As Nicodemus is left in wonderment trying to process this new doctrine being taught by Jesus, the “born again” (or born from above) principle is reaffirmed again for the third time, this time with the plural pronoun for you (v. 7), indicating that the principle was to be applied not just to Nicodemus, but to the entire religious company of believers in Jerusalem—the center of worship and religious expression.
Jesus’ words in the following verse contain a wordplay that is very difficult to express in our common English; however, it would, nevertheless, have been quite apparent to Nicodemus. The Greek word, pneúma (which can be translated either as “wind” or “spirit”), is employed in such a way that some scholars are left uncertain as to how to translate each occurrence in this verse.
While many bible commentators for this passage have been apt in the past to “lose sight of the forest for the trees” by trying to dissect every little detail and make the mysteriousness of the wind the main point of comparison to be applied to everyone who is born of the Spirit (making those born of the Spirit mysteriously unpredictable), that is not the point of the passage nor the principle that Jesus is seeking to convey. The principle that Jesus is seeking to communicate through wordplay is this: Just as the wind (or Spirit) blows (breathes, or figuratively, speaks) where (or when) it (or He) wishes, and you hear its (or His) sound (or voice) even though it is of a mysterious nature, is the same principle by which those who are born of the Spirit are able to accurately hear the voice of God (John 10:27).
In other words, when you’re truly born of the Spirit (or from above), you’ve been elevated to a new heavenly frequency where you’re able to hear the voice of God (the Spirit) in a way that most religious people are not able to hear. Nicodemus’ inability to discern the Spirit’s frequency in this instance, or comprehend the words that were being spoken to him by Jesus, was proof that he was not truly born again even though he had professed faith in Jesus.
You might be a professed Christian, pastor or religious leader who once said the “sinner’s prayer,” profess faith in Jesus, faithful in church, zealous for God, and morally upright in character, but if there is no ability to discern the voice of the Spirit or to comprehend His current speaking even when it contradicts or violates “church doctrine” or religious tradition, you are born of the flesh, not of the Spirit. That deep internal transformation and architecture that enables one to accurately hear as well as obediently respond to the Holy Spirit is what validates a true “born again” experience. And the greatest barrier to a true born again experience is not sin, but religion (including “Christianity” in its various forms).
If these words appear to you to be somewhat controversial—maybe even heresy—or ignite within you a deep sense of anger, agitation, or aggravation because it seems to contradict established "Christian" teaching or doctrine, then you have a reasonably good idea of how Nicodemus felt. No religious person—least of all a reputable and high ranking theological expert or bible scholar—enjoys having his theology dismantled, and Nicodemus was no exception.
Nicodemus' incredulous response of “How can these things be?” leaves the door of possibility open just a crack with regards to this strange and unorthodox teaching. Here he was, a Jew of the highest order, a child of Abraham, heir of righteousness and partaker of the covenant. He himself may have probably been responsible for bringing many proselyte Jews into the kingdom (of Israel or Judaism) through his teaching and ministry (Matt. 23:15). In today’s equivalent he would probably be a bishop (or even archbishop), Seminary doctor of divinity, pastor of pastors or, if you may, senior “apostle.” By every human standard he was the epitome of righteousness, having faithfully adhered to, as well as taught, the righteous requirements of God as revealed up to his present time, prior to Jesus’ ministry. Yet Jesus, with no formal theological training, earthly ministerial credentials, and of questionable pedigree, has the audacity to tell him that he was barred from ever seeing or partaking of God’s eternal Kingdom unless he was “born from above.”
To Nicodemus’ credit, he didn’t storm off in anger or try to get into a theological debate in an attempt to refute Jesus’ claims. Neither did he seek to justify himself as a qualified citizen of God’s Kingdom. This indicates that despite his overwhelming blindness, Nicodemus not only had a genuine hunger for truth, but he recognized and highly regarded the divinely given, high-level mantle of grace that was upon Jesus, thus causing him to humble himself and be taught.
Every leader has encountered those who would ask them questions, not because they are on a genuine quest for truth, but because they are trying to trap or test you, or they are merely searching for someone to help justify or confirm a position they already hold strongly to. This was not the case with Nicodemus, which is unusual for a high ranking scholar of his type.
Jesus continues to show patience toward Nicodemus as a man in search for truth; however, He responds with a hint of sarcasm that Nicodemus should have understood this principle being an elite and prominently recognized teacher in Israel (v.10). The principle here is that degrees, titles, professional training, ministerial credentials, popularity, earthly recognition, and even years of experience are no substitute for the voice of the Spirit. Nicodemus and his other colleagues had been able to build a great following and establish a very successful (by earthly standards) ministry based upon what God had said (past tense), rather than what He was currently saying by His Spirit. To the multitudes of blind religious followers they appeared very spiritual as if they personally knew God, but in every respect that matters they were simply blind leaders of the blind (Matt. 15:14).
With a third double-amen (triple-double) found only in John’s gospel, Jesus proceeds to identify the root issue behind Nicodemus’ (as representative of all the religious believers in Jerusalem, thus the plural pronouns) unregenerate spiritual condition and internal blindness. Jesus (as representative of everyone who operates from such an elevated heavenly dimension of the Spirit, thus the plural pronouns also) had been faithful to speak, teach and bear witness (testify) to what He had personally seen, heard or understood by the Spirit. However, as alluded to before, while Nicodemus and the other religious believers in Jerusalem were quick to believe and receive His supernatural works (miracles, healing, supernatural provision, etc.), they were unwilling to believe or receive within their hearts His words [testimony or witness] (v. 11). Like many unregenerate or carnal believers today, they wanted full access to the pleasures of the Kingdom without the faith or obedience to the high-frequency principles upon which the Kingdom is founded upon.
It was not that these shallow believers had not been able to hear Jesus’ words, because they were right there when He said them. Their problem was that they were not willing to receive—which implies faith and obedience to—His testimony or teaching (Matt. 7:21-29). They never allowed His words to get deep enough to transform their hearts and lives, because their religious filters kept them from doing so. If it didn’t fit into their religious paradigm it was quickly discarded or rejected. Thus they continued to be spiritually estranged from the spiritual Kingdom due to their religious unbelief. They had anchored themselves upon what God had said, without a heart to receive or launch into the mysterious unknown of what God was currently saying.
Jesus’ teaching thus far was earthly—not carnal or worldly, but pertaining to what occurs on earth—and Nicodemus still couldn’t believe it (v. 12). This was merely a teaching on how to perceive and gain access to the Kingdom. Jesus hadn’t even begun to expound on the mysteries of His heavenly Kingdom or its architecture yet. To borrow an example using a scene from the 1999 blockbuster movie, The Matrix, Nicodemus was like Neo when he was still plugged into the (earthly) system, totally unaware of the fact that since birth he had been blindly enslaved to it. When Morpheus sought to introduce him to the truth about the matrix beyond the life he always knew (heavenly things), Neo was offered a choice between two pills—a blue and a red. If he chose to take the blue pill he would wake up in his bed like nothing ever happened and continue with his present life as normal, within the matrix. But if he chose the red pill he would be “reborn”—given access and insight into a realm he was never conscious of before, beyond the matrix. Unlike the character, Neo, however, who chose the red pill, Nicodemus was still struggling to understand how the pills worked.
Even though Jesus’ teaching on the “born from above” principle was of a high heavenly frequency only accessible by the Spirit, the principle itself was encapsulated or illustrated through earthly or natural principles, making it easier to be understood. However, Nicodemus was stumbling (to comprehend) while still outside the door (earthly things), making what was inside the door (heavenly things) totally incomprehensible.
There was no one truly qualified or capable at this point to access or convey such heavenly insight or architecture to mankind but the Son of Man—Jesus! More than just a confession of His deity in the thirteenth verse, Jesus is alluding to a divine principle—the principle of ascension. In order to access or gain insight into this elevated spiritual dimension known as heaven (otherwise known as the “Kingdom of heaven” or the “Kingdom of God”), one has to be able to “ascend” into this supernatural realm. Jesus wasn’t alluding to some spooky spiritual or occultic experience of attempting to cross over into some astral plane. What is being alluded to here is a principle found several times in the New Testament, where we gain access to that elevated place where God resides—through the Spirit—after having our minds renewed, our hearts reformed, and our spirits reborn through the Spirit’s inner working within us (Eph. 1:3; 2:6).
In the following verses hereafter, Jesus goes on to expound a little regarding His redemptive work, alluding to His death, burial and resurrection as the primary catalyst or foundation for the Spirit’s activity in our lives (vs. 14-21).
Far from being an evangelistic message crafted merely for the conversion of hardcore or unregenerate sinners, the “born again” principle is a spiritual “Kingdom dynamic” intended primarily for every religious believer, leader or “Christian” who confesses faith in Jesus. Despite your sincerity, zeal, knowledge of Scripture, moral uprightness, faithfulness to church services and activities, or church leadership position, you will never be able to truly see or access God’s heavenly Kingdom unless you are “born from above.” The Spirit is beckoning… Can you hear His voice?
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