Nicodemus and New Birth


Please read John 3:1-36.


To appreciate the significance of the teaching contained in this portion of Scripture, we need to understand more about this man. He was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews.


  • So who were the Pharisees? To answer this question, we need to step back in history and see how they originated. Many years before, the Jews, God’s people of old, were carried away into captivity because they made themselves images and worshipped these instead of God their Creator.
  • God later showed them mercy and brought them back to their land.
  • To prevent their return to idol worship, their leaders took great pains to focus them on God’s written Word.
  • The Pharicees was a religious group that developed from this effort to focus on the Bible. When Jesus lived on earth they numbered some 6000 men.
  • They had all the Bible books now contained in the Old Testament and studied them meticulously, especially the five Books penned by Moses containing God’s laws.
  • These had been given to draw his people to himself, in order that they may love him with heart, mind, soul and body and love their neighbours like themselves.
  • The Pharisees, however, extracted some 613 rules from God’s Word, added many of their own making, tried to keep each one of them and taught God’s people to do likewise.
  • This human way of applying the Word, brought them no nearer to God. They did literally what God told them to do, but did not do it because they were attracted to him by his holiness and love. They served him like an ox serves his master in pulling his plough. It does not love it’s master, nor is it impressed by his brilliant mind or kindness. He serves him unthinkingly and because he is compelled to do so. Should someone else buy it, it will serve him just the same.
  • They felt they were gaining God’s favour by following his commandments step by step, ticking them off in their minds, one by one, convinced that they thereby earned the right to be accepted by him.
  • They also did it to be applauded and admired by God’s people for their seemingly piousness and for their knowledge of the Scriptures. They prayed loudly on street corners and in market places to be seen and heard. They fasted three times a week, walking about with long drawn faces to impress their followers. They competed with one-another for recognition as to who was the greater teacher of Scripture. They used the riches of God’s Word to build their own image.
  • The Pharisees were not changed by serving God. They did not become holy, loving, caring people, just as an ox is not changed into the likeness of his master. He does not begin to think and conduct himself like his master. He serves his master because he has to, not because he chooses to and loves to.
  • In the physical world they were respected men. They gathered riches, constituted the great Sanhedrin, directed and controled the religious activities in the temple overlaid with gold, but they could not produce one single spiritual brick and build it into the wall of God’s Kingdom or heal the lame man sitting daily, begging, at the Beautiful Gate.


What did the multitudes of people, including the 6000 Pharisees see in Jesus?

  • They saw a humble man, the son of a man like themselves, a man living a lowly life amongst men. He was not born in a castle, but in a stable and brought up in a carpenter’s workshop. He did not demand or desire their beautiful cloaks. He had but one robe and one pair of sandals. He did not ask them for contributions for his ministry so He could buy himself a chariot and horses to travel from town to town, preaching God’s Word. No, He walked from village to village just as they did. They saw him sleeping next to the road at night when no one would accept him in their homes.
  • They saw a human being needing no bodyguard or soldiers, though many mighty men sought his life. He was protected by God and his angels. When the people of Nazareth were about to cast him over a cliff, He just walked out from amongst them.
  • They saw an all-knowing Teacher. He had not attended the theological seminary of Gamaliel. He carried no books but could, by memory, freely quote any applicable Scripture verse pertaining to questions that arose from conversations He had with the learned theologians. He even told them what they could expect would happen to them after death; how a rich ungodly man landed up in eternal dread and a despised poor son of Abraham was carried away to glory. He also knew what would happen to this world in the distant future. He gave them promises as only God could do.
  • They saw in him an all-wise Leader. Like Solomon, He had all the answers to life’s questions and more. No-one could trap him in words. When the Pharisees or Saducees came in groups to trap him into saying something they could use against him in court, He answered them so wisely that they had to openly admit the wisdom and truth of his words. They never dared challenging him again.
  • They saw a master Teacher. Though He knew it all, He did not teach them in the language of a learned theologian. He taught them deep spiritual truths by using simple illustrations they could understand; stories which even children and the feeble minded could easily comprehend and remember.
  • They saw a Shephard, not a taskmaster. He did not command them to serve him or his Father as the Roman soldiers did who would force any passerby to carry their packs for a mile. On the contrary, He declared that He had come to serve mankind and to assist them in carrying their heavy burdens of life. He washed their feet while speaking words of comfort to their hearts. He did not whip them with harsh words to do the will of his Father, but lead them like a shepherd leads his sheep. He lead them spiritually to green pastures and quiet waters where they could find quenching of their spiritual thirst and stilling of the hunger of their souls. They could go to him at any time, day or night, without having to book an appointment. He even fed them physically when hungry; up to 5000 men at one instance.
  • They saw the greatest physical healer ever. At a time when there were no real hospitals, doctors or pharmacies, He healed the sick, every single one that came to him; even the deaf, the blind, the paralysed and the leprous.
  • They saw a man with unlimited authority. He commanded a life-threatening storm at sea to subside and it did. He commanded evil spirits to leave the bodies of human beings and they fled. He even raised the dead to life, but never used his authority to make life easier for himself. He made a whip and drove the traders from the temple so that it could be used for prayer and worshipping of his Father. Yet He did not raise a hand when the Roman soldiers whipped his back to shreds.
  • They saw a human being revealing God the Father to them. They saw a holy heavenly Man, the very Son of God that had been promised to mankind.


  • They were terribly envious of him, not because of his holiness or humility, but because of the miracles He performed.
  • They were green with jealousy and gritted their teeth because large numbers of their disciples turned away from them and followed him.
  • They hated him, planned to kill him and eventually succeeded, with the assistance of other mighty worldly men to crucify him.
  • But … amongst them there were those that were attracted to him, realized that He was sent by God and even sought to get closer to them and Nicodemus was one of them.


  • He went at night when he would not be seen. He was not ready to accept being scolded and rejected by his colleagues. His faith was still in its infant stages.
  • He did not try to impress Jesus by telling him what a religious man He was, like the rich young ruler did.
  • He addrressed him as Rabbi (Teacher) and confessed that he was convinced that Jesus came from God for his wise teaching was confirmed by his great miracles.
  • He did not tell Jesus what he wanted, but left it to him to give him what He thought best.


  • He accepted Nicodemus’ praise for it came from an honest heart and was not given to flatter him.
  • He accepted what immature and little faith Nicodemus had.
  • Because Nicodemus saw him as a teacher sent by God, the door was open for further teaching. Jesus knew exactly what teaching he needed and forthwith told him he needed to be born again.


  • Joh 3:3  Jesus answered and said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 
  • Nicodemus was flabbergasted by this teaching. He probably visualised a grown man slowly shrinking, becoming smaller and smaller, losing his beard and the wrinkles on his face; his arms and legs shortening, his hands and feet getting smaller till he was just a little baby. Then he disappeared into his mother. Now you could see that she was with child. She was sweating and groaning and suddenly gave birth to a baby. It looked totally different (or not so different) from the previous one. Nicodemus shook his head. Jesus was a mighty miracle worker, but this miracle; how could it be!
  • Jesus answered his question by strongly confirming what He had said and embroidening upon it, saying: (Joh 3:5-8)  … , Truly, truly, I say to you, Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again. The Spirit breathes where He desires, and you hear His voice, but you do not know from where He comes, and where He goes; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.
  • By saying “Truly, truly” Jesus was impressing upon Nicodemus that this was indeed the absolute truth which he had to believe whether he understood it or not. He had to be born again. There was no alternative or evading of it: He just had to be born again.
  • Then Jesus explained the new birth to an extent: It was not a repeating of the first birth of the human being for that would result in just another similar baby, a baby in the flesh. A human being can only reproduce after its own kind. The flesh can only produce that which is similar to itself, which is more flesh.
  • (From other portions of Scripture we know that when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, their spirit, which is their real self, immediately died. Sin (disobedience to God) entered into and became part of their spirit and was transmitted to their children and through them to the human race. Anything sinful is seen by God as being dead towards him. It is in a process of decaying. The holy God is repulsed by it. He will never allow a dead thing into his Kingdom like we will not allow a dead rat into our beds or our flour bins or a decaying cockroach into our cup of tea.)
  • The way to deal with this situation, Jesus said, was to restore that dead spirit to life. This was done by it being born again. However, this new birth was not by a woman but by water and the Holy Spirit. How would Nicodemus have understood these words?
  • What would “water” have meant to him? Well, having studied the Scriptures, he would have seen that God ordered water to be used to cleanse the priests (who would already have washed at home) before entering into his presence in the tabernacle. This washing meant that the priest was spiritually cleansed before entering into God’s presence. So, in relation to God giving birth to the spirit of man, it would entail that He would first of all thoroughly and completely cleanse the spirit which was soiled by sin. Imagine a person never taking a bath. Year by year the filth of his surroundings would accumulate on him. What a smelly mess he would be after ten or twenty years! Likewise the guilt that a person accumulates day by day by sinning continually and never being forgiven by God, is terrible. It causes him to be as unholy as can be, necessitating that he first of all be spiritually washed, which means that he be forgiven; his guilt be removed. This was the first step of the new birth.
  • Secondly his cleansed spirit was then to be restored to life by the life giving Holy Spirit. At that stage very little had been recorded in the Word regarding the Holy Spirit but Old Testament believers would have known how God had made Adam and brought him to life: Gen 2:7  And Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.  Nicodemus would have known that life came from God and would have been able to understand that God’s Spirit had to breathe life into the cleansed spirit of man to bring him to life.
  • The person born would resemble God in holiness of being, of thoughts and desires. As a baby resembles his father and mother to an extent, this new born person born of God, would resemble his Father, which is God. He would also be born into a family. As a baby is fondled by all members of the family: father, mother, brothers and sisters picking him up, loving him, later on speaking to him, so would it be with a new born spiritual baby. A spiritual child is a heavenly child and is fondled by the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and all other born again brothers and sisters. The new birth is entirely a work of God and cannot be accomplished by a person himself. Can a baby in the flesh, make himself within his mother’s womb? Certainly not. Even that is a work of God; so much the more is the new birth a work of God the Holy Spirit.
  • This work of the Spirit cannot be observed by the eye of man for: The Spirit breathes where He desires, and you hear His voice, but you do not know from where He comes, and where He goes; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit. (Joh 3:8). The thoughts and actions of this spiritual baby will be hard to be understood for he will be like the wind which you can hear but of which you cannot see the origin or destination.


  • Again Nicodemus, the theologian, could not understand and responded: How can these things be?
  • After chastising him for not knowing these basic truths, Jesus explained: … as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him. (Joh 3:14-17).
  • The incident here described, happened when the Jews trekked through the desert and Nicodemus would have read it many a time, so he knew what Jesus referred to. The nation had rebelled against God for lack of food. He punished them by means of poisonous snakes that bit them, causing the death of thousands. When they cried out for help, He told Moses to make a brazen replica of a snake, hang it on a pole and tell the people to just look at it.
  • So the remedy for that snakebite was actually very, very simple. Everyone that stopped applying their own remedies for snake bite, believed the cure that God had given, looked up at the brazen snake in faith, was instantly healed no matter how far gone he had been. It was as easy as that. Understanding how God managed to heal thousands of them instantly without visibly touching them, was not necessary. So even the feeble-minded and little children could receive healing. They were not required to first do ten good things to pay for the bad they had done. But … , and here is the reverse side; those that did not believe, despising this remedy, died. Their bodies were gathered and thousands were buried in the desert sand and left to rot as the rest moved on.
  • Jesus linked this happening to himself. The brazen snake represented the judgment of God. So, the judgment of God that is upon man would be dealt with by Jesus being lifted up. He came to earth, not to judge mankind, but to take away their judgment. All a person would need to do to be freed from all his terrible guilt and to receive new life from his Spirit was to look up at Jesus and believe him for this miracle.
  • Jesus was, of course, referring to his dying on the cross by which He would pay for all the sin of mankind; for each and every person’s sin. For all the person ever did. This would clear the way for a person to receive new life by the breath of the Holy Spirit. “As easy as that, Nicodemus.” He would still not have understood for Jesus had not yet been lifted up on the cross, but very soon after, that would happen. Then he would and probably did understand and did look upon Jesus and received the new birth. And the reason for this conclusion is that he was one of the disciples that removed Jesus’ body from the cross, wrapped it in linen and spices and laid it in the grave. So far the story of Nicodemus and Jesus’ teaching of the new birth.
  • The question now is: have you admitted your accumulated guilt of a lifetime and have you, by faith, looked upon Jesus who included you when He suffered and paid for the salvation of sinners? If you have not, do so right now. Simply pray as follows: Lord Jesus I am weighed down by my sin of a lifetime but I now come to you by faith. I believe that you are the Son of God that paid for my guilt and I accept your forgiveness. Holy Spirit, please raise my spirit to life. Work the miracle of the new birth within me. Thank you Lord, I take it for granted that you have answered my prayer. Please teach and empower me to live for your glory day by day, till you take me to heaven.
  • Have you now received the new birth? Then you may see yourself as a child of God for: … as many as received Him, He gave to them authority to become the children of God, to those who believe on His name, who were born, not of bloods, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but were born of God. (Joh 1:12).


Having taken the first step into the new life in Christ by being born again, we would advise that you take the next steps rigt away. You may get to know more about these by reading our study guides and the Scripture concerning these matters. Begin with the study: . Then continue with the next studies in that series.

God bless you as you joyfully go forth on your way to heaven.


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