The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:2-3)
We have been looking at the third chapter of the Gospel of John, a conversation between Jesus and a leading Pharisee, Nicodemus the ‘teacher of Israel’. The topic is the new birth, being born again.
We must appreciate the obstacles Nicodemus overcame to come to Jesus. As a Sanhedrinist and the chief Rabbi, he had immense obstacles to overcome, within his own soul and among his colleagues.That that a well-known religious leader would inquire of an untrained, itinerate country rabbi would be scandalous. Small wonder he came by night.
The miracles that Jesus performed had been verified sufficiently, that Nicodemus spoke for other of the nations top Rabbi’s and scholars as well as himself, when he said “We know that you are a teacher sent from God…”.
But Jesus didn’t even acknowledge the admission of Nicodemus, he rather spoke directly to the point which Nicodemus was considered an expert upon, the Kingdom of God and entrance into it.
Verily, Verily I say unto you, unless a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God…
As a Pharisee, and as a Jew, Nicodemus held to a doctrine that taught that all Jews have a share in the life to come, by virtue of being born of Abraham,Isaac and Jacob. They believed that to Israel the Kingdom of God was a birthright. The Pharisees taught,
All Israelites have a share in the world to come. For it is written, Thy people shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.(Talmud,Sanhedrin 90a)
The refutation of this false doctrine was a major theme of John the Baptist’s preaching, because this heresy was deluding the people of Israel into thinking they needed no repentance, though they were on the verge of a catastrophic judgment.
John railed against this delusion, warning his hearers that they were in danger of hell itself! Perhaps Nicodemus himself was unnerved and convicted by John’s preaching, for something shook him out of his complacency and drew him to Jesus. Isn’t that why John Baptist was sent?
Born again? The Jews did have a concept of born again, but Nicodemus knew that couldn’t be what Jesus was referring to here. A Bar Mitzvah is a ‘new birth’ in Jewish thought.
For other examples; when a man became married, he was said to be “born again”, or should a man become ordained as a a Rabbi, he was born again.
Also, The Rabbis taught that should a man “take upon his shoulders the Kingdom of God”(ie repent and come under God’s government), he was said to be born again .
But Jesus is saying just the opposite; “unless you are born again, you can’t even see the Kingdom of God”. A few verses later he will say…”unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he can’t enter the Kingdom of God”.
By calling for a new birth, Jesus is telling this proud Israelite, and all who will listen, that there is something inherently wrong with all of us. By our natural birth we are not good enough to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Not only are we born blind to the Kingdom of Heaven, but also unfit by birth,(Gentile or Jew) to enter into it! The Law of God testifies to this also. Circumcision and ritual uncleanness for new mothers, seem to say, that sorrow is in conception and the transmission of seed, ever since the fall of man.
The Pharisees didn’t hold to anything like our christian teaching of “original sin”, at least not as far as in their view of Israel. But had they paid closer attention to the Psalms, and other writings in their Bibles, they would have been able to accept Jesus’ call for a new birth more readily.
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.(Psalm 51:5)
he wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.(Psalm 58:3)
More to come…