CHRIST AND NICODEMUS.
This chapter relates another and a remarkable
incident of this visit to Jerusalem, an interview with a member of the
Sanhedrim, a prominent Pharisee. The last verses of the second chapter
state that there were many who believed in Jesus when they saw his miracles,
not with that unfaltering trust that commits everything to the Lord,
but a belief that he was a man of God. One of this number was Nicodemus,
who came confessing that Jesus must be "a teacher come from God," because
no man could do such miracles unless God was with him, and who sought
to learn more in a private interview. In order to understand the significance
of the Savior's words to him, the reader must inform himself as to the
position of this "ruler of the Jews." He was a prominent member of the
most influential sect of Israel, of an order who were in great repute
on account of their reputation for holiness, a body of Hebrew saints
elevated above the rest of the Jews by their devotion to the law of
God. The body probably had its beginning about the time of the Captivity,
but we discover it first as a power in Israel at the time of the great
revival of the Maccabees, about two centuries before the time of this
interview. At that time there was a determined effort to detach the
Jewish nation from the religion of their fathers and to induce them
to adopt the ways of the Syrian Greeks. Against this attempt the Pharisees
set themselves with the sternness of Puritans and were a buckler to
the Maccabees in their effort to re-establish the national freedom with
the ancient religion. Seeking, at first, the preservation of the law
of Moses with all its rites in their original purity, they gradually
degenerated into a set of formalists who kept the letter of the law
while its spirit was lost. In the time of the Savior the two fundamental
rules were to pay tithes of everything, even to mint and cumin, and
to keep rigidly every ceremonial required to secure legal purification.
Hence, they made a great show of sanctity, were outwardly very religious,
and esteemed themselves much holier than the rest of the people, but
at the same time were proud, puffed up, and really corrupt at heart.
My space will not allow me to go into details, but these would show
in them one of the most conspicuous examples on record of the complete
loss of the spiritual life in a slavish bondage to forms. At the same
time they regarded themselves as the favorites of heaven, entitled to
the approval of God by their righteousness, and the very nucleus of
the  kingdom of God. Hence, when one of these
holy ones, with the prejudices of his order, but more open-hearted,
inquiring and teachable than his brethren, came to the great "Rabbi"
from Galilee for information, the occasion is a remarkable one, and
the Savior, in his first utterance, fells to the earth the Pharisaic
pride when he declares: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the
kingdom of God." Nor need we wonder at the perplexity of Nicodemus concerning
the "New Birth," when we realize that he deemed the natural birth of
the race of Abraham together with a rigid observance of the law as the
essentials to membership in that kingdom.
1. There was a man of the Pharisees, named
Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus is named three times by
John, and not elsewhere; here, in chapter 7:50, where he protests against
condemning Jesus unheard, and in chapter 19:39, where he aids Joseph
of Arimathæa, in the burial of Jesus. There are untrustworthy
traditions about him and an allusion in the Jewish Talmud to a Nicodemus
who lived about this time, but it may have been another man. Two facts
are here stated: (1) That he was a Pharisee of the powerful, self-righteous
sect which laid such stress on ceremonial observances and Jewish birth;
and (2) That he was a ruler, a member of the Sanhedrim, the congress
of seventy persons who held the chief authority in Israel. The allusion
to him in verse 10 as a "teacher in Israel," would imply that he was
one of the prominent doctors of the law.
2. The same came to Jesus by night. He
probably chose the night in order to escape observation. The radical
act of Jesus in driving the cattle and the dealers, as well as the money
changers, from the temple court, had excited the wrath of the priests
who derived gain from the desecration. The holy and uncalculating zeal
of the young Teacher on this occasion, like that of an old Hebrew prophet,
his teachings and miracles in Jerusalem, had excited much discussion.
Nicodemus was deeply moved, yet dared not provoke the scorn and opposition
of his fellow-rulers by going openly to Jesus. Rabbi, we know that
thou art a teacher come from God. Nicodemus confesses, not only
his belief, but that of his fellow Pharisees and rulers. The miracles
of Jesus convinced them, even if they would not admit it, that he was
a teacher sent from God. No man whom God did not send could do such
works. There is more in the words of Nicodemus than his words. He really
intends a question. He was one of those who waited for the salvation
of Israel. John had preached that the long expected kingdom was at hand.
Now, while John was still preaching, this Galilean Teacher had startled
all Jerusalem by his act of authority in the temple, by his teaching
and miracles. Nicodemus wants to know what he has to do with, and to
say about, the Kingdom. 
3. Verily, verily, I say unto thee. This
form of expression was often upon the lips of Jesus to give emphasis
to an unusually solemn and weighty declaration. See Matt. 5:18. It occurs
twenty-four times in John. Except a man be born again, he cannot
see the kingdom of God. The term translated "again" is rendered
"anew" in the Revision, which is better. It is the great doctrine, so
fundamental in the Gospel, of Regeneration, a new Birth, being made
a new creature, the same doctrine spoken of in chapter 1:12, 13. Nicodemus,
like all Jews, supposed that all who were born as children of Abraham
would, as Abraham's seed, be citizens of the kingdom. John had rejected
this idea and denounced the claim of special privileges because they
had Abraham for their father, but Nicodemus seems to have had his breath
fairly taken away by the declaration that no man could see (enjoy)
the Kingdom unless he was born anew; that the Jew, ruler, Pharisee,
priest and Levite were not exceptions, and stood on the same footing
as the despised Gentile.
Life begins visibly with birth; the new life must
begin with a new birth; no one can be a new creature in Christ Jesus
unless he is born anew. We are born naturally into the kingdom of nature,
to live the natural life; if we enter the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom
of grace, it must be by a new birth. The doctrine that a man can bury
his old sinful life, and begin a new one with the freshness of youthful
hope, is foreshadowed in the Old Testament (Isaiah 1:18; Jer. 31:33;
Ezek. 11:19; 36:26), and taught in the New Testament (Rom. 6:8; 8:3;
12:2; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15,16).
4. How can a man be born again when he is old?
The question of Nicodemus indicates his surprise and skepticism. He
ought to have apprehended the meaning of Jesus better. The Jews were
wont to admit Gentile proselytes to the Jewish religion and to speak
of them as born again. They even insisted that the proselyte was no
longer kin to his old relations and might marry his nearest kin without
offence, because old relationships were destroyed by his new birth.
This doctrine of naturalization ought to have given him a better
conception of the Savior's meaning.
5. Except a man be born of water and of the
Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Jesus does not reply
directly to the question of Nicodemus, but proceeded to give a more
explicit statement concerning the new birth. One must be born of water
and of the Spirit. Whatever this may mean, it will be admitted by all,
1. That no one is a member of the kingdom of God until he is born again;
2. That the Savior declares the impossibility of one entering who is
not born of  water and of the Spirit. One
cannot enter by being born of water alone, nor of the Spirit alone,
but must be born of water and of the Spirit. Otherwise he cannot
enter. What, then, is the meaning of these two words? Concerning the
birth of the Spirit we need say little, as there is little controversy
about it. Concerning born of water we agree with Alford that
it refers to baptism, while "of the Spirit " refers to the inward
change. He adds: "All attempts to get rid of these two plain facts have
sprung from doctrinal prejudices by which the views of expositors have
been warped." Abbott says: "We are to understand Christ as he expected
his auditor to understand him. The Jewish proselyte, as a sign that
he had put off his old faiths, was baptized on entering the Jewish church.
John the Baptist baptized both Jew and Gentile as a sign of purification
by repentance from past sins. Nicodemus would then have certainly understood
by the expression, born of water, a reference to this rite of
baptism." Milligan, of Scotland, says: "John said: I baptize with water;
the One coming baptizes with Spirit; but Christ says: The baptism of
both is necessary. One must be born of water and of the Spirit." See
also Titus 3:5 and Rom. 6:4.
6. That which is born of the flesh is flesh;
. . . of the Spirit is spirit. Our fleshly bodies are born of our
human parents and are like them, endowed with carnal passions and are
sinful; but it is the inward man, the spirit, that is renewed by the
Spirit and the subject of the new birth of the Spirit. Like, in each
case, produces like.
7. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must
be born again. The necessity and reasonableness of the new birth
is explained more fully below. It is implied in the word kingdom. No
one born a citizen of England can become a citizen of the United States
without complying with our naturalization laws. The kingdom of God has
its naturalization laws and there is no other way of entrance than to
be born of water and of the Spirit. We may not understand all the mysteries
of the new birth, any more than we do those of the natural birth, but
we can understand what has to be done and what is necessary. It is plain
that a new spirit is essential to a new life.
8. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou
hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and
whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. No
passage, probably, in the New Testament, has caused more bewilderment
or controversy than this verse. Most commentators have held that it
means: "As the wind moves mysteriously, so does the Spirit, and it breathes
upon whom it will, effecting the inward change called the birth of the
Spirit arbitrarily." This view we believe to be incorrect and caused
by a wrong translation, sanctioned, not by the Greek, but by current
theology. Let it be noted that,  1. Exactly
the same term is rendered "wind" and "Spirit" in this verse. It is a
violation of all law that the same word should experience so radical
a change of meaning in the same sentence. 2. That word (pneuma)
is not translated "wind" elsewhere, although it occurs scores of times
in the New Testament, but is always "Spirit." 3. Another word in the
Greek, anemos, is usually used to represent "wind" in the New
Testament. 4. This erroneous idea creates a confusion of figures. It
makes Christ to say: The wind blows where it listeth; so is (not the
Spirit, but) every one born of the Spirit. It affirms of him just what
is affirmed of the wind, a thing the Savior never did. These facts are
sufficient to show that the rendering "wind" is wrong. All we have to
do is to translate pneuma here, as is done in the latter part
of the verse and elsewhere in the New Testament. The verse then reads:
"The Spirit breathes where it pleases and thou hearest the voice thereof,
but canst not tell whence it comes nor whither it goes. So (by hearing
its voice) is every one born of the Spirit." The meaning is: The Spirit
breathes where it wills and you recognize its manifestation by its voice;
by the words spoken by men of God as the Holy Spirit gives them utterance.
You cannot tell whence the Spirit comes or whither it goes, but you
can hear its voice when it does come. So, by listening to the
voice of the Spirit, is every one born of the Spirit. He who receives
by faith the communications of the Spirit is born of the Spirit. The
birth of the Spirit is not the gift of the Spirit. To those who are
born the Spirit is given. "Because ye are sons, God hath sent
the Spirit of his Son unto your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." Gal.4:6.
Hence, in harmony with the above view, Peter says, "Being born again,
not by corruptible seed, but incorruptible, through the word of God,
which liveth and abideth forever."
9. How can these things be? His skeptical
tone is gone and he is an humble inquirer. He has been sobered and awed
by the earnestness and moral power of Christ, like the Samaritan woman,
or Festus and Agrippa.
10. Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest
not these things? The question implies that Nicodemus was one of
the doctors of the law. These made very arrogant claims of superior
knowledge. Christ intends to show their ignorance of the fundamental
principles of the kingdom. Though the prophets had indicated the new
heart and spirit as one of its conditions they had entirely overlooked
11. Verily, verily, I say unto thee. This
is the third time these words have occurred. Each time they mark a new
stage of the discourse. We speak that which we do know . . .
ye receive not our witness. Why does Christ change to the plural?
Various answers have been given, but we believe that the change of "thou"
to "ye" explains it. "Ye" includes Nicodemus and all Jews who failed
to confess him; "we" includes himself and those who should testify of
him  as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance.
They I knew and testified that they had "seen." This is closely connected
in thought with verse 8th. The birth of the Spirit is due to hearing
the "voice of the Spirit," to being "born of the word of God," to believing
the things witnessed by the Spirit.
12. If I have told you earthly things, and
ye believe not. He had spoken of the things that belonged to the
kingdom of God on earth, of the new birth. If Nicodemus could not understand
and believe this, so plain, easily understood and connected with human
life, how would he receive testimony concerning the heavenly kingdom,
God, and eternal glory? He had said: "We know that thou art a teacher,
come from God;" Christ now declares that he is not "a man sent from
God" like John, but has come down from heaven, still is of heaven, and
therefore, can bear witness of heavenly things.
13. For no man hath ascended up to heaven,
but he that came down . . . the Son of man which is in heaven. No
man has gone to heaven and returned to bear witness of heavenly things
and the counsels of God. The only witness is the Son of man who came
down and is still in heaven, because divine and in constant communication
therewith. This implies: 1. That he existed before he appeared on earth.
2. That heaven was his true abode. 3. That, on earth, his spirit was
in communication with heaven.
14, 15. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the
wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. The reference is
to Numbers 21:4-9. The Israelites sinned through unbelief and were bitten
by fiery serpents and died. Moses, at the command of God, raised on
a pole a brazen serpent and those bitten who looked in faith were healed.
So the world is in sin and dying because bitten by the serpent of sin
through unbelief. Christ, he declares, will be lifted up on the cross,
and whosoever looks to the crucified Savior and believes upon him will
not perish, but have everlasting life. This implies that those who reject
the uplifted Christ win perish.
16. For God so loved the world that he gave
his only begotten Son, etc. There is no sweeter verse in the Bible.
It declares, 1. That God is love. 2. That he loved the world instead
of hating it. 3. That he so loved that he gave his Son. The Son
did not come to appease the Father's wrath, but the Father sent him
because he loved so well. 4. That he came to keep men from perishing;--to
 save them. 5. That those who believe upon
him, so as to receive him, will not perish but have everlasting life.
God's love is not limited;--"he loved the world." Men limit its grace
by refusing to receive its medium, "the only begotten Son."
17. God sent not his Son to condemn the world.
Christ came to be the Savior. His mission was to "save his people from
their sins." There is condemnation, but it is because of unbelief. "This
is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved
darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."
18. He that believeth on him is not condemned.
"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." Faith in Christ
is essential to salvation, because it is the power that leads to obedience
to him. Belief in him must be strong enough to sway all the life and
soul. Is condemned already. "He that believeth not shall be damned."
The unbeliever condemns himself. He is lost and refuses to be saved
by Christ. He is dead and refuses to be made alive. The judgment is
already passed upon him; the day of judgment will only make it manifest.
Hath not believed in the name. The name Jesus, which means Savior.
To disbelieve that name is to reject the salvation of Jesus; the only
name whereby we must be saved.
19, 20. This is the condemnation. The ground
of condemnation. The light had come into the world, Christ, the true
Light, but men chose to walk in darkness because they loved it rather
than light. The evil doer shuns light because it exposes. Birds and
beasts of prey, thieves and evil doers, love the night because it hides
their deeds. There is nothing that frauds of every kind dread so much
as investigation. They hate the light lest their deeds should be
reproved. The fact that men love sin accounts for the unbelief and
spiritual darkness of our race. Myriads do not want truth or light which
condemns their evil deeds.
21. He that doeth truth cometh to the light.
Truth is not an abstract idea; it is something that must be lived. Many
a life is a false one, a lie; many a  life
is a true one, an illustration of the truth. He that does the truth,
is conscious of a true and genuine life, seeks the light, and is willing
that his deeds should be manifest.
1. One cannot creep secretly into the kingdom
of heaven. He must come out openly on the side of the Savior and publicly
2. Earthly birth, or station, does not entitle
to spiritual privileges. The kingdom is not composed of sons of Abraham,
or priests, or nobles, or princes, but of those who have been born again.
3. No one can enter the kingdom who is not "born
of water and of the Spirit." To baptize a babe, or anyone without faith,
cannot make it a member of the kingdom, because it is not born of the
Spirit. Nor can one enter who may claim that he is born of the Spirit
unless he is "born of water" also. The proof that one has received the
"Spirit is that he receives the things of the Spirit."
4. The Spirit breathes upon whom he wills and
then he "speaks as the Holy Spirit gives him utterance." His voice was
heard. So, by hearing his voice and obeying, every one is born
of the Spirit. Vain are the claims of men to the new birth who refuse
to obey the Spirit's commands.
5. Those who believe upon the Son are born of
the Spirit, and have everlasting life. He that believeth that Jesus
Christ is the Son of God is born of God, because his belief, if of the
heart, leads him to a truthful and obedient acceptance of him who is
JOHN AT ÆNON.
22. After these things came Jesus and his disciples
into the land of Judea. Shortly after the passover and the interview
with Nicodemus, he left the Jewish metropolis. It had refused to hear
him and he retired to the country districts, probably on the banks of
the Jordan. There he tarried with them and baptized. This is
the first intimation of Christ administering the baptismal rite. He
did not baptize in person, but by his disciples (John 4:2). His baptism
at this time could not have been the Christian rite that he instituted
after his resurrection, but was preparatory like John's. Christian baptism
could not exist until the Son had demonstrated his relation to the Father
by the resurrection, and until the Holy Spirit was given. The baptismal
formula recognizes the authority of the Father, and the Son, and the
23. John also was baptizing at Ænon near
to Salim. The location of Ænon 
was long in doubt, and it was left for Lieut. Conder, of the British
Palestine Exploration, to settle the question so satisfactorily that
the authorities on the sacred localities, Robinson, Stanley, Thompson,
Schaff and McGarvey, have accepted his discovery. He, the only man who
has made a scientific survey of Palestine, locates it northeast of Samaria,
in a beautiful valley, not far from the Jordan. He says (Tent Work,
p. 92): "The valley is open in most of its course, and we find in it
the two requisites for the scene of the baptism of a large multitude,--an
open space and abundance of water. Not only does the name Salim occur
in the village three miles south of the valley, but the name Ænon,
signifying 'springs,' is recognized as the village of Ainun,
four miles north of the stream. There is only one other place of the
latter name in Palestine, Beit Ainun, near Hebron, but this is
a place that has no fine supply of water and no Salim near it. On the
other hand there are many other Salims all over Palestine, but none
of them has an Ænon near it. The site of Wady Far'ah is the only
one where all the requisites are met,--the two names, the fine water
supply, the proximity of the desert, and the open character of the ground."
Prof. McGarvey, who visited the locality, says: "The much water we found
all the way, and although the season was exceptionally dry, pools well
suited for baptizing were abundant. . . . Here, then, was
the open space required, and a more suitable place for the gathering
of a multitude could not be found on the banks of any stream in Palestine.
. . . We cut an oleander cane apiece from the bank of the
stream, and took a bath in one of its pools."--Lands of the Bible,
pp. 508-9. Because there was much water there. This is assigned
as a reason, not why John was at Ænon, or preached at Ænon,
but why he baptized at Ænon. It explains "baptizing." "Much water"
was essential to baptism in New Testament times, and Ænon provided
it. It shows the stress of Pedobaptists when they insist that he chose
Ænon because the great multitudes would require much water for
domestic purposes. The Scripture explains its necessity otherwise. Nor
does the criticism that polla hudata means "many waters" help
their cause. The phrase is applied in the Septuagint to the Euphrates
(Jer. 51:13), and in Revelation to the Tiber (Rev. 17:1). It may mean
either "much" or "many" waters. There were many fountains at Ænon
and many pools in the stream they created. Whatever polla hudata
may mean it explains the reason why John was baptizing there,
a fact that can be reconciled only with immersion. The reason why the
historian gives this explanation is that all the other accounts of John's
baptizing locate him at the river Jordan. As it is here affirmed that
he was baptizing at a place some distance from the Jordan, it is explained
that there "was much water there" also.
24. For John was not yet cast into prison.
This incident occurred just before the seizure of John. The testimony
following is the last words recorded of the great forerunner before
he was sent to prison and from thence to death. As the other Gospels
omit this incident, and, after the baptism of Christ, 
mention John next in prison, the author of the Fourth Gospel is
particular to say "he was not yet cast into prison."
25. There arose a question between John's disciples
and the Jews. The Revision reads "a Jew" which is supported by the
best manuscripts. We can only conjecture the nature of this dispute.
"The Jew," evidently not a disciple of either John or Jesus, but perhaps
a Pharisee (see John 4:1), associated baptism with the bathings of the
Jewish law for purification. The context shows that in a discussion
with disciples of John he gave preference either to Christ's baptism,
or to Christ himself, over John and his baptism. He probably also spoke
of the great numbers who resorted to Christ.
26. Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan,
. . . the same baptizeth. Full of jealousy for the reputation of
their master, they rush to him with their complaint, as if the growing
influence of Jesus and his practice of baptism were an infringement
on the rights of John. Note that they had been impressed by the witness
that John had borne to Jesus at Bethabara.
27, 28. A man can receive nothing except it
be given him from heaven. This trial of John would have been a sore
one had he been swayed by human feeling. To see his great popularity
and influence gradually waning, and another coming up to take his place,
was well calculated to arouse jealousy. But John, in the spirit of his
mission, rose to a sublime superiority over carnal weakness. He declares,
first, that what he is, and what Jesus is, is due to the will of heaven.
Each will fill his appointed mission "given him from heaven." Next,
he cites his own words before spoken, of which they were witnesses,
in which he declared that he was not the Christ, but only the messenger
who went before the King to prepare his way. The superiority of Jesus
was only what he himself had predicted.
29. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom.
This expressive figure is often used. The church, espoused to Christ,
is the bride; Christ, the bridegroom. John, in the growing influence
of Christ, already sees in anticipation the bridegroom united to the
bride. As the friend of the bridegroom he rejoices 
in the happiness of the bridegroom The good news that his disciples
bring him of Christ, so far from arousing envy, causes him to rejoice.
He feels that his own work is done: "My joy therefore is fulfilled."
30. He must increase, but I must decrease.
As the light of the moon fades out before the rising sun, so John must
decrease before the bright light of the Sun of Righteousness. His own
decrease is, however, only a proof of the increase and fulness of Christ.
These last words of John are in the spirit of Christian sacrifice and
are a fitting close of his work.
31. He that cometh from above is above all.
It is generally supposed that the following words are, not those of
John the Baptist, but of the Apostle. There is a contrast of style,
and a part of what follows contains references to the words of our Lord.
The one that cometh from above is Christ, who is above every
earthly teacher, prophets, apostles, and John the Baptist.
32. What he hath seen and heard, he testifieth.
He hath no need for instruction, for the one from heaven knows personally
of what he testifies. No, man receiveth his testimony. The world,
in John the apostle's time still rejected Christ. Here and there were
churches who honored the Master, but mankind refused to receive his
33. Hath set his seal that God is true.
A few, comparatively, had received his testimony, and these thereby
demonstrated their conviction that God is true; that his promises have
been fulfilled in Christ. To attach a seal to a document is to confirm
34. He whom God hath sent speaketh the words
of God. So Christ affirmed of himself. It was the Father who spoke
in him. He had the fulness of the Spirit. It is the testimony of the
whole world, believing and unbelieving, that "he spake as man never
spake." The reason of this is plain. It was the Father speaking through
35. The Father loveth the Son. Therefore
he had the Spirit without measure, and in him dwelt the "fulness of
36. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting
life. Eternal life and death  turn on
the question of faith in Christ. They turn on this principle because
"without faith we cannot please God," for we cannot live the life, while
unbelievers, that pleases him. Faith is the mightiest power of earth
to move men to action, and faith in Christ moves to the life that is
needful to become the sons of God. He who believes with a heartfelt,
obedient faith, a faith that trusts all and surrenders all to the will
of Christ, is born again and "hath eternal life," while the unbeliever
remains in disobedience and abides in death. It is not "faith alone"
that gives life, but "faith made perfect" by obedience. See James 2:22.
1. Those who neglect, or disparage the rites which
God has established, trample under foot the example of the Master. He
obeyed, preached, and practiced John's baptism. Much the more ought
all his followers to regard that which the Lord has enacted.
2. The true servant of God seeks not his own honor,
but the glory of Christ. A godly preacher will hide himself behind the
Master and be forgetful of himself so that Christ is honored. "God forbid
that he should glory, save in Christ and him crucified." It is no credit
to a preacher that his hearers should go away from his preaching thinking
and talking of himself. He only preaches effectually who fixes their
thoughts on Christ.