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John 3:1-21


Nicodemus - Born Again
Salvation, not condemnation


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1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’

3 Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’

4 ‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’

5 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’

9 ‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked.

10 ‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’ 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.


1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.


The Pharisees were a group of highly respected people who knew God’s law inside out and went to extreme lengths to obey it. Because of this they could also teach it. Nicodemus must have been a senior, respected Pharisee as he had been chosen to become a member of the Sanhedrin. This was a court with jurisdiction over all matters of religion, but which also ruled in civil and criminal matters.


Jesus had presented them with an irreconcilable problem: they agreed that Jesus would only be able to work the miracles they had all witnessed if he had the authority and power of God, yet Jesus was a deliberate law-breaker – and that was unthinkable!


Nicodemus was determined to get to the bottom of this, but he didn’t want to be seen to approach Jesus openly, so


2 He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’


Nicodemus may well have been going to continue ‘so why . . .?’

But Jesus cut him short.


Nicodemus had an ‘official’ question to ask Jesus, but it seems he also had questions of his own which needed answers.

Could someone suggest what these may have been?

Was it possible to have a personal relationship with Almighty God?

How could he be certain that he was sufficiently sinless?

Why did past sins keep returning to haunt him?

Why did the 'sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year’ fail to cleanse him, still leaving him feeling guilty for his sins? (Hebrews 10:1-4)


Jesus knew exactly what was on his mind, and it was those questions that he would answer.


3 Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’


'Born again' is a well-known phrase these days, but this was the very first time it had been used.

What does it mean?


For Nicodemus, Jesus seemed to be suggesting that there was a possibility that he could start again, that he would actually be able to have his past removed and be able to have a new life.


4 ‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’


Nicodemus was keen, but did not understand; how could he be born again?


5 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.


Nicodemus would have understood John the Baptist’s message. Many Pharisees had gone to see what was going on (Matthew 3:7) and some of them may well have been baptised. People were urged to repent of their sins, to turn around, and make a fresh start. Baptism was not only symbolic of washing, but of dying to the past way of life, and rising again out of the water in a form of rebirth to a new and more Godly life. It was also fully in line with the Pharisees teaching on purification.


Jesus expanded John the Baptist’s message to explain that Baptism reflected the change of heart and mind that had taken place. But in order to live this new life you needed your very spirit to be reborn as well. King David understood this: ‘create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me’ (Psalm 51:10) Nicodemus could only have a renewed spirit by accepting the Spirit of God into his life.


7 You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’

9 ‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked.


Holiness of heart from within was a new concept. All Nicodemus knew and taught was a holiness which could only be attained by keeping God’s law. Yet he sensed that here was the answer to his heart’s desire. He truly wanted a new heart, yet he just couldn’t understand how.


10 ‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things?


The Greek words used in this phrase suggest that Nicodemus was not just ‘a teacher’ but rather ‘the teacher of Israel’. But like all people who try to understand before they will take the step of faith, they find that only by faith can they understand!


11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.


What makes a Christian’s testimony so powerful?

We can speak from personal experience of what it means to us, and the way that knowing Christ as our Lord and Saviour has changed our lives here and now. Sadly there will always be those who will ‘not accept our testimony’.


12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?


Jesus wants to move this conversation on, there are things he wants to share with Nicodemus, but he will have to take a step of faith first and be prepared to believe what Jesus had already told him.


13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man.


Nicodemus would have known Proverbs 30:4:

Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know!


Nicodemus didn’t know – so Jesus told him! But he then continued:


14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’


Nicodemus would have known the episode that Jesus was referring to (Numbers 21:6-9). He would have understood that it was only the people who believed and trusted God, who could have looked at the bronze snake and been saved.

So what does 'the Son of Man must be lifted up' mean?

(Jesus himself would be crucified – killed visibly on a cross – and only those who believe in him will receive the eternal salvation he purchased)


It is generally accepted that the words of Jesus finish here. Obviously, Jesus would have continued his discussion with Nicodemus and the end result would appear to be that he became a believer (John 7:50, 19:39).


But now John turns his attention to the readers of his Gospel, and begins to explain further in his own words:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.


This is probably the most well-known verse in the Bible. So you can tell me what it means:



1) God had been regarded as a God who punished wrongdoing, only accepting those who obeyed every commandment. But actually what God was looking for was not people who obeyed his commands, rather he wanted people who kept the greatest command: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ (Deuteronomy 6:5) This seemed to have been replaced with ‘Fear God’, because of the way he would punish sins. So here God is re-introduced as a God of love, who himself would deal with the problem of sin.


2) The only way he could do this was as a free gift. If anyone was required to pay for it, the price would be too high. ‘Paying something towards it’ would also be a mockery.


3) The unique person of the Godhead who had created the Universe and who now too had become a created being, born of God for this very purpose.


4) Not just for the righteous people, not just for the Jewish people, but for the whole world. The only requirement was that people should believe in him.


5) Hell is a constant reality. Those who reject the salvation offered by God himself, and who choose to die with their sins unforgiven will be punished for eternity.


6) Those who gratefully accept the salvation offered through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ will have eternal life: not just eternal in length, but also in quality, and it starts today!


17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.


The Messiah that everyone expected would be a conquering king, coming in power to punish wickedness, and ruling with a rod of iron.


Jesus had to redress the balance and demonstrate that God was also a God of love. It is true he was coming in judgement (John 9:39 covered in detail in John 5d) but he was coming in love too. His job was not to condemn anyone – he had come to bring salvation. But he had to point out that:


18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.


Simply put, we are not condemned by anyone, we condemn ourselves. We have absolute free will: if a person rejects the salvation offered freely by Jesus, and refuses to have anything to do with him, then the outcome has also been chosen by them – they will not know Jesus and the rest of eternity will truly be spent in Hell.


19 This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.


Sad but true; light is amazing and was created by God, more than that, 'God is light' (1 John 1:5). Darkness is only the absence of light, yet the Devil uses darkness as if it was his creation. It is where all those who do evil prefer to hide.


21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.


Those who have accepted the Salvation Jesus brings, Those who have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14), those who now happily live in the light, can be confident that in the sight of God they are sinless.






John 2(b) John 3(b) NIV Copyright