Summary of passage: Jesus chastises Nicodemus for not understanding his meaning of regeneration. He explains again, saying “No one has ever gone into heaven except…everyone who believes in the Son of Man may have eternal life.” Out of God’s love, He sent his one and only Son so that all may have eternal life.
6) I talked about this extensively YESTERDAY. 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. Furthermore, Jews at the time believed they were automatically accepted into heaven by birthright. They didn’t have to do anything.
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.
Also, we know how corrupt the Sanhedrin had become at this time. Jesus chastises them many times in his ministry for twisting God’s word and taking bribes. Like today, just because someone is in a position of authority doesn’t mean they know anything or they act responsibly. We must always be vigilant.
God revealed to Ezekiel the coming of the Holy Spirit. But that was hundreds of years before Jesus and the Holy Spirit did not descend until Pentecost after Jesus’ death. I think this concept would have been incredibly hard to understand amidst all the ordinances and cleansing sacrifices the Jews had to do prior to Jesus. Thus, in my opinion, he shouldn’t have grasped Jesus’ teaching. This is the first time in his new ministry Jesus has said point blank: “To get to the kingdom of God, you gotta go through me and be born again.”
7a) John the Baptist, John the Apostle, Peter, Andrew, Philip, Nathanael.
b) They did not accept who Jesus was.
8 ) In Numbers, the Lord told Moses to put a snake on a pole, have the people look upon it, and live. The people were being bitten by poisonous snakes and dying because they spoke against God on their way to the Promised Land. Here, God is saying, “Have faith in the snake I place on the pole and you shall live.” Now, in John, God is saying, “Have faith in my Son and you shall live forever!” God is/was providing a way of escape that requires only simple faith.
9a) To be “saved” means to be among those chosen to enter heaven and forever dwell with God. One must merely have faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and accept him as the eternal sacrifice for our sins. It’s that simple.
b) Personal Question. My answer: The fact it’s so simple causes me to praise God for His infinite and unintelligible grace to us. It’s truly amazing.
Conclusions: Great lesson causing us to dive into just how confused God’s people were when Jesus arrived on the scene. Most Jews had huge passages of Scripture memorized due to the mere fact they didn’t have it written down like we do; yet, still, they did not understand God’s word. This is encouraging for me when I don’t understand God’s word and His plan for my life. But if I focus on the stuff I do understand, on how Jesus is my Savior and if i have him I have everything, then I’ll be alright. God will be with me and guide me and I don’t have to understand everything because God does. All I have to do is live with God’s heart.
End Notes: Most commentaries I read on this passage say Nicodemus should have been familiar with the new birth concept in the Old Testament enough to know exactly what Jesus was speaking of and not be stumped. Since we are unsure exactly how important Nicodemus was, I’ll stand with my original analysis. Based on mankind’s unchanging nature of selfishness and indifference towards others, Nicodemus believed what he wanted to about the Word. Same as today. People cut and paste the Bible like it’s a scrapbook. It’s not. It’s the whole picture of God and Jesus. And right now we need ALL of God and ALL of Jesus in our lives. Not just pieces.
You can just see how much Jesus wants to hit Nicodemus over the head so he’ll understand. But he doesn’t. He’s patient and kind and keeps explaining until we get it. Like he does today.
Jesus has first-hand knowledge of heaven so he can speak of it. Here, we are reminded of John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
“No one has ever gone into heaven” could be phrased as “no man knows the mysteries of the kingdom of God.” (Deuteronomy 30:12; Psalm 73:17; Proverbs 30:4; Romans 11:34)
Serpents are often symbols of evil in the Bible (Genesis 3:1-5 and Revelation 12:9). However, Moses’ serpent in Numbers 21 was made of bronze, which is a metal associated with judgment in the Bible since bronze is made with fire, a picture of judgment.
So, a bronze serpent does speak of sin, but of sin judged. In the same way Jesus, who knew no sin became sin for us on the cross, and our sin was judged in Him. A bronze serpent is a picture of sin judged and dealt with.
We would have wanted to diminish our sense of sin, and put the image of a man up on the pole. Our image of man might represent “both good and bad” in man. But a serpent is more apparently sinful, and shows us our true nature and true need of salvation.
In addition, if the serpent lay horizontally on the vertical pole, it is easy to see how this also was a visual representation of the cross. However, many traditions show the serpent being wrapped around the pole, and this is the source for the ancient figure of healing and medicine – a serpent, wrapped around a pole. See picture HERE
In Numbers 21:4-9, the people were saved not by doing anything, but by simply looking to the bronze serpent. They had to trust that something as seemingly foolish as looking at such a thing would be sufficient to save them. Surely, some did not have faith and paid the ultimate price.
Isaiah 45:22: “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” It’s that simple–salvation.
The verb “lifted up” is used in Jesus’ crucifixion (John 12:32) and ascension (Acts 2:33). Jesus suffered and was exalted in saving grace.
Analysis of verses 16 & 17 will be tomorrow’s lesson.