This passage is usually expounded from John Chapter 3 verse onwards, though if we commence from just a few verses back, insight from the immediate context is provided. Jesus (Yeshua) had already turned water into wine and cleansed the temple and said that He would raise the temple (speaking of His body) in three days. The event was Passover (Pesach) and many believed in Him because of the signs that He did.
Enter Nicodemus. What can we ascertain from ancient historical sources concerning Nicodemus? He was a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jewish people and the Teacher of Israel. Nicodemus is a recognised historical figure mentioned twice in Josephus and a few times in the Talmud. He is portrayed as a man of great wealth and this agrees with John 19 where Nicodemus brings 100lbs of myrrh for Jesus’ burial, which is a vast, costly quantity. This clearly shows how Nicodemus valued Jesus and what He meant to him.
Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. The reason for that statement has entertained endless speculation though it is no surprise that both men would have been extremely busy given their spiritual calling and especially since it was Passover. Even more critically however, it is extremely likely that Nicodemus would understandably be afraid of being seen there. Sadly, this is often the case today and it is ironic that Nicodemus met with the Jewish Messiah who is also the Messiah of the whole world.
Jesus was addressed by Nicodemus respectfully as ‘Rabbi’ and recognised that His signs were from God. Turning water into wine has already been mentioned. Noticeably the Scriptures affirm that Messiah was expected to perform miracles (Isaiah 35:5-6). Interestingly the Talmud doesn’t deny that Jesus performed miracles but does attempt to refute His claim to be the Messiah. Noticeably, Nicodemus doesn’t just speak for himself since he starts by saying “Rabbi, we know that you are a Teacher come from God (John 3:2a);”. This may well have included Joseph of Arimathea as we shall see in the third part of this series in John 19.
Jesus explains to Nicodemus that he must be born again. What could that mean? Nicodemus was baffled thinking how could he be physically reborn a second time? Jesus wasn’t speaking of reincarnation but regeneration, being spiritually reborn. To help illustrate this, Jesus compares the wind with the Spirit of God. You can’t see the wind, but it is easy to see the clear effects of what the wind does? Similarly, we can’t see the Holy Spirit, though the unmistakeable lasting changes in a person’s life are clearly visible.
Nicodemus knows that God is with Jesus and is keenly interested and seeks further clarification. Jesus responds to his question with a question of his own, asking how the Teacher of Israel doesn’t know these things. Jesus then speaks from the Old Testament (Tanakh) and explains that in the same way that Moses raised the serpent in the wilderness, the Son of Man would be raised up. The Children of Israel were bitten by serpents and had to look to the serpent on the pole to be healed. Now they would look at the Son of Man who would be raised and crucified and would look to Him and be healed. The essential message is to look to Jesus and be saved. Jesus is the only One who can save and forgive people from their sins since He is the sinless Saviour. If you turn to Him and trust in Him then you will live.
Since we are born of flesh and are spiritually dead, we need to be born from above. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).” This isn’t merely an intellectual concept. We desperately need to turn to Him with the totality of our being and trust in Him. Whoever does not believe is condemned already since we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and our sin separates us from God. God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. We either remain as we are or come to the light. For those who come to Him, He will never turn them away.