While this chapter is often referred to as the new birth chapter, there are three different roles Jesus plays here. The first is Jesus Christ the Teacher (3:1-21). Nicodemus had great respect for Jesus (vs. 10) and because of the miracles He did, he wanted to know more about his doctrine and was deeply sincere in his quest for truth. So, he came to Jesus by night because he wanted a quiet uninterrupted conversation with the new Teacher “come from God.”
Well, Jesus began to teach Nicodemus an illustration from birth (vs. 1-7) and shows how being born is a universal experience. But, in vs. 3, the word translated “again” also means “from above” and so, if one expects to go to heaven, they must experience a spiritual birth from above. However, Nicodemus did not understand Jesus and thought about the physical birth. But being a patient teacher, our Lord further explained the new birth, which is to be “born of water” and “the Spirit.” This is what Paul records for us in Rom. 6:3-4 in which he speaks of a “new” life with Christ as the Spirit enters your life (Acts 2:38). Thus, the spiritual birth from above involves being born again into God’s family, having your sins forgiven and forgotten, and have a living hope.
Well, Nicodemus must have had a surprised, yet bewildered look on his face, for the Lord said, “You must not be surprised that I told you that all of you must be born again” (John 3:7). Nicodemus was born a Jew, was a part of God’s covenant people (Rom. 9:4-5) and certainly thought his birth was better than that of a Gentile or a Samaritan! And his life was exemplary, for he was a faithful Pharisee! But, he could not understand the truths because the religious leaders would not submit to the authority of Christ’s evidence (John 3:11). Well, Jesus uses another illustration and refers to the serpent on the pole (vv. 14-18) which is the story in Numbers 21:4-9 where the nation rebelled against God and he sent fiery serpents that bit people so many died. However, Moses interceded for the people and made a brass serpent lifted up on a pole for all to see. Any stricken person who looked at the serpent would immediately be healed. And so, Jesus points out that the Son of God would be lifted up 6:23). Thus, the serpent in Moses’ day brought physical life to dying Jews; but Jesus Christ gives eternal life to anyone who trusts Him!
Next, in vs. 19-21, Jesus points out to Nicodemus why sinners will not come into the “light of life”? It is because they love the darkness! They want to persist in their evil deeds, which keeps them from coming to the light; for the closer the sinner gets to the light, the more his sins are exposed. Thus, it is not “intellectual problems” that keep people from trusting Christ; it is the moral and spiritual blindness that keeps them loving the darkness and hating the light. Well, Nicodemus finally did “come to the light” and was identified with Christ at Calvary (Jn. 19:38-42) and realized that the uplifted Saviour was indeed the Son of God. Well after these things, Jesus is spoken of as the Bridegroom (vs. 22-30). Before John the Baptist was arrested by Herod and put into prison, his ministry was to point to the Lamb of God and urge people to trust Him. But in vs. 25, it appears that some of John’s disciples started an argument based on purification. This was important to the Jews (Mk. 7:1-23) and under the Old Testament Law, it was necessary for them to keep themselves ceremonially clean if they were to serve God and please Him. Unfortunately, the Pharisees corrupted it. Well, the disciples here seem to want John to compete with Jesus for “All men come to Him!” (Jn. 3:26). This is not a new concept for Moses (Num. 11:26-30), John the Baptist (Jn. 3:26-30), Jesus (Luke 9:46-50), and Paul (Phil. 1:15-18) often suffered more from zealous disciples than from critics! But, notice how John handled this controversy. He stated that all blessing come from God, so there can be no competition (John 3:27). And then, John compared Jesus to the bridegroom and himself as only the best man (Jn. 3:29). Once the bridegroom and bride had been brought together, the work of the best man was completed.
Well, John continues to talk about Jesus as the Witness (vs. 31-36). Jesus was a witness to the Truth because he came from heaven and represents the Father (v. 31) and to reject him is to reject the Father (Jn. 5:23). He was also a witness to the truth because it comes from Him firsthand (vv. 32-33). He shares what He has seen and heard from the Father (John 8:38) and when we obey His Word and put it into practice we see its truth and power. Third, Jesus was a witness because the Father has authorized His Son (vv. 34-35). God sent Him and gave Him the Word, the Spirit and all things (John 13:3). What a commissioning! What love (Jn. 3:17)! Thus, to reject the Son is to rebel against the highest authority and to go against love and light and have the wrath of God upon us (vs. 36). So, we learn that there can be no neutrality when it comes to Jesus Christ: we either trust Him or we reject Him and “He that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3:18). The verdict has already been given, but the sentence has not yet been executed because God is patient and long-suffering, and continues to call sinners to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
John 3 certainly emphasizes our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is about a living relationship that begins with the new birth from above. And, when we receive Jesus Christ into our lives, we share His very life and become children in the family of God. And, this loving relationship is seen in that He is the Bridegroom and Christians are a part of the bride and we desire that Jesus Christ increase as we decrease. And, as we are in this learning relationship, what a delight it is to receive His Word, meditate on it, and make it part of our very lives, sharing it with others. But, the cost of all these blessings was Jesus Christ dying and had to endure the hatred and condemnation of men and be lifted up on the cross so that we might experience forgiveness and eternal life. May we never take this for granted! “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).