“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3)
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
What does it mean to be born again! To a person seeking to know God, these words will make no sense in the natural. That was the case with Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling class. Nicodemus decided to secretly visit Jesus one night. It is obvious that he wanted to know this man who was performing signs and wonders. He did it in secret because the Pharisees were no friends of Jesus. In fact, they ultimately persuaded Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, to crucify Jesus.
In their meeting, Jesus told Nicodemus that a person must be born again to enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:3) Nicodemus did not understand the message of salvation— of being born again. So, Nicodemus asked, “How can someone be born when they are old?” . . . Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4)
Jesus was not saying that a person could go back into his/her mother’s womb and be naturally born again. The first/natural seed was corrupted. 1Peter 1:23 clearly states that “Being born again (is) not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which lives and abides forever.” The natural seed of human beings is contaminated by the Adamic sin nature. The Fall brought sin, sickness and death into the world. Successive generations have inherited that “bad blood.” Human beings needed a blood transfusion. They needed to be saved from these bodies of sin and death.
Uncontaminated blood could only come from a sinless sacrifice, Jesus Christ! Only the blood of Jesus could redeem humans from sin and death and provide eternal life. The sacrifice of sinless animals in the Old Testament could only bring cleansing for past sins each year and the ritual had to be repeated over and over again. Animal sacrifices could not bring lasting atonement for sin.
After the Fall (Genesis 3), the human race needed an eternal sacrifice to save them from sin, and death, so Jesus, the second in the Godhead, came to the earth at the appointed time to offer himself as the sacrificial lamb to redeem those that he had created.
“He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but to the sins of the world,” (1John 2:2)
“ . . . to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children botanical not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 12:13)
So Jesus had come to earth and was now conversing with Nicodemus. He tells Nicodemus in John 3 that his first birth was natural and fleshly and that it is the Spirit that is at work in the new birth. The Spirit of God brings life and renewal to a person’s spirit. This renewal is like cleansing water—the washing of regeneration. Now John does not say what happened at the end of that conversation with Nicodemus.
However, that born again experience that Jesus discusses with Nicodemus is part of the salvation experience. First, Jesus atoned for the sins of humankind by his death and resurrection. Those who believe in him; repent of their sins and ask for forgiveness shall be saved. This process of salvation then produces a regeneration and washing of a person’ s spirit by the Holy Spirit. Acceptance of Jesus as Savior produces the new birth.
“. . . if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
By the way, the disciple John provides another glimpse of Nicodemus after Jesus’ death. Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate, the governor of Judea, and asks for the body of Jesus so that he could bury him. Joseph was a member of the ruling council, like Nicodemus. Joseph was accompanied by Nicodemus who brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes for Jesus’ burial. They wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices and linen and took him to a new tomb in the garden where he had been crucified. (John 19:38-42) According to Matthew 27:60, the new tomb belonged to Joseph. What’s fascinating here is that Nicodemus was with Joseph of Arimathea and the two men buried the body of Jesus. Nicodemus had also become a secret disciple of Jesus! That’s awesome!