- “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, Nicodemus his name, a ruler of the Jews.
- This one came to Him (Jesus) by night, and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one is able to do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’
- Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, except one is begotten from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God.’
- Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man being old, be begotten? He is not able to enter into his mother’s womb a second time and be begotten, can he?’
- Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, except one is begotten of water and Spirit, he is not able to enter into the kingdom of God.
- That having been begotten of the flesh, is flesh; and that having been begotten of the Spirit, is spirit.
- You should not wonder that I said to you ‘It is necessary that you be begotten again’.
- The Spirit breathes where it wishes, and you hear its voice, but you do not know whence it comes and where it is going; thus is everyone having been begotten of the Spirit.’
- Nicodemus answered and said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’
- Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel, and you do not know these things?’” (John 3:1-10).
This dialogue is a parable of the confrontation between truth and religion. The Messiah, of Whom the scriptures spoke, was come; He is the truth incarnate, but those who claimed to be God’s people “received Him not” (John 1:11). He said Himself; ”You search the scriptures, because you think in them to have life eternal; and these are bearing witness of Me” (John 5:39). Yet the Jews not only rejected Him, but had Him crucified.
Nicodemus was a member of the sect of the Pharisees and Jesus referred to him as a “ruler of the Jews” and “the teacher of Israel”. He was a high official in Judaism, and a member of the Sanhedrin. Clearly, the Jewish leaders recognised that Jesus had spiritual authority and power that could only come from God; Nicodemus admitted as much. Yet, such was their concern to preserve their own control of their religion, they sent Nicodemus “by night” to talk to Jesus. The authorities would not want the people to see them consulting and seeking the advice of one who was not only not one of their number, but who was also so much out of their control.
Everything that happened after this encounter could have been averted if only the Pharisees had been able to submit to the authority that testified of Jesus’ divine anointing, and which Nicodemus acknowledged. But they could not. Jesus was not taught by the traditions and doctrines of the Jews, but by Almighty God. For them to accept Him as the “Word become flesh” would mean that they would all become irrelevant, losing not only their status in the eyes of the people, but also their income. As it is written; “Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let him thus alone, all men will have faith in him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation” (John 11:48).
And so the die was cast.
In answer to Nicodemus’s acknowledgment of Jesus’ apparent divine authority, Jesus made the statement in verse 3; “unless one is begotten from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God.” Many translations prefer “born again”, but the Greek anothen comes from the adverb ano, which is an adverb of place, meaning “from above”, as in John 8:23, where Jesus says; “you are from below, I am from above” (Greek ano). So the proper translation is as recorded here. Moreover, “born” has to do with birth; man is born of his mother, but begotten by his father; that is, life comes from the father in the act of begetting. And what Jesus is saying is that man must be begotten from above, by Almighty God, if he is to be able to see the kingdom of God. So, there are two begettings if a man is to see the kingdom of God; one from his natural father and one from His supernatural Father.
This is so obvious; the world cannot see the kingdom of God; the world doesn’t believe in God and until we are begotten again from above, no-one comprehends that there is a world other than the one we that we can all see, touch, smell, hear and feel. But Nicodemus misses the point, naturally enough. How can a man be begotten a second time, he asks. He is, of course, thinking naturally, and not spiritually.
But then Jesus goes on to say; “unless one is begotten of water and Spirit he is not able to enter the kingdom of God”. Here is something different; you must be begotten from above to see the kingdom of God, but begotten of water and Spirit to enter the kingdom of God.
Water has to do with cleansing, inwardly as well as ceremoniously, and suggests the spiritual baptism of true repentance; not once only, but continually. Spirit speaks of the sanctification into holiness “without which no-one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
So there are two experiences offered to those begotten again from above; the opportunity to see the kingdom of God and the opportunity to enter it. There are, however, conditions attaching to both, which is why the verb “begotten” is expressed in the subjunctive mood.
In using the figure of being begotten again of water and spirit, Jesus is referring to the prophetic scripture in Ezekiel 36:25-27, in which Jehovah, speaking to Israel, not the Church, says that, in the day of their restoration to the Land, Jehovah will “sprinkle clean water upon you and you will be clean……….and I will put my Spirit within you”. Jesus was the One who was come to do the sprinkling and the cleansing and to put His Spirit into them, but they said; “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). So they wandered for 2000 years and only now are they restored to the Land where these things can now take place.
Moreover, while most translations make verse 5 “water and the Spirit”, there is no definite article in either of the two nouns water and spirit, and so the passage can be translated as “spiritual water”. This figure is used in John 7:38-39 in which Jesus refers to “living water” and “This He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those having faith in Him were going to receive”.
Jesus goes on to tell Nicodemus that whatever is begotten of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is begotten of the Spirit is spirit. In other words, the natural man, having been begotten of his natural father, cannot meet the standards that God demands; he must be begotten again of the Spirit of God. You shouldn’t wonder that I say this, Jesus says, because a man in your position should know. Then He goes on to say “the Spirit breathes where it wishes and you hear its voice but you do not know whence it comes and where it is going; thus is everyone having been begotten of the Spirit.
The common translation of this passage reads “the wind blows where it wishes”, but it is wrong. Firstly, the Greek word is pneuma, which is translated “spirit” everywhere else in the New Testament. The Greek word for “wind” is anemos and it is so translated on the 31 occasions that it is used in the New Testament. Moreover, it is not correct to say that “the wind blows where it wishes”; it does not; that is like saying the sun comes up wherever it likes. The wind has no independent will that it can wish to blow this way or that; also, we do know where the wind comes from and where it goes; a southwester is heading northeast!
The Spirit, on the other hand, does have a will and a voice and those upon whom the Spirit breathes do hear the voice, and it is of Him that we are begotten.
The context of this passage is the contrary nature of flesh and spirit, earthly things and heavenly things, nature and grace; and the vital point that Jesus makes is that as the Spirit in His movements is contrary to nature and above nature, so also will be everyone who is begotten of the Spirit. Those who are thus begotten are “sons of God, therefore the world knows us not, because it knew Him not” (1 John 3:1).
Just as the world doesn’t know or understand the motions and workings of the Spirit of God, so neither does it know or understand the new breathings of the Spirit, the new will, the new desires, and the new nature of those upon whom the Holy Breath falls.
Nicodemus is utterly out of his depth in this dialogue; it is clear that he has no idea what Jesus is talking about. The words of Jesus must have convicted him; “Are you the teacher of Israel and you do not know these things?” What a rebuke!
Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, had been equipped for his role by religious men of Judaism; he was a high-ranking official of Judaism. But he didn’t know the things of God; men were his teachers, not the Spirit of God.
What the scripture teaches is that Adam was the first man and Jesus was the second Adam. Both were sons of God. In Adam (a type of the flesh), we are lost in sin and death, whereas in Christ (represented by the Spirit), we are born again into eternal life. Nicodemus should have known this because this truth is laid down midrashically, in a prophetic pattern that first appears in Genesis, as follows.
Cain was the first born of Adam and Abel the second born. Cain was rejected from the presence of God whereas “righteous Abel”, as the scripture calls him, received God’s blessing. Thus, it was the second born who found favour in the eyes of God; and the first born resented the second born and killed him.
In the same prophetic pattern, Ishmael was the first born son of Abraham, from the bondwoman, Hagar, and Isaac the second born, from the freewoman, Sarah. Ishmael, “a wild donkey of a man”, was sent from the presence of his father to dwell in the wilderness, where he still dwells today. Isaac, the second born, was the son in whom all of God’s promises to Abraham were to be fulfilled. It was Isaac, the second born, who was to receive the inheritance. The first born had to be driven out before the second born could inherit.
“But what says the scripture? ‘Drive out the bondwoman and her son; for the son of the bondwoman will not be heir with the son of the freewoman’” (Galatians 4:30).
And enmity has existed between these two sons of Abraham to this day.
A third example of this typology of the second born can be found in the sons of Isaac. Esau was the first born of Isaac and Jacob the second. But the inheritance of God’s promises came to Jacob, and Esau, who sold his inheritance to indulge his flesh, was rejected. Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, became bitter enemies of Israel, the children of Jacob, and their hatred continues to this day.
This typological pattern of the two begettings in the scripture was Midrashic teaching that Nicodemus, as the teacher of Israel, should have known; but his faith was in his religion and he relied upon the teachings and traditions of his religion. He had no access to the truth because his eyes were blinded by religion.
This is a condition that affects millions of Christians, who rely upon the teaching of hirelings rather than seeking for themselves the truth that is freely available in the scriptures through the Holy Spirit.