“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus 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.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3)
As John 3 opens, Jesus and His disciples are still in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. It is in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ discussion with the Jewish leaders regarding His authority in cleansing the Temple, and the increasing number of people of following Him because of the signs He was doing (John 2:13-25) that a man comes to visit Jesus.
John 3:1 begins with explaining that there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemas, a ruler of the Jews. The Pharisees were one of four specific people groups in Israel during the life of Christ. The remaining three were the Sadducees, the Essenes and the Zealots. At this time, we will concern ourselves only with the Pharisees.
The title “Pharisee” most likely comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to separate” and therefore probably means “separated ones.” They were highly zealous not only for ritual and religious purity according to the Mosaic Law but also for their own traditions which they added to the Law. A licentious person, in relationship to God’s Word, takes away or ignores portions of God’s Word which prove uncomfortable. On the other hand, a legalist adds to the Word of God in areas deemed by them to be insufficient. The Pharisees were, in large measure, legalists. Along with Nicodemas, two other prominent Pharisees mentioned by name in the Scriptures are Gamliel (Acts 5:34; 22:3) and Saul of Tarsus (Acts 7:58; 8:1-3; Philippians 3:1-6).
Nicodemas was a ruler of the Jews. The word ruler (ἄρχων; archon) means a member of the highest legal, legislative, and judicial body among the Jews—‘a member of the Council: the Sanhedrin. Nicodemas was an important man among the Jewish religious leaders. Yet, it is Nicodemas who takes the initiative to seek Jesus rather than summon Jesus to come to him.
Nicodemas comes to see Jesus at night. Why? Perhaps it was to avoid the crowd of people who were clamoring for Jesus’ attention (John 2:23-25). Perhaps by his coming to Jesus place of residence in Jerusalem by night, he would avoid the crowd and thereby have a one on one conversation with this increasingly popular teacher.
The other possible reason may be is that Nicodemas did not want to be seen by anyone. Already, strong feelings against Jesus were being felt by the Jewish religious leaders. This would only increase. Perhaps Nicodemas did not want any of his fellow Pharisees knowing that he wanted to speak with Jesus.
Regardless of the reason(s), Nicodemas meets Jesus. He begins the conversation by saying, ““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.”
The title “Rabbi” (ῥαββί; rhabbi) literally means a Jewish teacher and scholar recognized for expertise in interpreting the Jewish Scriptures. One commentator writes, “Technically Jesus was not an acknowledged Rabbi of the schools, but Nicodemus does recognize him as such and calls him “My Master” just as Andrew and John did (1:38).” Nicodemas treats Jesus with a measure of respect.
Nicodemas goes on to say “we know” which may be a possible reference to the Jewish people in general or to the Pharisees in particular. The word know (οἶδα; oida) means to understand. Nicodemas is making reference to not only himself, but to others when he comments that there is a general understanding at this point regarding Jesus.
That observation or understanding is declared in what effectively is a cause and effect statement. Nicodemas observes that Jesus is a teacher come from God. The word teacher (διδάσκαλος; didaskalos) means an instructor. However, Nicodemas says that Jesus is a teacher who belongs to and originates from God alone. On what basis does Nicodemas make this observation? It is on the basis of the signs Jesus was doing. Nicodemas correctly concluded that Jesus must be from God for only such a person could be doing the things that Jesus was doing. So far, so good.
However, Jesus interrupts Nicodemas with the following statement: ““Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” What does Jesus mean by this statement and why would a religious man such as Nicodemas need to hear it.
We will seek to answer this question when we meet again, Lord willing, tomorrow. Until then, I encourage you to read Ezekiel 36:22-38, Ephesians 2:1-7, James 1:18 and I Peter 1:1-5.
Theologian J.C. Ryle once wrote, “Are you born again? This is one of life’s most important questions. Jesus Christ said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
Let me leave you with this thought. No one is physically born a Christian. We must never have the idea that just because we, or our children, are born into a Christian family that this means we, or they, are automatically Christians. What is necessary is for a person, even one born into a Christian environment, to be born again.
Soli deo Gloria!