Summary: The second part of Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus about true salvation according to the Spirit and the power of God.
Let’s review John 2:23-3:10 from last week:
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. 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. 3:1There 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.
Nicodemus sees Jesus working miracles at the Passover so he goes to Him; he’s ready to believe, but Jesus knows the heart of every man and won’t commit Himself:
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.
Well, this is Nicodemus’s hope, isn’t it? He wants to see the reign of God and be a subject in His kingdom. He’s ready to believe in God’s Messiah and He’s Jewish, so why not? But Jesus kicks over his whole sandcastle and confronts his ideas of Jewishness and salvation. You can picture the puzzled look on his face and maybe he thinks Jesus is talking a little bit crazy:
4Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? 5Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
We tied this together with Ezekiel 36:25-26 where God promises to sprinkle His people with water to make them clean and to put a new spirit within them and give them new hearts. This is absolutely necessary because:
6That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Adam and Abraham can only give birth to men, and Jesus knows the hearts of all men. Every heart is wicked and deceitful and even beyond cure; what’s needed is this new heart only God can give by the Spirit. Nicodemus’s hopes are based in his fleshly origin in Abraham, but Jesus reveals that a spiritual origin is what is necessary. In fact, that’s the meaning of “born again” and why it can also be translated as “born from above.” We are begotten afresh not by Adam or reformation but by the Spirit within us which gives spiritual life.
Well, this goes against what Nicodemus understands of Jewishness and he’s just standing there bewildered:
7Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
The words “wind” and “spirit” are the same in Greek and we even use it in English today. The word is πνεῦμα (pneuma), and so we have pneumatic drills which just use air. So Jesus compares the wind to the Spirit. You can hear it but you don’t know its origin or its destination. The same goes for being born again and seeing God’s kingdom; it’s not something that can be determined based on nationality. Well, this goes against all tradition and everything this confident Pharisee knows:
9Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
He just can’t believe it, but Jesus will show him more:
10Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
In Greek it actually says, “You are the teacher of Israel.” Maybe Nicodemus had a special place of prominence, but Jesus switches to plural pronouns in verse eleven, so I think He’s talking about the Pharisees as a whole. “You Pharisees are the teachers of the Law and of God’s chosen people, but you don’t know about being born again?”
Now we come to verse 11:
11Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.
Who is “we”? “We speak” and “we testify” and “we have seen.” Some people say He means Himself and His disciples. That could be true, but there hasn’t been a lot of information about them up to this point and it doesn’t seem to fit the context. Others say He means the Godhead. This is also possible, but I think there’s a better explanation; earlier He referred to Ezekiel (who received his visions from the Spirit) and in a moment He’ll refer to Moses. He’s talking about the writers of the Old Testament.