(Jerusalem, April 9, a.d.27.)
Subdivision B. Jesus Talks with Nicodemus.
^D John III.1-21.
^d 1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. [Nicodemus is mentioned only by John. His character is marked by a prudence amounting almost to timidity. At John vii.50-52 he defends Jesus, but without committing himself as in any way interested in him: at John xix.38, 39 he brought spices for the body of Jesus, but only after Joseph of Arimathæa had secured the body. Nicodemus was a ruler, or a member of the Sanhedrin]: 2 the same came unto him by night [Thus avoiding the hostility of his colleagues, and also obtaining a more personal and uninterrupted interview with Jesus. That his coming by night revealed his character is shown by the fact that John repeats the expression when describing him at ch. xix.39. But, in justice, it should be said that Nicodemus was the only one of his order who came at all during our Lord's life], and said to him, Rabbi, we [Nicodemus uses the plural, to avoid committing himself too much. Nicodemus would assert nothing but that which was commonly admitted by many. We learn from John xii.42, 43 that late in the ministry of Christ, when hostility towards him was most bitter, many of the rulers still believed in him. No doubt, then, when Nicodemus said |we| he used the word advisedly and conscientiously] know that thou art a teacher come from God [The rulers knew that Jesus was not the product of any of the rabbinical schools, and his miracles marked him as a prophet and distinguished him from all who were guided merely by reason, no matter how learned]; for no one can do these signs that thou doest [John ii.25], except God be with him. [These words show the effect of Christ's miracles. Miracles arrest attention and challenge investigation, and prove that he who works them is from God -- Acts x.38.] 3 Jesus answered [Not the words, but the thoughts of Nicodemus. The answers of Jesus often look rather to the thoughts of the questioner than to the form of the question. Nicodemus came seeking to know something about the kingdom of God, and Jesus opened at once upon the subject] and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. [The word translated |anew| may also mean |from above,| and some commentators seek to so translate it here, but it is rightly translated |anew,| for Nicodemus understood it to mean a second birth. As to the import of the passage, Luther's words are pertinent: |My doctrine is not of doing, and of leaving undone, but of being and becoming; so that it is not a new work to be done, but the being new created -- not the living otherwise, but the being new-born.| To |see| the kingdom means to possess or enjoy it -- Ps. xvi.10; xc.15; John viii.51; Luke ii.26.] 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born? [Knowing that a man can not be literally born a second time, Nicodemus states to Jesus the literal import of his words, hoping thereby to draw from him an explanation of this new, strange metaphor which he was using. So far as he did grasp the meaning of Jesus, Nicodemus saw himself barred forever from the kingdom by an impossible requirement. Many, like him, need to learn that God asks of us nothing that is impossible; that, on the contrary, the yoke is easy and the burden is light.] 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. [By far the vast majority of scholars consider the word |water| in this verse as a reference to Christian baptism. The Cambridge Bible says |the outward sign and inward grace of Christian baptism are here clearly given, and an unbiased mind can scarcely avoid seeing this plain fact. This becomes still clearer when we compare John i.26, 33, where the Baptist declares, 'I baptize in water', the Messiah 'baptizeth in the Holy Spirit'. The fathers, both Greek and Latin, thus interpret the passage with singular unanimity.| Men would have no difficulty in understanding this passage were it not that its terms apparently exclude |the pious unimmersed| from Christ's kingdom. But difficulties, however distressing, will justify no man in wrestling the Scriptures of God (II. Pet. iii.16; Rom. iii.4). Water and Spirit are joined at Matt. xxviii.19; Acts ii.38; xix.1-7; Tit. iii.5.] 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. [Jesus here draws the distinction between fleshly birth and spiritual birth. He did this to prepare Nicodemus to understand that it is the spirit and not the flesh which undergoes the change called the new birth. Regeneration is no slight, superficial change, but a radical one, and one which we can not work for ourselves.] 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born anew. [Jesus here plainly declares that none are exempt from this gospel requirement. Man must obtain more than his fleshly nature if he would inherit eternal life.] 8 The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. [In this sentence we have the word pneuma translated by the two words |wind| and |spirit.| There can be no justification in rendering pneuma |wind,| when in the last clause of the same sentence, and three times in the immediate context, it is rendered |spirit.| There can be no doubt that it means the same in both clauses of this verse, and if we render it wind in the first clause, we must say |born of the wind| in the last clause. Whatever is the meaning of this verse, it must be extracted from the rendering which the Revisers have strangely placed in the margin, viz.: |The Spirit breathes where it will, and thou hearest,| etc. It teaches that a man is born of the Spirit, breathing as he wills through inspired men. It is equivalent to Paul's maxim that faith comes by hearing the word of God. ] 9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things? [The Jewish teachers or doctors of the law made very arrogant claims to knowledge, but it often happens that the professedly learned are remarkably unacquainted with the first principles of their religion. It was so with the Jewish teachers (Matt. xv.14). Nicodemus should have understood that such a change as Jesus was speaking of would be necessary, for, 1. It was foreshadowed in the Old Testament (Deut. x.16; I. Sam. x.9; xvi.13; Ps. li.10; Ezek. xviii.31; Jer. iv.4).2. John the Baptist suggested the need of some such change when he attacked the Jewish trust in their descent from Abraham.] 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We [a rhetorical plural -- Mark iv.30] speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen. [his words were not founded upon reasonings, speculations, and guesses, but were the plain testimony of an eye-witness, who was able to see and had seen things which to us are invisible]; and ye receive not our witness. [Ye teachers of Israel, who, above all men, should receive our guidance, are the very last to follow us. As the Jewish rulers would not receive Christ's testimony, let us not be surprised if many of our day refuse to listen to the gospel which we preach.] 12 If I have told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you heavenly things? [Jesus here divides religious phenomena into two divisions -- earthly and heavenly. The earthly phenomena are those which have their sphere in this world. In this sense regeneration is an earthly thing; for though it has a heavenly origin, its manifestations are among the daily sights and experiences of our earthly life. Religion has also its heavenly phenomena, such as the ordering of God's celestial household; the experiences of those who pass into the divine presence; the propitiation, or the changes wrought in the attitude of God toward man by the sacrifice of Christ; the powers and limitations of Christ's priestly intercession, etc. These things have their sphere far removed from earth, and transcended the comprehension of Nicodemus. Now, if Nicodemus would not believe Jesus when he told him of things which he himself partially knew, how would he believe when Jesus spoke of that which was utterly unknown to him?] 13 And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven. [Nicodemus is here informed that Christ alone can teach concerning heavenly things. Jesus can so teach, for he did not begin on earth and ascend to heaven, but he came from heaven to earth, and returned thence (afterwards) to heaven. Jesus speaks of himself as being present in heaven, because his divine nature was in constant communication with the powers of heaven. If we conceive of heaven as a locality (a proper conception), Jesus was upon the earth; but if we conceive of it as a present communion with the presence of God (also a proper conception), then Christ was in heaven as he talked with Nicodemus -- John viii.29.] 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; 15 that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life. [Jesus here indicates the prophetical character of the Old Testament. The extent of Christ's indorsement of the Old Testament becomes apparent when we consider on how many occasions he revealed himself under the same symbolism which the Old Testament used to reveal him. At John ii.19 he revealed his resurrection under the symbolism of the destroyed and restored temple. At Matt. xii.40 the same event is revealed under the symbolism of Jonah and the whale. And here his crucifixion is likewise partially veiled and partially disclosed under a symbolic reference to the brazen serpent. The account of the brazen serpent will be found at Num. xxi.4-9. The lesson of the brazen serpent will be found in its main points of resemblance to the crucifixion of Christ. When the people were bitten by fiery serpents, something made to resemble a serpent was hung upon a pole, and the people who looked to it in faith through it healing and life. Such is the epitome of Christ's gospel. When the world was perishing because of sin, Jesus, made to resemble sin (Rom. viii.3; II. Cor. v.21) was hung upon the cross, that those who look unto him in faith (Isa. xlv.22) may find life through him -- I. John v.11-13.] 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. [Luther calls this verse |the Bible in miniature.| It is a lesson as to God's love: 1. Its magnitude -- he gave his only begotten Son.2. Its reach -- he gave it to a sinful world (Rom. v.8).3. Its impartiality -- he gives it to whomsoever; that is, to all alike (Matt. v.45; Rev. xxii.17).4. Its beneficial richness -- it blesses with life eternal.5. Its limitations -- it is nowhere said that God so loves that he will save unbelievers. Love is the mutual and binding grace between God and man; it may almost be said that in Christ it made God human and man divine. John uses the word |eternal| seventeen times in his Gospel and six times in his first Epistle. He always applies it to life. The synoptists use it eight times, applying it to life, and also to fire, punishment, damnation, and habitation.] 17 For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him. [Christ's first mission to the world was for salvation rather than for judgment. His second mission will be for judgment, but a judgment-hour wherein he will be able to save those who have accepted the means of grace which he established by his first coming. But the first coming of Christ incidentally involved judgment (John ix.39), and John the Baptist emphasized the judgment of Christ. This judgment, however, was not the principal object of Christ's coming, but was an inevitable result of it. Jesus here speaks of it as a self-executed judgment. It was a necessary result of the revealed presence of Christ (Luke ii.35). That Christ is at present a Saviour, and not a judge, is a truth which needs to be emphasized. Catholics are taught to fear Christ and flee to the Virgin; and many ignorant Protestants are disposed to look upon him as a prosecutor rather than as an advocate.] 18 He that believeth on him is not judged; he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God. [The name |Jesus| means Saviour; to disbelieve this name is to reject Christ as Saviour. Verses 14 and 15 require belief in Jesus as the Son of man. This verse requires belief in him as the Son of God. Belief in this dual nature of Jesus is essential to salvation. Unbelief is the world's crowning sin; and belief is, humanly speaking, the source of its justification. The verse teaches that God's judgments are in a state of perpetually present enactment. The believer is saved now (Acts xiii.39), and the unbeliever rests already under that condemnation which he fears the Son of God may some day pronounce against him.] 19 And this is the judgment, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be reproved.21 But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God. [These verses show that when God judges a man by his faith, the judgment is not arbitrary and irrational. Men believe according to the secret aspirations and desires of their nature. Christ, as the example and model of life, shines out as the light of the world; those who approve and love such a life are drawn to him and constrained to believe in him. Spiritually, they abide in his presence, that they may compare their lives with his, and that they may be assured that their works are wrought under the renewing and sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, who is sent of Christ. But one whose desires are evil shrinks from Christ, and struggles to disbelieve in him: he seeks to know as little of Christ as possible, because such knowledge exposes the wickedness and depravity of his own sinful nature.]