This Lesson is part of John’s Gospel Easy Notes Series.
Nicodemus came at night to see Jesus. He was a member of the Sanhedrin—the supreme Jewish religious court—and probably did not want to become unpopular with them by being seen during the day with Jesus.
Nicodemus Is Shocked
Nicodemus is respectful to Jesus addressing him as “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God (v. 2).” But Jesus is not concerned about his greeting. Instead Jesus gets straight to the point: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again (v. 3).”
This is an abrupt statement. How can one say a statement like that in reply to a compliment said by Nicodemus? We have to look at John 2:23—25 to know the reason. Mention is made about people believing in Jesus because of the miraculous signs he was doing. But Jesus knew the hearts of men. He knew much of the faith expressed was superficial. Jesus could see into people and therefore Jesus went right into the heart of the matter with Nicodemus.
Nicodemus was told bluntly that it was impossible for him to enter the kingdom of God. Nicodemus is stunned. What Jesus said was, there should be a complete change in him. The response was a memorable statement: “How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
Do you think that a man like Nicodemus thought that Jesus was asking him to have a natural birth once again? No. Nicodemus’ reply makes it clear that he understood exactly what Jesus meant. But what Nicodemus simply could not accept was the fact that no human help was needed for this new birth; it was entirely the act of God.
The Spirit of God Represented by the Wind Brings Change
But the question of Nicodemus refers to a problem many people have—the difficulty of leaving old habits and lifestyles behind and accepting the change God wants them to have.
Nicodemus was facing the same problem. He thought that being born again spiritually was impossible in the same way it is impossible to be born of one’s mother’s womb once again.
Jesus then talks about being born of water and of the Spirit. Being born of water can refer to the Baptism of John or of repentance. It can simply mean natural birth which is accompanied by water. In the first case, Nicodemus a teacher of the Law couldn’t imagine that he needed a change. He was righteous according to the Law; or at least he thought so!
Again being born of water can refer to cleansing; it can refer to the cleansing of the sins of the past when Jesus takes control of our lives. Then when the Spirit of God invades the life of a believer and takes control in his life; the power of Christ which strengthens us to live a godly life is given to us (Read Romans 8:9—17).
What Jesus was trying to do was he was trying to lead Nicodemus from thinking about natural birth to spiritual birth. Jesus was emphasizing the fact that without a spiritual birth it is impossible to enter the kingdom of God.
Just like a child is born to be part of human relationships and belong to a family; so one has to be born again to be part of a spiritual family and belong to God’s family as a child of God. At that time of the night possibly a gentle wind might have blown. Jesus used that to good effect. The Greek word for both Spirit and wind is the same—pneuma.
Jesus said: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” The wind is real. But there is a mystery in it too. No one knows its origin; from where it is coming from. The work of the Spirit in one’s life is like that too. The Spirit of God works in the hearts of men and women. But no one can see it. But the effects are seen and felt.
For example, in the first century, it is said that many slave owners came to a saving faith in Jesus seeing the change that happened—the positive difference Jesus made— in the lives of many slaves they had. The effect of the new birth in the lives of these people were seen and felt by others. But how it happened is a mystery like the wind which blows. The work of the Spirit, unseen by others, was done in the hearts of these slaves. But the effect of that—like the sound of the wind and the movement of it in the leaves—the change from bad and evil behaviour to good and honest living was seen by all.
Nicodemus Is Unable to Understand Earthly Things
We find Nicodemus expressing surprise: “How can this be?” He is totally at loss to understand the new birth. To him, a righteous Pharisee, following the Law meant everything. In our modern terms; it meant a sure ticket to heaven. But Jesus is making him understand that it is not enough. He has to be born again.
His question, “How can this be?” is not a genuine inquiry. Instead it is the question of one who deliberately shut his mind to the truth he just heard. Being a teacher of the Law, Nicodemus need not have been surprised at Jesus telling him about the new birth. It was already foretold in Scripture (see Ezekiel 18:31; 36:26).
Jesus now knew for certain that Nicodemus was unable to understand earthly things. Jesus told him that he had spoken to him about familiar and natural things—like wind, water, and birth. Yet he is unable to understand what Jesus was trying to tell him. Therefore it was impossible for him to understand heavenly things.
Jesus also tells him that there is a huge separation between the earthly and the heavenly. Only he, Jesus, alone has bridged that gap by coming down from heaven to earth (v. 13).
Look and Live
Therefore now Jesus turned his attention to something he was very familiar with—the Scriptures. Jesus talked about the incident in Numbers 21:4—9.
“The Israelites had been bitten by serpents so that many died. God told Moses to make a brass serpent and hold it aloft on a pole. All who looked upon it would live. They did not live by analysing the material out of which it was made, the quality of workmanship, or the manner in which it was held. They were saved by believing God’s promise.
In like manner the Son of Man must be lifted up. And all who believe in Him will have eternal life. In John ‘lifted up’ always refer to the crucifixion. And all who believe in the crucified Christ will receive eternal life. ‘Eternal life’ is one of the key phrases in John’s Gospel. It refers not to the length of life which begins at death. It is the quality of life one receives the moment one believes in Jesus and which extends into eternity.
Again, the point is not an understanding of all that is involved, but faith in God’s word. As previously noted this was the heart of Nicodemus’ problem. He must simply believe without understanding all that is involved. And every person must do likewise.” – from The Gospel of John: Invitation to Life by Herschel H. Hobbs.
What Does Born Again Mean to Us?
In the long conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus we find the discussion about being born again. This is a clear indication that we cannot enter God’s kingdom by our goodness. Instead the role of the Holy Spirit in this new birth is emphasized. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin (John 16:8) and brings people to salvation. Our role is to point to the Saviour and pray that the Spirit of God would do the work in the listener’s heart.
Jesus talked about the way he was going to die (v 14) and talked about God’s love that sent him into this world that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (v. 14, 15). One thing that is overlooked is that Jesus is not asking anyone to believe in a set of rules or have a church membership. But the condition is that those who believe in him—in Jesus—will have eternal life. “In him was life, and that life was the light of men (John 1:4).”
The point is that Nicodemus was a Pharisee. They were very religious people keeping the Law perfectly. Yet Jesus shocked him by saying that all his religious observances even when perfectly done will not help him to gain salvation or an entry into the kingdom of God.
Where is your trust? Is it in the fact that your parents trust in Jesus? That is not enough. Is it in your church membership? That is not enough. Is it in your giving money to missions? That is not enough.
“Like the Jewish people of his day, Nicodemus knew God’s law, but nothing of God’s love. He was a moral man. He recognized Jesus as a Teacher, but he did not know Him as a Saviour. This is just what the world does today. It puts Jesus at the head of the list of the teachers of the world, but does not worship Him as very God.” – from What the Bible Is All About by Dr. Henrietta C. Mears.
More on Nicodemus
A Greek name which means “Victory of the People.” He must have been wealthy. Only a wealthy man could have brought around 34 kilograms of mixture of aloes and myrrh to bury Jesus (John 19:39).
In between his first visit to Jesus at night and his coming forward to bury Jesus, we find Nicodemus make an attempt to speak a good word on behalf of Jesus to the Pharisees (John 7:50—52); but without success.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee. The name Pharisee means the Separated One; and the Pharisees were those who had separated themselves from all ordinary life in order to keep every detail of the law of the scribes which contained thousands of rules. Only a very earnest man can even attempt to be a Pharisee and to obey all the thousands of rules prescribed.
“Nicodemus, no doubt, shared the common notion that the Messiah’s kingdom was to be a political kingdom in which his nation would be freed from Roman domination. Jesus tries to tell him of its personal spiritual nature so different from what was in Nicodemus’ mind, that Nicodemus did not know what Jesus was talking about. He just could not see how he a good man, a genuine Pharisee, one of the rulers of the Messianic nation, would not be welcomed into the Messianic Kingdom with open arms, just as he was. He just could not take it in that, instead, he would have to entirely re-construct his ideas and himself. “ – Halley’s Bible Handbook.