Read This: John 3:1-8
Nicodemus: We know that you have come from God.
Jesus: Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Like all devout Jews, Nicodemus was seeking the kingdom of God. Scripture pointed to a God-anointed leader, like David, restoring the kingdom to Israel. Since God was with Jesus, Nicodemus wondered if Jesus might be that leader. The Messiah.
Nicodemus was right — Jesus was the Messiah. But he was also wrong, because his understanding of the Messiah was incomplete. The Messiah’s work wasn’t limited to restoring Israel’s political sovereignty. He was here to restore all people to right relationship with God. Everyone.
Nicodemus was an intelligent, well-educated man. His coming to Jesus was a discerning and honorable thing. But his expectations were too small. Jesus helped him see the larger story. Here’s how the conversation went.
Nicodemus: “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
He was investigating if Jesus was the promised Messiah who would restore the “kingdom of God” (Israel).
Jesus: “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
The kingdom of God is not a national or political thing. It’s a spiritual thing. “Born again” refers to spiritual birth. You have to be spiritually alive to perceive God’s kingdom.
Nicodemus: “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?”
He’s essentially asking, “What do you mean?” Being born a second time is absurd. No one can be born twice. He’s thinking about physical reality, and he’s right.
Jesus: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus knew the Scriptures. He would have immediately recognized “water and the Spirit” as a reference to Ezekiel 36:24-27, which described spiritual regeneration. This is a paradigm shift. Jesus is revealing that our lives and relationship to God are rooted in the spiritual realm. We are spiritual beings who express our spiritual life in the physical world.
Spiritual reality was not new to Nicodemus. The Scriptures spoke of spiritual beings, activities, and the spirit as the life of the body. This was familiar territory. Yet, the nation of Israel had been a reference point for God’s kingdom for over a thousand years. That’s where God’s involvement with the Jewish people had occurred, and, based on biblical prophecy, it’s where they expected it to continue.
Now Jesus is saying that God’s kingdom is not physical, political, or geographical, but spiritual. One is “born” into God’s kingdom spiritually.
This conversation continues, but it features themes not native to our daily conversation. Kingdom. Flesh. Spirit. To provide context, we’ll need to take a quick look at those themes.