WHILE he is attending the Passover of 30 C.E., Jesus performs remarkable signs, or miracles. As a result, many people put their faith in him. Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court, is impressed and wants to learn more. So he visits Jesus during the darkness of night, probably fearing that his reputation with other Jewish leaders will be damaged if he is seen.
“Rabbi,” he says, “we know that you as a teacher have come from God; for no one can perform these signs that you perform unless God is with him.” In reply, Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to enter the Kingdom of God, a person must be “born again.”
Yet, how can a person be born again? “He cannot enter into the womb of his mother a second time and be born, can he?” Nicodemus asks.
No, that is not what being born again means. “Unless anyone is born from water and spirit,” Jesus explains, “he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” When Jesus was baptized and holy spirit descended upon him, he was thus born “from water and spirit.” By the accompanying declaration from heaven, ‘This is my Son whom I have approved,’ God announced that he had brought forth a spiritual son having the prospect of entering into the heavenly Kingdom. Later, at Pentecost 33 C.E., other baptized ones will receive holy spirit and will thus also be born again as spiritual sons of God.
But the role of God’s special human Son is vital. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” Jesus tells Nicodemus, “so the Son of man must be lifted up, that everyone believing in him may have everlasting life.” Yes, as those Israelites bitten by poisonous snakes had to look at the copper serpent to be saved, so all humans need to exercise faith in God’s Son to be saved from their dying condition.
Stressing Jehovah’s loving role in this, Jesus next tells Nicodemus: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” Thus, here in Jerusalem just six months after beginning his ministry, Jesus makes clear that he is Jehovah God’s means for saving humankind.
Jesus goes on to explain further to Nicodemus: “For God sent forth his Son into the world, not for him to judge the world,” that is, not to judge it adversely, or condemn it, sentencing the human race to destruction. Rather, as Jesus says, he was sent “for the world to be saved through him.”
Nicodemus has fearfully come to Jesus under cover of darkness. So it is interesting that Jesus closes his conversation with him by saying: “Now this is the basis for judgment, that the light [which Jesus personified in his life and teachings] has come into the world but men have loved the darkness rather than the light, for their works were wicked. For he that practices vile things hates the light and does not come to the light, in order that his works may not be reproved. But he that does what is true comes to the light, in order that his works may be made manifest as having been worked in harmony with God.” John 2:23–3:21; Matthew 3:16, 17; Acts 2:1-4; Numbers 21:9.
▪ What prompts Nicodemus’ visit, and why does he come at night?
▪ What does it mean to be “born again”?
▪ How does Jesus illustrate his role in our salvation?
▪ What does it mean that Jesus did not come to judge the world?