Study Notes

John 3:1-21

3:1 Nicodemus

Remember that the Pharisees were a sect of Judaism. They were stringent about keeping God's Law as well as man's tradition. During Jesus' time, there were six thousand of them, all adhering to their religious rules and regulations.

There was a court of 70 of the highest and most influential Pharisees - this was known as the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus was a member of this elite group.

What we're going to see as we go through the gospel of John is that Nicodemus will become a disciple of Jesus. In chapter 7, we will see him sticking up for Jesus. The Pharisees tell some guys to grab Jesus, but they come back empty-handed. "Why didn't you bring Him?" the Pharisees demand. "We've never heard a guy talk like this before!" they respond. "Oh, great! Have you been fooled by Him too? The people are ignorant and accursed! None of us intelligent higher-ups have believed in Him, have we? " At that point, we read that Nicodemus chimes in,

John 7:51-52 "Our Law does not judge a man, unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?" They answered and said to him, "You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee."

So, taking as bold a step as he could manage at the time, Nicodemus goes against the crowd to defend Christ. But by the time we get to chapter 19, we will see a bolder disciple - one of only two men who dared to take the body of Jesus and bury Him.

John 19:39 And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.

So, this discussion here in chapter 3 must have been a conversation that eventually led to Nicodemus' conversion!

3:2 By Night

Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. We have to wonder why John mentions that it was at night. He may have just been trying to avoid the crowds to have a quiet conversation. Both he and Jesus were busy during the day with ministry - both teaching large groups of people during this Passover season. Maybe it was just the comfort of the cool evening that made it more pleasant to talk. But then again, it is more likely that he came under the cover of darkness to conceal his conversation with Christ from his coworkers. We know from chapter 12 that,

John 12:42-43 ...many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.

You know, the great thing about Jesus, though, is that night or day, you can come to Him - just so long as you do in fact come to Him. He didn't say, "Hey Nick! Come back tomorrow at noon so all your friends can see you talking to me!" He dealt with him where he was at.


Nicodemus calls Him "Rabbi," "Hrab-BEE" in Greek, it means "my great one, my honorable sir," as well as being a title with which the Jews addressed their teachers. Nicodemus is not coming with ulterior motives, but with genuine inquiry.

He says, "You are a teacher come from God." This is a wonderful profession, yet we are going to see that He came to the right conclusion based on the wrong evidence.

Unless God Is With Him

Nicodemus says,

John 3:2 " one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."

That sounds right, doesn't it? Simple logic tells us that miracles can only happen if God is with someone, right? Wrong. Remember in the book of Exodus when Moses was sent to Pharaoh of Egypt to manifest ten signs of God? Moses had Aaron throw his staff down and it became a serpent.

Exod. 7:11-12 Then Pharaoh also called for the wise men and the sorcerers, and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same with their secret arts. For each one threw down his staff and they turned into serpents.

Moses had Aaron turn all the water of the Nile into blood by striking his staff on the water.

Exod. 7:22 But the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts...

Moses had Aaron stretch out his hand over the waters, and frogs came up onto the land.

Exod. 8:7 And the magicians did the same with their secret arts, making frogs come up on the land of Egypt.

Each time, the magicians were making use of satanic power to perform these miracles. Of course, God is infinitely more powerful than satan, and the magicians were able to duplicate no more of the miracles. But it shows us that we can be deceived by signs and wonders into believing that someone is from God when in fact they are not. In fact, the entire world will be deceived by the antichrist when he comes onto the scene. We read in 2Thessalonians that his coming...

2Ths. 2:9-10 in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.

With all power, signs, and wonders. Just like the antichrist, the false prophet will also deceive many:

Rev. 13:13-14 And he performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs...

Deceived because of the signs. Nicodemus has found a teacher from God based on signs and wonders, but many also find messengers of hell using the same logic.

3:3-6 Born Again

Nicodemus thought he saw the kingdom of God coming in Jesus' signs and wonders. But Jesus answers him that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.

We hear that term thrown around a lot - "born again." What exactly does it mean to be born again? Surprisingly - it is exactly like it sounds - it is a second birth.

You see, our first birth was from the water of our mother's womb. We have all been born once. If you're sitting here this morning, it is a pretty good guess that you've been born once.

But there is an opportunity for you to be born again. Now you may think just like Nicodemus did,

John 3:4 ..."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?"

But that is not what Jesus is talking about. He is not talking about being born of the water of your mother's womb twice. He says you must be born of water and the Spirit. To be born again is to be born a second time, not of your mother, but of the Spirit of God.

When you are born, you become a child of your parents. When you are born again, you become a child of God. To be born of water is to become a child of sinners. To be born of the Spirit is to become a child of God.

So the question remains, "How can you be born again? How can you be born of the Spirit? How can you become a child of God?"

Gal. 3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

John of course already told us this back in chapter 1:

John 1:12-13 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, {even} to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

If you have true faith in Jesus Christ, then you are born again.

He Cannot Enter

Now, being born again is an absolute requirement to see the kingdom of God and to enter the kingdom of God. Not one person will be in heaven who has not been born again. Peter said,

1Pet. 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

So being born again gives us an inheritance in heaven. Why only those who are born again? Jesus tells us,

John 3:6 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."

If you haven't been born again, you are only flesh. And the Bible tells us...

1Cor. 15:50 ...that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God...

If you are not born again, you cannot possibly inherit the kingdom of God.

You may be thinking, "But Ron, I don't understand how this all works. I want to know exactly how this all happens." Jesus answers that thought in the next two verses.

3:7-8 Born Of The Spirit

"Don't marvel, Nicodemus," Jesus says. Maybe he had cocked his head like a confused puppy. Maybe his mouth had dropped open. Whatever it was, he was obviously marvelling at Jesus' statement. He just didn't see it.

Jesus makes the point, "Nick, you don't have to see it to receive it and believe it. Take the wind for example - you've never seen it... only its effects. The Spirit is the same way. You can't see Him, but you can see His effect on people, and feel Him in your own heart."

This is an interesting play on words, because the word "wind" and "spirit" in the Greek are both the same: "pnuema." "Nick, the pneuma spirit and the pnuema wind are the same - you can't see them, but you trust that they're working because you see their effects."

3:9-13 Not Understanding, Not Believing

Nicodemus still doesn't accept it. He is refusing to understand, he is refusing to believe. Notice that up until this point, Jesus has patiently answered his questions, yet the conversation turns almost confrontational now. Why is that? Because the Lord can work when there is no belief, but not when there is unbelief.

If today you're having trouble believing what the Bible says, ask yourself, "Am I just not understanding what it says, or am I just refusing to accept what it says?" If you're not understanding, then your difficulty is no belief, and the Lord can work on your heart. But if you're refusing to accept it, they your difficulty is unbelief, and until you're willing, God can't speak to you.

3:14-16 The Serpent In The Wilderness

Some of the greatest words in the entire Bible are found in these three verses. Jesus says,

John 3:14 "...As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up"

Nicodemus knew exactly what Jesus was talking about, though you may not. Detailed in the Old Testament book of Numbers is a strange story:

Num. 21:5-9 And the people spoke against God and Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food." And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us." And Moses interceded for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live." And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.

Amazing, isn't it? All they had to do was turn their heads to look at this thing, and they would be healed! Bronze in the Bible is typological of judgment. The serpent in the Bible is a representation of sin. The standard was a wooden pole with a crosspiece to hold up the flag of an army or tribe. So here we have a picture of sin judged on a cross. If anyone would merely look at it to be healed from the effects of this judgment, they will live! This is exactly what Jesus did so that all who looked to Him to be saved would be saved!

The Only Provision

Now you may read the story of the serpents in the book of Numbers and ask, "Why did God only make one way to be cured? Why was there only one bronze serpent on a standard? Why didn't God just cure everyone at once?"

The answer to all those questions is, "God did something for them that they didn't deserve, and you're dogging Him for the way He did it? You should be thankful that He provided a way of escape at all! When major rivers overflowed last year and people were trapped on their roofs as 15-foot floodwaters raged around them, nobody complained when the National Guard rescued them with a helicopter. "Hey! Is this it? Just one choice? Why didn't you send a boat too so I could have my pick?"

You're trapped in a flood of sin - and God loves you so much, that He's sent a helicopter to rescue you. Are you seriously going to reject it because you're not comfortable with there only being one way of escape?

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

If you believe in Jesus Christ, you will be rescued.

3:17-21 judgment

Jesus didn't come to judge you - He came to save you from the judgment that you've already brought upon yourself. How have you brought judgment upon yourself? Because your deeds are evil. They have fallen short of the perfection and righteousness of God. Jesus isn't condemning you for that, He's trying to save you from it.

Rom. 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Won't you accept the free gift of eternal life that Jesus Christ offers you?

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