THE LORD’S CONVERSATION WITH NICODEMUS
Verses 1 and 2 say, “But there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: he came to Him by night and said to Him, Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Here we see that Nicodemus was a Pharisee. In his day there were certain qualifications to be a Pharisee. Not only was Nicodemus a Pharisee; he was also a ruler of the Jews. Why did such a person come to the Lord Jesus by night? It was because of pride that Nicodemus came to Him at night. He was a Pharisee with a high position in society. Furthermore, according to 3:10, he was a teacher of Israel. In addition, Nicodemus was an elderly man and a gentleman. We may say that he was a Pharisee, a ruler, a teacher, an elderly man, and a gentleman.
It is possible that at that time Nicodemus was more than sixty years old. The Lord Jesus was probably only a little over thirty. Nicodemus was at least one generation older than the Lord Jesus. Yet he came to a young man from Nazareth to be taught by Him. Nicodemus knew that if he were seen talking to the Lord Jesus, he might be condemned and put to shame by the other Pharisees. This was the reason he came to the Lord by night.
When Nicodemus came to the Lord, he called Him a rabbi, an honorable title that denotes a teacher. Nicodemus also said that no one could do the signs that the Lord was doing unless God was with him. It is significant that Nicodemus had such a recognition of Jesus, the Nazarene. Because Nicodemus knew that God was with this Nazarene, he was willing to come to Him to receive His teaching.
According to 3:3, the Lord answered Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a man is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Here the Lord seemed to be saying, “The fact that you call Me a rabbi indicates that you want to receive more teachings, more doctrines. But I have not come that you may have doctrine. Nicodemus, I have come that you may have life and that you may have it abundantly. I have come to impart life to you. I’m not here as a rabbi to give you more teachings. Nicodemus, I am not your rabbi—I am your life-giver. Even I want to be your life. I want to give Myself to you as life. What you need is to be born anew. Unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God, much less enter into it. Nicodemus, you are now in man’s kingdom. But there is another kingdom, another realm, and this is God’s realm. How can you, a human being, know the things in God’s realm? If you would know the things in this realm, you need to have God’s life. Therefore, if you would see the kingdom of God and enter into it, you must be born again.”
Every kingdom has a particular kind of life. The plants in the plant kingdom have the plant life, and the animals in the animal kingdom have animal life. In the same principle, human beings in the human kingdom have a human life. From the Lord’s word to Nicodemus we see that we need another life, the divine life, God’s life, if we would know the things of the divine kingdom.
When the Lord told him of the necessity to be born anew, Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter the second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (v. 4). This indicates that Nicodemus thought that to be born again required that a person enter the second time into his mother’s womb and be born. This was his understanding of the Lord’s word.
In verse 5 the Lord Jesus went on to say to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Notice that the Lord did not explain to Nicodemus what it means to be born of water and the Spirit; neither did Nicodemus ask about this. This indicates that Nicodemus understood the Lord’s word about being born of water and the Spirit. As we have already mentioned, Nicodemus must have known the word of John the Baptist. John the Baptist had said that he baptized in water but that the One coming after him would baptize in the Spirit. Therefore, we need two kinds of baptism—a baptism in water and a baptism in the Spirit.
In verses 6 through 8 the Lord continued by saying that that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Then he told Nicodemus not to marvel that He said to him, “You must be born anew.” Then in verse 8 the Lord said, “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is every one who is born of the Spirit.”
According to verse 9, Nicodemus said to the Lord, “How can these things be?” This indicates that he understood what the Lord was talking about and that now he wanted to know how these things could be.
The Lord answered, “You are the teacher of Israel, and you don’t know these things?” (v. 10). Here and in the following verses the Lord seems to be saying, “Nicodemus, as the teacher of Israel, have you never taught from chapter twenty-one of Numbers? You know from that chapter that the children of Israel were rebellious, and they were bitten by serpents. Many of the people died. When the children of Israel cried out to Moses about the situation, Moses prayed to the Lord in their behalf. God told Moses to make a brass serpent and lift it up on a pole. He also said that anyone who was bitten by a poisonous serpent should look at the brass serpent on the pole, and whoever looked at that serpent would live. Most of the children of Israel did this, and in this way they did not die. Nicodemus, as one who has been a teacher for years, you must know this story.”
In verse 11 the Lord went on to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak that which we know, and testify of that which we have seen, and you do not receive our testimony.” In this verse the pronouns “we” and “our” refer to John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus.
In verse 12 the Lord continued, “If I told you of things on earth and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you of things in heaven?” The things on earth here do not refer to things of an earthly nature, but things that take place on earth, including redemption and regeneration. Regeneration is not something that occurs in heaven, but something that happens on earth. In the same principle, the “things in heaven” in this verse are not things of a heavenly nature, but things which take place in heaven. Hence, in the following verse, the Lord said that He is the One who descended out of heaven and who is still in heaven. This indicates that He knows the things which take place in heaven because He is the One who is in heaven all the time.
As we have seen, verses 14 and 15 say that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that every one who believes in Him may have eternal life. Then verse 16 explains that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son in order that those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
(The Fulfillment of the Tabernacle and the Offerings in the Writings of John, Chapter 8, by Witness Lee)