What does it take for men to see the Kingdom of God?

by Mike Ratliff

ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, οὐ δύναται ἰδεῖν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ. (John 3:3 NA28)

Jesus answered and said to Him, “Amen, amen I say to you, unless one is born again, he is not able to see the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

What causes corruption of the Gospel message? An exegetical study of John’s account of our Lord’s contention with the Jewish religious leaders during His earthly ministry reveals that Jesus came to Israel to reveal the Father to Israel proving that He, the Son, was deity, to live a perfect, sinless life and then lay His life down voluntarily to purchase those who were chosen before the foundation of the world with the price of His blood. His perfect sacrifice was their propitiation. We learn these things and so much more by going to the Word and learning from the Holy Spirit as He transforms our minds as we submit to it. Studies into the Word like these are sorely needed in the Body of Christ. I would hate to be a Pastor whose time has come to stand before our Lord to give an account that had sold out and ministered in a way that simply tickled itching ears. 

1 Ἦν δὲ ἄνθρωπος ἐκ τῶν Φαρισαίων, Νικόδημος ὄνομα αὐτῷ, ἄρχων τῶν Ἰουδαίων· 2 οὗτος ἦλθεν πρὸς αὐτὸν νυκτὸς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ῥαββί, οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἀπὸ θεοῦ ἐλήλυθας διδάσκαλος· οὐδεὶς γὰρ δύναται ταῦτα τὰ σημεῖα ποιεῖν ἃ σὺ ποιεῖς, ἐὰν μὴ ᾖ ὁ θεὸς μετʼ αὐτοῦ. 3 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, οὐ δύναται ἰδεῖν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ. 4 λέγει πρὸς αὐτὸν [ὁ] Νικόδημος· πῶς δύναται ἄνθρωπος γεννηθῆναι γέρων ὤν; μὴ δύναται εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ δεύτερον εἰσελθεῖν καὶ γεννηθῆναι; 5 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς· ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος, οὐ δύναται εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ. 6 τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τῆς σαρκὸς σάρξ ἐστιν, καὶ τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος πνεῦμά ἐστιν. 7 μὴ θαυμάσῃς ὅτι εἶπόν σοι· δεῖ ὑμᾶς γεννηθῆναι ἄνωθεν. 8 τὸ πνεῦμα ὅπου θέλει πνεῖ καὶ τὴν φωνὴν αὐτοῦ ἀκούεις, ἀλλʼ οὐκ οἶδας πόθεν ἔρχεται καὶ ποῦ ὑπάγει· οὕτως ἐστὶν πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος. (John 3:1-8 NA28)

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  2 He came to Jesus during the night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one is able to do these signs You do unless God is with him.”  3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen I say to you, unless one is born again, he is not able to see the Kingdom of God.”  4 Nicodemus said to him, “How is a man able to be born being old? Surely he is not able to enter into his mother’s womb a second time and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Amen, amen I say to you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he is not able to enter into the Kingdom of God.  6 What is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, it is necessary for you to be born again. 8 The wind blows where it wishes and the sound of it you hear, but you do not know where it comes from and where it goes, so is everyone having been born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

In these eight verses we have Nicodemus’ secret inquiry of Jesus vv1-3 then in vv4-8 our Lord’s insight into Nicodemus. This man was one of the Φαρισαίων or Pharisees. This Greek word most likely comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to separate.” The Pharisees considered themselves to the “separated ones, “ hence their penchant toward self-righteousness and, therefore, spiritual blindness. Their main problem was not in their desire to purify the Jewish religious, but in their zealousness for ritual and religious purity according to the Mosaic Law plus their own traditions. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, but he had a Greek name which means “victor over the people.” He was a member of the Sanhedrin. He was a secret follower of Jesus (John 7:50-52) until our Lord’s crucifixion then he helped Joseph of Arimathea give him a decent burial (John 19:38-42). This night meeting with Jesus was more than likely done by Nicodemus so that he would not risk disfavor with his fellow Pharisees who mostly are our Lord’s enemies.

In v3 our Lord changes the subject quickly. The word “again” translates the adverb ἄνωθεν or anōthen, “from above, from a higher place, from the first, from the beginning, from the very first, anew, over again.” You see, what our Lord was saying to Nicodemus and us is much more, and much deeper than what most people hear in some “so-called gospel presentation” nowadays. This has more to do with the nature of God and the utterly depraved nature of the natural man than anything else. God is Holy and Righteous and Just. He cannot even be in presence of sin without judging it. Therefore, what Jesus was telling Nicodemus and us is that to see the Kingdom of God we have to be completely changed. We have to be born again from above. We don’t just start over. No, we start anew, declared righteous and just with our Lord’s perfect righteousness (both his passive and active obedience)  imputed to our account.

Nicodemus, just like everyone else, had the dire need for spiritual transformation or regeneration produced by the Holy Spirit. This New Birth is an act of God whereby eternal life is imparted to the believer (2 Corinthians 5:17; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). We also learn in John 1:12, 13 that those who are “born again” become the children of God through trust in the name of the incarnate Word.

In v4 Nicodemus picks up our Lord’s symbolism via his rabbinical method of using figurative language. He was merely asking the question that would lead to our Lord’s next point. In v5 our Lord’s reference to being born of water is the need for cleansing (Ezekiel 36:24-27). This is still figurative language and refers to the spiritual cleansing that is part of the spiritual washing or purification of the soul, accomplished by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God at the moment of salvation (Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5). This washing of regeneration is required for belonging to His kingdom.

In v8 we have a very definitive verse about the God’s sovereignty in salvation. Our Lord’s point in v8 was that the wind cannot be controlled or understood by human beings but its effects can be witnessed, so also it is with the Holy Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit works, there is undeniable and unmistakable evidence. Notice that people do not regenerate themselves. They cannot cleanse themselves. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

9 ἀπεκρίθη Νικόδημος καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· πῶς δύναται ταῦτα γενέσθαι; 10 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· σὺ εἶ ὁ διδάσκαλος τοῦ Ἰσραὴλ καὶ ταῦτα οὐ γινώσκεις; 11 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι ὅτι ὃ οἴδαμεν λαλοῦμεν καὶ ὃ ἑωράκαμεν μαρτυροῦμεν, καὶ τὴν μαρτυρίαν ἡμῶν οὐ λαμβάνετε. 12 εἰ τὰ ἐπίγεια εἶπον ὑμῖν καὶ οὐ πιστεύετε, πῶς ἐὰν εἴπω ὑμῖν τὰ ἐπουράνια πιστεύσετε; 13 καὶ οὐδεὶς ἀναβέβηκεν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν εἰ μὴ ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς, ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου. 14 Καὶ καθὼς Μωϋσῆς ὕψωσεν τὸν ὄφιν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, οὕτως ὑψωθῆναι δεῖ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, 15 ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον. (John 3:9-15 NA28)

9 Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “You are a teacher of Israel and you do not know these things?  11 Amen, amen I say to you, that which we know we speak and that which we have seen we testify about, and our testimony you do not receive. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  13 And no one has ascended into Heaven except the Son of Man who has descended out of Heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up 15 that everyone believing in Him may have eternal life.” (John 3:9-15 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

In v10 our Lord refers to Νικόδημος as ὁ διδάσκαλος or ho didaskalos, “the teacher.” This meant that he was a renowned master-teacher in the nation of Israel. He had a high standing among the rabbis or teachers of his day yet here he is at night seeking a secret meeting with Jesus. In vv11-12 our Lord focuses on the fact that unbelief is the cause of ignorance. When people are given clear, irrefutable, Biblical evidence in our day and there only response is to scoff and reply with human philosophy, hostility, seeking to intimidate, et cetera then we have the very same hard hearted response that our Lord dealt with in His ministry from the Jewish rulers. They had intellect, but their unbelief caused them to have hard hearts of darkness that are unable to see the truth. Jesus indicts Nicodemus’ unbelief in v11 and says it is typical of the nation of Israel as a collective whole.

Our Lord makes it clear in v13 that no one who claims to have ascended to Heaven and returned and talk about it is genuine. Only He had His permanent abode in Heaven prior to His incarnation and, therefore, only He has the true knowledge regarding heavenly wisdom.

In v14 our Lord talks about Himself as the Son of Man and that He must be lifted up. This is his prediction of His death on the Cross. This refers to Numbers 21:5-9 where Moses made a bronze serpent, put it on a pole that the Israelites who had been bitten by serpents could look upon the snake and be healed. Just as Moses lifted up the snake on the pole so that all who looked upon it might survive their snake bite, those who look to Christ, who was “lifted up” on the Cross, will live spiritually and eternally.

In v15 we have the term ζωὴν αἰώνιον or life eternal or literally “life of the age to come.” Eternal life refers to resurrection and heavenly existence in perfect glory and holiness. This is in essence nothing less than participation in the eternal life of the Living Word, Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria

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