For an introduction to this series, click here.
April 17, 2007The first part of this chapter is one of the most famous discourses in all the Bible. Nicodemus, apparently one of the leaders of the Sanhedrin council, came to Jesus privately at night and tries to nail Jesus down, but Jesus does not play along with Nicodemus' questioning.
A minor point that I want to point out (in fact it may be an irrelevant point): Nicodemus says comes to Jesus and says, "We know you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." (3:2) (Note the plural) From the other gospels, we infer that Jesus was doing miracles left and right early in His ministry, and that's what the council was concerned about. To this point in his Gospel, John only records one miracle. At the end of chapter 4, we find John mentions Jesus healing a boy and calls it Jesus' "second sign." John admits at the end of the book that he did not record everything Jesus did, and this is proof. John had no intention of writing an exhaustive biography of Jesus. He was putting together an important picture of who Jesus was and why He came.
Jesus does not let Nicodemus hit Him with questions. Nicodemus tries to soften Jesus up by saying something nice about Him, and Jesus comes right at him: "Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (3:3) From this point on Jesus dominates the conversation. John only records two things Nicodemus said after this point: "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" (3:4) and "How can these things be?" (3:9) Nicodemus probably intended to say more, but he was blown away by Jesus' wisdom.
I would like to know how John was aware of this conversation. John had connections with the upper crust of Jewish society, much more than the other disciples (other than his older brother, but apparently only John was invited into the high priest's house at Jesus' trial), so perhaps Nicodemus himself told John about this conversation. Or maybe John overheard it.
This is a very familiar passage, and I don't want to just tell you something you've already heard before, so I will briefly comment on something. There are many commentators who think the actual conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus ends at verse 15, and that 16-21 were added by John. (you can read them for yourself. I'm sure you are familiar with at least verses 16-18). Not that they should not be in the text, but that they should not be in red letters representing Jesus' words. We understand that the original had no red letters, quotation marks or anything else to denote spoken words. Something to think about. It is consistent with the way John writes his Gospel: providing commentary along with describing the words and actions of Jesus.
The end of this chapter has an interesting story about John the Baptist. The other Gospels drop John after Jesus' baptism and then mention his beheading. Here we have an interesting picture of the end of John's ministry. People are coming up to him and saying, "Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness--look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him." (3:26) John responds very eloquently, saying that he is only the friend of the bridegroom, and that Jesus is the groom. John concludes by saying "He must increase, but I must decrease." (3:30, ESV)
John had lived out his purpose on the earth and was knowing the joy of accomplishing what he came to do. Other people, even John's disciples, were disappointed with how everybody was following Jesus and ignoring John. But John is satisfied. Very interesting and quite amazing. No wonder Jesus called John the greatest man who ever lived.