Musings From the Gospel of John – Number 3

In John 3:3 we see Jesus explaining to Nicodemus about the necessity of being “born again”. Not only does Jesus explain the requirement of being born again but Jesus also explains how one is born again and why it is so vitally important.

John 3:3 NASB

“Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Every time that Jesus says “truly, truly” or “verily, verily” it’s like Jesus telling us that what is about to follow is VITAL or of the UTMOST importance. If you were taking a course from an instructor, it would be the equivalent of the instructor saying to the class “this is going to be on the exam”. You REALLY want to focus on this, you REALLY want to understand and comprehend exactly what this signifies or means. John 3:5-6 NASB

“Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one 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.

It’s interesting to note that there are 4 schools of thought on what “born of water” refers to.

The meaning of the phrase “born of water and the Spirit” has been debated throughout church history, resulting in four main interpretations. The first of these views is doctrinally false and contradicts the rest of Scripture. The other three views are all doctrinally acceptable, but the last view best explains the exegetical evidence.

View #1: The Roman Catholic and majority interpretation within Christendom contradicts biblical teaching on salvation by grace apart from works. It concludes that “born of water and the Spirit” refers to the rite or sacrament of water baptism which supposedly bestows regeneration.

View #2: The majority view among Protestant Reformed Christians interprets “water” as a figure of speech for the Holy Spirit, with Jesus saying essentially, “born of water, even the Spirit.”

View #3: A minority view among Protestants also interprets “water” figuratively, not as a reference to the Holy Spirit, but to the Word of God and its cleansing effect, similar to Ephesians 5:26, “the washing of water by the Word.”

View #4: A prominent view among evangelicals is that “water” refers to literal water—the amniotic fluid of a mother’s womb that breaks in childbirth, so that “water” refers to a physical, womb birth, while “Spirit” refers to one’s rebirth or regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Thus, “born of water and Spirit” refers to two kinds of birth (a womb birth + a Holy Spirit birth) rather than two means to be born again (such as water baptism + the Holy Spirit). In John 3:5, Jesus not only answers Nicodemus’s question and misunderstanding from verse 4 about reentering his mother’s womb and being born physically a second time, but He clarifies for Nicodemus that physical birth alone is not enough to qualify a person for entrance into God’s kingdom—a person must also receive a second birth to be spiritually reborn from above.

This 4th interpretation, which I personally lean towards, is faithful to the details of the inspired text of John 3 and harmonizes with the truth found elsewhere in Scripture that salvation is solely God’s work for man, received by His grace alone, apart from human merit, on the condition of faith alone in Jesus Christ.

John 3:11-13 NASB

“Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.”

Do you notice that Jesus uses the words “truly, truly” again and “we” and “our”. That’s plural. Here we see the trinity of God being referenced to, how there are three persons in the trinity but one God. This reminds me of how Jesus told us that the words that He spoke were given to Him by the Father (John 12:49) and we see numerous times throughout the Gospels where God the Father verbally testifies that Jesus is His Son (Matthew 3:17) and we also see God’s Holy Spirit being noted in association with Jesus (John 1:33). So what Jesus tells us is directly from God Himself, from the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, brought down to earth and verbally spoken to us by the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of Man.

Jesus is referred to as the “Son of Man” 88 times in the New Testament.

The first use of the phrase in the Bible is in Ezekiel. Pretty much every time God addresses Ezekiel, he does so as “son of man”. Besides Ezekiel, the only other use of the phrase in the Old Testament was by his contemporary, Daniel. In Daniel 7:13 we get a very different picture of the Son of Man than as just a prophet. Daniel writes:

As my vision continued that night, I saw one like the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honour, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.

The first book in the New Testament rivals Ezekiel in how frequently the phrase Son of Man is used. The difference is that it was God calling the prophet “son of man” in the Old Testament but now we see Jesus referring to Himself this way in the New. All three of the gospels, and occasionally in John and Revelation we find Jesus referred to, usually by himself, as the Son of Man. Does this parallel Ezekiel’s use? Is he merely a prophet sent to a rebellious Israel? Or does it parallel Daniel’s use? Is He the one who has been given all authority, honour, and sovereignty over the nations of the world?

The answer to that is found in the theme of Jesus’s message. Everywhere He went, Jesus went announcing that the Kingdom of God has come. He takes Messianic scriptures and applies them to Himself. He demonstrates time and time again that He has power over sickness, death, and demonic authorities. He takes the religious “authority” of the day and tells them over and over again they have it all wrong, placing Himself in judgment, in authority, over them. His selection of twelve disciples was far more than symbolic. As Jesus Himself says in Matthew 19:28:

I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jesus used this title in three distinct ways:

  • In a general way – almost as a substitute for the pronoun “I.” Luke 9:58 says, “Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’”
  • Specifically dealing with suffering – Mark 8:31 says, “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”
  • Specially dealing with authority – Mark 2:10 says, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . .”

Very clearly, Jesus recognized Himself, the Son of Man, as the subject of Daniel’s vision. He sees Himself as the One who has all authority and to whom the whole world must bow in worship. It was the Ancient of Days that had just responded from heaven to Jesus’s prayer. Jesus was proclaiming Himself as the Messiah. 

But there is also a second aspect to the title of “Son of Man”.

Jesus is called the Son of Man because that is who He was on earth. He was a son and He was born and belonged to the family of man. This fact also leads us to understand with certainty the prophecies surrounding his birth and what was foretold in Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

Further, Jesus as the Son of Man holds for us some incredible realities; this name and title allows us to perceive in words that we belong to Him and He belongs to us. It connects divinity to humanity in a manner that was lost when Adam and Eve sinned and had to leave the Garden of Eden. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being” the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:45-48).

It is also a reminder that God understands what it is to be human—to fight our fights, to be tempted and to feel alone—to be, according to Isaiah 53:3, “despised and rejected by men; a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief:” After all, how much easier is it for you in your human relationships to connect with someone who understands what you have been through or are going through right now?

Additionally, Jesus showed that it is possible as human beings to keep the laws of God; that the battle against the flesh could be won, through Christ living in us. Hebrews 4:15 further expounds on both these concepts: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Jesus as the Son of Man reminds us that God is still the same God who desires a relationship with us as He did in Eden (Genesis 2); in Exodus 25:8 when He instructed Moses to “let [the Israelites] make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them”; and in Jeremiah 32:38 when He said that we will be His people, and He our God. The name and titles He calls Himself reveal to us His enduring promises, power, love and presence in our lives.

This kind of explains why Jesus used the words “truly, truly” doesn’t it?

And just in case we miss the significance of who Jesus is and why He has come, Jesus provides a summary of why His testimony is so important.

John 3:14-15 NASB

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

You recall that in Numbers 21:9, how whoever was bitten by a snake and looked upon the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up, was healed.

“Lifted up” – we’re talking about the crucification of Jesus on the cross and what He did for us.

“Will live” – “Whoever believes will in Him have eternal life”.

We all know what is coming next, we’re talking about John 3:16 where the Apostle John records the words that Jesus actually spoke. John records them but Jesus spoke them. And then, one more time, to erase all possible doubt or confusion, Jesus Himself utters these following words.

John 3:16-19 NASB

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

How can anyone possibly add to that? This is the testimony of Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, via the Father, in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

This was Jesus speaking to Nicodemus, and to His disciples and to you and to me.

More to follow.

Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!

10 comments

  1. Jesus does Truly understand us, as He Himself became one of us. People sometimes forget this Truth. We like to sometimes wallow in self pity, convincing ourselves that no one understands, but Jesus Truly understands what it is to be human. People need to be reminded of His humanity. If Jesus wasn’t a man, then He’d be the greatest man who never lived.
    But we know and confess that Jesus was fully man and fully Divine, but chose to suffer as a man. It’s quite humbling to serve such a King as The King of kings.
    Blessings to you and yours Bruce.

    Like

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