Summary: Jesus confounds Nicodemus’s ideas about Jewishness and salvation. This sets the context for John 3:16.
John is proving that Jesus is the Son of God and the promised Redeemer: He comes down from heaven, He gathers a few disciples, He turns the water into wine, and He drives the moneychangers and sacrifices out of the temple.
There’s a poor chapter break at 2:23; chapter 3:1 should begin here.
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.
We’re given certain details so we understand that the next sentence is in relation to the Jews. These were the ones who went to Jerusalem at Passover on the feast day; they believed in Jesus when they saw His miracles:
24But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, 25And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.
Imagine their shock! This is their Messiah and they believed in Him. Why wouldn’t He entrust Himself to them? We must keep in mind that He’s building up to verses 3, 5, and 7. It’s not Jewishness that saves a man, and He didn’t come just for Jews.
It’s very important that we understand how these verses fit with chapter 3 because, if we don’t, we’ll have a hard time with doctrinal truth when we get to John 3:16. Too many people throw out Romans 9 and John 6 and 10, Ephesians 1, and election and predestination and reprobation and say, “It’s doesn’t matter what anything or anyone else says, I’ve got John 3:16.” And they close their ears and ignore the truth, and we ourselves often don’t know how to take the verse.
What I’m going to show you here is that John 3:16 is not a verse which reveals a begging and pleading God, but one instead who has made a promise to wash His people clean and to give them His Spirit and save them from their sins. This is shown within the context and by the conversation with Nicodemus:
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
He came by night either because he was afraid (unlikely since no one yet hated Jesus) or because it was a cooler part of the day. He confesses that there’s something special about Christ, but Christ gives him what may seem like a bizarre answer:
3Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Why would He answer him in this way? Remember the context: Nicodemus thinks he’s going to see the kingdom just because he’s a Jew and even more so because he’s a Pharisee. He gives this profession, but Jesus knows what’s in a man’s heart so He cuts right to the point: you must be born again! The Greek word for “born” means “beget, sprung, or produced.” The Greek word for “again” is “from above, from on high, from the beginning, from farther back, earlier, over again, anew, or afresh.”