By Sam E. Stone
Early in his Gospel, John introduces the reader to a Pharisee named Nicodemus. He is mentioned only in John’s Gospel—but here he is seen on three occasions (3:1-10; 7:50-52; l9:39). The Pharisees tried to strictly observe the Law of Moses. Jesus referred to him as “Israel’s teacher” (3:10), suggesting the respect in which he was held by the people. In addition, he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the select group of priests, elders, and scribes who directed religious affairs in Palestine at that time.
We don’t know why Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. It could have been because he feared what other Jewish leaders might think, or because of a busy schedule during the day (both for Jesus and himself). He began, “We know you are a teacher who has come from God.” The miracles of Jesus had confirmed this (John 2:23; Acts 10:38). Jesus responded, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Jesus answered what was the real question on Nicodemus’s heart even before he asked it (John 2:24, 25). To see the kingdom means to possess or experience it. Born again can be translated “born from above.” Nicodemus understood Jesus to mean a second birth, however. The intervening verses prior to our printed text (vv. 4-10) record their dialogue.
Look Up and Live
We testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. When Jesus says, “We,” it could be the rhetorical “we,” or he could be including the disciples with him. The Jewish religious scholars should have been the first to affirm the life and teaching of Jesus, but they did not. How will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? Regeneration, the new birth, is visible to observers in this life. Jesus challenged Nicodemus to ponder what more could be learned beyond human experience.
No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Only Jesus can provide firsthand information about heavenly things. The Son of Man refers to the Messiah. This is Jesus’ favorite self-designation, used at least 80 times in the Gospels. He then alludes to Numbers 21:4-9 when Moses lifted up the snake in the desert. This incident was a foreshadowing of Calvary. In both, death was threatened as punishment for sin; in both, God provided a remedy through his grace; in both, people must look in faith to the one lifted up; and in both, those who do so are healed.
When Moses lifted up the brazen serpent, those who believed could look and live. Now all who believe in Jesus “keep on having” life that begins now and continues forever. A. T. Robertson notes, “It is more than endless, for it is sharing in the life of God in Christ” (John 5:26; 17:3; 1 John 5:12). Anyone can find salvation through obedient faith
in Jesus. Only Hell awaits the unsaved (2 Thessalonians 1:9), but the believer will be in God’s presence forever.
John 3:16—the favorite verse in all the Bible—shows that the international breadth of God’s love includes those from every tongue, tribe, and nation. Jesus is God’s unique, only one-of-a-kind Son (John 1:14). God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. The primary purpose of Christ’s first coming was to bring salvation. When he returns, however, he will come in judgment (Acts 17:31; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 25:31-46). Because of his grace and love, God offers all people the opportunity to be born again into eternal life.
Love Light, Not Darkness
Jesus’ words should serve as a warning to Nicodemus: Whoever does not believe stands condemned already. Faith in Christ alone brings salvation (John 14:6). Light has come into the world. Our understanding of this discussion is enhanced by the prologue of John’s Gospel (specifically 1:4, 5, 9-11). Nicodemus must make his choice about Christ, just as every other person has to.
Those who do evil hate the light. This is true of everyone—criminals, corrupt politicians, and other immoral people. None of us wants the bad we do exposed by the bright light of truth. In contrast, those who live by truth are drawn to the light. Believers are glad for their deeds to be seen. Though they are far from perfect, they know their actions meet with God’s approval and blessing.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.