There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these miraculous signs you are doing unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus replied, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Unless someone is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God! 6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh. Whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be surprised when I tell you that you must be born from above. 8 The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 “How can these things be?” asked Nicodemus. 10 “You are the teacher of Israel,” Jesus answered, “and you do not know these things? 11 Amen, Amen, I tell you: We speak what we know, and we testify about what we have seen. But you people do not accept our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven, except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven. 14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 The one who believes in him is not condemned, but the one who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. 19 This is the basis for the judgment: The light has come into the world, yet people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. 20 In fact, everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, or else his deeds would be exposed. 21 But the one who does what is true comes toward the light, in order that his deeds may be seen as having been done in connection with God.”
Nicodemus was an important man among the Jews. He was a member of the Jewish ruling council (also known as the Sanhedrin). He also believed that Jesus was a teacher sent by God. The miracles Jesus was doing clearly proved this. Nicodemus wanted to learn more about Jesus. But most of his fellow members of the Sanhedrin rejected Jesus. If Nicodemus wanted to know more about Jesus he needed to come to him secretly under the cover of darkness.
Nicodemus quickly found out he had more to learn than he expected. Jesus wasn’t merely a teacher sent from God. Jesus is the Son of God in the flesh. There is no other way to eternal life expect through faith in Jesus. To have this faith a person needed to be “born from above.” Only the Holy Spirit can work such faith in our hearts. The means the Spirit uses is water (Baptism) and the Word.
Nicodemus was struggling with what Jesus was saying, so Jesus took him to the Holy Scriptures to explain. He used the account of Moses and the bronze snake. When Israel rebelled against God in the wilderness, God sent poisonous snakes into the camp. Many Israelites died. When the people cried out to God for mercy, the Lord took pity on them. He ordered Moses to construct a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Then he ordered all the Israelites to look at the snake. Those who trusted God and did what he said would live. Those who did not would die.
The people of Israel didn’t realize it at the time, but the bronze snake was a symbol that pointed ahead to Christ. Jesus explained the connection. Those who trusted God’s promise concerning the bronze snake lived. Jesus foretold the time was coming soon that he would be lifted up like the bronze snake. Jesus would be nailed to a cross as God’s own sacrifice for the sins of the world. God made this sacrifice because of his undeserved love for us. Because he loves us he doesn’t want us to be condemned to the eternal fires of hell. He wants us to be saved and have eternal life in heaven. According to God’s own promise, those who look to Jesus and believe will have eternal life. Those who do not believe will be eternally condemned.
Did Nicodemus believe what Jesus said? On the day Jesus died, a man named Joseph from Arimathea requested permission to take the body of Jesus and place it in his own tomb. John 19 tells us that Nicodemus came with him with spices to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. Nicodemus no longer needed to come to Jesus in secret. By his actions he openly confessed his devotion to Jesus. He no longer feared those who opposed Jesus. We praise God for the gift of faith in Jesus Christ. Through this saving faith we also have no reason to fear. Jesus has overcome sin, death and the devil for us. We look to Jesus in faith knowing that in him we will not perish, but have eternal life.
1 – On the surface, Jesus’ answer in verse 3 seemed to ignore Nicodemus’ original statement. What was Jesus trying to teach Nicodemus?
Nicodemus recognized Jesus was a great teacher sent from God. Jesus responded by teaching Nicodemus the most important message of all. Nicodemus needed to learn the way to eternal life was not through striving to keep the commands of God’s Law. He needed to learn the only way to eternal life was Jesus Christ.
2 – What shortcomings did Jesus reveal about Nicodemus’ knowledge of the Holy Scriptures?
Nicodemus undoubtedly knew the Holy Scriptures very well. But he didn’t understand that the Holy Scriptures pointed to Jesus. He also didn’t understand that the only way to eternal life was through faith in Jesus as his Savior.
3 – Verse 16 is one of the best known verses in the Bible. What does Jesus teach us in these words?
In the previous verse, Jesus used the well-known example of Moses lifting up the snake in the wilderness. When the Israelites rebelled against God, the Lord sent poisonous snakes into the camp. Thousands died as a result. When the people cried out in repentance, the Lord instructed Moses to make a snake from bronze and put it on a pole. Everyone who looked at the snake would be saved. In the same way Jesus foretold how he would be lifted up on the cross as the one sacrifice for all-time for our salvation. This sacrifice shows God’s amazing love for us. This love caused him to sacrifice his own Son. Whoever believes in Jesus Christ as their only Savior will be forgiven of their sins and receive eternal life in heaven. God proves that his love for us is undeserved. He loved us despite our countless sins against him. His love is unconditional. He loves us because he chooses to love us. His love is unchanging. There will never be a time when God’s love for us in Christ will ever run out.
4 – Today many people call themselves “born again Christians.” What does Jesus teach us about someone who is truly born again?
A literal translation of Jesus’ words in John 3:3 is “Amen, amen I say to you, unless someone is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” By saying “amen” twice Jesus emphasized the solemn truth of his words. To have eternal life someone must believe in Jesus Christ as their only Savior. This faith cannot happen by a human decision. Such faith must come from above. As Jesus explained in verse 5, we must be born of water and the Spirit. Water and Spirit do not refer to two separate experiences. The Holy Spirit enters us through the waters of Baptism and fills us with saving faith in Jesus. We no longer look to ourselves to be right with God. We put our trust fully in Jesus Christ.
If you have any questions about the Word of God we studied in this lesson please contact Pastor Greg Tobison. You can send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.