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John 3:1-5 by Robert Dean
Series:John (1998)
Duration:57 mins 33 secs

Jesus and Nicodemus: Regeneration, Spiritual Birth
John 3:1-5
John Lesson #024
October 18, 1998

Even moral people who are convinced of their own righteousness sometimes in the wee hours of the morning when they are somewhat honest with themselves will doubt that all their good deeds and all their good works are really sufficient enough to gain them salvation. We have a case in point in John chapter three. Here we find a man who by almost any standard of religious activity is someone who i9t would be thought to have secured his place in heaven for all eternity. But apparently when alone, like so many others if they possess integrity and the least little bit of honesty, when they begin to question their own life and evaluate their own good deeds, their ritual and religion, they realize they are insufficient to provide them what they really want. So here we find a man who has just a little bit of courage, but he screws up his courage to confront his concern. This episode with Nicodemus is one that John the apostle weaves into his narrative in order to teach us many things about the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We need to remind ourselves of the theme. Why  did the apostle John write this Gospel? John 20:30, 31 NASB "Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these [signs] have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."

John writes to show that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, and he presents the evidence for this claim. The evidence is so powerful and so overwhelming that the Jews had no excuse for rejecting Him. God's condemnation of Israel was indeed just, there was more than enough evidence to substantiate Jesus Christ's claim. The issues are not therefore based upon credentials, they are not based on lack of evidence, the issue is on individual volition. It is not that people do not know the truth. That is often not the problem. It is not that they do not have enough evidence, it is that they do not want to believe the truth. Romans chapter one says they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The issue is not that you have to be smarter, you have to know more, you have to understand more, you have to take five courses in apologetics in order to witness more clearly, and that somehow you are not smart enough, not articulate enough to witness to people. That is not the issue. The issue in witnessing is always that the Holy Spirit who is the sovereign executor of evangelism is the one who works to help people understand the gospel. Our job is simply to present the facts that Jesus is the Christ who died on the cross as our substitute, and that by faith alone in Christ alone you can have eternal life. And just because people reject Christ does not mean we have failed in presenting the gospel. It doesn't mean that people don't understand it. All too often the problem is that people do understand it, they just do not want to have anything to do with God or with Jesus Christ, and that is the case that was discovered by Jesus in Jerusalem during His first visit which is covered in 2:12 through the end of chapter three.

So the first thing that we see here by way of introduction is that the apostle John is presenting the claims of Jesus to be the Messiah and that those claims were overwhelming. The second thing that we have seen and need to be reminded of is John's particular style. On the basis of all of the years that have passed he arranges his material  in such a way as to bring out for us a much deeper significance. This is one of the challenging things about studying this Gospel. At a surface level if we read through the Gospel there are many things that we can learn and understand and can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as Saviour, but if we stop and start taking it apart and unweave the various strands that are here, you can go deeper and deeper and deeper. You cannot exhaust the text. When we say that John arranges his material so that there is a deeper significance it is not to say that this is allegorical.

One of the greatest heresies that came into the early church was the whole principle of allegorical interpretation, and there are some people today that have slipped into this type of interpretation. John's Gospel can be understood at a couple of different levels, but not to the expense of any other level. In other words, what allegory does is say that you have a text at a physical level but there is a spiritual truth and the physical truth is irrelevant or it didn't happen. What happens with some people is that they say that, yes, there is a physical sense of the text and you have the various lines of the text but you have to "read between the lines and then the Holy Spirit will reveal some truths to you about reality at a higher level of doctrine." Often that so-called spiritual truth derived from reading between the lines is in contradiction to the literal truth of the passage, and the literal truth of the passage becomes irrelevant and reduced in significance to emphasize this so-called higher spiritual truth. That is not what we are talking about here. 

What we are talking about the fact that John, while emphasizing the literal historical events of the four days that took place in the life of John the Baptist, everything happened as John tells us they did, but as John the writer under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, having reflected on these things over all of these years and looks back, sees a further significance to these events. That on day one there is a discussion with John the Baptist who represent Old Testament prophets in the Old Testament dispensation. Then there is the coming of Jesus representing the hypostatic union on the second day, and the call of the disciples, Andrew and John representing the church age on the third day. Then there is Nathanael who represents true remnant of Israel that is restored during the Tribulation period, and then the wedding feast which comes two days later which represents the Millennial kingdom. So John as he goes back and looks at these events narrates these events in a way for us that helps foreshadow a different level of spiritual truth related to the different dispensations and ages. So we have to understand these things about John's style.

Another thing that we see about the style of the apostle John is that he is always taking physical things from the immediate environment which Jesus uses to illustrate spiritual truth. In chapter one He talks to Nathanael about being under the fig tree, and He talks about this thing in his natural environment and then he expands upon that to apply it to spiritual truth. In the temple after He has run out the money changers and the Pharisees challenge Him He says, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." So he is taking that which is in the immediate physical environment. In chapter four when he is talking to the woman at the well He says, "If you drink the water that I give you, you will never thirst again." So He is taking the element of water that is right there in the immediate vicinity to use to teach spiritual truth. We could go through every chapter of John to note these things about how the apostle John is emphasizing this. These kinds of themes and trends are important to be able to actively understand and interpret the text.

So now we come to this event at the beginning of chapter three. Remember there were no chapter divisions in the original, so we will read from 2:23 to pick up the context and forget that there is a chapter division there.

John 2:23 NASB "Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. [24] But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men…" We have seen that these were true believers. [25] "and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man. [3:1] Now there was a manof the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews." We have laid out the principle that Jesus has revealed Himself, there have been those who have believed, but He is not going to entrust Himself to them because He knows what is in man; and now we are going to look at a case study, a particular man, Nicodemus. He is an example of what has been going on in the previous chapter. He is not a believer yet but he has no courage, no convictions and is somewhat timid. So Nicodemus is to be understood as one of those in this class of people at the end of chapter two.

John is showing us that many of those in chapter two included many among the highest echelons of Jewish society. He is showing us that those who believed in Jesus and accepted His claims to be Messiah are not from among the rabble and are bot the unlearned and uneducated of Galilee; that they also included the intellectuals, the religious elite and the powerful politicians of Jerusalem. Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin which was the governing body of Israel. He is one of the most prominent men in Jerusalem, very wealthy and intensely devoted to the pursuit of spiritual truth. John wants us to understand that Jesus' ministry impacted everyone throughout the strata of Jewish society.

Nicodemus was very concerned with what many call today the spiritual side of life. It is really a misnomer because they don't understand a thing about the spiritual side of life. Nicodemus is in that class, he is not really sure what spirituality is, he has been caught up in ritual instead of reality. He is concerned about the following of the Mosaic Law and the precepts of the Mosaic Law in order to somehow substantiate or to gain righteousness so that he could have a standing before God. He thinks that somehow he is going to do enough to impress God to save him. But what he is going to learn from Jesus is that spirituality is based on a relationship, not on ritual; it is based on regeneration and not religion. Remember that religion is man doing the work so that God will bless him, and what we learn from this is that religion is the enemy of true Christianity.

The evidence Jesus presented, the evidence that took place in chapter two of changing the water into wine at Cana, and then the miracles that He performed once He came to Jerusalem for the Passover, the cleansing of the temple, was clearly understood by the Pharisees as a claim to be the Messiah. When He cleansed the temple they came to Him they asked, What sign? They are clearly asking a question about His claim to be Messiah, and Jesus is answering them to show that He is the Messiah. The evidence is overwhelming. Later on in verse 23 it emphasizes that he did many signs while he was in Jerusalem. There could be no excuse. It was obvious to everyone that Jesus fulfilled all the required credentials explained in the Old Testament. His claims were valid. So the issue isn't lack of evidence or a paucity of knowledge, the issue is hostility to then truth and in arrogant commitment to prior religious convictions. That is the problem with so many people: they are committed to the religion they grew up in. No matter what you say it will never be shaken because "that may pressure me too much; it might put me in a situation where my peers and my family reject me." So they will not even consider objectively the claims to the truth. So the issue often isn't knowledge or a lack of evidence, it is simply hostility to the truth.

Another thing we need to observe here that John wants us to see is that though many people in Jerusalem believed in Jesus their faith was very weak. With all that was going on in Jerusalem with the temple and all of the typology of the sacrifices and the offerings, Passover and everything else, plus all of the signs or miracles, we would naturally expect thousands to be flocking to Jesus. But that is not what happens in Jerusalem. Later we see it happen in Galilee when He is in the north, but in Jerusalem though many believe in His name they don't flock to Him, they are afraid, they lack the courage of their convictions. And there are many others who reject His claim and do not follow Him. While in Jerusalem there was a religious conservatism it wasn't a biblical conservatism. There is a vast difference between a conservative position and a biblically conservative position. This is one of the problems we are running into today in our society because there are groups like the so-called religious right or Christian right which is often not Christian and sometimes not right. The biggest problem is they are politicising their religious convictions and identifying them with a political position. This is one of the most dangerous things that we can do because then the claims of Christ become muddied and clouded over by political concerns. The gospel and Christianity are not political issues. The truths of Scripture may have political implications, and we may study Scripture and derive certain conclusions from the Scripture that impact how you vote; but the Scripture does not set forth any identification with a particular political position or party.   

John 3:1 NASB "Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; [2] this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, 'Rabbi, we know that You have come from God {as} a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.' [3] Jesus answered and said to him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.' [4] Nicodemus said to Him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?' [5] Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God'."

What we are going to see is that Jesus has a wonderful skill at conversing with people. Nicodemus is asking these sort of third-party questions. He is appropriately named because his name is a Greek name which in its root form means a ruler of the people. So he is born into Jewish aristocracy, he has been trained from childhood in the Scriptures and we know that he is a Pharisee, a religious conservative, incredibly moral, consistently righteous and does everything he can to dot every i and cross every t when it comes to obedience to the Mosaic Law. So if anyone is going to have the right to say to God, You ought to let me into heaven because I'm living the right kind of life, it would be Nicodemus. Yet Nicodemus was honest enough with himself to know that at his very best he is not sure that he is really good enough, and if he at his very best is not good enough then the rest of us at our very best fall far short of a man like Nicodemus. That is why Jesus said: "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees you cannot see the kingdom of God." They had the very highest standard of personal righteousness, but the righteousness that God demands is absolute perfect righteousness with no flaws whatsoever. Our righteousness no matter how good it is, is still relative. When God looks at us He is not comparing us with other people, He looks at our righteousness and compares it with His absolute standard. So God says all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. No matter how good we are it never comes close to meeting His absolute standard.

Nicodemus was also a rather timid man. This is the picture we have in Scripture. In chapter 7 what has happened in the Sanhedrin has sent out a commission to confront Jesus and to arrest Him. They return empty handed and Jesus has once again slipped away and they have been thwarted in their efforts to arrest Him. When they return there is a dialogue that takes place among the Sanhedrin and we get a little insight into Nicodemus's character.

John 7:45 NASB "The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, 'Why did you not bring Him?' [46] The officers answered, 'Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks.' [47] The Pharisees then answered them, 'You have not also been led astray, have you? [48] No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? [49] But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.'" In other words, you haven't been caught up with this man. None of the Pharisees have believed in Him, but this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed. In other words the rabble follow Him but the people who really know, the intellectual elite, the students of Scripture, they haven't been deceived! Then Nicodemus says something. He was likely a believer by this point, but he doesn't take a stand. So often people think when they run into somebody who doesn't take a stand that they are not truly saved. That is heresy, because you can be a believer and be a failure, not have any doctrine, and not have the courage of your convictions and still be a believer.

[50] Nicodemus (he who came to Him before, being one of them) said to them, [51] 'Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?' [52] They answered him, 'You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee'." There is a textual problem here. The NASB says: "he who came to Him before," but the Majority text is better than that used for the NASB and the NIV. In other places where John refers to Nicodemus he uses this same phrase. "Nicodemus (he who came to Him at night…" That is how we remember Nicodemus, he is the one who came to Jesus at night. Nicodemus isn't taking a stand for Jesus as the Messiah here, he is not reminding them of all that He has done and all His credentials. This man really has a point but he is not going to let Jesus be unjustly condemned, so he is going to step out with a little bit of courage and just say a little bit. The response of the Sanhedrin was to question whether he was one of that rabble and comment that no prophet comes out of Galilee. Here they just expose their biblical ignorance at this point because Jonah was from a little town just a few miles down the road from Nazareth. So Jonah was from Galilee, but they are prejudiced. Judeans were very prejudiced against that country backward rabble that lived up in Galilee. But that is our first look at Nicodemus after his salvation. He is very timid and just doesn't want to expose himself to the attack of his peers and his comrades. That is so much like many people. They really don't want to come under the attack of their families their friends, people they have known all their lives.

But we see a transformation in him by the end of the Gospel. John 19:38 NASB "After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret {one} for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. [39] Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds {weight.}" Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple; Nicodemus was a secret disciple. There were many other who were believers but they didn't let anybody know that because it would cost them their position in society, their job, their place in the Sanhedrin, so they kept quiet. But here they finally get the courage of their convictions.

In John chapter three Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Why is that important? What is John saying here? John is going to use the fact that Nicodemus came at night to emphasize a spiritual principle. Night in Scripture is darkness, it represents sin and blackness. John is saying that Nicodemus is typical of every unbeliever who comes to Jesus out of the darkness of the world, out of the darkness of their carnality. Many unbelievers come to Jesus just like this. They are timid, they come slowly, they come one small step at a time, uncertain and cautious but they still keep coming. Sometimes it takes people many years as they progress in their understanding. We see with Nicodemus that he has taken many steps in approaching the gospel. He is not there yet in John 3 but he has made advances, and this is true of so many unbelievers. Nicodemus has his PhD in religion but he is still in spiritual darkness, which unfortunately like so many religious leaders today. They have studied everything, they have the degrees, they go out and teach on spirituality, but they don't have a clue as to what spirituality is all about. 

It is no coincidence that John returns to this theme of light and darkness down in verse 19: "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. [20] For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." But what has happened? Nicodemus has come out of darkness to the Light. [21] "But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." In John 8:12 John returns again to this scene: "Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, 'I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life'." Again in John 12:35: "So Jesus said to them, 'For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes'." Then John 12:46: "I have come {as} Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness." This theme is expressed throughout the Scripture. In Matthew 4:16: "THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED." Acts 26:18: "to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me."

Darkness and light are used in the Scriptures to refer metaphorically to sin and evil and loss of salvation. So Nicodemus comes at night in the darkness. Notice how he begins the conversation. He is uncertain and begins on a little bit of a tangent, a side note. He doesn't come right to the point, somewhat like John and Andrew in chapter one. When they start off to follow Jesus, Jesus turns and says, "What do you seek?" They say finally, "Teacher, where are you staying?" They are uncertain, they don't really know what to say. Nicodemus is timid, uncertain, and he is not going to approach Jesus directly. But what we see is that Jesus is the one who knows what is in their heart, what they are thinking, what they want, and he doesn't attack them, criticise them, embarrass them because of their timidity. Instead, because of what he knows and what they are really seeking he addresses the real issue. His response, His gentleness, His directness gives them permission to come to Him directly.

John 3:2 NASB "this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, Rabbi, we know that You have come from God {as} a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him'." What an amazing thing that Nicodemus addresses Jesus as Rabbi! Jesus is the "unlearned carpenter's son" from that backward place called Galilee. But Nicodemus knows that there have been things happening. He has heard what Jesus has said in the temple, he has heard about His cleansing of the temple, and His miracles. He is impressed. So when he comes to this man who comes out of the back woods of the north he addresses Him as Rabbi. That tells us that Nicodemus has come a long way. None of the other Pharisees would come to Jesus and call Him Rabbi. But Nicodemus is a seeker after truth. Even though he thinks he has studied it all and has learned it all and he has the advanced degrees of all his rabbinical studies, Nicodemus is also teachable. He has humility. Before we can bring anybody to the cross, before anybody is ever saved, they have to have some teachability and some level of true humility to realize they can't do it all themselves. We in Nicodemus that he is truly ready to learn something about the gospel. He knows he doesn't know it all.

He says, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God." We know! It is the third person plural. That tells us that Jesus has been quite a matter of discussion among the Sanhedrin, that there are others beside Nicodemus in the Sanhedrin who have looked into the Scriptures and what Jesus has done, all of His miracles, His cleansing of the temple, and they look at it and say, "This man gives us the evidence we need, He fits the picture portrayed in the Old Testament, He has the credentials. So controversy has erupted at the highest level of political power and the highest governing body in Jerusalem. Jesus' teaching, miracles and temple cleansing is a controversial issue and Nicodemus says, "We know this." The issue wasn't that His evidence wasn't enough but that they were hostile to the truth.

Then he says: "We know that You have come from God as a teacher." The term "teacher from God" had at this time become a technical term. In the Qumran literature what was found in the Dead Sea scrolls was constant reference to the coming teacher of righteousness who was a messianic figure whom they were looking forward to. So that the term "a teacher from God" is a messianic title now for the coming one, that He is going to be teacher from God. So the fact that Nicodemus comes to Him and says, We know that you have come from God as a teacher, he is saying right there that there are those of us on the Sanhedrin who know from what you have done that you are the Messiah, "for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." This was a term that was used of Moses in the same way that Moses was sent from God and Moses is the archetype of the great teacher. We see how John is tying many different strands together here. There is a rich background to this conversation, it is not what it appears just at a surface reading. We see that Nicodemus is coming to Jesus and asking Him some important questions. This is not the statement of a sceptic, this is the statement of a man was fully convinced of everything that the Old Testament said.

Nicodemus has certain assumptions that are part of his very nature. One of these is that he believes the Old Testament is true and valid. Secondly, he believes that the promised Messiah is going to perform certain miracles, and the conclusion is that if the Old Testament predicted this and this man is doing this that there is only one inescapable conclusion. That is that Jesus is that man. Now he has some real questions: Is my righteousness good enough? He doesn't come out and say that but that is what he is asking, because in his theological system all his life he has been trying to be good enough for God. He is afraid that maybe there is something in his background, something that he has done that affects his standing before God. He has worked hard and diligently at accumulating enough good works to gain God's approval. He is concerned about his eternal destiny. He doesn't say any of that, so how do we know that is what his real question is? Because that is the question that Jesus answered. Jesus doesn't answer about His signs or His credentials or His being the Messiah; he goes right to the real issue. Nicodemus is asking: Is my righteousness good enough t get me into the kingdom of heaven.

John 3:3 NASB "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God'." Notice He doesn't say you, Nicodemus. He is going to play this game with Nicodemus. We are going to thrust and parry. You are going to make this a nice little 3rd person, academic discussion; I will too. Here we see something very interesting in the Greek, another example of this sort of two-tiered or three-tiered level of meaning that John is driving home. He leaves certain things with a certain level of ambiguity in order to make us think. When He says a man must be born again he uses the Greek word anothen [a)nwqen]. If you look this word up in any Greek-English lexicon you will find that it has two meanings. The first meaning is that this word means again; the second meaning is that this word means from above. So if a word has two meanings you have to decide from context what the meaning is. John doesn't give us any contextual clue. He leaves it intentionally vague because both are true. It is a double entandre. You have to experience a second birth but the source of that second birth is from above. You can't do it on your own. Your righteousness is never going to be good enough. You can't do that which will get you into the kingdom of heaven, it has to be performed from above. It takes us back to the first chapter: John 1:13 NASB "who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

One thing we notice from this passage is that Nicodemus takes this as the first meaning, the surface meaning. Look at how he responds: "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" We will see that this word is used a couple more times in this chapter and John gradually shifts our attention from the primary meaning or the superficial meaning of "again" to the more significant meaning of "from above"; that this verse has its source not in man but in God.

When Jesus says this to Nicodemus he expects Nicodemus to know this principle. How? First of all we have to pay attention to the fact that he uses the term kingdom of God which was a term related to eschatology. The only doctrine of regeneration that the Jews had at that time was based on Isaiah 66:22 NASB "'For just as the new heavens and the new earth Which I make will endure before Me,' declares the LORD, 'So your offspring and your name will endure. [23] And it shall be from new moon to new moon And from sabbath to sabbath, All mankind will come to bow down before Me,' says the LORD." They understood regeneration as a technical eschatological term. It wasn't understood necessarily as an individual thing but as a national and physical thing; that God was going to regenerate the earth and all that was in it when He came in His kingdom.

Jesus recognizes this in Matthew 19:28 NASB "And Jesus said to them, 'Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel'." So this is a technical term for the messianic kingdom. So the Jews understood this as a term referring to the future. But what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus is that if he was going to be in the regeneration then first of all he has to be regenerated right here. If he was not regenerated now he would not be in the regeneration. He drives it home as an individual fact. This is something that everybody has to come to grips with.

What does it mean to be born again? We have to be technical here and ask the question: What is born? When man was originally created in the garden he had a body, soul and spirit; a trichotomy. But when Adam sinned he died spiritually. That means he lost his human spirit. The human spirit is that immaterial aspect of man which gives him the capacity to have a relationship with God, to understand spiritual truth, and to have eternal life. What happens when you are born you already have a physical body and a human soul, but you were born physically without a human spirit; therefore you have no way to understand spiritual truth, no way to have a relationship with God, and you do not possess eternal life. The consequence is that you will die physically and unless there is a spiritual rebirth you will suffer eternal condemnation, and this is the point in John 3:18 NASB "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." What Jesus is saying to Nicodemus is, Unless you receive this human spirit you can't have a relationship with God and you can't be in the regeneration. Now Nicodemus is asking how to receive this human spirit; he is totally confused. We receive the human spirit by faith alone in Christ alone. When we believe in Jesus Christ, which is where we get to down in verse 18, "He who believes in Him is not judged," at that instant God the Holy Spirit creates and imparts to us a new human spirit which is our regeneration. God the Father imputes to that human spirit His very own eternal life and so we can have eternal life, and that human spirit interacts with our soul and gives us the capacity on the one hand to understand all doctrine and spiritual truth and to have a relationship with God. It is God the Holy Spirit who works in and through our human spirit to make doctrine understandable and perspicuous to us. But without the human spirit we can't go anywhere, we can't have a relationship with God, and we can't understand the things of the Spirit of God.

Nicodemus asks: "How can a man be born when he is old?" He is an old man himself. John 3:5 NASB "Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God'." This is a passage that people have done all kinds of somersaults around to try to interpret it. We must interpret it consistently with what has been going on and how Jesus operates in all of these chapters. He takes that which is present at a physical level and uses that then to throw the attention on to the spiritual level. He talks about water and pneuma [pneuma]. The word pneuma can be translated wind or spirit. The question is just how is it to be understood here? The context gives us the clue in verse 6: "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." We must realize that whatever Jesus was saying to Nicodemus had to be understandable by Nicodemus.

Nicodemus knows the Old Testament, so we turn back to Ezekiel 36:25 and find out what Jesus was referring to from the Old Testament: NASB "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols." This is a direct reference to the new covenant promise of God in Ezekiel 36. Remember the water pots at the wedding at Cana? Why was all that water there? It was for the purification of the Jews. We saw then that one of the major issues in Jewish religion was cleansing before God. They knew they couldn't have a relationship with God unless they were cleansed, and they knew from the Mosaic law that almost anything they did defiled them spiritually. So they were obsessed with cleansing and washing. They knew that they had to be washed by water, so almost every time you come to water, especially in John—it is not talking about water baptism, John never refers to water baptism—it has to do with this whole idea of cleansing. That is the imagery, that is the metaphor of water. And we see that in this new covenant promise of Ezekiel 36:25: "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean." This is a metaphor for the cleansing of sin. Sin will no longer be an issue. [26] "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. [27] I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances." So what are the two elements that are referred to in the new covenant promise from the Old Testament? Water for cleansing from sin and the Holy Spirit.

John 3:9 NASB "Nicodemus said to Him, 'How can these things be?' [10] Jesus answered and said to him, 'Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?'" Jesus is almost playing with Nicodemus. You don't understand these things? Let's go back and look at this again. You have to be born by water and Spirit. This is a clear mention of regeneration back in Ezekiel 36, and you don't understand this, and you think you are a teacher of the Law and a ruler of the people? Wake up Nicodemus.

Jesus said: "Unless you are born of water and the Spirit." Both refer to the two aspects of regeneration. Why are they aspects of regeneration? Some people refer to the water as physical birth and the Spirit referring to spiritual birth. Why is it not that? Look at Titus 3:5 NASB "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit." The same two elements that are mentioned in Ezekiel 36 are mentioned by Jesus when he is talking to Nicodemus and they are picked up by the apostle Paul when he is writing this letter to Titus. These are two of the key elements that take place at salvation. There is an absolute total cleansing from sin. Sin is not the issue. You are cleansed and purified and that relates to the imputation of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ at the point of salvation. Then there is a renewal, a new birth, you are given a human spirit by God the Holy Spirit at the point of salvation, and this is what qualifies you to enter into the kingdom of God.

John 3:6 NASB "That which is born of the flesh is flesh [physical birth], and that which is born of the Spirit [Holy Spirit] is spirit [human spirit]. [7] "Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again'. [8] The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit'." John is beginning to shift from the again concept to the above concept. Where does the wind come from? The wind comes from above. Remember what Jesus said: "The rain falls on the just and the unjust." God sends the rain on the just and the unjust. It comes from above. Where is the Spirit? The Spirit is above. It comes from the Holy Spirit.

John 3:9 NASB "Nicodemus said to Him, 'How can these things be?'" What are the mechanics?