Archive for March, 2013

An Exegetical Look at John 3

If man’s sin nature is indeed the result of his wrong standing before God, how does God correct this problem? How does an unregenerate individual who is separated from God’s perpetual presence come into God’s presence and experience life as only a relationship with God can provide?

Perhaps the most popular passage of Scripture dealing with one passing from death unto life is set in Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus who is a religious teacher and probably very wealthy and very popular came to Jesus and began a conversation with Him only to hear Jesus say to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:3 NKJV) Much has been written concerning “being born-again”. If it is necessary to be “born-again” in order to see the kingdom of heaven then more needs to be written on what Jesus meant when He told Nicodemus “you must be born again.” Literally the term “born again” is the translation of two Greek words, γεννάω and ἄνωθεν which mean having been born anew or more probably, from above or from a higher place like heaven or of God. Obviously Nicodemus took Jesus’ statement to mean again because he asked how it would be even possible to enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born again.

5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’.” (Jn 3:5-7 NKJV) Obviously Jesus introduces two births; one is of water and the other of Spirit. Some have taken the first to be a direct reference to water baptism and from there the tenet of baptismal regeneration has evolved. It would seem plausible that Jesus’ own statement would provide the more correct rendering since He speaks of that which is flesh is born of flesh and that which is spirit is born of the Spirit, being born of water is a direct reference to being born physically and being born of the Spirit is just that, being born or being born spiritually. It is impossible to be born of the Spirit if one has not been born physically; it impossible to be born again unless one has been born the first time.

Jesus makes a statement in verse 8, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
This verse has been whipped around in more ways than a summer thunderstorm. The wind in Jesus’ illustration does not refer to the Spirit but rather to those who are born of the Spirit. Believers hear the sound; they experience the touch of the Holy Spirit but they go where they wish with respect to the convicting and convincing work of the Spirit in and on their sinful hearts. All men need to be born again if they want to see the Kingdom of God.

Nicodemus asks Jesus a very pointed question: How can these things be? Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus is vitally important. He says, “14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (Jn 3:14-15 NKJV) Jesus is making a direct reference to an account that took place during the wilderness wanderings when the people cried out complaining “against God and against Moses: ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.’ 6 So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. 7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. 8 Then the Lord said to Moses, ’Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.’ 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived. (Nu 21:5-9 NKJV )

Jesus used this event where God saved His children to explain how one was to be born again to see the Kingdom of God. The provision for the salvation of the children of Israel who had been bitten was made by God. All they had to do was look at the bronze serpent raised up on the pole to live.” “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life or be born again.” “16 For God so loved the world (that has been bitten by sin and is condemned to pay the penalty for that sin) that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (Jn 3:16 NKJV) The world in John 3:16 is paralleled by the world in Moses’ day. They sinned against God by calling God’s provisions to them “worthless bread.” They deserved to die; the bread was everything but worthless because it was what had kept them alive. Interestingly enough, it is the Word of God that is the bread of life for men today. (John 6:35, 48) It was everything but worthless back then and today as well. God’s provisions for salvation are life giving provisions. Just as God chose to save those in the wilderness who deserved to die, so has He once again made provision for sinful men to live by looking to Jesus and believing in in Him. God has lifted Jesus up; all who look up at Him and believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Jesus continues: 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (Jn 3:18NKJV) It is imperative that one keep the illustration in mind as Jesus continues His instruction here. Those who believe are like those who looked up at the serpent on the pole that was raised up for all to see. Those who looked at the serpent lived and those who refused to look up or were not able to look up all died. Those who believe Jesus said are not condemned or no longer condemned but those who do not believe are condemned already. Man’s sin is what condemns him; his belief in Jesus washes away the stain of sin and takes away the penalty and condemnation of sin.

“19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” Light reveals dirt. Dust and dirt are not visible in the dark. Sin does not seem so bad in the dark where no one is looking and no one knows anybody’s name. Light penetrates the darkness and overcomes darkness and reveals things as they are. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (Jn 3:19-21 NKJV) Looking up is the same as looking into the light. Believing in God removes the condemnation that Jesus has come to reveal to sinful men. The light exposes the sin and allows the sinner to look up and see Jesus and find forgiveness and life.

So, how can all this be? How can one believe and have his sin forgiven and his relationship restored to a position of right standing before a Holy and Sovereign God? How can one be born again or “regenerated” to see the Kingdom of God?

The English word “regeneration” is the translation of the Greek word, παλιγγενεσία which is a compound word from πάλιν (again) and γένεσις (birth). It means simply a new birth, a new beginning, a new order. This term has gained ground in recent years in theological circles especially among its new comers. The issue today concerning regeneration or being born-again is not its necessity but rather its place in the salvific process. Some argue regeneration is the end itself and is synonymous with being born again while others are arguing that regeneration is required for one to be born again. When Jesus told Nicodemus, “you must be born again to see the Kingdom of Heaven” did He mean that being born again made on able to see and understand the Kingdom of God so one could become a child of God or did the new birth Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about refer to the new birth itself that would allow one to see and experience the Kingdom of God?

Once again, the illustration Jesus gave from Numbers would seem to be the best setting to answer this question. Those who looked at the serpent raised up on the pole were instantly healed and saved from the poisonous snake bite. Their looking up did not allow them to be saved; it saved them. In the same respect, in Jesus’ illustration and instruction to Nicodemus, looking up to the Son of Man who was lifted up on the cross saves the one who believes; it does not make salvation possible because one has looked to Jesus; the light of the glorious gospel saves those who believe.