The Gospel of John

The New Birth #1

In keeping with John’s obvious (but not stated) purpose in writing his gospel — to add pertinent facts about Jesus not recorded by other writers, we come to chapter 3 where John records a very significant record of Jesus’ conversation with a ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus. This account tells of the necessity of man that he be born again. This is the only gospel writer who records this event.

Nicodemus came to Jesus by night but he was already familiar with Jesus and had concluded that he was “a teacher sent from God”. He confessed this as much when he approached Jesus saying, “We know thou art a teacher come from God for no one can do the signs which thou doest except God be with him” (John 3:1). Whether Nicodemus was an actual witness to signs Jesus performed or had heard from credible witnesses the things He had done we do not know. To this point John has recorded just one miracle, turning water into wine, and that had been done in Cana of Galilee and Nicodemus was from Jerusalem. Still, in chapter 2 John had written that in Jerusalem “many believed on his name, beholding the signs which he did” (John 2:23), so it is highly possible that Nicodemus was an eyewitness of the marvelous works of Jesus.

Whatever question Nicodemus came to Jesus with we do not know. What we do know was Jesus said to him, “Verily, verily I say unto thee, ‘except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Nicodemus didn’t understand this so he asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4). The problem with Nicodemus’ understanding lay in one simple truth: Nicodemus viewed being “born anew” solely from a physical point and that was not the vantage point from which Jesus spoke.

The necessity that a Jew must be born anew to see or enter the kingdom was completely foreign to every thing he believed and hoped for. David was the founder of the monarchy which had first ruled all twelve tribes of Israel that composed the nation of Israel, then after the revolt of ten tribes from that union, David’s descendants had reigned over Judah and Benjamin. The restoration of that monarchy was the Jewish hope, and a prophecy from Amos was a major part of the reason they looked for a king reigning over a united kingdom, again. Amos had written, “After these things I will return and build again the tabernacle of David which is fallen; and I will build again the ruins thereof and I will set it up: that the residue of men may seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called” (Amos 9:11-12). To the Jew the passage could mean only one thing: a restoration of the rule of David’s descendants over Judah. This had not existed since the destruction of the Jerusalem and Nebuchadnezzar’s carrying into Babylonian exile the remnant of Jews. They had escaped destruction during the terrible siege the city suffered before it finally fell in about 586 or 587 B.C. Amos’s prophecy was a light which quickened desire into hope. However, the Jew overlooked one significant thing: did the inclusion of all nations and the Gentiles also as being blessed by the promise change the nature of the promise?

Most religious people see the significance or the necessity of being “born again”. Yet, with many people there are “Christians” and “born-again Christians”. This distinction is accepted by many people, yet it is a distinction which has no Bible authority. There are three occurrences of the word “Christian” in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). Acts 11:26 tells us that disciples were called “Christians first at Antioch”. There’s no distinction between “Christian” and “born again Christian”. Acts 26:28 records a king who had heard Paul say in a sermon, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian”. That king, Agrippa, didn’t say, “Paul, you almost convinceth me to be a ‘born again’ Christian”, nor did Paul confess that he was a “born-again” Christian in his response to Agrippa. Agrippa was almost persuaded to be a Christian; Paul was what Agrippa perceived that Paul was seeking to make of him, a Christian. In Peter’s writing, he did not write, “If a man suffer as a ‘born-again’ Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in this name”. He said simply, “if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed”. A man is a Christian or he is not.

One of the strangest paradoxes among professed believers is those who lay claim to being a “born-again Christian”, yet deny that Jesus is now king or that His kingdom now exists. They look forward to both a future king and kingdom. It seems to have escaped their attention that it is by a new birth one enters the kingdom. If they are a “born-again” Christian, then they are in the kingdom. If men can be born again today, Christ’s kingdom is here. If Christ’s kingdom has not come, then no one has been “born anew” — neither Christian nor “born-again Christians”.

Nicodemus did not see how one could be born anew and was chided by Jesus for his slowness of perception (John 3:5-12). Nevertheless (to his credit), despite his slowness of perception, Nicodemus’ faith that Jesus was a “teacher come from God” caused him to “hang on” until his understanding became clear. When Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for permission to take the abused body of Jesus and provide a proper burial for it, his fellow-helper who joined him was Nicodemus (John 19:38-42).

Jim McDonald