It was on a dark night that one of the top religious leaders in Jerusalem, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, came to seek the Messiah our Lord Jesus, most likely to discuss theology and to satisfy his inquisitiveness. He was not a wilfully blind Pharisee, unlike most of his religious colleagues, but knew that something about the Lord Jesus was different. There had been undoubtedly some claiming to be sent from God and Nicodemus would have known about John the Baptist as well who was sent from God. What had drawn the attention of this religious leader were the miraculous things the Lord Jesus had been doing in and around Jerusalem. The Lord Jesus ‘cut to the chase’ with Nicodemus and clearly told him that he must be born again if he would see the kingdom of God.
John Chapter 3:1-21
(Vs.1) “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews;
This man was no ordinary Pharisee but a leader of Pharisees. Possibly he would have been equivalent to a Senior Bishop within Christendom today or one who had a very high theological degree and education and possibly superior in many ways theologically to his fellow Pharisees. Later when the Pharisees were verbally ganging up on the Lord Jesus Nicodemus sought to reason with them to at least consider Jesus’ claims and that any man should be heard to speak before being condemned and dismissed (John 7:50-51).
There are two types of spiritual blindness we see in the Bible. There is the spiritual blindness that all of us are born with, and unless the blessed Holy Spirit opens our spiritual eyes to reveal who the Lord Jesus is and the spiritual transformation He makes in a person’s life deep down on the inside, then we would remain in spiritual darkness and ignorant of the spiritual realities of God’s Kingdom. The second type of spiritual blindness is wilful blindness when one is faced with the truth but deliberately chooses to ignore it, turn from it and turn others away from it as well. This was the case with Nicodemus’ colleagues. Even when he stood up in the assembly of the Pharisees and encouraged them to consider the claims of the Lord Jesus they shouted him down.
Later we read where Nicodemus, accompanied Joseph of Arimathea to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus that they might bury Him. Joseph was a believer but a secret one, because he feared the Jewish leaders and yet he was accompanied by Nicodemus (John 19:38-42). We are not told specifically that Nicodemus became a believer but he would most likely have witnessed the crucifixion and I think he was or would have become a believer but we are not specifically told. Now let’s read on.
(Vs.2) “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.”
Nicodemus came to the Lord Jesus by night. John uses the word for “night’ both in a literal and in a metaphorical sense as well. In other words even though it was at night it was spiritually dark within the soul of Nicodemus. What John is seeking to convey is that this man was coming out of the darkness and moving towards the light. God was at work by His Spirit in this man’s heart. Most likely he also came at night because he did not want his fellow Pharisees to know about him coming to the Lord Jesus. Nicodemus would have known about the miraculous signs that would accompany the Messiah. The Torah spoke about this (Isaiah 61:1-3) (Isaiah 42:1-8).
The Lord Jesus had all the marks of the prophesied Messiah. Nicodemus recognised that God was working through the Lord Jesus and that His teaching was from God. Nicodemus primarily was focused on the miracles, the signs and the wonders but was devoid of inner spiritual sight concerning the true nature of the Lord Jesus that He was in fact the living and eternal pre-existent Word of God made flesh and who tabernacled among us as the invisible God made visible (John 1:1-2, 14-15) (Colossians 1:15-17). And then we read…
(Vs.3-4) “Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 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?”
The Lord Jesus knew that a theological debate was not the thing to engage in but looked upon the heart of this man and saw that he was seeking the truth. The Lord Jesus told him that unless he was born again or spiritually reborn from above that he would never be able to enter into God’s eternal kingdom or perceive the things related to it. The Lord Jesus knew that the natural man without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit could not possibly understand spiritual truth even when they hear it. God’s Word clearly tell us that unless we are spiritually reborn from above by the work of the Holy Spirit we will never understand the things of God in the way He intends us to understand or perceive them (1 Corinthians 2:12-16).
Nicodemus was very religious, and like religious people who are not born again by the Holy Spirit, he had a works based righteousness. In other words he recognised faith but thought that his religious works and observances and his theological qualifications were sufficient to put him in right standing with God. The reality is that he did not know God personally or inwardly. If he did, then the Lord Jesus would not have told him about being born again.
Many today graduate out of theological cemeteries (seminaries) and have religious knowledge about God and the Bible but have never really encountered Him deep down on the inside in their spirit man. They are still in their sins but do not know it. Such was the case of Nicodemus. It is clear that he could not comprehend what the Lord Jesus was getting at when He spoke about being reborn from above. Nicodemus was still thinking at the human level and with his own reasoning but because he had never been truly circumcised in his heart by the Spirit he was trying to work things out with his intellect but it failed him. God had to be experienced as a reality in his life.
Unless a person encounters the living resurrected Lord Jesus in their spiritual experience then they have religion but not reality, legalism without life! The Lord Jesus of course was not speaking about human birth but a spiritual rebirth from above without which no one will be able to encounter God or understand his Word as revealed in scripture. Now let’s continue…
(Vs.5-7) “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. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.”
Here the Lord Jesus clearly states that a person must be born of water and the Spirit to enter into the Kingdom of God. His emphasis was not on the physical birth which the water implies, but on the second spiritual birth. Also in light of the New Testament water can also metaphorically represent the water of the Word of God which is the instrument the Spirit uses to bring about the new spiritual rebirth deep down on the inside of a person (Ephesians 5:26). In the process of spiritual regeneration or rebirth there is a spiritual washing process that occurs in the New Birth through the Word of God (Titus 3:5). Without this washing by the Word of God no one can be saved (John 13:8; 15:3). We can read the Word of God but unless the blessed Holy Spirit imparts spiritual light through the Word we will not be able to really understand spiritual truth as God means it to be understood.
Having said this, many a person has started out reading the Word of God who did not have any faith or revelation concerning the Lord Jesus and the salvation He brings, but as they kept reading the blessed Holy Spirit went to work supernaturally and opened their spiritual eyes to see and to believe and to obey the truth. The instrument the Holy Spirit uses in His convicting and converting work is the Word of God. The “seed” is God’s Word. The “soil” is the heart of a person and the “water’ the life giving power and purity of the Holy Spirit. The water also refers to the Word of God as well as to the Spirit. The Words of the Lord Jesus are Spirit and they are life (John 6:63).
If you have never been spiritually reborn from above and you want to be then start reading through the Gospel of John with an open mind and heart and God will work that work which is impossible with man but possible with God (Matthew 19:26). Physical birth is an illustration of spiritual re-birth. Just as a husband impregnates the womb of his wife with his physical seed to create new life in the womb, so the Lord Jesus breathes the spiritual seed of His Spirit into the womb of the human spirit causing divine life and the fruit of the Spirit to spring up in the soil of the heart (John 15:1-8) (Galatians 5:22-25). As it is written; “But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17). And so we read…
(Vs.8) “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.”
Now the work of the Holy Spirit is a mystery in that it is a sovereign and supernatural work He does deep within the human heart. Some can trace the moment when they received new life and others cannot pinpoint the exact time they were spiritually reborn but in both cases there is evidence of the new spiritual life clearly manifested by the fruit of the Spirit in their life. There is an inner supernatural change that occurs. When you hear the sound of a strong wind the leaves of the trees start to respond to the force of the wind. The tree itself does not respond unless the wind comes. One cannot perceive the source of the wind but when the wind blows the trees come alive! One thing to keep in mind is that the Spiritual rebirth is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit deep within the inner man.
Having said this in the light of Post Pentecost we see the Spirit given in His fullness which did not happen before Pentecost. The New birth has always been available to people since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, however, the gift of the Holy Spirit in His fullness was not available until after the Lord Jesus had ascended to heaven and poured out the Spirit. One can be born again and have the Spirit living in them but not have received the full power of the Spirit himself poured out upon them for testimony and service for the Lord Jesus (John 7:37-39) (Acts 2:33) (Luke 24:48-49) (Acts 1:8) (Ephesians 5:18). There is a difference between the Spirit indwelling and the Spirit outpoured. Because the Spirit has been poured out and made available to all who repent, who also believe, having been born again and baptised in water, can receive the fullness of the Spirit. (Acts 2:37-39) Now let’s continue…
(Vs.9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?”
Nicodemus should have known about the new birth from the Torah. The circumcision of the heart by the Spirit in the Torah is a reference to the New Birth which occurred in people such Abel. Noah, Moses, Joshua, King David, Gideon and all who called on the name of the Lord in the Torah (Old Testament). The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote; “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:28-29). This was the point the Lord Jesus was trying to get across to Nicodemus. And then we read…
(Vs.11-13) “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. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.”
In His response to Nicodemus the Lord Jesus uses the term “we” and the most natural reading of this would lead us to believe He is speaking about His Disciples who had come to believe that he was not only the Messiah but also the Son of God, a truth revealed to them supernaturally by their Father in Heaven (Matthew 16:15-17) (John 6:68-69). The only one who did not see this was Judas Iscariot. He had also been chosen yet in the end it was revealed that an evil spirit had been at work in him which the Lord Jesus knew was present (John 6:70-71). The Lord Jesus had been using practical illustrations from everyday life especially when He used the parables to teach spiritual lessons and yet by and large people did not understand the deeper spiritual truths He was speaking about. In many of his hearers there was a measure of understanding and even spiritual light but at the end of His ministry everyone abandoned Him.
Having said this there were those within Israel who knew who He was and had encountered Him and His supernatural power consequently changing their lives. Undoubtedly these had been spiritually reborn but it was only after the Spirit had been poured out that thousands started to repent, believe, be baptised and received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-41) (Acts 8:14-16) (Acts 10:44-48) (Acts 19:5-7). Nicodemus, his theological colleagues and all who had never been spiritually reborn, did not have the capacity to understand the deeper spiritual truths the Lord Jesus was speaking about. It would take the work of the Holy Spirit to convince them of their need to be reconciled to God and of their failure to believe in the Lord Jesus as the only way of salvation.
The first and foremost sin the Holy Spirit convicts a spiritually un-regenerated person about is of their unbelief in Jesus, their need of righteousness and that Satan had been judged and defeated and of the judgement to come (John 16:8-11). Added to this, the fact that the Lord Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man, being fully human in every way, He also stated His divinity as fully God in that He had already been in heaven from all eternity and what He had seen there and was able to see through the Spirit, He was revealing to man. Now let’s continue…
(Vs.14-15) “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”
After speaking at length about the New Birth to this religious leader the Lord Jesus not only told him about the need for the New Birth but went on to tell him how he or anyone could receive this New Birth from above. He pointed Nicodemus to a past event recorded in the Torah that pointed to the foundation upon which the New Birth is established in a person’s life. We see an account in Numbers 21:4-9 When the Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land, having left Egypt, they faced a situation where their journey became tedious to them, as they were often inclined as a people to grumble against God and against Moses His servant. They grumbled about not having food and water even though God had been providing the food they needed. They became unthankful and ungrateful and so they rebelled in their hearts and with their words. So God sent fiery serpents among them to bite them. These were no ordinary serpents but were demonic serpents with a deadly poison in their bite. People started to die and so the Israelites came to Moses and repented before Him and before God and asked Moses to intercede with God on their behalf and Moses went before the Lord as their intercessor. The Lord instructed Moses to make a bronze image of a fiery serpent and put it on a pole and then instructed Moses to tell the people that whoever was bitten but looked at the snake would not die but live and the poison rendered harmless to kill them. There is a famous painting of the event and in the picture there is a mother desperately trying to get her dying child to look at the bronze snake on the pole. The Lord Jesus was using this past event as a pattern or type of what He was about to do at the cross to provide salvation from the power and spiritual poison of sin. And then we read…
(Vs.16 “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.”
Now the Lord Jesus knew that Nicodemus would have been familiar with this situation that occurred in the time of Moses. What He was seeking to convey to this religious leader was that all of us are born into this world as sinners and rebels against God and his laws, whether we are religious or not, and that the wages of sin is not only physical death but spiritual death being eternally separated from God in the Lake of Fire where one would be in conscious fiery torment forever and ever. (Psalm 51:5) (Ephesians 2:1-3) (Revelation 14:9-11; 21:8) (Isaiah 66:24). Don’t let anyone tell you that hell and the lake of fire are not real. As a well-known Messianic evangelist stated; “Hell is the Devils’ best kept secret!” Now the Lord Jesus also said that God in His love for sinners and rebels sent His One and Only begotten Son, not created but of an eternal nature, to become a man and die for men at the cross. The snake of the pole pointed to the Lord Jesus who bore in His own body the poisonous sins of the whole world (2 Corinthians 5:21) (1 Peter 2:24).
When anyone confesses they are a great sinner in God’s sight and see an eternal hell staring at them and look to the Lord Jesus who has paid the terrible price for their sin and shed his blood to atone for their sin, and call out to Him to save them then the blessed Holy Spirit brings about that new birth deep down on the inside. The Holy Spirit then applies the atoning blood of Jesus to the doorposts and lintel of that persons heart cleansing them from sin and delivering them out from being under the power of Satan and enslavement to sin and out of this present evil age (1 John 1:7-9) (Galatians 1:4).As we also read in Colossians; “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).
Paul also wrote; “But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him” (Romans 10:8-12).
God can and will forgive sin on the basis of the shed blood of the Messiah that has atoned for all sin once and for all time being the price of our redemption (Ephesians 1:7). Any man, woman, boy or girl who is willing to confess and turn from their sinful ways and rebellion against God’s laws and commandments and turn to God by faith in the Lord Jesus as their sin-bearer then the poison of sin will no longer bring upon them an eternity in the lake of fire that will never be quenched. When anyone repents and believes on the Lord Jesus alone for their salvation they receive forgiveness for their sins and receive eternal life, being God’s very own nature and righteousness that will be the means by which they will be able to enter into the Kingdom of God (Romans 3:21-26). They become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (2 Peter 1:4). In the Greek text of John 3:16 it says “He who believes and keeps on believing” in the present continuous tense, will enjoy a new life being one of righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit that the world cannot give, and a life that will be fully realised in eternity (Romans 14:17) (John 14:27). Added to this the Lord Jesus, like His Father has, is also the source of eternal life (John 5:24-26, 40; 11:25). And then we read what the Lord Jesus said next.
(Vs.17-18) “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes (is believing) in Him is not judged; he who does not believe (is not believing) has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
When the Lord Jesus came into the world the first time He did not come to judge the world for its sin and rebellion but to save the world through the sacrificial death He experienced at the cross and where He shed His pure untainted blood to atone for the sins of the whole world (John 1:29) (1 John 2:2). Those who put their trust in the Lord Jesus alone to save them will be delivered from the power and penalty of sin and will not be judged for their sin because their sin was judged at the cross. They have received the atonement offered by God to them through the cleansing blood of the Messiah our Lord Jesus and by faith in that blood protected from the coming wrath of God upon sin (Romans 5:9).
As the Apostle Paul writes; “For if, when we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:10-11). However, those who do not believe have already been judged and when they appear before the Great White Throne in eternity they will appear for sentencing (Revelation 20:11-15). Without the New Birth and the gift of the Holy Spirit in His fullness we cannot be saved in this life or in the afterlife to come after we die! As it is written; “man is appointed to die once and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). When the resurrected Messiah our Lord Jesus comes back the second time He will come as the judge to dispense justice and righteousness and retribution on all who have violated His laws and trodden them underfoot, who have revelled in sin and rebellion and despised His blood that atoned for sin! (Revelation 19:11-21) In that day He will rule the surviving nations with a Rod of Iron and the global government will rest upon His shoulders (Psalm 2:8-9) (Isaiah 9:6). And then we read…
(Vs.19-20) “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. “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
We are told in the Word of God that darkness and light have nothing in common any more than the Messiah our Lord Jesus and Satan have anything in common. As the apostle Paul writes; “for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15). The average person on the street has little or no comprehension of how serious a matter sin is and that it cost the lifeblood of the Son of God who was without sin (John 8:46) (2 Corinthians 5:21). When people are against the Bible they know that it is against them because they love the darkness and the things that accompany it and have only a reward in this life because there is no reward to come but an eternal fire in conscious torment. They know that if they read the Bible it will read them and they do not like it at all because they love darkness and the things of darkness instead of loving God’s light and the things of light that come with it. God’s word is the divine searchlight that can penetrate deeply into the darkness of the soul. It is also like a mirror in that it shows us what we are really like deep down on the inside (James 1:22-24).
Our world today is in rebellion against God. Its leaders are flagrantly opposing the truth as it is revealed in the light of God’s Word. The whole world is plunging headlong into judgement, and hell has opened its jaws wide and multitudes are dropping into its unfathomable depths. At the end of this present age only a faithful remnant will remain saved both in Israel and in wider Christendom. Those who live in the realm of spiritual darkness love the things of the darkness whereas those who live in the light of God’s presence and who hunger and thirst after righteousness love the things of light. The light is the Lord Jesus the true Light of the world that enlightens all those who want Him to enlighten them spiritually (John 1:9). As He Himself also said; “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Only when His spiritual light and life penetrates the spiritual darkness of the soul enslaved to sin does the new birth take place. While it is a sovereign work of God the blessed Holy Spirit gives just enough light to enable a person to see their true spiritual condition before God and be willing to have Him change them from within. If they are willing to be changed then the blessed Holy Spirit will work that inward spiritual change that is impossible with man but possible with God because with God nothing is impossible (Matthew 19:25-26). The blessed Holy Spirit can go where we cannot go. He can enter into situations that are beyond human capacity to deal with. He knows what should be done and said in all and every situation because He is God the Spirit. Salvation by faith is the gift of God and it is not based on works of righteousness or upon anything we can produce within or by our own self effort but is solely granted on the basis of God’s unmerited, unearned favour towards sinners (Ephesians 2:8-9). And so we read…
(Vs.21) “But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
It is one thing to know the truth and something else to love and obey the truth. We read in 2nd Thessalonians that all those who refuse to love the truth and be saved will perish (2 Thessalonians 2:10b). “To perish” does not mean annihilation or that one ceases to exist after they die physically. What it means is that something that can no longer be used for the purpose for which it was created to be used is cast aside or discarded but it still exists. Those who refuse to love and obey the truth will be consigned to the eternal flames from which there is no reprieve. Those who come to the light, being the Lord Jesus and trusting in Him alone to save them from the power and penalty of sin will never be cast away (John 6:37). The blessed Holy Spirit in them will produce words and deeds that are acceptable and pleasing to God.
The Pharisees in the time of the Lord Jesus had the truth in the Torah and read it and studied it and memorised it yet when their inner motives and outward deeds were exposed to the light of the presence of the Lord Jesus it was clear they did not have the truth. The Lord Jesus Himself said to the spiritually blind Pharisees; “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (John 9:39-41).
On another occasion the Pharisees opposed Him claiming to know the truth when in reality they didn’t. He said to these connivers; “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me” (John 8:42-45).
When a person is spiritually reborn from above by the blessed Holy Spirit he or she will have new spiritual tastebuds. They will start to love the things God loves and hate the things God hates. Instead of hating and ignoring God they will find new desires deep within themselves to love, to obey and to please God. They will find a love for the Lord Jesus instead of an indifferent attitude towards Him. They will find a new love for God’s Word and for His people and others who are as yet unsaved. They will find a desire to have fellowship with other new covenant believers. They will have a deep hunger and thirst for righteousness and to be filled with it from the Holy Spirit. They will start to put things out of their lives that draw them away from God. They will look forward to his Second Coming and prepare themselves to be ready for Him when He comes back. They will find that He, the Lord Jesus who is dwelling in them through His Spirit in them, is greater than he that is in the world, being Satan. They will become aware of the spiritual warfare between the desires of the Spirit with the desires of the flesh and see the works of Satan exposed for what they really are. They will find a desire to pray and to seek the Lord’s presence. As the Apostle Paul writes; “Therefore, if anyone is in the Messiah, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). There is a story told of a man who got saved and was so excited he wanted to tell everyone what God had done for his soul. As he was walking down the street he saw a sign board hanging down from a building and without looking at it hung it around his neck and to his joy found written on it in bold letters “Under New Management.” If you would enter into God’s eternal kingdom and perceive the things pertaining to God’s kingdom then you must be born again and made new all over again deep down on the inside. It is imperative. “You Must be Born Again! (John 3:3).