Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
JOHN 3:3 ESV
3 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, οὐ δύναται ἰδεῖν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.
JOHN 3:3 SBLGNT
On the use of ἀπεκρίθη (apokrinomai)and the doubling of the verbs “answered and said,” because Jesus knows what was in the man as revealed in 2:25 –”25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”, and thus told him what he needed; the two verbs show that this is highly important. When Jesus “takes the word” (ἀπεκρίθη – apokrinomai), he does not begin with his own person, although Nicodemus had put this forward. In due time Jesus will cover that point, and Jesus begins with the kingdom of God and the entrance into that kingdom.
Moreover, we must note that this kingdom and the coming of the Messiah belong together, for he is the King, and only where he is the kingdom is. Nicodemus, too, understood this relation and, like every serious Israelite, desired to see (ἰδεῖν) this Messianic kingdom, i.e., as a member entitled to a place in it. Hence, this is the background of Jesus’ statement. Begins with the solemn formula, explained in 1:51, “Amen, amen (the assurance of verity), I say to thee” (the assurance of authority) and follows with a statement regarding what is essential in order to see the kingdom.
This word of Jesus, as also its elaboration in v. 5 and 11, goes back to what the Baptist had preached when he declared the kingdom at hand and called on men to enter it by the Baptism of repentance and remission of sins, meaning the kingdom in its new form with redemption accomplished by the Messiah, the Lamb of God, i.e., the new covenant that would supersede the old. This grand concept ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ must not be defined by generalizing from the kingdoms of the earth. These are only imperfect shadows of God’s kingdom. God makes his own kingdom, and where he is with his power and grace, there his kingdom is; whereas earthly kingdoms make their kings, often also unmake them, and their kings are nothing apart from what their kingdoms make them. So also, we are not really subjects in God’s kingdom, but partakers of it, i.e., of God’s rule and kingship; earthly kingdoms have only subjects. In God’s kingdom, we already bear the title “kings unto God,” and eventually the kingdom, raised to the nth degree, shall consist of nothing but kings in glorious array, each with his crown, and Christ thus being “the King of kings,” a kingdom that has no subjects at all.
This divine kingdom goes back to the beginning and rules the world and shall so rule until the kingdom’s consummation at the end of time. All that is in the world, even every hostile force, is subservient to the plans of God. As heirs of the kingdom in whom God’s grace is displayed, the children and sons of God constitute the kingdom in its specific sense. Moreover, this kingdom is divided by the coming of Christ, the King, in the flesh to effect the redemption of grace by which this specific kingdom is really established among men. Hence we have the kingdom before Christ, looking toward his coming, and the kingdom after Christ, looking back to his coming. It is the promise and the fulfilment to be followed by the consummation—the kingdom as it was in Israel, as it now is in the Christian Church, the Una Sancta in all the world, and as it will be at the end forever. It is called “God’s” kingdom and “Christ’s” kingdom (Eph. 5:5; 2 Tim. 4:1; 2 Pet. 1:11)
because the power and the grace that produce this kingdom are theirs; also the kingdom “of heaven” or “of the heavens” because the power and the grace are wholly from heaven and not in any way of the earth. The Baptist preached the coming of this kingdom as it centres on the incarnate Son and his redemptive work.
Jesus tells Nicodemus the astonishing fact, “unless one is born anew“, he cannot enter this kingdom. He makes the statement general, “one,” τίς, not singling out Nicodemus as though making an exceptional requirement for him. Not until v. 7 do we hear “thou,” although the application to Nicodemus personally lies on the surface throughout. The requirement of the new birth is universal. The form ἐάν with the subjunctive shows that Jesus counts on some entering the kingdom, i.e., that they will receive the new birth. While ἄνωθεν may mean “from above” (place, local), here it must mean “anew” (time); for in v. 4 we have δεύτερον, “a second time,” in the same sense. Nor is ἄνωθεν the same as ἐκ Θεοῦ (in John’s First Epistle), for a while God bestows this birth, how he does so do not descend “from above” (Word and Sacrament), for which reason also what Jesus says of the new birth belongs to the ἐπίγεια, “earthly things” (v. 12). Not new and superior knowledge is essential; not new, superior, more difficult meritorious works; not a new national or ecclesiastical or religious. Party connection is better than the Pharisaic party, but an entirely new birth, the beginning of a newly born life, i.e., the true spiritual life.
This rebirth is misconceived when the Baptist and Jesus are separated, and it is thought that the former was unable to bestow the Spirit. On this subject, compare the comments on 1:26. The Baptist’s requirement is identical to that which Jesus makes. The Baptism of repentance and remission of sins bestows the new birth even as it is and can be mediated only by the Spirit. Jesus is not telling Nicodemus, “Go and be baptized by John and then wait until the Messiah gives thee the Spirit (how would he do that?), and thus thou wilt be reborn.” True repentance, the Baptist’s μετάνοια, consists of contrition and faith; and these two, wrought by the Spirit, constitute conversion which in substance is regeneration. All these focus in Baptism: every contrite and believing sinner whom the Baptist baptized was converted, was regenerated, had the Spirit, had forgiveness, was made a member of the kingdom, was ready for the King so close at hand to participate in full in all that the King would now bring. The Baptist stressed repentance and forgiveness in connection with his Baptism because these mediated the great change; in this first word to Nicodemus, Jesus names only the great change itself and its necessity, “born anew.” In a moment, Jesus, too, will name the means.
Jesus’ word regarding the new birth shatters every supposed excellence of man’s attainment, all merit of human deeds, all prerogatives of natural birth or station. Spiritual birth is something one undergoes, not something one produces. As our efforts had nothing to do with our natural conception and birth, regeneration is not a work of ours in an analogous way but on a far higher plane. What a blow for Nicodemus! His being a Jew gave him no part in the kingdom; his being a Pharisee, esteemed holier than other people, availed him nothing; his membership in the Sanhedrin and his fame as one of its scribes went for nought. This Rabbi from Galilee calmly tells him that he is not yet in the kingdom! All on which he had built his hopes throughout a long, arduous life here sank into ruin and became a little worthless heap of ashes. Unless he attains this mysterious new birth, even he shall not “see” (ἰδεῖν-oroa) the kingdom, i.e., have an experience of it. This verb is chosen to indicate the first activity of one who has passed through the kingdom’s door.
How much of this world is there to keep you away from God. We are blinded by it’s influences that we settLe into a stupified strance of blind indignation to our faults. Unless we wash away our sins with the blood of the cross and submit to a new beginning, we shall surely be swallowed up.
Set aside this world and look to Christ as our new path. Die to our selves and embrace a new rebirth in Christ. For the new is far greater than the end that awaits you now. For eternity awaits for all reborn to a future without end.