Jesus did not rebuke Nicodemus or turn him away. Jesus continued, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
To understand this, we need to understand a little of what Nicodemus already knew. In both Greek and Hebrew, Spirit, breath and wind are the same word. The meaning and the translation all depend on the context. Sometimes, as in this chapter, the word can mean all three things at the same time. If this seems confusing, this three-fold meaning is first used in Genesis Chapter One, verse two: “And the Spirit (wind, breath) of God moved upon the face of the waters.” The Spirit of God is life.
But in the Old Testament the Spirit of God indwelling a person seems to have been rare and temporary. Samson is a clear example of this. When the Spirit of God entered David, it had left Saul. At the same time, the Spirit of God talked to Samuel, but the Word of God never says that it indwelt Samuel. So this idea that Jesus was presenting that being born again of the Spirit was necessary for the kingdom of God was new. He was saying that more than one person could have the Spirit of God at the same time, and that the Spirit would remain in a person permanently.
Also, since the original creation was all water, water is the foundation of the material world. “It escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water.” (2 Peter 3:5)
So when Jesus told Nicodemus “unless one is born of water (material, of a woman) and the Spirit (breathe, wind) he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” Nicodemus was amazed. Jesus calmly told him “Do not be amazed.” Jesus said concerning the wind (spirit, breathe) that “you do not know where it comes from and where it is going”. He meant, “There are natural things which you, Nicodemus, do not know.” You will never know everything. As “the teacher of Israel”, Jesus was showing Nicodemus some of his limits.
Nicodemus admitted his limits with the question, “How can these things be?” Nicodemus understood that Jesus meant that the Spirit of God would indwell many people at the same time. But he did not understand how this was possible.
Most people view Jesus’ reply as a put-down. “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?” While it is possible that Jesus was saying that Nicodemus should have known these things, I understand this to mean that Jesus was revealing a mystery to Nicodemus because Nicodemus was ready to receive the mystery. In the Word of God, a mystery is something which can only be revealed by God and cannot be discovered by natural or scientific investigation. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, “Behold I show you a mystery…”
Jesus then changed and spoke to Nicodemus not as an individual, but as the representative of all the teachers of the Law in Israel. “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony.” Nicodemus would clearly understand that Jesus addressed him as a representative of the Pharisees, perhaps all Jews in leadership. But the plural when Jesus spoke of Himself was difficult to accept. “We speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony.” It is possible, but highly unlikely, that Nicodemus mistook Jesus as referring to the disciples.
The first words of the Law say, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” the word Elohim, translated God, is in the plural but used in the singular. Hebrew has singular, duality and plural. Elohim is clearly plural, meaning three or more. Throughout the Old Testament the plural Elohim is used in the singular and translated into both Greek in the LXX (Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and English by the singular word God. The Church has invented the word Trinity attempt to grasp this concept. Jesus clearly said, “I and my father are one.”
Nicodemus began the conversation by calling Jesus “Rabbi,” a term which he viewed as one of great respect. Jesus revealed Himself to Nicodemus as God, since only God can be a single individual and plural at the same time and clearly states that the Jewish nation has rejected God. This was something very difficult for “the teacher of Israel” to accept.
But Jesus did not stop there. He continued, “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” The word is “if”; however, it means “since” to us. The force, not the literal translation, of this sentence is, “Since I told you earthly things and you do not believe, you will not believe when I tell you heavenly things (things which have not been revealed yet).” Another way of paraphrasing this sentence is, “Since I told you things you should easily understand, how will you understand the difficulties of how heaven really works?”
Jesus continues to reveal difficult information about heaven. Jesus says, “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” This is an even clearer claim to be God. He says that He “descended from heaven.” But Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness was a clear statement of crucifixion. Jesus is also saying that He would return to heaven after being crucified. While the disciples might not have understood, “the teacher of Israel,” would know both the Old Testament and the Roman culture.
Jesus’ claim “that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life,” has much less shock value to us than it did to Nicodemus.
After informing Nicodemus that He will be crucified, Jesus then explains that He is laying down His life as a gift, a gift given by God. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
Jesus then explains that laying down His life is necessary because we are all under the judgment of sin. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Jesus finishes with Nicodemus by explaining the true nature of Spiritual warfare. He was simply explaining the difference between Nicodemus’ attitude and that of the rest of the “teachers of Israel”.
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
As quoted earlier, Nicodemus said, “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” Nicodemus questioned Jesus’ purpose and nature, but he came to find out the truth. Those who loved evil did not come to Jesus but avoided him, or came only to try to trap or discredit Him. They didn’t stick around, because when they did, Jesus’ light exposed them for the hypocrites and evildoers that they were. Nicodemus, however, came to the light, listened to the truth, and became a follower.