Jesus (see entry for John 17:23).
“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
(a) He who believes. All of God’s blessings, including forgiveness, salvation, righteousness and eternal life, come to us freely by grace and are received by faith. Faith does not compel God to forgive us or sanctify us. But faith is the conduit through which grace flows. See entry for Eph. 2:8.
(b) He who does not obey is the one who does not believe (see 1 John 3:23). John is not preaching a salvation that is conditional on your performance. He is not saying, “If you stumble, you’re out.” He’s contrasting sheep and goats, believers and unbelievers.
(c) Will not see life. We are not born immortal (Rom. 2:6–8). Eternal life is a gift we receive when come to Christ (John 3:15, 5:24). Those who refuse to come to Christ will not have eternal life (John 5:40).
(d) Eternal life is living forever in union with Jesus; see entry for John 3:15.
(e) The wrath of God that abides refers to the erosion of our humanity that occurs when we resist the Author of Life.
The wrath of God has nothing to do with a divine foot from heaven stomping on the heads of sinners. Jesus loves sinners; he doesn’t smite them. But unbelief has terrible and destructive consequences. The one who refuses to believe that God longs to be good to them will have trouble experiencing the goodness of God. And to resist God’s goodness in a universe that testifies to his majesty and kindness, is to lose touch with reality and our own humanity.
We were designed to live in the love of God. When we look elsewhere to get our needs met, we imbibe the toxic offerings of a fallen and polluted world. In Biblespeak this is called walking after the flesh and it is a recipe for corruption (Gal. 6:8).
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- John 3:1
- John 3:2
- John 3:3
- John 3:4
- John 3:5
- John 3:6
- John 3:7
- John 3:8
- John 3:9
- John 3:10
- John 3:11
- John 3:13
- John 3:15
- John 3:16
- John 3:17
- John 3:18
- John 3:19
- John 3:29
- John 3:30
- John 3:35
- John 3:36