You must understand the new birth:
- It is the only way to see God (1-3)- Nicodemus comes almost as if he was giving approval of some sort to Jesus. Jesus tells him he is not even a part of God’s kingdom without being born “from above”– literally you cannot “see” the kingdom. It is as if the new birth brings with it a new set of eyes.
- It is a work of the Holy Spirit (4-12)- Jesus’ reference to “water and Spirit” is a reference to Ezekiel 36, where part of the new covenant promise is to be cleansed as with water and to be given a new spirit. The reference to the wind blowing may be an allusion to Exekiel 37, the valley of dry bones in which God blows a wind over the bones and gives them life. Nicodemus seems shocked by all this, but Jesus also seems shocked that Israel’s teacher would not understand from the OT that man cannot save himself; he need’s God’s Spirit to give him life. Nicodemus’ confusion is not so much ignorance as much as stubbornness.
- It would not be possible without the work of the Son (13-15)- It is not that anyone goes up to heaven to gain this new birth; Jesus had to come down to the earth to bring it about. He is saying, ‘stop worrying about what you need to do; you need me! Just as Moses lifted up that serpent, so I must be lifted up. Just look to me, and live!’
One note on the imperative sound of “You must be born again.” It is not a command. It is simply a requirement. It is necessary that you be born again! Jesus is not commanding people to do something people have no ability to do on their own. No one gives birth to him/herself. Jesus is simply tipping people off that entrance into the kingdom is more radical than anything they have ever seen. You actually have to be given new life from God!
Make sure your faith is real:
- Jesus judges people’s faith (23-24)- many “believed” in his name because of his signs, but Jesus did not “believe” in them is literally what John is saying. Jesus is not the one on trial; he is the one who discerns whether people have true faith or not. These miracles he did in Jerusalem show that he simply liked to show grace to people (since his main reason for performing them does not seem to be to gain disciples on account of them).
- Jesus cannot be fooled (24-25)- Jesus knew it was shallow faith because he has the same kind of knowledge of people that God the Father has. He does not need anyone to testify about himself (“Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?”) because he knows exactly what is in man.
The most natural reading of the next passage is that Nicodemus is one of these shallow believers, as the first thing he points out to Jesus is that he is impressed by the “signs” Jesus is doing.
Two reminders to help us worship God in God’s way:
- Jesus is passionate about worship (12-17)- Jesus was angry simply because there was buying and selling going on in the temple. The text does not even say the Jews were doing anything overtly sinful; it was just the fact that they had mixed worship and business. It is striking that Jesus did not quote Psalm 69; his actions simply made his disciples recall Psalm 69.
- Jesus is the place of worship (18-22)- After the Jews demanded a sign from him, he gave them what they asked for. He called himself the temple that would be raised! By saying this, Jesus proclaimed that the resurrection is the sign to prove his authority over all things, and he proclaimed that he is the new place of worship.
Verse 22 is a bit difficult to wrap your mind around, but John must mean that the thing the disciples remembered after the resurrection– and at that point believed– was not that he would be raised from the dead (for that would be after the fact), but that Jesus was the true temple.