Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | June 23, 2008

Lesson 7: John 3:1-12 – You must be born again

Text: John 3:1-12

1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.

2This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

4Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

10Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?


Brief Commentary on the Text:

As we proceed to the third chapter of the fourth Gospel we encounter one of the most familiar passages in the Christian faith.  This chapter brings to us the discourse between Jesus and Nicodemus, which may very likely have occurred during the same Passover festival recorded in the previous chapter (John 2:13-25).   During this festival Jesus performed many signs and wonders, which induced the interest of many pilgrims during this period.  We may wonder if Jesus would have categorized Nicodemus with the crowds who are reported to have had a disingenuous faith by the apostle.  Moreover, the assessment that Jesus made relative to the heart of fallen man, finds its solution in this passage with the remedy necessary to instigate genuine faith within his wretched soul.  Thus, we find in this passage the foundations for a biblical view of regeneration which necessarily must be characterized as an effectual and monergistic act performed by the Third Person of the Holy Trinity on the heart of fallen man.

This thesis statement will be unpacked as we endeavor to elucidate the pericope in further detail in the subsequent sections.  An important aspect that will also be explored in this passage will be to consider the significance of Nicodemus risking his reputation as a religious leader in Israel, presumably part of the Sanhedrin, in approaching Jesus to discuss matters of faith.  The motivation for this visit found its source in the nature and purpose of miracles, signs and wonders within the context of the covenant community.  It is evident that the fact that Jesus had demonstrated His power to perform miraculous signs assigned credibility and authority to His teaching within the covenantal context.  We will also have the opportunity to consider the nature of the kingdom of God which has a characterization that must be influenced by the condition fulfilled in order to enter it.  Since the condition to enter into this kingdom consists of a spiritual experience, it certainly should be an essential component of its nature at least within this present evil age (1 Timothy 6:17; Galatians 1:4).

As discussed in previous sections, the historical setting in Israel could be characterized as a period when a restoration of the earthly kingdom of God with a Davidic King to reign in Zion was a most desperate desire.   Thus the task of Nicodemus during this nocturnal inquiry was most likely to confirm if the “fullness of time” had arrived and ascertain whether Jesus was the royal successor who was eagerly anticipated.  It is indicative from the responses recorded in the dialogue that his conversation with our Lord was not what he expected.  Rather than capitalize on the excitement swarming around the power and authority displayed through the miraculous signs and wonders to seize the earthly throne, our Lord proceeds to discuss the conditions of His kingdom in a different manner.

Although, Nicodemus being a teacher of Israel had an unsuccessful attempt at discerning the content described by our Lord, this content was already expressed in an accommodating fashion to facilitate the comprehension of these heavenly truths.  Thus, as manifested in our Lord’s words (verse 12) this passage is conveyed in an analogous manner to cultivate a more robust understanding of a heavenly truth.  This is employed through the use of common terms to the normal person (i.e. born again, wind and water) to communicate a complex process that is requisite to access the kingdom of God.  As we are mindful of this method implemented by our Lord, it will aid us in our examination of the teachings derived from this passage.

The apostle John in verse 25 of the previous chapter does a wonderful job in setting us up to receive Christ’s words proclaimed in this passage.  As was alluded to in our last lesson the heart of man is spiritually dead, as a result of his first mediator’s failure to meet the stipulations of the creation covenant (i.e. CoW).  The transmission of our federal representative’s sinful nature has rendered all of mankind guilty of breaking the stipulations of the first covenant, thus subject to the curses associated with it.  The curses brought forth by the first Adam include, eternal death, which characterizes the state of just wrath to be meted out by the Creator on His rebellious creatures. We are not merely people born who choose to partake in actual sins, but sin because we are sinners by nature at enmity with God.

This enmity of the creature towards the Creator is only overcome by an alien intrusion upon the soul of the individual that instigates a quickening or revivifying of this spiritually dead being.  An intrusion or impartation we will learn from this passage that is effectual and unilateral in essence, designed to bring about an intended purpose.  The intended purpose is to bring about the regeneration of all those for whom Christ has died, which were given to Him by His Father1as will be supported in subsequent sections of this Gospel (John 6, 10 and 17).  The impartation of regeneration makes effective on the recipient the benefits procured by the Second Adam who is the mediator of the Covenant of Grace (Hebrews 8:6; Romans 5).  Like Adam, He represents us before the Father, however successfully meeting the stipulations of the Covenant of Works.  The extent of His mediation also includes a component of transmission, like the first Adam, through the imputation of the curse from those whom He died upon to Himself which is in turn exchanged with the imputation of His righteousness to them.

Thus, a contrast is made in this world between two categories of individuals that are either “in Adam” or “in Christ” 2.  This contrast is distinguished through the difference in mediators that one possesses.  All humanity is born “in Adam” inheriting the curse of eternal death awaiting them.  However, those that are “in Christ” are those that have been born again by the Spirit enabling them to place their faith and trust in Jesus to inherit eternal life and enter into the kingdom of God.  In this passage we will have opportunity to expound upon this concept and further consider this extraordinary act that is responsible for the conversion of sinners into saints.   

Study Questions:

1. Who are authorized persons (or beings) that can perform miracles?


2. Why must we be born again?


3. If being born again is a pre-requisite to entering the kingdom of God, what does this suggest about the nature of this kingdom?


4. What does born of “water” mean in this verse?  Is it referring to baptism?



5. In what manner is the term flesh used here?



6. How is one born again?



7.  Why do so many reject monergism?



8. How should Israel have known these things?


9. Why must God accommodate Himself to us?

1 Owen, John.1959.  “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust) p 95




2 Horton, Michael S. 2006. God of Promise Introducing Covenant Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker) p 76 (see also 16)


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