The Gospel of John

Studying With the Master Teacher

Nicodemus heard wondrous things from Jesus when he searched Him out. Jesus turned his understanding upside down when He said, “Ye must be born anew,” and then when Nicodemus asked, “How?” Jesus said, “Except a man be born of the water and spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” Jesus cited the need for a new birth, saying, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirt.” Jesus continued: “Marvel not that I say unto you ye must be born anew. The wind bloweth where it will. Thou hearest the sound thereof but knowest not whence it cometh nor whither it goest. So is everyone that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8). Nicodemus was astonished and asked, “How can these things be?”

Jesus responded to Nicodemus’ question with a question of his own: “Art thou a teacher of Israel and understandest thou not these things? Verily, verily I say unto thee, We speak that which we know and bear witness of that which we have seen and ye receive not our witness. If I tell you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you heavenly things? And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that hath descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven.” This last sentence leaves us bewildered, just as Nicodemus must have been. Was not Enoch taken of God (Genesis 5:21-24)? Was not Elijah caught up in a whirlwind and taken to heaven (2 Kings 2:11)? How could Jesus tell Nicodemus He was in heaven when He stood before the man?

I have no idea how old Nicodemus was when he heard these words of Jesus, but he was likely not as old as I who have been preaching the Word for almost 73 years and studying it far longer than that. I must confess that there are many things I find difficult to understand, among which is this last phrase of John 3:13.

However, there is an explanation for both these puzzling statements. The necessity of understanding the context in which the statement is found could never be more important than it is in this passage. To summarize, Jesus had affirmed He spoke of what He knew and was a witness of. If Nicodemus was to know these things, where else would he learn them? Who had ascended into heaven, and then had descended to earth and who could say, as Jesus said, “I speak that which I know and bear witness of that which I have seen?” No one. Whatever the state of either Enoch or Elijah, neither have returned to earth to testify of things they have seen and are witness of in heaven. There is the record of Elijah, along with Moses appearing with Jesus on the mount of Transfiguration and they spoke with Jesus of the things He would shortly suffer. But neither Moses nor Elijah have testified to any man of things they saw in heaven. Then there is Paul’s statement that he knew a man who, whether in or out of the body Paul knew not, was caught up into heaven where he heard unlawful things for men to utter. Jesus is the only one who has descended from heaven and who told us of things He was part of there and which He witnessed. If we ever learn of heavenly things, it will be from Jesus.

It is true that Jesus was in Nicodemus’ presence when He said, “Even the son of man who is in heaven.” Jesus never ceased to be God because “the children are sharers in flesh and blood, he also in like manner partook of the same.” He became man, but He was still God. He could see Nathaniel under a fig tree and know what happened to him (John 1:47-48). He conversed with the Samaritan woman whom He had never seen, yet knew she had five husbands but was then living with a man who wasn’t her husband (John 4:16-18). Perhaps Solomon’s words will help our understanding. When he prayed after the temple was concluded, he said, “But will God in very deed dwell on the earth? behold heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?” (1 Kings 8:27). That truth did not change when Jesus took on the robe of flesh and dwelt among men. He was still God; He still possessed all the attributes of God.

Nicodemus knew the miracles worked were real and because they were, he knew Jesus was a man sent from God. There were some who first followed Jesus, but when something difficult or hard to accept was taught, they turned back and walked no more with Jesus. Not Nicodemus. He joined with Joseph of Arimathea in burying Jesus (John 19:35-42). In John 7:50-51, Nicodemus gave a “half-hearted” defense in behalf of Jesus. Whether Jesus personally appeared to Nicodemus after His resurrection is not known, but we do know that testimony of the apostles who had witnessed the risen Christ, along with the miracles they worked to prove their words were true, were available to Nicodemus and he knew that miracles proved the worker of them was God-sent. Nicodemus was a teacher of Israel, but he came to the Master teacher as a beginner,. So must we.

Jim McDonald