Updated: Nov 9, 2021
JOHN 3: 1-15 (NASB)
“Now 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 have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 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?” 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.’ 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.”
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 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. 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.”
Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a sect of Judaism devoted to the Torah. He would have been well trained in the instruction of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). He would have devoted his life to understanding, meditating on, and teaching these sacred texts. Nicodemus, in many ways, represents the religious elite of his day.
Jesus tells Nicodemus, “... “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (ref. Jn. 3:3). Some of our other translations such as the (NRSV), record, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” How are we to understand this? Nicodemus seems to have a different understanding than Jesus.
The phrase used in Greek can mean either “from above” or “again”. Many of our translations have translated this phrase as “born again” such as the New Revised Standard Version has done. Nicodemus recognizes the importance of what Jesus is saying. To him, the words of Jesus just seem impossible. To enter the kingdom of God, one would need to start life all over again. Notice Nicodemus’ response; “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?” (Jn. 3:4 NASB). I don’t think Nicodemus is being sarcastic. I believe that he is sincerely trying to understand what Jesus is saying. Jesus, seeing the struggle offers another approach.
JOHN 3:5-8 (NASB)
“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.’ 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.”
Jesus is telling Nicodemus if you want to see the kingdom of God you must be born from above, you must be born of the Spirit. This is a life animated by the Spirit, it’s a new birth, it is a new creation. I believe this is what Jesus means. In this context, the translation being born from above helps me understand the words of Jesus better.
The life of Nicodemus was dedicated to the law of Moses. He was a religious teacher of Israel, how could this not be enough? To Nicodemus, Jesus’ words seemed as impossible as entering a second time into a mother’s womb after having grown old.
Jesus pulls Nicodemus to the center of the conversation as He talks about believing in the Son of Man. To enter the kingdom of God, you must believe in Jesus. Jesus directs Nicodemus to an Old Testament passage that would have been very familiar to him.
JOHN 3: 13-15 (NASB)
“No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 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.”
Jesus is referencing a time when God saved the children of Israel in the wilderness. God led Israel out of Egyptian bondage through Moses. During this time while in the wilderness, the children of Israel began grumbling and complaining against Moses and God.
NUMBERS 21: 5-9 (NASB)
“The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.”
The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard, and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.”
The children of Israel acknowledged their sin and God demonstrates his mercy, forgiveness, and salvation. In order to live, after being bitten by a poisonous snake, one needed to look up at the bronze serpent Moses fashioned on a pole. It’s interesting, still today this is a sign for healing used in the medical community.
In (Jn. 3), Jesus says in this same way he would be lifted up. Jesus is speaking about when he would be lifted up on the cross. From here, the conversation with Nicodemus ends. What had Nicodemus understood as Jesus spoke to him? We are not told directly in the Scriptures. However, it is interesting to notice Nicodemus shows up again in John’s gospel. In John 19, with Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus prepared Jesus’ body for burial. It would seem Nicodemus realized the words of Jesus and began a new life.
THE WOMAN AT THE WELL
Next, John takes us to a very different conversation and the contrast between them could not be any greater. One takes place in the cover of the night whereas the other is in the heat of the day. One conversation is with an elite religious man, the other with an outcast and marginalized woman. The contrasts between these two people and these two conversations are striking.
It was about noon and Jesus, tired from His travels, sat down to rest at a well near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob had twelve sons, these sons became the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. Joseph, whose brothers had sold him into slavery, eventually became second over all of Egypt. Jesus sits down to rest at a very significant place, a significant well, and as He is resting a woman from Samaria comes to draw water. This is where we join the conversation.
JOHN 4: 1-30 (NASB)