Comments on John 3:1-9
From John: The book about Life, by Matthew R. Freije
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, © Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995. Used by permission.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee. Pharisees were the most religious people of the time. They diligently observed the Jewish laws, consisting of some 600 rules that they came up with to interpret the Ten Commandments.
Nicodemus came to Jesus at night instead of during the day probably because (a) he didn't have time to come during the day because of his duties as a ruler and teacher of the Jews, especially during Passover; or (b) he was concerned about his reputation among the Jews, so he didn't want to be seen coming to Jesus.
We know that You have come from God. As a Pharisee and teacher, Nicodemus knew the scriptures thoroughly. Perhaps Nicodemus (just as the disciples) associated Jesus' cleansing of the temple (2:13-16)with Psalm 69:9, written about 1,000 years before Christ came to earth:
Also, Nicodemus could have heard about Jesus turning water to wine.
It seems that Jesus ignores the question that Nicodemus asked in verse 2 and gets directly to the real issue on Nicodemus' heart: Am I good enough to be accepted by God? Nicodemus was very religious. He tried diligently to live according to the Jewish laws. But he must have suspected that his thoughts, words, and actions fell short of perfection. Nicodemus probably expected—and wanted—Jesus to tell him that he needed to perform a certain religious deed or ceremony to please God. But Jesus says, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Jesus explained that no person can see the kingdom of God unless he is born of the water (physically) and the Spirit (by the Holy Spirit). The same principle applies today. No person can earn his or her way to God. Unless we are born of the Spirit, we are spiritually dead. We can receive spiritual life only by being born of the Spirit.
The kingdom of God refers to the entire realm of God. To enter and see the kingdom of God (vs. 3 and 5) means to become part of the family of God, to experience a relationship with Him, and to be enlightened to truth by the Holy Spirit. A person enters the kingdom of God immediately upon believing and receiving Jesus Christ (see comments on 1:12), and proceeds to heaven instead of hell after physical death. By contrast, one who has not received Christ, referred to as a natural person in the New Testament, is not born of the Spirit and thus does not see and enter the kingdom of God. The natural person is not part of God's kingdom; he is separated from God. Jesus made it clear that each person belongs to one of only two kingdoms--God’s kingdom or Satan’s kingdom:
The natural person cannot understand spiritual truth. As Jesus said, unless one is born of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God. God reveals Himself--and all truth--by the Holy Spirit. Apart from the Holy Spirit, one cannot understand God's truth. God does not favor the intellectual—He reveals Himself to those who seek Him. This is why people who have not received Christ cannot understand the Bible:
"He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God."
1 Cor 2:14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
Also, the natural person, separated from God, cannot experience the Life provided by Christ: joy, fulfillment, contentment, peace, and the power to change bad habits.
You must be born again (3:7). Jesus removes any doubt that being born of the Spirit is the only way to God—the only way to see and enter the kingdom of God. Nothing more is needed. Nothing less will do.
The Greek word pneuma, translated here as wind, actually means both wind and spirit. We can't see wind. We don't know where it comes from or where it goes, but we hear it, feel it, and see its effects. Similarly, one who is born of the Spirit sees the effects of the Spirit without seeing the Spirit Himself.
"The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; 27 and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows--how, he himself does not know.
Eccl 11:5 Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.
Nicodemus was stunned. The foundation of his religion was shattered by Jesus’ words. His way of looking at life, which had taken years to develop and refine, was turned upside-down. He probably felt like someone who spent several years building and furnishing an enormous palace, and then after the work is finished, sees it destroyed by fire due to faulty wiring. Nicodemus went to Jesus to look for something to add to his religion—he knew that something was missing. But Jesus doesn’t give him a missing ingredient. Instead, He says "You must be born again." Nicodemus was faced with the truth that he could not see or enter the kingdom of God through his religion; he had to be born again. He did not want to give up his religion, but he also did not want to reject the words of Jesus, whom he knew had come from God (vs. 2).
Nicodemus was used to having religious rules to follow. A religious person seeks to be in control of his own destiny, seeking God's acceptance and favor by following rules. It's human nature to want a clear set of rules by which to evaluate ourselves, even if we know that we fall short of perfection. But Jesus does not mention rules or standards. In fact, He gives Nicodemus a requirement that is completely beyond Nicodemus' control: to be born again. Nicodemus did not deserve it, nor could he strive for it.
What's more, Jesus tells Nicodemus that one who is born of the Spirit cannot control his life anymore than he can control the wind. We who are born of the Spirit must trust God with our lives, yielding control to the Spirit, instead of trying to be in control ourselves. Our behavior and lifestyle change, not because we try to be good, but because the Holy Spirit controls us.
Nicodemus’ jaw must have dropped. He could only say, "How can these things be?". You will see in verses 10-21 that Nicodemus said nothing more to Jesus; he just listened.