Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.(John 3:5-7)
John Three is the record of an interview, between the great Rabbi and Pharisee, Nicodemus, and the non formally trained , itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth, Jesus. But Jesus is the one who is teaching. The subject is the New Birth.
The Jews had a concept of ‘new birth’ but it was non-biblical and inadequate, merely a colloquialism for any initiation into new responsibilities, such as marriage or initiation of ministry. perhaps a bit closer to the true sense, the Jews believed that if a defector from faith repented, he was said to be born again.
But Jesus is obviously calling for something far deeper, insisting that everyone, regardless of whether or not he is of the seed of Abraham, needs to be reborn to so much as see the Kingdom . According to Jesus, New Birth is a matter of ultimate and final salvation, without it there is no entry into God’s Kingdom.
Jesus is the Lord of Glory, but in the days of his flesh, he was a Rabbi, who taught the Word of God. He went by scripture, and actually never really said anything at all that wasn’t either a direct quotation, or a direct allusion to the scriptures. As a man, he held the scripture in the highest regard . Even when tempted by the devil, he said “It is written…”, appealing to the Word of God, and not applying his own thoughts and feelings, thus putting himself under the authority of scripture.
This is important to note, because there is much confusion about verse 5, “unless a man is born of water and Spirit, he can’t enter into the Kingdom of God…”.
Many believe that Jesus was referring to water baptism and spirit baptism, in talking to Nicodemus. “Water and Spirit”… But the uniquely Christian baptism for the remission of sins was not inaugurated until after Calvary, where Jesus died for our sins. The same goes for Spirit Baptised, John 7:37-38 tells us that there could be no Spirit Baptism until Jesus was “glorified”. Nicodemus would have no idea what that meant, so I doubt it was a reference to that.
Others believe it is a reference to natural birth, (water) and spiritual rebirth, as if Jesus was saying to Nicodemus, you have to be born of a woman and of the spirit. That sounds unlikely to me also, why would Jesus tell us that we have to be born of a woman as well as spiritually?
I believe that Jesus was talking in a language Nicodemus as a Rabbi, Sanhedrinist and expert in scripture would know well, Jesus was alluding to a specific scripture, Ezekiel 36 ,
For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.(Ezekiel 36:24-27)
Nicodemus would know that Jesus was referring to the promise of God to Israel, in the days of the Babylonian captivity, that he would one day bring them back into the land in unbelief, and cure the nation once and for all of their penchant for idolatry.
The LORD would effect this for Israel, by “washing them with water”, and by removing from them their “stony heart”, replacing it with a new heart, sensitive again to God, a heart to follow and obey God. This would happen when God put his Spirit in them.
The promise of God to Israel was that He would renew them by water and Spirit, washing and regeneration.True salvation involves both of them. Nicodemus knew that Jesus was applying that promise to he and his generation.
But Israel had repudiated idolatry long since the Babylonian captivity and the return of the exiles. And Israel had developed into an intense purification religion. They were obsessed with the removal of defilement. Jesus had warned them however that the heart itself was the very fountain of all defilement, and that defilement is not external, but springs froma fallen nature.
There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man…And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.(Mark 7:15,20-23)
A close reading of John will reveal that gallons of water had to be available for the manifold ablutions, washings not only required by the Law of Moses, but by the traditions of the elders also.
Obviously purification alone is anadequate, we need new life! We need to be resurrected unto God, by an act of God. We do need to be forgiven, and washed clean of the things we have done against God and man. But washing alone fails to meet our deepest need, for our problem is not just what we have done, but who we are before God.
We need a New Birth! God offers to make us all over again, to give us a new heart.We can recieve a moral and spiritual renovation from God by accepting Jesus.
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.(John 1:12-13)