“Born again” may be a familiar phrase to us (v. 3), but in its original context it was breathtaking, even shocking. How could a grown man be born a second time? After all, a newborn baby is completely needy and helpless—the exact opposite of a respected rabbi like Nicodemus. When Jesus told him the secret to seeing the kingdom of God was being “born again” or “born from above,” Nicodemus couldn’t wrap his head around the concept (v. 4).
Jesus used this picture to break through the rabbi’s pride and traditionalism. His heart wasn’t hard, but the “knowledge” he possessed was mistaken and needed to be deconstructed (vv. 10–12). To enter the kingdom of God, Nicodemus needed to start over. In fact, he needed to be entirely spiritually reborn!
Nicodemus learned who Jesus was and what He would do. Jesus was the Messiah, the divine Son of Man (v. 13). He also learned that the source of Jesus’ authority was God (v. 2). But Jesus wasn’t going to overthrow Rome or lead a revolution. Instead, He would be “lifted up” to save dying sinners (vv. 14–15). This reference to the Crucifixion was beyond Nicodemus’s understanding at that time—though not of John’s readers— so Jesus referenced an Old Testament story to help Nicodemus understand (Num. 21:4–9).
No human being can learn this lesson on their own. Faith and understanding are the work of the Holy Spirit, and being “born again” is His work as well (John 3:5–8). From this passage, we don’t know Nicodemus’s immediate response, only that he listened attentively. We do know that later he spoke up against the Pharisees on Jesus behalf (John 7:45–52) and helped Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus body (John 19:38–42). These actions hint that Nicodemus did come to saving faith in Christ!
>> How about you? Do you believe Christ died for your sins? Have you trusted in Him for salvation? “Everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:15).
Lord Jesus, like Nicodemus, we come to You with questions. Help us grasp fully your salvation and grace. Forgive us our sins and guide us along the paths of righteousness by the Holy Spirit. Amen.