John 3:1-21

John 3:1-2 “There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, 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.”

It will be evident in the verses that follow that Jesus knows the heart of man as no other does. This is the story of Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, and as such, he was a ruler of the Jews. His office would be something akin to that of our senators of today, but since Judea was under the power of Rome, his power went only as far as Jewish religious affairs. Nicodemus no doubt was careful to observe the Law, the ten commandments and also the traditions of the elders. The Pharisees believed that was the way of salvation.

The fact that Nicodemus called on Jesus at night was significant, otherwise John probably wouldn’t have mentioned it. Nicodemus was a prominent Pharisee and he may have wanted to keep his visit secret because the Pharisees generally were antagonistic toward Jesus, or he may have wanted to speak to Jesus privately to ascertain just exactly Who He was.

Verses 3-10. “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? 5. Jesus answered, Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6. 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 to you, 'You must be born again.' 8. 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. 9. Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be? 10. Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?”

Jesus knew Nicodemus was in spiritual and intellectual darkness as well as the natural darkness of the night. He called Jesus a teacher come from God but he addressed Him as Rabbi, not as the Messiah, or the Son of God, or as Lord.

I think Nicodemus wanted to determine if Jesus was a prophet as well as a teacher. He did not approach Jesus as a typical Pharisee might. He was courteous and not hostile.

Jesus went right to the heart of his problem. He knew what was in Nicodemus’ heart. He knew Nicodemus was questioning his own standing before God. He told him plainly that you can’t enter the kingdom of God until you experience a second birth.

Nicodemus thought Jesus was speaking of a second physical birth, but verses 6 through 8 show that He was speaking of the need for a spiritual birth. A spiritual birth only takes place when a person trusts in the Lord Jesus. In verse 7, He said “Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again.”

Only the Holy Spirit can regenerate a human spirit. God doesn’t intend to change the flesh or to save the flesh. He intends to change the spirit and to save the spirit.

In every age there has been only one way of salvation: faith in God. In the dispensation of law, a man’s faith was made evident by his obedience to God in making sacrifices at the Temple and by his life. In the present age, a man’s faith in God is made evident by his life and by his obedience to Christ’s request that the believer be baptized as a public statement of his faith.

When Jesus referred to the “kingdom of God,” in verse 3, He was referring to those who are born again. The two terms, “kingdom of God,” and the “kingdom of heaven” indicate the same thing. An earthly kingdom includes all those who are loyal to the king as well as those who are only subject to the king and may not be loyal to the king. There are also two aspects of the “kingdom of heaven.” In it's broadest sense, it includes those who only profess Christ as their Savior as well as those who actually accept Him as their Savior. In Matthew 25, we see the rightful division of the “kingdom of heaven” when the Son of Man comes in His glory.

Matthew 25:31-34.“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'.”

The passage we read in John 3 is the only passage in John that mentions the “kingdom of God,” although Jesus spoke of “my kingdom” in John 18:36. All through his writings, John warned his readers that obtaining eternal life was the only way to become a child of God. At the end of this dispensation, the world will experience the coming of His earthly reign, but the individual must first experience regeneration before leaving this world in order to be a part of that kingdom.

The accepted point of view by the religious Jews in Jesus' day was that all Jews would be admitted to the kingdom apart from those guilty of apostasy or extreme wickedness.

But here was Jesus telling Nicodemus, a respected and conscientious member of the Sanhedrin, that he can’t enter the kingdom unless he is born again. Nicodemus didn’t understand what Jesus was getting at. He seemed quite sure that Jesus wasn’t referring to reincarnation or a second physical birth. People are the same today; they don’t seem to understand. When you talk to them about being born again, they often bring up their family's religious heritage, their church membership, religious ceremonies, and so on.

Jesus used verse 6 to clarify the new birth for Nicodemus. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” He was stating that the new birth is not a physical re-birth, it is the brand new spiritual birth. When Nicodemus asked how this could be, Jesus asked “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?”

Nicodemus was a teacher of the Old Testament Scriptures and he should have known that the source of regeneration was made clear in the Old Testament. In Jeremiah 31, God promised that He would pour out His spirit on His people. The result of that outpouring would be a new heart for those on whom the spirit came. Jesus had been speaking of a spiritual birth, not a physical one. The Old Testament was clear that God would only bring cleansing and renewal by His Spirit. You must be born again from above.

We are spiritually dead in sin until the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual life. Nicodemus shouldn’t have marveled at the idea that there is a spiritual birth as well as a physical birth since the Old Testament also spoke of it in Ezekiel 36:25-28. “I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. 28. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.”

Entrance into the kingdom is not a physical matter of descent or merit. This was a revelation to most of the Jews in Jesus' day, including Nicodemus. He had evidently viewed acceptance by God as so many Jewish people of that day did. He thought that his ancestry, position, and works made him acceptable to God and entitled him to the kingdom. He didn’t realize he needed spiritual cleansing and renewal that only the Holy Spirit of God could provide.

I fear that many people today are relying on who they are and what they do for acceptance by God. They still need spiritual cleansing and a life that only God can provide. They must be born again or there is no hope of their entering God's kingdom.

Both the Spirit and the wind operate sovereignly. Man does not and cannot control either one. We know both are there but we can’t explain their actions because they both have factors unseen and unknowable by humans.

A person who is born of the Spirit is similar to both the Spirit and the wind. That is impossible for an unsaved person to understand. Nicodemus was the leading teacher in Israel at that time, yet he didn’t understand this biblical revelation. His study of the Scriptures should have made him aware that no one can come to God through his own strength or righteousness.

Verses 11-13. “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 I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13. No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.”

Jesus was speaking the truth as an eyewitness, but Nicodemus was questioning that. Jesus saw him as a representative of many others who also questioned His witness. It was caused by failure to acknowledge who Jesus really is.

The “earthly things” that Jesus told Nicodemus about in verse 12 involved the new birth. The new birth is earthly in that it can occur only while one is still on the earth. Nicodemus had not accepted that fact yet, consequently he wouldn’t have been able to understand things that Jesus might have told him about “heavenly things” such as eternal life beyond the grave, life in the kingdom, and the new heavens and new earth.

Jesus explained why He could speak authoritatively about “heavenly things.” No teacher had ascended into heaven and returned to teach about “heavenly things.” The Son of Man had come from there. He descended from heaven so He could teach about “heavenly things.” Jesus came down from heaven as the Son of Man to reveal God to mankind.

Verses 14-15. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15. that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

This is Jesus' earliest recorded prediction of His death.
It alludes to His death by crucifixion.

Over many centuries, God had provided physical life to the persistently sinning Israelites, so it shouldn’t have been hard for Nicodemus to believe that He would also provide new spiritual life for sinful humanity.

In verse 13, Jesus is the One who came down from heaven to reveal God to mankind.

Verse 14 pictures Him as the suffering Savior who would be crucified to save mankind from their sins. It was in His suffering that Jesus revealed God most clearly.

Verse 15 reveals why He came as the Son of Man who would be lifted up on the cross to pay for mankind’s sins with His blood.

Those who looked in faith to the uplifted serpent in the wilderness received physical life, while those who look in faith to the uplifted Son of God on the cross receive eternal life.

This is the first reference to eternal life in John’s Gospel. Eternal life includes the kingdom age and forever after. It is the life the believer will experience when Christ returns to meet His saved ones in the air. It’s the only life that will fit the believer for the kingdom of heaven and eternity.

Jesus is our Great High Priest.
One of His duties was to give His own life as a sacrifice for our sins.
His resurrection from the dead
signified that God had accepted that sacrifice for our sins.
It also guaranteed the believer’s resurrection to eternal life.

Verse 16. “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.” John 3:16 is the best-known verse in the whole Bible and it expresses the gospel message clearly.

Jesus' mission on the Cross resulted from God's love for His creature, mankind. The Jews believed that God loved only the children of Israel, but in this verse John declared that God loved all people regardless of their race. There is nothing in this verse that would limit “the world” to the world of the elect. This love of God is amazing not so much because the world is so big as because it’s so bad. The Father loves the world with such selfless love that He sent His Son to the cross to shed His innocent blood for the sins of sinful mankind.

Verses 17-21. “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. 19. 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.”

The world stands under the threat of divine judgment because of the Fall and sin, but God, in His gracious love, has reached out to all the people in the world for salvation. He doesn’t take pleasure in pouring His wrath out on the lost. He rejoices when people come to Him for salvation. The fact that God allows sinners to perish doesn’t contradict His love. He has provided a way of salvation for all who will come and believe on His Son.

The consequences of that belief are the new birth (verses 3, 5), eternal life (verses 15-16), and salvation (verse 17). The alternative is condemnation (verse 18).

Condemnation does not mean annihilation. Failure to accept God's promise means exclusion from His fellowship and brings eternity in hell. That will be the final state of the unsaved.

In verses 17 and 18, John further clarified that God did not send His Son to judge or condemn mankind. God could have condemned human beings without doing that.

At a later time, Jesus will judge everyone, but that was not God's purpose in sending Him to earth. It was to provide salvation for everyone through His death on the cross.

Jesus came into an already condemned world to save those who would believe in Him. He did not enter a neutral world to save some and condemn others.

These verses tell us plainly that the person who believes in Jesus escapes condemnation. The person who refuses to believe in Jesus stands condemned already with no way of escape.

Failure to exercise faith in Jesus will result in spiritual death for the sinner just as failure to believe in the brazen serpent resulted in physical death for the Israelites.

Verses 19-21 contain one of the most important sections in John's gospel for understanding the light that comes from God versus the darkness of man’s sin. It bring out the fact that, even though light entered the world, people chose darkness over light. The light in view is the revelation that Jesus, as the Light of the World, brought the light of the gospel to the world.

People choose darkness over light because their deeds are evil. They prefer darkness to God's light because the darkness hides their sin.

On the other hand, people who embrace the truth come to the light and its source, Jesus. They also acknowledge that the good works they do are really God’s works through them.

One fundamental difference between believers and unbelievers is their attitude toward the light. It’s not just their guilt before God because we all are guilty before Him.

People essentially turn away from Jesus because the light He brings exposes things about them that they want to keep hidden.

If man was morally good and didn’t need salvation, we could say God's love is admirable. If man was neutral, we could take salvation or leave it. But, if we leave it, God would appear unfair for condemning us. However man is not good or neutral. Man is bad.

We are born into this world as sinners
and stand condemned and the wrath of God is promised to us.
The only way to escape His wrath
is through faith in Jesus Christ.
The coming to earth in the form of a man by Jesus Christ
is a manifestation of divine grace
and the divine love of God.

I do not believe that Christianity as a whole, both true believers and those who only take the name “Christian” to identify with a certain group, really view Christ as being equal with God and actually being God. The tendency is to place Him in a lesser position than God the Father. Nothing could be further from the truth. The second member of the Holy Trinity chose to come to earth and become a man to display the attributes of God to man. We find evidence of this kind of thinking in John 3, and the story of Nicodemus.