In the city of Jerusalem, possibly during the Passover Feast week, a prominent teacher of Israel came to see Jesus. Having seen the miracles Jesus had done in Jerusalem, this teacher came to the conclusion that Jesus had “come from God as a teacher” (John 3:2).
Jesus teaches this Pharisee the meaning of being “born again.” Not understanding what Jesus had said, this very learned “ruler of the Jews” asked Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”
Jesus explains that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Based upon His statement, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6), the reader can conclude that Jesus is not talking about a new “physical” birth but rather a “spiritual” birth.
To further explain how a person is “born again,” Jesus tells this man about Moses lifting “up the serpent in the wilderness” and the Son of Man will be lifted up also. People in the days of Moses had to believe that looking upon the serpent, which was on a pole would save them, so people today must believe that looking at Jesus upon the cross will save them thus they will “have eternal life” (John 3:15).
Properly understanding what it means to “believe in Him” one will “not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Believing is more than acknowledging a set of facts; it requires doing something. The Israelites had to look upon the serpent after being bitten. Hearing only about the cure and not doing something would not have healed them. Likewise if all we do is hear about the death of Jesus and do not obey His commands we will not have eternal life (cf. John 3:21, 36).
The New Testament does not tell us if this teacher, who was taught by The Teacher, ever became a disciple of Jesus. However, this teacher was one of two people who buried Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea, the owner of the tomb in which Jesus was buried and the other was the one who helped Joseph, Nicodemus the one who came to Jesus by night (John 19:39).
We may be like Nicodemus in that it takes us some time to understand the spiritual message of Jesus and come to believe in it. Regardless of the time it takes, if we want to have eternal life, we must come to Jesus, believe His message, obey His commands and actively be living God’s way.
Carlton G. McPeak is an evangelist working in the Florida Gateway region. All Scriptural quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Holman Bible Publishers, unless otherwise stated. He may be contacted at email@example.com.