Summary of passage: Nicodemus, a Pharisee on the Jewish ruling council, comes to Jesus in the middle of the night to find out more about him. Jesus tells him he must be born again to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus takes this literally. Jesus explains you must be born of the Spirit and of water.
3a) Nicodemus is questioning Jesus further on who he is. Jesus responds with the essence of life with God: to be with God you must be born again of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, and accept his (Jesus’) future death.
b) First off, he doesn’t understand. He takes Jesus’ words literally. Partly because of the Jewish faith that being born Jewish would guarantee a place in heaven. He might even think Jesus is speaking of merely doing right instead of wrong–changing one’s ways so to speak. He has been blinded to the truth. But he’s trying to understand and keeps asking for clarity. He’s persistent. Determined. Eager. See End Notes for more.
4) Flesh is man kind empty, devoid of the Holy Spirit. Be careful with the given verse of John 6:51-56. Jesus here is talking about his flesh after he has given it as a living sacrifice for mankind. In our context, he is talking of man’s flesh without him.
5a) That person is dead. Dead in sin, following the transgressions of the world. New birth is essential if you want to live forever. Period.
b) Yes. Yes. See definition of regeneration below.
Conclusions: A weighty and important passage. Here Jesus explains exactly how to get to heaven and essentially him. It’s all God. It’s accepting Jesus as your Savior. It’s being born again with the Holy Spirit and living for God. This is known as regeneration which is “the spiritual change wrought in people’s hearts by an act of God in which their inherent sinful nature is changed and by which they are enabled to respond to God in faith.” (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary by Merrill and Tenney). God initiates the change through the Holy Spirit, releasing that person from change, and thus enabling them a new life in Christ, voluntarily turning to God in fellowship. As long as people are in sin, they cannot believe in God.
End Notes: We can assume Nicodemus was one of those impressed by what they saw Jesus doing at the Passover Feast in John 2:23. He was educated as a member of the ruling priests (the Sanhedrin). As a Pharisee, he was committed to a certain set of beliefs. No doubt he was influential. His name is Greek meaning “conqueror over the people.”
Why did Nicodemus come to Jesus at night? Maybe he was afraid of being seen by others. Maybe he wanted time to speak to Jesus uninterrupted. Maybe he was just shy. Maybe curious. Or maybe from conviction. Most certainly though led by God.
Scholars are unsure who “we” is in verse 2. It could be generic such as “It is known”. It could be Nicodemus is referring to the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish rabbi. Or it could be he’s using the royal we to refer to himself.
False prophets can also do false signs which surely Nicodemus is aware of but he still says and evidently believes God is with Jesus if he’s doing these signs.
Jews believed by just being born Jewish they were assured a place in the Kingdom of God. Jesus here is saying now that is no longer the case. You must believe in him to make it into heaven.
Some Jewish leaders taught that Abraham stood at the gates of hell just to make sure none of his descendants accidentally went there.
Remember most Jews at the time are seeking a Savior to usher in a new world where Jews are rulers here on earth. But Jesus is ushering in a new life, where all are rulers in heaven.
“Born again” is literally in the Greek “born from above.” To have new life. After Jesus spoke of new birth here, we see it all over the New Testament.
We cannot birth ourselves. This is something that must be done to us. We accept Jesus but he does the rest.
Nicodemus’ confusion can further be explained by the Jewish belief of the terms of the New Covenant at that time: 1) Israel would be gathered together 2) God’s people would be spiritually transformed 3) A Messiah would rule over Israel and the whole world. Jews believed the first two had already been fulfilled. They are only seeking the Messiah to rule the world, not someone promising new life.
What does “born of water” mean? Some believe baptism but there’s nothing in the Old Testament to back this claim. Some think physical birth. Some think the Word since Ephesians 5:26 says the Word is water. Some think the Holy Spirit since it’s called the living waters (John 7:38-39). Some say cleansing water or purification as in Ezekiel 36:25-28. Whatever Jesus was referring to, Nicodemus should have known (John 3:10).
Jesus establishes with these words salvation by God’s grace alone. It is not something man could ever do on his own. Be born again is God and God alone.
The idea with the wind is you don’t have to understand wind to experience it’s effects. The same with the Spirit. You don’t have to understand it or how it works but you can experience a life with the Spirit. Understanding comes later.
We will see Nicodemus twice more in John and in the Bible where he only appears in this book. At the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:25-52) Nicodemus says perhaps they shouldn’t kill Jesus without a fair trial and then after Jesus’ death Nicodemus provides a rich store of spices for Jesus’ embalmment and assists in Jesus’ burial (John 19:38-42). He then vanishes from Scripture, leaving us unsure whether he ever confessed to faith in Jesus.