1. There was a man named Nicodemus. Only John tells us about this man. He was a Pharisee; a teacher of the Law [rabbi]; a member of the Council [Sanhedrin]. He and Joseph of Arimathea, both members of the Council, believed the claims of Jesus (John 3:2). He protested against condemning Jesus without a hearing (John 7:51); and he helped Joseph bury the body of Jesus (John 19:38-39).
2. One night he went to Jesus. He did this at night, either because of the hostility toward Jesus [of the Council], or to have a more personal interview with Christ. That you are a teacher sent by God. The Council knew that Jesus had not been to their theological schools; and the miracles he was performing identified him clearly as a prophet. He wanted information, and Jesus gave it to him in the conversation which follows.
3. Unless he is born again. Jesus answers the thoughts of Nicodemus. “Again” is the proper translation, as can be seen from John 3:4. Luther says on this: “My doctrine is not of doing, and of leaving undone, but of being and becoming; so that it is not a new work to be done, but the being new created not the living otherwise, but the being new-born.” Nicodemus would think that all who were Abraham’s descendants would be citizens of the Kingdom. What Jesus says to him is in contrast to his Jewish heritage. The teaching that a man can bury his old life of sin, to begin a new life of hope, is predicted by the Old Testament (Isaiah 1:18; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26), and clearly taught in the New Testament (Romans 6:8; Romans 8:3; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15-16).
4. How can a grown man be born again? Nicodemus states the literal meaning of Jesus’ words, to ask for an explanation. If Jesus meant this literally, he sees himself forever barred from the Kingdom.
5. Unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Whatever Jesus means here, all will agree, that: (1) no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born again; (2) only being born of water and the Spirit makes it possible. All will agree that the birth of the Spirit points to a spiritual change. The majority of scholars see in water the rite of Christian baptism. See Ephesians 5:26; Hebrews 10:22. Alford (Greek Testament) says: “All attempts to get rid of this have sprung from doctrinal prejudices.” We view Christian baptism [in contrast to John’s baptism] as a reaching out through faith to seize the sacrifice of Christ and make ourselves part of it. Compare notes on Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21.
6. But he Is born spiritually of the Spirit. The new birth has nothing to do with natural birth. It is one who has already been born of natural birth, who is to be born again of water and the Spirit. It is the spirit, not the physical, which is radically transformed in the new birth. [But a physical act can have spiritual results. Look at the Cross!]
7. Do not be surprised. Being Abraham’s descendant by natural birth, means nothing. You must all be born again. No exceptions. [God’s act in Christ is the only BASIS for salvation. All must reach out through faith to seize that act and make themselves part of it.] Being born of water and the Spirit are not two discrete acts, but being born of water and being born of the Spirit is the same act (Titus 3:5).
8. The wind blows wherever it wishes. Pendleton says: “I take the passage to mean that the process by which a man is regenerated [born again] by the Spirit of God is no more mysterious than other operations in the natural world, of which operations the blowing of the wind is taken as example.” Lipscomb says: “These verses have been ever of great difficulty because men try to get out of them what is not in them. Flesh in the mind of Nicodemus is the difficulty Jesus is trying to remove... The effort was to show Nicodemus that it was the spiritual part of man, not the fleshly part that is to be born again.” [Compare 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Galatians 4:6; 1 Peter 1:22-23.]
9. How can this be? His problem is that he had thought he was already in the Kingdom.
10. And you don’t know this? Nicodemus was one who taught others. The Doctors of the Law were very proud of how much they knew. He could not fail to know the prophecy of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Hebrews 8:7-13).
11. We speak of what we know. Jesus came from God, and he knew first-hand the things he spoke about. The prophets told of the coming Kingdom, and even though no one expected what God was doing (1 Corinthians 2:9), they should have been able to see how the prophecies were coming true in Christ.
12. How will you ever believe me, then? What he has told Nicodemus and the others, has to do with the Kingdom of God here on earth and their relationship to it. If these things are too hard to understand, how can they believe the things about the eternal world?
13. Except the Son of Man. Over eighty times in the Gospels, Jesus calls himself “Son of Man,” emphasizing his humanity (compare Hebrews 2:14-15). The things he was doing declared him to be the Son of God. [The Jews understood the two titles to mean the same thing. See Luke 22:69-70] No one else but Jesus himself is COMPETENT to teach these things. [Some ancient authorities add: who is in heaven.]
14–15. In the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up. Numbers 21:4-9 tells about Moses and the bronze snake. The bitten Israelites had to: believe that God would heal those who looked; turn from sin and come to the pole; look up to be healed. God himself made the salvation available to them, but they had to act out their faith to be healed. God still requires us to act out our faith (see note on John 3:5).
16. For God loved the world so much. Love caused God to act through Jesus to set men free! This verse says: (1) God is love. (2) Instead of hating the world, he loved it. (3) He gave his only Son because of this love. [Note: not to appease wrath, but because of love. The other religions of the world appease the wrath of an angry god. Christianity is unique in showing the God who acts in history to make it possible to change men.] (4) He came to keep men from dying eternally. His only Son. Seth Wilson writes on this: “MONOGENES has been mistakenly treated in English translations for hundreds of years as if it were MONOGENNETOS, from GENNAO, which WOULD MEAN “only one begotten.” Of the two words, John chose to use the one which means UNIQUE rather than ONLY-BEGOTTEN.” TEV makes clear that Jesus is God’s unique Son. It correctly translates the Greek word MONOGENES. Compare note on Hebrews 11:17.
17. But to be its Savior. The world was already condemned because of sin, and doomed. Jesus came to make it possible for us to escape from this, and to return to God. See Revelation 1:5-6. [When Jesus Comes Again, he will be the Judge at that time. See Acts 17:31; Matthew 25:31-46.]
18. Whoever believes in the Son. Belief includes reaching out to seize the sacrifice of Christ. See note on James 2:19. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). Whoever does not believe. He is already lost, and refuses to be saved by Christ. The unbeliever condemns himself. “Whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).
19–20. This is how the Judgment works. God’s judgment is not despotic or senseless. Men believe on the basis of their hidden motives and goals. Usually it is not evidence, but honesty and love for truth which is required to believe, This world is set up in such a way that all who love evil are repelled by Christ and the Cross.
21. But whoever does what is true. Those who LIVE truth LOVE the light are pleased to come to Jesus. God’s call makes no sense, if men and women cannot respond to it (see notes on Revelation 22:17).
22. Went to the province of Judea. He left Jerusalem and went out into the countryside. And baptized. This is the first statement that Jesus baptized disciples. McGarvey says this must have been a continuation of John’s baptism, and not into the “three names of God,” since the Holy Spirit had not yet been given (John 7:39). With the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost, the rite of baptism took on a new meaning (see notes on Acts 19:1-6). Note also that Jesus baptized by proxy through his disciples [in contrast to John the Baptist]. See John 4:1-2.
23. John also was baptizing in Aenon. Close to the Jordan, northeast of Samaria, where there were lots of pools which could be used to immerse people. Because there was plenty of water there. Baptism of the crowds of people required an open area and plenty of water.
24. (John had not yet been put In prison.) John’s Gospel shows that the ministry of Jesus was put into effect and was very successful, before the work of John the Baptist terminated. McGarvey thinks this is further proof that Jesus continued the baptism of John up to the Cross [where it terminated]. See John 3:22.
25–26. About the matter of religious washing. Probably a Pharisee who linked John’s baptism with ritual religious washing (see note on Matthew 15:2) in his mind. It is clear that Jesus’ name came up in the discussion. And everyone is going to him. These friends of John felt harshly toward Jesus, because they thought John had made Jesus famous by all that he had said (John 1:19-34).
27–29. John answered. John is talking about himself. A man can take only what he is given. The Son of God takes all he chooses. John was doing all he was supposed to do as “advance man” for the Messiah. The bridegroom is the one. John is the “best man,” but he does not get the bride. The bride is the church; the bridegroom is Christ. John, the friend, finds his happiness in the union of the Bride and the Bridegroom!
30. He must become more important. Jesus was doing a work that no human being could do! John the Baptist was a Jewish prophet, and would not share in the Kingdom of God on earth (see Matthew 11:11 and note there). We are sad to see John “fade out of the picture,” yet he did not lose anything God had promised him!
31. He who comes from above. The Son of God outranks John and all mankind!
32. But no one accepts his message. It was no great disappointment to John that so few of his disciples understood what he had said about Jesus. Only a very few believed Jesus himself. [Yet don’t overlook John 4:1; Luke 13:23; Revelation 7:9.]
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Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on John 3". "The Bible Study New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany