With a brand new baby in the house, and a slew of things floating in my head, John 3 happened to come to mind recently. I’ve decided to walk through it a verse by verse, with some of my own commentary.
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.
We start the story off with Nicodemus, meeting up with Jesus at a time that perhaps helps hide the fact that he met up with Jesus in the first place. The Pharisees, as is quite apparent throughout scripture, are not particularly fond of Jesus or His ministry. However, it’s interesting to note that at the very least Nicodemus has a differing opinion.
The ”we know that” portion might also imply that there are a few others who may actually believe in Christ or his teachings. Alternately, I suppose it could also mean that the Pharisees as a whole truly understand that Jesus was sent by God, and perhaps their hatred for Him is out of spite and jealousy? Regardless, Nicodemus chooses to start off this conversation with a little bit of acknowledgement. As is custom with Christ’s responses, Nicodemus seems to receive a reply that answers a question he hasn’t even had time to form yet.
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
I’m curious as to what questions Jesus leapt through to cut straight to the chase, if perhaps Nicodemus’ acknowledgement would have transitioned from “come from God” to “knows about God” and then “knows about God’s kingdom”. Whatever those questions were though, Jesus seemed to have hit the nail on the head. 2 things to note here:
Truly, truly gives the statement a big boost in importance. You can read more about that here.
Even putting aside the “truly” intro, we have a pretty hefty bomb of a requirement being dropped on anyone who wants to see the kingdom of God.
Naturally, upon hearing such an important and seemingly confusing requirement:
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?”
I like that Nicodemus didn’t stop Jesus, or ask what that had to do with anything. I believe Nicodemus was definitely thinking something along these lines (about God’s kingdom) and now continues the conversation and questions accordingly.
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter 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 marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Jesus elaborates on His statement. A man needs to be born of water (i.e. physically, which is basically everyone) and of the Spirit to enter the kingdom. Apparently this should come to no surprise (at least to Nicodemus).
The wind analogy somewhat alludes me. The simplest message I can infer from it is “you are aware the wind exists, even if you don’t fully understand it” and being born of the spirit is along these lines? I know that wind/spirit are basically the same word in the original Greek, but I’m not really sure if there’s something extra to extract that I’m missing here.
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can this be?”
Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, but you do not know these things? Truly, truly I say to you, We speak of what We know and bear witness of what We have seen, but you do not receive Our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
Nicodemus seems baffled in regards to something Jesus expects him to already understand. Now, for the third time Jesus uses the “truly truly” phrase, and I think it ties in best with this verse. In particular I want to point out this specific portion from GotQuestion’s elaboration:
Leading off with amen not only implies that what follows is true but also that the person making the statement has firsthand knowledge and authority about it.
It is interesting to note the “we” in verse 11. Considering the private context of the conversation, the lack of any mention of the disciples, and then the “truly” start to this verse, I’m inclined to believe that Jesus is talking about God (or the trinity in full, where He is including Himself) in this passage. It would make sense that the things Christ speaks of contain His first-hand knowledge as God, and despite the recognition at the start of the chapter, it seems there is still doubt as to Christ’s authority and word in Nicodemus’ heart. He seeks even higher knowledge of God and His kingdom, yet doesn’t understand the “earthly” (basic?) things first.
No one has ascended to heaven except He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man who is in heaven.
Verse 13 looks like a verse ripe for misinterpretation. For starters, with any Old Testament knowledge this comes across as a contradiction. How has “no one ascended to heaven” when Elijah was clearly taken to heaven in a whirlwind? We also have Enoch who was taken to heaven, so why does Christ say this?
On top of that confusion, the “even” on the latter part of the verse certainly comes off weird in our usual english, since you might read it as “Not even the Son of Man who is in heaven has ascended into heaven”, which would not make any sense. Lastly, knowing that the Son of Man is Christ, why does He say He is in heaven when clearly the setting is still Earth, night, talking with Nicodemus, well before the actual Ascension even occurs.
One key to start clearing up the apparent conflicts is to point out the “exception”, He who descended from heaven. The only person to go up, is also the (only) person to come down, i.e. only someone with the power to move up and down, on their own. Our 2 previous human ascendors were taken to heaven, they didn’t simply do it on their own, so an easy explanation for the “No one has ascended” would be with the understanding that no one has done it with their own power.
The “even” bit is more so an artifact of the style of translation. The NKJV for example gives a more understandable ”that is”, while the NET opts for a more direct, modern em dash to say “…who descended from heaven—the Son of Man.”
Lastly is the issue of timing. Christ hadn’t officially ascended to heaven yet, and therefore was also not in heaven at the time He spoke to Nicodemus. I believe Christ was speaking prophetically of Himself here, where the following pair of verses will clarify the phrasing a bit more.
Ultimately, I think the main point is that Christ has the first-hand experience that no man has, not even Elijah or Enoch, which allows Him to speak on the subject of God’s kingdom with the utmost authority.
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but may have eternal life.
Here a parallel is made with the Bronze Serpent, the imagery being very straight forward: the afflicted Israelites who saw the serpent on the pole, lived, as do those who look (believe) upon Christ, who hung upon the cross.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 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. This is the verdict, that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that it may be revealed that his deeds have been done in God.”
Verse 16, the famous and great summary of what salvation is and how to obtain it. It’s followed by equally important details that are usually left out. We understand that Christ only came to save an already condemned world. Mankind, by default, prefers the darkness, to hide and remain in their sin. Those who are willing to come to the light, exposing that sin, can then be granted the eternal life that He provided.
I think this portion of chapter 3 is fairly straightforward in presenting the requirements for the Lord’s kingdom (being born again), and how to fulfill them (believing in Him, the Son). There is plenty more to dig into here, but I’d say this would be the basic overview of the portion.