I have wanted to do this for awhile now and I think it is finally time for me to offer my view of Nicodemus and Jesus conversation. Outside of scripture there are little known facts of who Nicodemus was but there are the typical assertions and or assumptions of who he was. The most trustworthy (that is not to say it is completely accurate) source for who Nicodemus is comes from the Talmud and Jewish Encyclopedia which describes him as a wealthy and popular Holy Man that some rumored him to have miraculous powers. The complete name associated with him is Nicodemus ben Gurion (1). I do not hold great confidence that this is accurate but it is the strongest source available for who he might have been. Since it is not possible to prove who he exactly was but only offer theories already offered by others I will refrain from continuing in vanity to his identity and look more to his words and deeds contained in scripture.
John 3: 1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
2 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.
Now here we see that Nicodemus is identified as a Pharisee also a ruler of the Jews for most in their simplicity this means he is a bad guy thanks to the little kids’ songs that say, a Pharisee aint Fair you see. The truth is, it took a great deal of integrity and courage to come before this Jesus from the common folks and worse from Nazareth, as we have read, John 1: 45 - 50 --- Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? --- a term said in derision for many in Judah in those days. Yet Nicodemus is curious or trusting enough in his position to come to this Jesus and even state that Jesus is a teacher come from God. Something the Israelites had not seen in nearly 400 years. Nicodemus does not stop there but goes further and acknowledges the miracles that Jesus is performing are valid and real and can only happen because God is with Him. Now lets think about that statement coming from a Pharisee Jew. How huge is that acknowledgment coming from a man representative of many men who claim to have the only Right as the sons of Abraham to have God with them. Now let us move on while that is on your brain to Jesus’s response back to Nicodemus.
John 3: 3 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.
This answer back has had me puzzled for a long time because it does not seem to equate to the comments from Nicodemus. Why did the Jesus bring up being born again and the kingdom of God. Well I have come to the opinion that the two are related by way of the mindset of many of the leadership class of the Jews. They were prideful, arrogant, demanding, and legalistic as Matthew 23 shows a great deal of how Jesus viewed their minds and more importantly their hearts. So this group of leaders predominantly have grown accustom to the finer things, they revel in the idea of being the separate chosen people of God, they are waiting and desiring the coming Messiah but are to busy to pay attention to His actual presence. They are expecting the deliverance into the Kingdom from the mighty deliverer by binding down the hearts, souls, and hopes of others. Jesus knew their pride in being the seed of Abraham and expectation of a resurgent Kingdom and once more they were already warned about taking pride in being the seed of Abraham from John the Immerser. Matthew 3: 7-9 “---- think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father ----“
So Jesus knowing their pride and expectations of Kingdom establishment goes straight to the matter with Nicodemus. When Jesus says except a man be born again it is commonly accepted that He is referencing salvation but I propose that He is actually making reference to their security in being the seed of Abraham. They took pride in it but Jesus is telling them as John the Immerser had also done that that is not good enough to see the Kingdom of God. It takes more than being the seed of flesh man (Abraham) it takes being born again putting aside the flesh connection and growing to the Spiritual connection.
Remember the Rich young Ruler story how he came to Jesus and asked what must I do to be saved and Jesus told him to keep the commandments. The young man says I have done so my whole life and Jesus accepts that answer from him. Jesus did not chastise him, ridicule him as a liar, or scold him for a false witness. Instead when the young man asks again what more must I do Jesus simply says sell all you have and give to the poor and then follow me. Of which it is prudent for one to recognize that Jesus just told the young man that he needed to humble himself and submit to Jesus as savior by those words. See the commandments as we are taught in Galatians is to be the Israelites (all of mankinds) tutor or schoolmaster in understanding Jesus and Salvation. They highlight the greatness of God as creator, the duty the creation has in honoring Him, the inability in mankinds complete ability to honor Him, and the payment that must be made to honor Him. Jesus as flesh man was able to completely honor the Father in Heaven and as such He is our only true example of complete love and worship and we are to follow His example. That’s what the first part of the rich young rulers answer confirmed and Jesus did not deny it but when it got down to him humbling himself and submitting to Jesus as the way of Salvation the rich young ruler would not comply. (I can only hope and pray that at some point in his life he changed from that stubbornness). Pride and privilege are every bit as dangerous now as they were back in their day.
So lets get back to Nicodemus answer in response to Jesus going straight to the point.
John 3: 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
Again going back to the pride they had in being the seed of Abraham, Nicodemus is asking how is it possible to undo something that is long since done. How does one become something other than what he already is? These are ideas and concepts that the Jews were very protective of because they took great pride in showing their lineage to establish their position within the communities they lived in. The basis of who owned what and where they were to serve is rooted in their lineage as the seed of Abraham.
John 3: 5 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.
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
Again the focus many place on this verse is the born of water portion but I think the key goes much broader than those three words would lead someone. Many say this is speaking of all of mankinds natural birth born of water and yet some think it means solely baptism which leads a good portion of the first thinkers into a big fit of baptismal regeneration and or newlightism rants. I want to focus again on who Jesus is talking to specifically and what about which is why I am writing my thoughts on this. (I hope though that reasonable people understand that the thoughts one might have on a topic may at a later date change as wisdom and maturity grow within a person.)
Nicodemus a Pharisee Jew bound and proud of his position as a child of Abraham under the OT covenanted law for a separate and special people saved from death as a nation. In like mindedness of the Rich young Ruler kept the commandments of the Law and was in fact a teacher of the Law according to Jesus own testimony about Nicodemus. Needed to be born again not after the manner of the flesh but instead after the manner of the Spirit, not as a lost man outside of the covenantal relationship but as a rebellious man within it again like the Rich young Ruler. The Commandments were to show them; as was said before, of their inability to keep the law completely and that they needed a savior to pay that death payment for them. Once one really saw who Jesus was as the Son of God like Nathaniel did and believed then they are to be baptized. For many baptism only represents death but for a follower of Jesus, baptism is more than just the end of one thing but it is also the beginning of another, a new beginning or born again. You can find this example in each and everyone of Israel’s OT crossings the Gulf of Aquaba; Exodus 14, and the crossing of the Jordan; Joshua 4, this is a point where some want to jump to the idea of this being the root of baptismal regeneration but the reality is Israel was saved from death by the innocent blood of the lamb BEFORE these instances. What the crossings show is the burial of the old life that has died to raise up a new creature a, Spiritually minded creature. This is also what Romans 6: 1 – 18 “-----we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.-----“ talks about so many generations later in relationship to Jesus and Baptism.