The conversation with Nicodemus (2 of 5)
John 3:5 KJV
Verily, verily, I say unto thee,
Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit,
he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Jesus explained, ‘I am telling you what is true. Unless a person is born by water and by God’s Spirit, he cannot come into the kingdom of God .
Verily, verily, I say unto thee,
Repeating and confirming what he had said before
Of water and of the Spirit
A twofold explanation of the “new birth,” so startling to Nicodemus.
To a Jewish ecclesiastic, so familiar with the symbolical application of water, in every variety of way and form of expression, this language was fitted to show that the thing intended was no other than a thorough spiritual purification by the operation of the Holy Ghost.
Indeed, element of water and operation of the Spirit are brought together in a glorious evangelical prediction of Ezekiel, which Nicodemus might have been reminded of had such spiritualities not been almost lost in the reigning formalism.
Ezekiel 36:25-27 KJV
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you,
and ye shall be clean:
from all your filthiness,
and from all your idols,
will I cleanse you.
A new heart also will I give you,
and a new spirit will I put within you:
and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh,
and I will give you an heart of flesh.
And I will put my spirit within you,
and cause you to walk in my statutes,
and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
Already had the symbol of water been embodied in an initiatory ordinance, in the baptism of the Jewish expectants of Messiah by the Baptist, not to speak of the baptism of Gentile proselytes before that; and in the Christian Church it was soon to become the great visible door of entrance into “the kingdom of God,” the reality being the sole work of the Holy Spirit ( Titus 3:5 ).
The author of this blessed change, and Who it is that works it is the Spirit.
To be born again is to be born of the Spirit,
The change is not wrought by any wisdom or power of our own, but by the power and influence of the Spirit of grace. It is the sanctification of the Spirit (1 Peter 1:2 ) and renewing of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:5).
The Pharisees placed their religion in external purity and external performances; and it would be a mighty change indeed with them, no less than a new birth, to become spiritual.
Christ here shows that it is necessary in the nature of the thing, for we are not fit to enter into the kingdom of God till we are born again: That which is born of the flesh is flesh.
Nicodemus had failed utterly to grasp the idea of the spiritual birth as essential to entrance into the Kingdom of God. He knew only Jews as members of that kingdom, the political kingdom of Pharisaic hope which was to make all the world Jewish (Pharisaic) under the King Messiah.
Many theories exist. One view makes baptism, referred to by ex udato (coming up out of water), essential to the birth of the Spirit, as the means of obtaining the new birth of the Spirit. If so, why is water mentioned only once in the three demands of Jesus? Calvin makes water and Spirit refer to the one act (the cleansing work of the Spirit). Some insist on the language in verse 6 as meaning the birth of the flesh coming in a sac of water in contrast to the birth of the Spirit.
One wonders after all what was the precise purpose of Jesus with Nicodemus, the Pharisaic ceremonialist, who had failed to grasp the idea of spiritual birth which is a commonplace to us.
By using water (the symbol before the thing signified) first and adding Spirit, he may have hoped to turn the mind of Nicodemus away from mere physical birth and, by pointing to what he must have known from Ezekiel.
Here Jesus uses “enter” instead of “see” like in verse 3, but with the same essential idea (participation in the kingdom).
To be continued
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