Summary: Nicodemus who defended Jesus at his trial, helped bury him and was later kicked out of the Sanhedrin for being a Christian did not start out filled with faith. Like most of us, he had questions. The answers that Jesus gave him are wonderful.
What does it mean to be born again? How are we born of water and the Spirit?
Let us understand the Spirit life.
We will examine Nicodemus, regeneration, and why we are not to condemn others.
Nicodemus is also called Saint Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee and a senator in the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. He appears three times in the Gospel of John. He visited Jesus by night to ask questions (John 3:1–2), he challenged condemning Jesus without a hearing (John 7:50-51) and assisted Joseph of Arimathea preparing Jesus for burial (John 19:38-39). He is possibly the Nicodemus ben Gurion in the Talmud, a wealthy and popular Jewish leader famous for miraculous powers. Jesus explained to him the mystery of regeneration as was taught in the prophets. Nicodemus was not offended at Jesus’ correction but received it in humility. He defended Jesus openly against the Pharisees, assisted at his burial and was later kicked out of the synagogue for believing in Christ. He retired to his country home where he died.
Symbolism of Nick and the night
The night time meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus was symbolic in two ways. First of all Nick was representing others who were not immediately present because he said “we know” (John 3:2) and so Jesus answered him in the plural speaking “unto thee” (you plural) and “ye” (you plural). Jesus was speaking to all those others for whom Nicodemus had spoken, other religious leaders, and perhaps also other believers and perhaps too all of us. Secondly, Nicodemus came at night, symbolic of the darkness that we all faced until light came into the world and we came into that light (verses 19-21). In the Old Testament the law was that light, now it is Christ. Even the most devout and moral people who may obey all the commandments can still be in darkness, because the true light is Jesus.
The circumstances of our birth can make a big difference in our worldly fortunes. Some are born into power and wealth. Others are born into subjugation and poverty. Equal opportunity simply does not exist. According to the Opportunity Index, income inequality is closely associated with opportunity inequality. That means that those from poor homes are less likely to have what is necessary to take advantage of opportunities. No matter what our circumstances are we have a better birth in God. To be born from the sky, from heaven above (John 3:3), is to belong to heaven. We owe our allegiance to a different kingdom not of this world. We are a child of God. Every level of status in this world is inferior to that which we have from heaven. In God we have the highest status of all.
Born from where
When we are born we inherit a name, a nationality, and a family history including all the skeletons in the family closet. When we are born again, we are actually born from above. The Greek word in John 3:3 is similar to what musicians say when they say “from the top”. It can mean from the top of the page or again. So too the Greek word can mean either born “again” or “from above”. Nicodemus took it to mean born again, when actually Jesus meant born from above, from heaven. It is a shame that popular understanding takes Nick’s interpretation instead of Jesus’. Being born from above is an act of God. It is regeneration, a change of orientation. We give up an earthly birthright, nationality, status, heritage and identity to receive a heavenly one from God above.
Born of water and the Spirit
Born from above or from heaven is also described as being born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). Water is used in our baptism, Jesus turns water into wine and Jesus will later speak of living water. Our human rituals are insufficient without the transforming power of that living water from above. Christian baptism is not just a water ritual, but includes an unseen spiritual component. That unseen component is like the wind. We may know generally that cold winds come from colder regions or that warm winds come from the tropics, but we cannot tell specifically where they came from or where they are going to. Our new Spirit born life is as mysterious as the wind. Christianity is not about doing certain moral acts, but a life of faith trusting God where his Spirit may blow.
Jesus in two places at once
Some interpret John 3:13 to mean nobody goes to heaven when we die but await the resurrection while they lie unconscious in a grave. Others believe it means that Jesus ascended to heaven before he died. It means neither of those two things. Jesus’ unique position is of one who was on earth and at the same time “in heaven” in constant communion with the Father. Jesus is the bridge between heaven and earth. In a similar sense, all believers are “seated in heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6) much as Jesus resided “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18). Jesus is able to reveal heavenly secrets to Nicodemus because he “has ascended to heaven” and “is in heaven.” In Jesus, there is a bridge from heaven to earth which all those who are born from above experience.