About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Jesus Teaches Nicodemus  (ch. 3:1-21)

 

The context of what we read here in John 3 is in Jerusalem at the Passover.  It's right after Jesus cleansed the temple. 

 

In verse 1 John tells us that Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the ruling council, or the Sanhedrin.  These men were the rulers of the Jews, although their power was limited because the real rulers were the Romans.  There were seventy men in the Sanhedrin, some were Pharisees and others were Sadducees, and still others consisted of smaller sects.  Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees were religious leaders with different view points concerning the Law of Moses.  There were also lawyers and teachers of the Law in the Sanhedrin.

 

It is interesting to note that Nicodemus was a Jew with a Roman name.

 

John tells us that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, most likely in secret.  This is especially important because the Jewish leaders are very angry with Jesus.  He had just disrupted their commerce at the temple.  There would be no way that Nicodemus would want to be seen in public with Jesus at this point.

 

In verse 2  Nicodemus calls Jesus Rabbi.  This tells us that he believed; at least to some degree that Jesus was a legitimate teacher.  Robbie means teacher.  That being said, because of the Greek construction of this verse, and Nicodemus' statement, it appears he had some doubt about Jesus and thus the reason for his visit.  

 

Nicodemus had apparently seen many of the miracles that Jesus had been performing while at the Passover in Jerusalem.  Because of these miracles he would have found himself in a dilemma.  Performing such miracles would have normally had told him the Jesus was sent from God, maybe that prophet that Moses predicted would come in Deuteronomy 18:18.  On the other hand, seeing what Jesus just did at the temple would cause him to question that Jesus was sent by God.  

 

John and others called the miracles of Jesus signs because they were a sign, pointing the way to Jesus and who He was.  Nicodemus saw the signs and wanted to believe so he came to Jesus to get more understanding.  He would have been a well educated man and therefore had some important questions that needed answers.  His response to Jesus was not simply an emotional response as a result of the miracles.  Nicodemus needed understanding, and there is nothing wrong with that.

 

We donít know if Nicodemus said anything else.  There is a good chance that he did, but whether he did or not, Jesus replied in verse 3.  "No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.  We donít know if Nicodemus asked Jesus about the Kingdom of God, or Jesus just decided to speak to this issue.

 

The important question is, "What did Jesus mean by these words?"  Nicodemus had the same question.  What Jesus said puzzled him.  How could a man be born again from his mother?  This is a complete impossibility, so he asked Jesus to explain what he said.

 

First of all we need to ask; "What is meant by the term "Kingdom of God?"  There are two aspects to the Kingdom of God as seen in the New Testament.  There is the future Kingdom that will be on earth after Jesus returns.  Until then, the second aspect is the spiritual kingdom that came on the day of Pentecost that exists until the future earthly kingdom arrives.  The present spiritual Kingdom of God is entered when we receive the Holy Spirit into our lives, and this started in Acts 2 at the day of Pentecost.  Jesus might well be talking about both kingdoms, but we still have to enter the spiritual kingdom before the future kingdom gets here.  

 

Just to add another thought.  You might debate whether there are two different kingdoms or just two aspects of the same kingdom.  To be precise, the latter is probably more correct.  The Kingdom of God is now on earth in a spiritual sense in the lives of the believers, but will be on earth in a material sense when Jesus returns to earth and sets up his earthly kingdom.  

   

The words "you must be born again" are a Greek aorist passive verb.  This means the experience of being born again is a one time experience and is made possible from an outside agent, who is God through the Holy Spirit.  We are born again when the Holy Spirit enters our very being. 

 

Nicodemus is right when in verse 4 he said that a man can't go back into his mother and be born a second time.   

 

Jesus first said that you can't even see the Kingdom unless you are born again.  We need the Holy Spirit to even know there is a Kingdom of God to enter.  There's a progression in Jesus' words.  He first speaks in terms of seeing the kingdom, and now in verse 5 He speaks in terms of entering the kingdom. 

 

For clarity sake, in verse 5 Jesus then said; "No man can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and of spirit."  The first thing to note here is that in Jesusí first response He says that you canít see the kingdom unless you are born again.  In His second response He says that you canít enter the kingdom unless you are born of water and Spirit.   

 

Simply put, one cannot either enter, or even see Godís kingdom accept through the Holy Spirit who comes to reside within that person.  When we give our lives to Jesus and receive His salvation, part of what happens to us is that we actually receive the Spirit into our very being.  When this happens, we are born again, and in my thinking, this is just as a dramatic experience as being born the first time.

 

Before I go any further, I should note that the term "born again" can also be translated as "born from above," meaning, born from God in Heaven. 

 

When it comes to the words "water and spirit" I believe the word "water" refers to natural birth since the woman's water bursts at child-birth.  Being born of the Spirit is therefore the second birth at salvation.  I believe Jesus is comparing the natural with the spiritual here.  I think this is confirmed in verse 6 when Jesus says that which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of spirit is spirit.

 

What I don't believe Jesus is speaking of here is Christian water baptism as some suggest.  I don't believe the context suggests this and I think it's bad hermeneutics to impose a Christian era baptism into the pre-Christian era. 

 

It is interesting to note that in Ezekiel 36:25 to 27 the words "water and spirit" are used in terms of the New Covenant and man's new relationship with God.  Nicodemus would have known this passage and maybe that is why Jesus is using this terminology.        

 

 In verse 7 Jesus told Nicodemus that he shouldnít be surprised at what He was saying.  Most likely Jesus said this because Nicodemus acted surprised, even confused.  You and I would not be any different if we were in Jesusí presence hearing the same words, and especially so if we had Nicodemus' thinking processes, his education, and cultural background.

 

In verse 8 Jesus gives a little analogy to help Nicodemus understand what He is saying.  He says that the "wind blows where it wants to."  One doesnít quite know where the wind came from or exactly where it is going.  Yes, you might know the general direction of the wind, but to be sure where it originated and where it will end up is pretty impossible.

 

Then Jesus says, "So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."  It is not that people who are born of the Spirit are flaky or weird, not knowing where theyíve come from or where theyíre going.  Spirit born people donít bounce around in uncertainty.  Jesusí point is that in the same way people cannot understand the wind, they cannot understand Spirit born people.  They only see the effect of the Spirit born person, as they see the effect of the wind.  The non-Christian has a hard time understanding where the Christian is coming from and where he is going.  That's the way it was with Nicodemus.  

 

In verse 9 Nicodemus answers Jesus by saying, "How can this be?"  He still doesnít understand what Jesus is saying.  There is a need for us to understand, yet at the same time we need a balance.  Sometimes our understanding canít understand the things of God.  I do believe what Jesus is telling Nicodemus here is understandable to a degree, but without the help of the Holy Spirit, there is no real understanding of these things.  Sometimes, maybe more often than not, we need to experience something before we can understand it. 

 

Jesus seems just as much surprised at Nicodemus as Nicodemus is with Jesus.  In verse 10 Jesus states that Nicodemus is a teacher in Israel, but he doesnít understand these things. 

 

In verse 11 Jesus seems to be a bit irritated when He tells Nicodemus the we speak and testify to that which we know.  Why does Jesus use the pronoun "we"?   Who is the "we" that He is referring too?  Some suggest that we refer to Jesus and His disciples but I'm not sure His disciples really did understand what Jesus was saying to them at this point.  Others suggest that Jesus might be referring to Him and His Father, and there might be some validity on that point.  One thing we know and that is Jesus is clear that He knows what He is talking about.

 

The Pharisees are very much like some religious leaders today. They have grown cold in their hearts and in their understanding have strayed so far from Godís thinking that they just donít get the truth when it is presented to them.  In many respects, like the Pharisees in Jesus' day, Christians today are so far removed from the truths of Scripture that they don't know they are removed from the truths of Scripture.      

 

In verse 11 Jesus continues by saying, "Still you people do not accept our testimony."  You people refers to the Jews and especially to the Jewish leaders.  It is interesting that Jesus uses the term "you people."  The "you people" that He was talking about were Jews, Jewish leaders to be specific.  When using the words "you people", Jesus was separating Himself from the Jewish leadership.  That must have been sad for Jesus since Jesus was a Jew Himself.  As John said in chapter 1, Jesus came unto His own people, and they didn't receive Him, and now we see this separation between Jesus and His own people taking place. 

 

In verse 12 Jesus concludes that if He speaks to the Jews of earthly things and they canít understand them, how will they ever understand if He speaks of Heavenly things.  Once again, this is true.  Worldly people just have a hard time understanding Heavenly concepts and truths.  This was no surprise to Jesus.  Even His disciples struggled with what He was saying, but, all that would end when they received the Holy Spirit as they did in Acts 2. 

 

In verse 13 Jesus says that "No one has ever gone into Heaven accept the One who has came from Heaven."  No man has entered Heaven, but Jesus has come to earth from Heaven to show God to man.  Even at this early point in Jesusí ministry He is suggesting that He is more than a man, more than a teacher, more than a prophet.  He is saying that He actually came from Heaven.  These words may not specifically suggest deity, but I believe they do, especially when Jesus adds the words "son of Man", which is a Messianic term.  

To understand verse 14 you need to know a little Old Testament history.  In the days of Moses, after he led the Jews out of Egypt they got very impatient and spoke against God and Moses.  God then sent them a curse consisting of snakes that bit the people.  As a result, the people came to Moses and said that they had done wrong by speaking against him and God.  God therefore told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole.  Anyone who had been bitten by a snake and was dying could look to this snake on the pole and theyíd be healed.  See Numbers 21:4 to 9. 

 

So Jesus proceeds to tell Nicodemus that in like fashion the Son of Man, that is Jesus, would be lifted up.  I think that most people understand this lifting up of Jesus to be the lifting Him up on the cross, and that might well be the case.  However, the Greek words translated as "lifted up" here is translated in other places in the New Testament as "exalted."  If then we should understand lifted up as being exalted, then Jesus might not be speaking of the cross.  He might actually be speaking of His ascension back into Heaven.

 

Again, I remind you the term Son of Man might well be in reference to Daniel 7:13 where Daniel predicts the coming of one like the Son of Man. 

 

In verse 15 Jesus said that anyone who believes in Him, that is, the Son of Man, will have eternal life.  John, more than the other three gospel writers, speaks of eternal life.  Salvation can be viewed from a number of different perspectives.  Eternal life is just one of these perspectives. 

 

The analogy concerning the snake is the backdrop to one of the most well known verses in the Bible.  It's John 3:16.  "God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son."  God loving all humans in the world is the basis for salvation.  We must understand that Jesus' existence on earth was driven out of love for humanity on the part of God.  The love of God, that we sing about so often, can never be properly understood by humanity, at least not in this life.  God's love is a sacrificial love.  It's called "agape" love.  The Greek word "agape" had grown out of style in the first century Roman Empire .  That's probably due to the fact that it meant a selfless kind of love.  Because of its lack of use, Christians adopted the word for themselves to demonstrate God's love.  That's why many view "agape" as God's love today, when in reality, it simply means a sacrificial love.  God sacrificial love led Jesus to the cross. 

 

Iíd like to make two points.  One point is concerning the word "believe" here in verses 15 and 16.  To believe is not to just give mental ascent to the truth.  Simply agreeing with the truth is not the New Testament definition of believe.  When people speak of believing in the New Testament they speak of giving oneís life to the truth.  This is a far cry from simply agreeing with the truth.  This is an often neglected point in our modern gospel preaching that has very serious consequences concerning oneís salvation.

 

The Greek word translated as "believe" here and throughout the New Testament is the word "pisteu.o" As I've said in the last paragraph, this Greek word means "to trust or to give", as in, "give one's life to Jesus, or, trust your life with Him."  In this particular case, "pisteuo" is what is called in Greek a "present active participle."  Present means that the believing, or giving of one's life to Jesus, must be in the present tense; in the present real time.  It can't be a thing of the past.  Active means that whosoever will trust His life to Jesus must be the ones actively believing.  A participle is a half verb and half noun.  Participles place the emphasis on the action part of the word not the noun part of the word.  This all means that a believer is one who actually and actively believes in the present tense.  The emphasis is on the action of believing or trusting, not merely the state of one being a believer.  What Jesus is saying here is that the giving you life to Him in a meaningful relationship must be ongoing.  Only to those who have an ongoing relationship with Jesus will have eternal life.     

 

The second point is that Jesus said that those who give their lives to the truth of the gospel, or give their lives to Him, would not perish.  We must understand that there is life after death for everyone.  It is my understanding that the lost soul will be eternally perishing.  They will not simply perish away to nothing, as you might imply from this verse.  Those who are lost will be always be in the process of perishing, always in the process of being wasted away to nothing, but never finding the end of their lives, although wishing for it.

 

We often quote John 3:16, but verses 17 and 18 are just as important.  John tells us that God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it but to save it.  Jesusí mission was to provide salvation for everyone, yet, it is interesting to see who does condemn us.  John says that "whosoever does not believe is condemned already."  Jesus does not condemn us.  We condemn ourselves by our unbelief.  We will not be condemned in the future.  We, if we are presently living in unbelief are already condemned.  We donít have to wait for the future to be condemned.  We are already at this present time.  When we give our lives to Jesus we leave this state of condemnation and enter into a state of peace with God. This is what the Apostle Paul calls justification in the book of Romans.  For those who have condemned themselves through unbelief, only God's judgment and proclamation of the Lake of Fire is left.

 

In Revelation 20:11 and following we see that the books are open at what we call the Great White Throne Judgment.  Those whose names are not written in the books will be thrown into the Lake of Fire and be tormented forever.  I don't believe this passage is saying that God passes judgment and condemns these people at that time.  I believe He simply announced the judgment and condemnation because of what is said here in John 3.  Those people are already condemned.  They condemned themselves.       

 

In verse 19 John says that "this is the verdict." This is a legal term.  We should know that God is the supreme and ultimate judge, thus, the legal term used here.  The verdict is plain and clear.  "Light has come into the world."  This light is Jesus.  We saw this in the first few verses of John 1.  Light may suggests a number of things.  It could be the light of understanding of God and His ways, but here, it's used differently.  

The light exposes people's sins.  John tells us that evil people run from the light so their evil ways will not be exposed for what they are.  The light of God's justice shines in the dark corners of our sinful lives.  This is true of the people of the world we associate with.  Unless the Holy Spirit brings conviction to their hearts and they decide to repent, they will run from the truth and not want anything to do with the truth and with those of the truth.

 

On the other hand, in verse 21, John says that those "who live by the truthĒ come into the light and the things he does are good things because of this light.  Men will see these good things.  They may not give themselves to the light themselves, but they will at least see the good fruit of those who give themselves to the truth, and this will be a testimony to the truth.  

 

John speaks here of loving the truth.  Of course, that's the truth associated with God and Jesus.  Christians must give themselves to the pursuit of truth.  That is not always the case in our world today.  Christians are destroyed for a lack of the knowledge of the truth.  It's that simple. 


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