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!