Title: The explanation of the new birth to Nicodemus part 2
Scriptures to Read: Read John 3:5-21
Nicodemus believes that he’s used up all his options in life
In Rabbinic Judaism there was no way of being born again unless you could somehow re-enter your mother’s womb and be born physically again. That is the reason why he asked the question the way he did: “How is one born again when he is old?” What he is saying is, “hey, I’ve used up all my options.” As far as he can see there is no other way to be born again except the way he suggested back in verse 4: to go back into his mother’s womb, be born physically once more, and simply begin the process all over again, and be born again at the ages of 13,20,30, and 50.
Jesus moves from the known to the unknown
Now what Jesus is doing with Nicodemus is a very common method of Jewish teaching where you go from the known to the unknown. The known fact is the expression “born again” or “born from above”. But the unknown element is the spiritual ramifications, because in Pharisaism it was given a strictly physical connotation, but not a spiritual one.
Nicodemus must be born physically and spiritually to enter the kingdom
Now in verse 5 Yeshua speaks of two births, that which is born of water and that which is born of the Spirit. If you do not have the spiritual birth you will not see the kingdom of God. Which again goes contrary to what Pharisaic Judaism taught in the first century. Yeshua attacks the Pharisaic teaching of being born again as being total insufficient. Remember Rabbinic Judaism taught that all Jews will have a part in the kingdom by simply being born [of water] as a Jew (a descendant of Abraham). But Yeshua is saying their physical birth positions that required the physical birth through the human mother was insufficient, you must also be born [again] of the Spirit. You must be born both of water and the Spirit to be born again.
Jesus explains the difference between the two births
In verse 6-7 Yeshua explains the differences: to be born of water is to be born of the flesh, that is of water and it is insufficient to go to heaven or to enter the kingdom. To be born of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is for our human spirit to be regenerated and made alive unto God. That is the new birth that is essential for entrance into the Kingdom. Unless Nicodemus experiences this type of new birth he will not see or enter into God’s kingdom.
God’s responsibility and man’s responsibility
The next question that would come up in the mind of Nicodemus is: “how is one born again spiritually?” And to this Jesus begins to respond, pointing out that there are two separate steps. God does the first one. Man does the second. Verse 14: “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.”
1. The first step is the one that God does: He sent his son to provide the final atonement. When He died on the cross He provided salvation for the whole world. By itself that will save no one.
2. The second step is the individual’s responsibility: He must believe and receive what God has provided by means of the Son.
The same two steps are repeated in verse 16. Now, until Nicodemus accepts Jesus to be the messianic king, he will not see, he will not enter into God’s kingdom.
Nicodemus will believe but it will be a struggle for him
For Nicodemus this was such a new interpretation of the new birth he could not accept it right away. It is very rare for a Jew to accept the gospel when he first hears it. A Jewish person undergoes a struggle, a spiritual struggle, a theological struggle, a mental struggle, a family struggle, and an ethnic struggle. He must reprogram his whole way of thinking before he can begin to see the possibility that Jesus could be the Jewish Messiah. Any Jewish believer you meet has undergone a struggle for a short or a long period of time. For Nicodemus the struggle begins here and will continue for three years. He will appear two more times in John’s gospel. The second time will be in John 7, not yet a believer, but as we will see, willing to defend the right of Jesus to be heard before being condemned. And thirdly, at the time of the burial of Jesus, he comes out openly as a believer (John 19:38-40).
First confrontation with Pharisees and Sanhedrin
Now, for the theme we are developing, here we have the first confrontation between Jesus and a member of the Pharisaic party. He is also a member of the Sanhedrin. It becomes obvious early in the ministry of Jesus that he will reject certain fundamentals of Pharisaic Judaism, like the one: all Israel automatically has a share in the age to come.
Light & Darkness
One of John’s sub-themes is the conflict between light and darkness (Verses 19-21). We will not be developing this theme, only pointing out references to it.