A Religious Man
Chapter two closed with the statement that Jesus knew what was in the heart of man and here in Nicodemus' encounter with Him this is seen. He knew all about this man who came seeking Him.
3:1. Now a certain man, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.
Here in this short verse we are told quite a lot about this man. His name, Nicodemus, means 'conqueror' or 'victorious'. This would suggest that he was a man of strong character. The fact that he was a Pharisee tells us that he was a very religious man. The Pharisees were a Jewish sect that appeared after the Jews had returned from exile. They diligently studied the Old Testament books and in their arrogant self-righteousness claimed to fulfill the requirements of it. They also added so many rules and regulations of their own and demanded that the people should obey them that Jesus said "they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (Matt. 23:4). "They prided themselves on their fancied good works" (thayer). Jesus again said of them "Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do" (Matt. 23:3, Rom. 2:13 and James 1:22). Needless to say the Pharisees were the strongest opponents of Jesus Christ. Nicodemus was also a member of the Sanhedrin, the great council of Israel. This then was the kind of man Nicodemus was.
3:2. 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."
Having heard about the things that Jesus was teaching and of the miracles must have awaken within him a realization that having religion was not enough and did not fully satisfy. So he risks his reputation and position and cautiously came to Jesus at night seeking for the answer to his innermost need. He addresses Jesus with the respectable and honourable title of Rabbi and acknowledges that He is a teacher and must be sent from God because of the miracles that He had done.
3:3. Jesus replied, "I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Jesus knew why it was that Nicodemus had come to him and of the need of his soul for He immediately gives an answer to a question he never verbally asked but was in his heart. Of a truth there is only one way that a man can see, that is know or experience, the Kingdom of God and that is by being "born again" or literally "born from above" having a spiritual birth. For the natural man is "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1, Isa. 59:2 and 1 Cor. 15:47-50).
3:4. Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother's womb and be born a second time, can he?"
Nicodemus realized that Jesus was saying to him that it is not by being religious, self-righteous or by keeping rules and regulations that will gain entrance for him into the Kingdom of God but he does not understand and sees the impossibility of any man going back into his mother's womb and be born a second time.
3:5. Jesus answered, "I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus goes a little bit further in explaining what He means. Being "born again" is to be "born of water and the Spirit". Most commentators accept that the reference to "water" is to water baptism. However, we know that water baptism does not save a soul and that water cannot wash away our sins. In John 15:3 Jesus says "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you" and in Eph. 5:26 Paul says concerning the church 'that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word.' It is certain that Jesus was not referring to ordinary water but to the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5). The element of water and the operation of the Spirit are brought together in Eze. 36:25-27.
3:6. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
A person is born physically of human parents and is therefore of the flesh but spriitual birth is of the Spirit. It is only a spiritual nature that can enter and inherit the Kingdom of God (1Cor. 15:50).
3:7. Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must all be born from above.'
Do not be surprised then at the statement that the Lord Jesus Christ said "you must be born from above" that is, have a spiritual birth.
3:8. The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
Nicodemus could not see how this could be so Jesus tells him not to reject the truth because he cannot understand it. The wind blows where it wants to noone can control it, we can hear the sound of it but we do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with the new birth we cannot understand it but we see and experience the change that takes place in everyone that is born again (2 Cor. 5:17). If there is no change in a person's life then they have not been born again of the Spirit.
How the New Birth is Accomplished
3:9. Nicodemus replied, "How can these things be?
Nicodemus asks Jesus how this new birth can be brought about.
3:10. Jesus answered, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you don't understand these things?
Although Nicodemas was a Pharisee and therefore fervently studied the scriptures he had not seen the way of salvation or the new birth clearly depicted in them (Isa. 53:5, Psa. 22 and Ezek. 36:26).
3:11. I tell you the solemn truth, we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony.
Jesus embraces His disciples in the answer that He gave for He had taught them and given to them the words of life. There is no vagueness about the truth of the new birth or how it is accomplished. Jesus said of a truth we speak about that which we are certain of and bear witness to that which we have experienced. Yet people still do not accept our testimony.
3:12. If I have told you people about earthly things and you don't believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
If people do not believe the workings of earthly things how can they belive when they are told about the things of heaven.
3:13. No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven — the Son of Man.
No one has ever gone up to heaven therefor no man is qualified to speak of heavenly things. The Lord Jesus Christ came from heaven he is "the Word made flesh" (John 1:14, Luke 10:22 and John 14:9).
3:14. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
Jesus now proceeds to tell Nicodemas the purpose why He came into the world and that through Him the way of salvation and the new birth would be accomplished. Just as the children of Israel were saved from the deadly bite of the snakes in the wilderness through the way that God had provided by a brass serpent being erected on a pole so must He be lifted up on a pole, that is the cross.
3:15. So that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
Here we have the all embracing gospel message. It is for anyone who will believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ. They will not perish, go to hell, be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15) but will enter into heaven and have everlasting life.
God's Great Love
3:16. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
If the previous verses told us how the new birth was accomplished here we are told why God went to such measures to save sinful man. For "God so Loved the world" that is all mankind. Even though dead in trespasses and sins, rebellious and enemies of God He gave His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for our sins. Everyone who believes and accepts this will not perish but have eternal life.
3:17. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him.
God did not send His Son into the world to judge and condemn it, although mankind justly deserved this, but to save it.
3:18. The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.
Those who believe that Jesus Christ bore the penalty for their sin upon cross are no longer condemned but are justified in Christ (Rom. 3:24 and Rom. 8:1). The unbeliever is already under condemnation for his unbelief in the Saviour God's only begotten Son.
3:19. Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.
They are condemned because Jesus Christ who is "The Light of World" has come into the world and made known the way of salvation. "They stayed away from that Light for fear their sins would be exposed" (Living Bible). They loved the darkness for it kept their conscience free from guilt (John 15:22).
3:20. For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed.
Everyone who practices wickedness hates the gospel "for it condemns his conduct" (Barnes). They shrink away from the Light lest their evil deeds be exposed and they would be punished.
3:21. But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God.
Those who obey the truth, who does that which is right in the sight of God, comes gladly to the Light for he has nothing to fear, so that all will see that deeds have be done in and through God.
A Dispute Provides an Opportunity
3:22. After this, Jesus and his disciples came into Judean territory, and there he spent time with them and was baptizing.
After His conversation with Nicodemas the Lord Jesus Christ goes out into the Judean countryside. There He remained some time baptising the people although Jesus Himself baptised no one except His disciples (John 4:2) it was the disciples who did the actual act of baptism.
3:23-24. John was also baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming to him and being baptized.
Meanwhile, John the Baptist was baptising in Aenon (Aenon means a fountain) near a place called Salim on the banks of the River Jordan because there was an abundance of water at this place. John continued to baptise people after he had witness that Jesus was the Christ after He had commenced His ministry. This he did right up to the time he was put into prison.
3:25. Now a dispute came about between some of John's disciples and a certain Jew concerning ceremonial washing.
It would appear that because John and Jesus, through his disciples, were baptising in water that this caused a dispute between John's disciples and the Jews. This would most probably have been as to whose baptism had the greater effect John's or that of Jesus.
3:26. So they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan River, about whom you testified — see, he is baptizing, and everyone is flocking to him!"
John's followers were concerned that the people were now flocking to be baptised by the one whom he had bore witness to be "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). This dispute gave John his opportunity to bear witness to who Jesus was for the last time before he was imprisoned and beheaded.
John the Friend of Jesus Christ
3:27. John replied, "No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven.
John did not bother his head about the dispute but in effect replied that he had done and was doing what he had been commissioned to do by God. His business was to fulfil that commission and not to get all worked up about what another was doing for God (John 21:20-22). No man has anything to offer to anyone unless he receives it from heaven.
3:28. You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but rather, 'I have been sent before him.'
He reminded his disciples that they had been a witness to what he had said before that he was not the Christ but had been in advance as a messenger to prepare the way Him (John 1:20-23).
3:29. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly when he hears the bridegroom's voice. This then is my joy, and it is complete.
John uses the metaphor (a figure of speech) of bridegroom and best man (friend) to explain his position in relation to Jesus Christ. In marriage it is the bridegroom who gets the bride and yet the friend (best man) who stands by him and listens to his every word greatly rejoices in it. Therefore, in this is John's joy fulfilled. Jesus Christ is the Bridegroom and His Church is the Bride (Rev. 21:9).
3:30. He must become more important while I become less important."
John turns the attention of his disciples away from himself to Christ saying that He will have the pre-eminence while he will diminish.
Jesus Christ is Far Above All
It is not clear whether the remainder of this chapter are the words of John the Baptist of Jesus Christ. It matters not the important thing is the truth of what is said.
3:31. The one who comes from above is superior to all. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is superior to all.
Jesus Christ is far above all because He came from heaven to earth and is the only one qualified to speak and reveal the things of heaven (John 6:33 and John 8:23). He who has "no higher nature than the human nature" (Barnes), the prophets, apostles, and John were men like others, born in the same way. They were limited in their understanding and teaching of heavenly things but Jesus Christ who came from heaven is far superior to all others (Rom. 9:5).
3:32. He testifies about what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony.
Jesus Christ bears witness to the things that He has actually seen and heard and yet no one accepts His message
3:33. He testifies about what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony.
Those who have accepted his witness has solemnly attested and confirmed that God is true.
3:34. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he does not give the Spirit sparingly.
Jesus Christ whom God sent speaks the words of God for He has given to Him the Holy Spirit in fullness. The prophets were inspired on particular occasions to deliver special messages. Christ was continually filled with the Spirit of God. "The Spirit dwelt in him, not as a vessel, but as in a fountain, as in a bottomless ocean" (Henry).
3:35. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things under his authority.
God the Father loves the Son and has declared so (Matt. 3:17, Luke 9:35 and 2 Pet. 1:17) and has given all things into Hs hands (Matt. 28:18, 1 Cor. 15:27 and Eph. 1:21).
3:36. The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God's wrath remains on him.
Those who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and accepts Him as their Lord and Saviour have eternal life here and now and for ever. Those who do not believe in Him do not have true life now and never will and shall not enter into heaven. They are condemned already for their sin (Rom. 5:18) and will remain condemned and suffer eternal punishment for their rejection of the way of Salvation made through Jesus Christ atoning death on the cross (Rom. 2:5).
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