3 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” [ESV]
In a spiritual sense, Nicodemus was blind. Without being born again, he could not see the kingdom of God (v. 3).
But even though Jesus said he was blind in a spiritual sense (blind to God and His truth), Nicodemus could still “see” many important things about Jesus.
This observation helps us to understand that even the spiritually blind can “see” many important truths about Jesus while still being dead to God. They have a witness that makes them culpable, but they reject it apart from regeneration.
Nicodemus was at the top of the religious council in Israel. In verse 1, we learn that he was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin (“a ruler of the Jews”).
This means he was well educated and highly respected among the Jewish people. He was like the distinguished professor emeritus, the religious doctor emeritus of Israel.
He was a religious leader, he was a ruler, and considered the teacher in Israel (v. 10)… and Jesus is about to show him that religious rank and prestige are worthless when it comes to knowing God and having spiritual life in Christ.
According to verse 2, Nicodemus has made some very astute observations about Jesus. He says, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
Even as an unbeliever, Nicodemus could recognize the supernatural power of Jesus and could even affirm His connection to God as evidenced by those signs.
But rather than congratulating Nicodemus, Jesus goes right to the heart of the matter… and He says something that doesn’t seem to match what Nicodemus just acknowledged.
We learn in Christ’s answer that Jesus isn’t merely responding to what Nicodemus says, he’s responding to the private thoughts in Nicodemus’ head! This is another evidence of the deity of Christ. He can read our thoughts. He knows our hearts.
That’s why it seems almost like a non-sequitur when Jesus responds to a statement about coming from God and doing signs with a statement about the necessity of being born again in order to “see” the kingdom of God.
Jesus was answering the unspoken thoughts that were behind the ultimate reason for coming to Him. So there are many astute and correct things that even the spiritually blind can see about Jesus… but they still must be born again.
In the next blog, we’ll look at this phrase Jesus used called “born again.” What does it mean to be born again… and how does this differ from being religious?