“The great authority Jesus had assumed in the temple, in condemning the practices of the Jewish dignitaries, was freely commented upon by Pharisees, priests, and elders. His appearance, and the tones of His voice, together with the irresistible power He had exercised over the multitude, were such as to lead many of them to believe that He was indeed the Messiah whom they had so long expected and desired to see.
A portion of the Jews had ever been fearful of opposing one who seemed to possess any remarkable power or seemed to be influenced by God’s Spirit. Many messages had been given to Israel by the mouths of prophets. Yet some of these holy men had been slain through the instigation of the leaders in Israel, because they had denounced the sins of those in authority. The captivity of the Jews to a heathen nation, was their punishment for refusing to be reproved of their iniquities, slighting the warnings of God, and folding their sins still closer to their hearts.
The Jews, in the days of Christ, lamented their humiliation to the Romans, and condemned the acts of their fathers in stoning the prophets who were sent to correct them. Yet their priests and elders cherished the spirit in their hearts which would lead them to commit the same crimes.
The dignitaries of the temple consulted together in regard to the conduct of Jesus, and what course was best for them to pursue. One of their number, Nicodemus, advised moderation both in their feelings and acts. He argued that, if Jesus was really invested with authority from God, it would be perilous to reject His warnings, and the manifestations of His power.
He could not look upon Him as an impostor, nor join the rest of the Pharisees in their derision of Him. He himself had seen and heard Jesus, and his mind was much disturbed in consequence. He anxiously perused the scrolls containing the prophecies relating to the coming of the Messiah. He sought earnestly for clear light upon the subject, and the more he searched the stronger was his conviction that this Man was the one described by the prophets. If He was indeed the Christ (Moshiac – The Anointed Heir), then this was an eventful epoch in the history of the world and especially of the Jewish nation.
During the entire day after Christ had cleansed the desecrated courts of the temple, He was healing the sick and relieving the afflicted. Nicodemus had seen with what pitying compassion He had received and ministered unto the poor and the oppressed (ref: Isaiah 61:3). With the demeanor of a loving father toward His suffering children, He had wrought cures and removed sorrow. No suppliant was sent unrelieved from His presence. ref: Luke 4:17-19
Mothers were made glad by the restoration of their babes to health, and voices of thanksgiving had taken the place of weeping and moans of pain. All day, Jesus had instructed the restless, curious people, reasoning with the scribes and silencing the caviling of the haughty rulers by the wisdom of His Words. Nicodemus, after seeing and hearing these wonderful things, and after searching the prophecies that pointed to Jesus as the looked-for Messiah, dared not disbelieve that He was sent of God.
When night came on, Jesus (Yehushua), pale with the weariness of His long-continued labors, sought for retirement and repose in the Mount of Olives. Here Nicodemus found Him and desired a conference. This man was rich and honored of the Jews. He was famous throughout Jerusalem for his wealth, his learning and benevolence, and especially for his liberal offerings to the temple to carry out its sacred services. He was also one of the prominent members of the national council (Sanhedrin). Yet when he came into the Presence of Jesus, a strange agitation and timidity assailed him, which he essayed to conceal beneath an air of composure and dignity.
He endeavored to appear as if it were an act of condescension on the part of a learned ruler, to seek, uninvited, an audience with a young stranger at that unseasonable hour of night.
He began with a conciliating address, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest, except God be with him.” But instead of acknowledging this compliment-ary salutation, Jesus bent His calm and searching eye upon the speaker, as if reading his very soul; then, with a sweet and solemn voice, He spoke and revealed the true condition of Nicodemus. “Verily, verily I say unto you, Except a man be born (begotten) again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3.
The Pharisee was surprised out of his self-possession by these Words, the meaning of which he partially comprehended; for he had heard John the Baptist preach repent-ance and baptism, and also the coming of One Who should baptize with the Holy Ghost. ref: Matthew 3:1-2, 11 & Titus 3:4-5
Nicodemus had long felt that there was a want of spirituality among the Jews; that bigotry, pride, and worldly ambition guided their actions in a great measure. He had hoped for a better state of things when the Messiah should come. But he was looking for a Saviour who would set up a temporal throne in Jerusalem, and who would gather the Jewish nation under his standard, bringing the Roman power into subjection by force of arms.
This learned dignitary was a strict Pharisee. He had prided himself upon his own good works and exalted piety. He considered his daily life perfect in the sight of God, and was startled to hear Jesus speak of a kingdom too pure for him to see in his present state. His mind misgave him, yet he felt irritated by the close application of the Words to his own case, and he answered as if he had understood them in the most literal sense, “How can a man be born when he is old?”
Jesus, with solemn emphasis, repeated, “Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born of the water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” The Words of Jesus could no longer be misunderstood.
ref: Titus 3:4-6
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He hath (delivered, set free, rescued, healed) us . . . By the washing (baptism) of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit. Which He hath shed (poured, gushed forth) upon us through Jesus Christ . . . !”
His listener well knew that he referred to water baptism and the Grace of God. The power of the Holy Spirit transforms the entire man. This change constitutes the new birth ! ref: John 15:3, Ephesians 5:26, Ezekiel 36:25, James 1:18 & I Peter 1:3
Note: The immersion by water is the sinner’s first act of obedience after repenting and accepting Jesus Christ as their Saviour. And the Scriptures tell us that God gives His Spirit freely to those who obey Him, for the Words He speaks are Spirit and they are Life ! When we choose to believe His Word, and step out in faith, it is His Spirit that works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure !
ref: John 14:15-17, Acts 2:38, 5:32, 8:26-38
Many of the Jews had acknowledged John as a prophet sent of God, and had received baptism at his hands unto repentance; meanwhile he had plainly taught them that his work and mission was to prepare the way for Christ, Who was the greater Light, and would complete the work which he had begun. Nicodemus had meditated upon these things, and he now felt convinced that he was in the Presence of that One foretold by John.
Said Jesus, “That which is born (begotten) of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born (begotten) of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again !
“For it is not by might, nor by power; But by My Spirit saith the LORD of hosts . . . !” Zechariah 4:6
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” Jesus here seeks to impress upon Nicodemus the positive necessity of the influence of the Spirit of God upon the human heart (Grace – G5485) to purify it preparatory to the development of a righteous and symmetrical character. “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” This fountain of the heart being purified, the stream thereof becomes pure!
ref: Matthew 12:34, 15:18-19 & Psalm 51:10
This new birth looks mysterious to Nicodemus. He asks, “How can these things be?” Jesus, bidding him marvel not, uses the wind as an illustration of His meaning. It is heard among the branches of the trees, and rustling the leaves and flowers, yet it is invisible to the eye, and from whence it comes and whither it goeth, no man knoweth. So is the experience of every one who is born (begotten) of the Spirit. The mind is an invisible agent of God to produce tangible results. Its influence is powerful, and governs the actions of men. If purified from all evil, it is the motive power of good.
ref: I Corinthians 2:16 & Romans 12:2
‘Let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus . . . !’ Philippians 2:5
The regenerating Spirit of God, taking possession of the mind, transforms the life; wicked thoughts are put away, evil deeds are renounced, love (self-sacrifice), Peace, and humility take the place of anger, envy, and strife. That Power which no human eye can see, has created a new being in the image of God. ref: II Corinthians 5:17 & Galatians 6:15
The necessity of the new birth was not so strongly impressed upon Nicodemus as the manner of its accomplishment. Jesus reproves him, asking if he, a master and teacher in Israel, an expounder of the prophecies, can be ignorant of these things. Has he read those sacred writings in vain, that he has failed to under-stand from them that the heart must be cleansed from its natural defilement by the Spirit of God before it can be fit for the kingdom (Sovereign Reign) of Heaven?
Christ made no reference here to the resurrection of the body from the grave, when a nation shall be born in a day, but he was speaking in regard to the inward work of Grace upon the unregenerate heart.
He (Jesus) had just been engaged in cleansing the temple, by driving from its sacred courts those who had degraded it to a place of traffic and extortion . . . . know ye not that your body is the temple of God . . . . Not one who had fled that day from the Presence of Jesus was fitted by the grace of God to be connected with the sacred services of the temple. True, there were some honorable men among the Pharisees, who deeply regretted the evils that were corrupting the Jewish nation and desecrating its religious rites. They also saw that traditions and useless forms had taken the place of true holiness, but they were powerless to prevent these growing evils.
ref: I Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19 & II Corinthians 6:16-7:1
Jesus had commenced His work by striking directly at the selfish, avaricious (greedy) spirit of the Jews, showing that while professing to be the children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7) they refused to follow his exam-ple. They were zealous for an external appearance of righteousness while they neglected internal holiness. They were sticklers for the letter of the law, while they grossly transgressed its spirit every day. The law forbade hat-red and theft, yet Christ declared that the Jews had made his Father’s house a den of thieves. The great necessity of the people was a new moral birth, a removal of the sins that polluted them, a renewal of true knowledge and genuine holiness.
This purifying of the temple illustrates the work that must be accomplished in every one who would secure Eternal Life. Patiently Jesus unfolded the plan of Salvation to Nicodemus, showing him how the Holy Spirit brings Light and transforming power to every soul that is born of the Spirit. Like the wind, which is invisible– yet the effects of which are plainly seen and felt–is the baptism of the Spirit of God upon the heart, revealing itself in every action of him who experiences its Saving power.
He explained how Christ, the burden-bearer, lifts the burden from the oppressed soul, and bids it rejoice in deliverance from bondage. Joy takes the place of sadness, and the countenance reflects the Light of Heaven. Yet no one sees the hand that lifts the burden, nor beholds the Light descend from the courts of God. The Blessing comes when the soul, by faith, surrenders itself to the Lord. This mystery exceeds human knowledge, yet he who thus passes from death to Life realizes that it is a Divine Truth.
The conversion of the soul through faith in Christ was but dimly comprehended by Nicodemus, who had been accustomed to consider cold formality and rigid services as true religion. The great Teacher explained that His mission upon earth was not to set up a temporal kingdom, emulating the pomp and display of the world, but to establish the Reign of Peace and love, to bring men to the Father through the mediatorial agency of His Son. ref: II Corinthians 5:18-19
Nicodemus was bewildered. Said Jesus, “If I have told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” If Nicodemus could not receive His teachings illustrating the work of Grace upon the human heart, as represented by the figure of the wind, how could he comprehend the character of His glorious heavenly kingdom should He explain it to him? Not discerning the nature of Christ’s work on earth, he could not understand His work in Heaven. Jesus referred Nicodemus to the prophecies of David and Ezekiel: ref: Ezekiel 5:11, 11:18-19, 37:23 & 36:22-33
“And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh; that they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.” “And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence.”
“Therefore, I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit.” Ezekiel 18:30-32.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit (mind) within me. Cast me not away from thy Presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy Salvation (deliverance, liberty, freedom, victory); and uphold me with thy free Spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.” “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 !” ref: Psalm 51:10-13 & Ezekiel 36:26
The learned Nicodemus had read these pointed prophecies with a clouded mind, but now he began to comprehend their True meaning, and to understand that even a man as just and honorable as himself must exper-ience a new birth through Jesus Christ, as the only condition upon which he could be saved, and secure an entrance into the kingdom of God. Jesus spoke positively that unless a man is born again he cannot discern the kingdom which Christ came upon earth to set up. Rigid precision in obeying the law would entitle no man to enter the kingdom of Heaven.
There must be a new birth, a new mind through the operation of the Spirit of God, which purifies the life and ennobles the character . . . . the circumcision made without hands . . . ! This connection with God fits man for the glorious kingdom of Heaven. No human invention can ever find a remedy for the sinning soul. Only by repentance and humiliation, a submission to the Divine requirements, can the work of grace be performed. ref: Colossians 2:11-12
Iniquity is so offensive in the sight of God, whom the sinner has so long insulted and wronged, that a repentance commensurate (proportionate) with the character of the sins committed, often produces an agony of spirit hard to bear.
Nothing less than a practical acceptance and application of Divine Truth (the Word of Jehovah God) opens the kingdom of God to man. Only a pure and lowly heart, obedient and loving, firm in the faith and service of the Most High, can enter there.
Jesus also declares that as “Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth (trusts implicitly) in Him should not perish, but have Eternal Life.”
The serpent in the wilderness was lifted upon a pole before the people, that all who had been stung unto death by the fiery serpent might look upon this brazen serpent, a symbol of Christ, and be instantly healed. But they must look in faith, or it would be of no avail. Just so must men look upon the Son of Man as their Saviour unto eternal Life. Man had separated himself from God by sin. Christ brought His divinity to earth, veiled by human-ity, in order to rescue man from his lost condition. Human nature is vile, and man’s character must be changed before it can harmonize with the pure and holy in God’s immortal kingdom. This transformation is the new birth.
If man by faith takes hold of the Divine love of God, he becomes a new creature through Christ Jesus (ref: Galatians 5:6). The world is overcome, human nature is subdued (brought under), and Satan is vanquished. In this important sermon to Nicodemus, Jesus unfolded before this noble Pharisee the whole plan of Salvation, and His mission to the world.
*In none of his subsequent discourses did the Saviour explain so thoroughly, step by step, the work necessary to be done in the human heart, if it would inherit the kingdom of Heaven. He traced man’s Salvation directly to the love of the Father, which led Him to give His Son unto death that man might be Saved.
Jesus was acquainted with the soil into which He cast the Seeds of Truth. For three years there was little apparent fruit. Nicodemus was never an enemy to Jesus, but he did not publicly acknowledge Him. He was weighing matters with an exactitude that accorded with his nature. He watched the life-work of Jesus with intense interest. He pondered over His teachings and beheld His mighty works. The raising of Lazarus from the dead was an evidence of His Messiahship that could not be disputed in the mind of the learned Jew.
Once, when the Sanhedrim council was planning the most effectual way of bringing about the condemnation and death of Jesus, his authoritative voice was heard in protest, “Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” This brought a sharp rebuff from the chief priest, “Art thou also of Galilee? Search and look, for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.” Yet the council dispersed, for they could not obtain a unanimous assent to the condemnation of Jesus. ref: John 7:40-53 & John 19:38-42
The Jews suspected both Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus of being in sympathy with the Teacher of Galilee, and these men were not summoned when the council met that decided the fate of Jesus. The Words spoken at night to a single man in the lonely mountain were not lost. When Nicodemus saw Jesus upon the cross, hanging like a malefactor (worthless, depraved criminal) between heaven and earth, yet praying for His murderers; when he witnessed the commotion of nature, in that awful hour when the sun was hidden and the earth reeled in space, when the rocks were split in sunder and the vail of the temple rent in twain; then he remembered the solemn teaching in the mountain: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” ref: Numbers 21:5-9
The scales fell from his eyes, and faith took the place of doubt and uncertainty. Beams of Light streamed from the secret interview in the mountain and illuminated the cross of the Saviour. In that time of discouragement and danger, when the hearts of the disciples were failing them through doubt and fear, Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple of Jesus, came forward and obtained the Lord’s body from Pilate,
And Nicodemus, who at the first came to Jesus by night, brought a hundred pounds’ weight of myrrh and aloes. These two men with their own hands performed the last sacred rites, and laid the body of the Saviour in a new sepulcher where never man lay before. These lofty rulers of the Jews mingled their tears together over the sacred form of the dead.
Now, when the disciples were scattered and discouraged, Nicodemus came boldly to the front. He was rich, and he employed his wealth to sustain the infant church of Christ, that the Jews thought would be blotted out with the death of Jesus. He who had been so cautious and questioning, now, in the time of peril, was firm as the granite rock, encouraging the flagging faith of the followers of Christ, and furnishing means to carry on the cause. He was defrauded, persecuted, and stigmatized (marked as socially unaccept-able) by those who had paid him reverence in other days. He became poor in this world’s goods, yet he faltered not in the faith that had its beginning in that secret night conference with the young Galilean (Jesus, Yehushua).
Nicodemus related to John the story of that interview, and his inspired pen recorded it for the instruction of millions. The vital Truths there taught are as important today as they were that solemn night in the shadowy mountain, when the mighty Jewish ruler came to learn the Way of Life from the lowly carpenter of Nazareth.
“When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself baptized not, but His disciples), He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee.” John 4:1-3
The prejudice of the Jews was aroused because the disciples of Jesus did not use the exact words of John in the rite of baptism. John baptized unto repentance, but the disciples of Jesus, baptized on profession of the faith, baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The teachings of John were in perfect harmony with those of Jesus, yet his disciples became jealous for fear his influence was diminishing. A dispute arose between them and the disciples of Jesus in regard to the form of words proper to use at baptism, and finally as to the right of the latter to baptize at all.
John’s disciples came to him with their grievances, saying, “Rabbi, He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to Whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to Him.” (John 3:26). John possessed the common infirmities of human nature. In this matter he was subjected to a severe trial. His influence as the prophet of God had been greater than any other man’s, until the ministry of Christ commenced; but the fame of this new Teacher was drawing the attention of all people, and in consequence, the popularity of John was waning. His disciples brought to him the true statement of the case, Jesus baptizeth, and all men come to Him !
John stood in a dangerous position; had he justified the jealousy of his disciples by a word of sympathy or encouragement in their murmurings, a serious division would have been created. But the noble and unselfish spirit of the prophet shone forth in the answer he gave to his followers:–
“A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from Heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before Him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice; this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease !”
Had John manifested disappointment or grief at being superseded by Jesus; had he allowed his sympathies to be aroused in his own favor, when he perceived that his power over the people was waning; had he for a moment lost sight of his mission in this hour of temptation, the result would have been disastrous to the establishment of the Christian church. The seeds of dissension would have been sown, anarchy would have sprung up, and the cause of God would have languished for want of proper workers.
But John, irrespective of personal interest, stood up in defense of Jesus, testifying to His superiority as the Promised One of Israel, Whose way (path) he had come to prepare. He identified himself fully with the cause of Christ, and declared that his greatest joy was in its success. Then, rising above all worldly considerations, he gave this remarkable testimony–almost the counterpart of that which Jesus had given to Nicodemus in their secret interview:–
“He that cometh from above is above all; he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth; he that cometh from Heaven is above all. And what He hath seen and heard, that He testifieth; and no man receiveth His testimony. He that hath received (accepts) His testimony hath set to his seal (attested), that God is True. For He Whom God hath sent speaketh the Words of God; for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting Life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see Life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” John 3:27-36
What a sermon was this to the Pharisees, clearing the way for the ministry of Christ. The same Spirit that actuated Jesus, controlled the mind of John the Baptist. Their testimony corresponded; their lives were given to the same reformatory work. The prophet points to the Saviour as the Sun of Righteousness rising with splendor, and soon to eclipse his own light (testimony), then growing pale and dim in the glory of a greater Light.
John, by his unselfish joy in the successful ministry of Jesus, presents to the world the truest type of nobility ever exhibited by mortal man. It carries a lesson of submission and self-sacrifice to those whom God has placed in responsible positions. It teaches them never to appropriate to themselves undue honor, nor let the spirit of rivalry disgrace the cause of God. The true Christian should vindicate the right at the expense of all personal considerations.
The news that had been carried to John concerning the success of Jesus, was also borne to Jerusalem, and there created against Him jealousy, envy, and hatred. Jesus knew the hard hearts and darkened minds of the Pharisees, and that they would spare no pains to create a division between His Own disciples and those of John that would greatly injure the work, so He quietly ceased to baptize and withdrew to Galilee.
He knew that the storm was gathering which was soon to sweep away the noblest prophet God had ever given to the world. He wished to avoid all division of feeling in the great work before Him, and, for the time, removed from that region for the purpose of allaying all excitement detrimental to the cause of God.
Here is a lesson to the followers of Christ, that they should take every proper precaution to avoid disagreement; for in every division of interest, resulting in disputation and unhappy differences in the church, souls are lost that might have been saved in the kingdom of Heaven. In the occurrence of a religious crisis, leading men who profess to be God’s instruments should follow the example of the great Master and that of the noble prophet John. They should stand firm and united in defense of the Truth, while they carefully labor to avoid all injurious dissensions.
4 Redemption p. 9-23