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John 3:1-21 (web)

3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
3:2 The same came to him by night, and said to him, "Rabbi,
we know that you are a teacher come from God,
for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him."

3:3 Jesus answered him, "Most assuredly, I tell you, unless one is born anew,
{The word translated "anew" here and in John 3:7
(anothen) also means "again" and "from above".}
he can't see the Kingdom of God."

3:4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old?
Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born?"

3:5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly I tell you,
unless one is born of water and spirit,
he can't enter into the Kingdom of God!
3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh.
That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
3:7 Don't marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born anew.'
3:8 The wind {The same Greek word (pneuma) means wind, breath, and spirit.}
blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound,
but don't know where it comes from and where it is going.
So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

3:9 Nicodemus answered him, "How can these things be?"

3:10 Jesus answered him,
"Are you the teacher of Israel, and don't understand these things?
3:11 Most assuredly I tell you, we speak that which we know,
and testify of that which we have seen, and you don't receive our witness.
3:12 If I told you earthly things and you don't believe,
how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
3:13 No one has ascended into heaven,
but he who descended out of heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven.
3:14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,
even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
3:15 that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
3:17 For God didn't send his Son into the world to judge the world,
but that the world should be saved through him.
3:18 He who believes in him is not judged.
He who doesn't believe has been judged already,
because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.
3:19 This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world,
and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.
3:20 For everyone who does evil hates the light,
and doesn't come to the light, lest his works would be exposed.
3:21 But he who does the truth comes to the light,
that his works may be revealed, that they have been done in God."

Discussion Questions

vs 2 Upon what basis did Nicodemus infer that Jesus was from God?
vs 3-6 What are similarities between physical birth and spiritual rebirth?
vs 8 We perceive the wind by its effects. By what effects can we perceive those who have been born of God?
vs 10-12 Verse 10 speaks of "knowing" but verse 12 of "believing". What is the correlation between understanding and believing? And why was Jesus sharing information that he knew Nicodemus wouldn't understand?
vs 14 What is this incident in the Old Testament Jesus is referring to and how exactly does it allegorize what Jesus would accomplish on the cross?
vs 16 From what he has shared in this section what can we infer he means by eternal life? Does it simply mean an eternal existence? When people ask you as to how God loves the world in view of all the evil in it, how would you answer?
vs 17-21 When is a person's eternal destiny decided?
Why does it hinge on their attitude towards Christ?
How does your deeds reflect your receptivity of the gospel?
What are example of deeds done in truth?


vs 1 Although Israel was under occupation, the Romans did allow a degree of self rule at the time. In particular the Sanhedrin, which was composed of Jewish leaders like Nicodemus, ruled with respect to religious matters.

vs 2 By coming at night Nicodemus avoided the crowd and perhaps may have been trying to avoid taking a public standing concerning the person of Jesus. However it is apparent from his usage of "we" that he was not alone in reckoning Jesus as coming from God. But most significantly is the basis for him coming to that conclusion. His conviction was based upon Jesus' miracles.

Now some people ask, "How can I know God has spoken?"
Just read His word and I'm not jokin.
Raising the dead and healing the blind.
Oh, there's lots of proofs, you'll find.
In the presence of thousands, both friend and foe.
things not done in secret, don't you know.
For when God speaks His word, He understands
we need proof it's His and not man's. 

vs 3-6 Born Again

What is the meaning of "water" here? One idea is that he is contrasting physical birth with spiritual birth.

Physical Birth
Spiritual Birth
Flesh gives birth to flesh
Takes place in water
Is an irreversible process
Is a single point in time event
Can be seen directly
From a dark place into the light
From confinement to freemdom
First breath of life
New sight
Spirit gives birth to spirit
Takes place in one's spirit
Is an irreversible process
Is a single point in time event
Can be perceived by its effects
From Darkness to Light
From bondage to freedom
First breath of new life
New insights

This interpretation is one of contrast in which the first element namely water is associated with the first birth. Notice also in verse 6 and verse 8 though he speaks of being born of the Spirit he makes no mention of water, indicating that water is not involved in such a rebirth. Physical things like water do not cause spiritual rebirth, for the physical gives birth to the physical. 1John 5:1 "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." And again we see no reference to water.

Some have interpreted the "water" aspect to refer to water baptism being a requirement for salvation, or to baptismal regeneration. But such is not in accordance with the spirit of the gospel which is of faith and not of fleshly rituals, nor can fleshly regenerate one's spirit. However he might be alluding to what water baptism represents, namely the cleansing of one's conscience - "this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you alsoŚ not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God." 1Peter 3:21

Other verses with correlate with this second idea:

 "Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." Hebrews 10:22

"Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name." Acts 22:16

"He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" Titus 3:5

The Kingdom of God
See the Kingdom of God study.

Sometimes Jesus speaks of entering the kingdom in the present. Mt 21:31  "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." And that Christians are already in the Kingdom Colossians 1:13  "For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves" But other times he speaks if entering it in the future after the judgment. Mt 25:34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world." Or more generally after death. 1Cor 15:50  "I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." When he speaks of "seeing" and "entering" the kingdom here in John 3, which meaning is he referring to? I take it that since he is using the present tense, he is referring to the Church being the Kingdom of God.

To "see" the kingdom is speaking of knowledge gained by perception. For he is using the word "oida" which speaks of such knowlege. Practically what this means is that one will not be able to perceive other children of God unless one is first born of God. Such perception is possible upon entering the Kingdom. This is also affirmed in verse 8 where he's saying that whether one is born of the Spirit cannot be physically seen, but can be perceived by its effects, which is also consistent with 1st John.

However such perception does not incorporate basic saving faith. For saving faith in Christ is exercised before entering the kingdom. For the order established in John 1:12 is that one first believes in Christ and then one is given the right to become a child of God. The receiving of the Spirit comes after belief as also affirmed in Ephesians 1:13 and Galatians 3:2. And throughout Acts we see people baptized with the Holy Spirit, which is when one is born again, occurring after they put their faith in Christ, not before.
The perception of those born of God also incorporates the deep things of God, as Paul writes
"However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" -- but God has revealed it to us (the apostles) by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.  For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.  This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept ("grasp") the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned."1Cor 2:9-14
Paul is speaking here of advanced concepts - the deep things of God. For he goes on to say to the Corinthian Christians, "Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly-- mere infants in Christ."1Cor 3:1 Thus to grasp such concepts requires not only being born of God, but also being relatively mature in Christ and not merely an infant. The concepts of Eternal Security and the Perseverance of the Saints may be in this category.

But not having the Spirit this is one reason why God does not give direct revelation to those yet to be born of God, but rather the gospel is presented though the testimony of apostles who testify not only of the message but of the miracles done in their historic context and delivered in a physical book form rather than communicating purely through the intuition. For the unregenerate intuition is corrupt along with the conscience and thus man's inward search for the particulars of God is in vain. But God has revealed Himself through the Word.

Do you find it frustrating trying to teach someone else the deep things of God? Do you find that they just cannot understand? Or perhaps you yourself find the Bible a bit too difficult? Either it's a matter of maturity in Christ, or perhaps the problem is that someone has not been born of God yet. But realize also that being born of God is not a matter of choice, as John 1:12,13 clearly states. When those who have not been born of God finally come to faith in Christ, then they can move on with understanding the deeper concepts of the Christian life.

"We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us." 1John 4:6
vs 8 Physical sight versus perception. A person cannot physically see whether one is born of God, but they can perceive it. (See the 1st John Study) Antinomian theology holds that the spiritual does not necessary have any perceivable effect, which is false. That's an oxymoron like motionless wind.

vs 9-13 Although in speaking on being born of God Jesus was using earthly illustrations yet still Nicodemus couldn't grasp it, for he was not yet born of God. But what was Jesus' purpose in sharing this information seeing as he knew Nicodemus wouldn't understand it? Nicodemus was a teacher and as such his "belief" may have been limited to mental assent at this point. It's like he wanted to know about Jesus but not really to know Jesus personally. Belief is not simply understanding. At this point perhaps he's like a teacher in a divinity school who wants to be able to clearly describe and explain Jesus' teachings to his students in a theoretical sense, while at the same time not really accepting them himself. How does Jesus deal with such a person? Despite the fact that Nicodemus came to him and was relatively open to carrying on a theological discussion, yet Jesus deals with him the same way he deals with all the religious leaders. He humiliates him. He does so in order to develop in him humility. For the proud are hindered from coming to faith in Christ. The nice thing is that unlike most of the other leaders, Nicodemus responds well and eventually does come to saving faith.

Who is "we"?
Jesus speaks of "we". "We know" is actually using oida, which is translated "see" in verse 3, and speaks of perception. But "we have seen" explicitly refers to physically seeing or to have become aquainted with by experience. It is used in John 1:18 "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." referring to Jesus to which I think John 3:13 also alludes. And it is used in John 1:34 "I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God." which is the testimony of John the Baptist. In view of this and how chapter 3 ends I would say that the "we" refers to himself and John the Baptist, although I would understand if some would like to include the Holy Spirit as well as 1John 5:6 affirms.

vs 14 Jesus is speaking of an incident in Numbers chapter 21 in which the Israelites wandering in the desert were complaining against God. So God sent venomous snakes among them to kill them. But they repented and God had Moses erect a bronze serpent and put it on a pole and declared that anyone who is bitten can look at it and live. And it was so. This was allegorical of Jesus on the cross. For "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us" 2Cor 5:21 and "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." 1Peter 2:24 And it is from this section in John 3 that the symbol is derived which one finds on the back of ambulances in the US, namely a snake on a rod in the midst of a cross. The snake represents the effect of sin, both its corrupting effect and its incurring of the wrath of God. Jesus symbolically became that snake which was crucified freeing us from the wrath of God and healing us from the corrupting effects of sin. "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.... Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering." Isaiah 53:5,10

vs 15 In referencing what he means by "believe" Jesus points to the illustration of Numbers 21 concerning the snake on the pole. The object of faith is Christ's atoning work on the cross. But also inherent in the illustration is the neccesity of conviction of sin. People need to recognize that they have indeed been bitten by the snakes. For just as with the bronze serpent, so also with the cross, it is only relevant to sinners who acknowledge their sin and wish to repent to be save from the wrath of God and from the corrupting effect of sin. This as opposed to simply mechanically looking at the cross or understanding the theory. But why share this particular illustration with Nicodemus?

Eternal life Jesus associates with not simply existing forever, but rather living free from the wrath of God and from the corrupting effects of sin. Thus it could be said that those who perish in hell continue to exist forever, but nonetheless do not have eternal life.

vs 16 It is imprecise to understand the first phrase to mean "God loved the world so much". For the greek word "houto" is used, which explicity does not refer to magnitude but to manner. It means "in this manner" or "thusly". Therefore more accurately this phrase is to be understood to mean "This is the way God loved the world", and it is actually referencing verse 15 rather than the rest of verse 16. But the "that" ("hoste") in "that he gave" is a word in greek that does give a sense of magnitude meaning "insomuch that".

People complain about God not loving them just as the Israelites complained of their circumstances in the desert. They ask "How has God loved us"? The Bible responds "God loved the world in this manner (by giving eternal life to those who believe on the atoning work of Christ), insomuch that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

vs 17-18 This is not to say that people will not be condemn, but rather it points to his purpose in coming to earth as it is written chapter 1 that he came not to bring judgment but grace opening the way for the forgiveness of sins through his atoning work. However his second coming will be one of judgement and wrath upon those who are not covered by the blood of the Lamb. People are already condemned because they have sinned. God was under no obligation to save them from his impending wrath. But graciously He sent Jesus into the world to providing a judicial sacrifice of atonement so as to allow for the forgiveness of sin. However such payment for sin is not credited to everyone's account. God in his sovereignty has decided to credit only those who have put their faith in Christ. As such those who don't believe are condemned not because of their unbelief so much as simply because their sins are not forgiven. Nor are those who believe saved because of their belief so much as because their sins are forgiven. Nor is it faith in one's faith which saves, but rather faith in Christ which qualifies one to receive the forgiveness of sins and the inevitable healing of one's innate sinfulness along with its effects.

vs 19-21 "This" being the condemnation refers back to believing on the Son. Why does a person's salvation or condemnation hinge on their attitude towards the Son? Because their attitude towards Christ reflects their attitude as to whether they love darkness or light. But there seems some ambiguity here just as in chapter 1. When he says, "men loved darkness", does he refer to everyone? For he goes on to say that "whoever lives by the truth comes into the light", implying that such people also exist. In chapter one it says, "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him ..." This is again paradoxical, for his own were the Jews and yet some indeed did receive him. The most direct way to resolve this paradox is to understand these first phrases to mean "generally speaking". And thus generally speaking "his own did not receive him", and generally speaking "men loved darkness rather than light", there being exceptions to these, namely those who come to faith in Christ. Exceptions can also include repentance in which particular individuals loved darkness for a time, but repented and came to love the light, after which they came to faith in Christ. John the Baptism preached concerned deeds of repentance which were simply outworkings or fruits of a person's repentance from sin. Such deeds are examples of those done in the name of God. But Jesus speaks not simply of doing good deeds. For many unbelievers do things reckoned by the world to be "good". Rather Jesus speaks of doing deeds which are in accordance with the truth as revealed in the Bible.

Those who reject the gospel do so not because of evidence but rather because of their guilty conscience. They are unwilling to repent of their sins. Thus "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." Luke 16:31 And we can see from Jesus' life the effect of reproving those who love darkness as the proverb says, "Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse." Prov 9:7

NIV version used in comments

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Aug 15,2020