There is a parallel universe, but it is not the sum of science fiction and quantum physics.
It is not uncommon to hear Nicodemus being slighted by preachers, who claim he was a sneaky and cowardly Pharisee, ashamed to admit publically that he believed in Yeshua. This is almost solely based on the present passage and the fact that Nicodemus came at night. The same, neglect to recognize the other instances in Scripture where Nicodemus proves himself to be more than willing to act on his faith in Yeshua: Yochanan/John 7:50-51, 19:49
As we examine the text of Yochanan/John 3:1-21, we must put aside our bigoted view of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the sect of Judaism that most identified with Yeshua’s teaching. They believed in the resurrection of the dead, in angels, demons, healing, signs and wonders. They hoped for a Great One—Rabbi, a Mashiyach—Messiah and King to redeem the people of Israel. It is far too easy—if not purely anti-Semitic—to disregard all Pharisees as anti-Christ’s. By far they were the closest theologically to the teaching and actions of Messiah. So why did some of them oppose Him? Why does one preacher oppose another, though they both share the same message? It is because they sought glory for themselves rather than for the message. Nicodemus and his like-minded friends (Pharisees) sought the glory of G-d and found Messiah Yeshua. Next time you’re tempted to disparage the Pharisees, remember that you share their beliefs and take care.
“There was a Pharisee named Naqdimon, a ruler among the Yehudim.”
Nicodemus was a Greek name used by Jews of the first century in its Hebrew form, Naqdimon. In Greek it derives its meaning from two words, the first meaning “victory,” and the second, “People.” The subsequent combining of these terms might render its meaning either, “Victory for my people,” or, “Victory over people.” In Hebrew the meaning for Naqdimon is, “Innocent blood.” Both meanings of his name shed some light on the present text and on his personal spiritual journey. As a leader of Israel—that is part of the
Sanhedrin (70 members, 70 being the Hebrew number for the nations)—he sought victory for his people from their physical and spiritual oppression. As a Jew he was a man of innocent blood. This could be likened to Yeshua’s description of Nathaniel, “a man in who there is no guile.”
“He came to Yeshua by night…”
Much has been made of these few simple words, almost all of it demeaning to Naqdimon. There are many possible answers as to why Naqdimon sought out Yeshua at night:
· He may have wanted to converse with Yeshua on a deeper level than was possible among the crowds of Passover
· Perhaps he wanted to keep his position in the Sanhedrin secure so that he could advocate for Yeshua along with the other Pharisees who believed in Him
· It is possible that he had Yeshua’s safety in mind
· Or that it was simply the coolest and most convenient time of the day in the Israeli spring
The least convincing possibility is that he was a coward and cared only for his own betterment in the Sanhedrin and the ruling class of Israel.
“Great One, we know that You are a Rabbi come from HaShem: for no one can perform these signs that You do apart from the manifest presence of G-d.”
“And he shall send them a savior, and a Great One—Rabbi, and he shall deliver them.” Yeshayahu/Isaiah 19:20
Naqdimon begins his conversation with Yeshua by stating that he and his compatriots believe Yeshua is from above. This amounts to an open admission of Yeshua’s Messianic status. Naqdimon believes and is seeking the mechanism for his belief.
As evidence for their belief, Naqdimon calls to attention the signs (miracles) of Yeshua. He calls them signs because they are clear signs of the specific miraculous actions that the coming Messiah must perform as proof of His identity. Yeshua is about to preach to the choir here, only it’s a choir that has the sheet music but doesn’t know how to read it.
“Yeshua answered, ‘Amen, amen—of course true! I tell you that no one can see the Malkut Shamayim—Kingdom of Heaven—without being born anew from above.’”
Notice that Yeshua agrees with the assessment of Naqdimon and his fellow Pharisees. “Amen—of course true! You got that right!” Naqdimon had rightly assessed the divine origin of Messiah, he knew that Yeshua was from above. What he didn’t realize was that Yeshua had come so that Naqdimon and his friends could also be born anew through Yeshua, from above.
“Can anyone enter a second time into their mother’s womb and be born again?”
What surprises me most about this response from Naqdimon is that he hears a parable--mashal—from Yeshua, but instead of interpreting it as a parable he takes it literally. As “The teacher of Israel,” Naqdimon was familiar with using, listening to and interpreting metaphorical and allegorical parables and sayings. Why then did he jump straight passed the obvious metaphor and go with a literal interpretation of The Rabbi’s answer? I know in myself that I only do this when I am unable to absorb the consequences or perceived impossibility of what I know the answer to be. Perhaps Naqdimon could just not see how G-d might impart life renewal to Israel.
“Amen, amen—of course true! I tell you all, no one can enter the Malkut Shamayim—Kingdom of Heaven—without being born through water and The Spirit—Ruach ha-Kodesh.”
Again, Yeshua doesn’t tell Naqdimon that he’s got it all wrong. He simply points to the first instance, being physical birth and affirms that both it and spiritual rebirth are necessary. All are born through the breaking water of the mother but something more is needed if we are to enter G-d’s Kingdom. We must be born of G-d’s Spirit, born anew, from above. We can also find in the words “water” and “Spirit” the baptisms of both John the Immerser and Yeshua. Water represents the baptism of repentance and The Spirit the baptism of Spirit and Fire from above. Without Yeshua’s baptism of death and His resurrection we are unable to receive the Spirit. In Him we have access to the mechanism for our Salvation, His very own Spirit, and the Spirit of the Father in us. G-d’s Spirit births in us the desire to repent--tishuvah—turn around. Then only through Messiah are we able to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who births us anew from above into a life reconciled to G-d.
“What is born physically is understood physically and what is born of The Spirit is understood by our spirit.”
Naqdimon has an earthly understanding. Messiah wants to impart to him and his fellows an understanding from above.
“Marvel not that I said to all of you, you all must be born again from above. The wind/spirit/ruach, blows
where it chooses, and all of you hear the sound it makes, but can’t tell where it comes from, or where it’s
going: so is every one that is born of the Spirit—Ruach ha-Kodesh.”
Being born anew from above is the work of G-d, it is not achieved through human labor—physical effort in birthing a child. We are not able to earn new birth by our own efforts. We are reborn through the catalyst of Messiah’s death and resurrection in the Spirit of G-d.
“Naqdimon said, ‘how can this happen?’ Yeshua responded, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you don’t know these things?’”
Naqdimon still doesn’t understand and if we’re honest, neither do we. Fortunately it is not our own understanding that we are relying on, but rather, G-d’s understanding. Yeshua calls Naqdimon, “The teacher of Israel.” This indicates that Naqdimon had a very high position among the Rabbis of Israel. His coming to faith was strategic to the move of G-d through the leaders who later believed.
“We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen, in yet all of you don’t accept what we have testified to.”
Some believe the “we” Yeshua is referring to is the unity of the G-d-head—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some think He is referring to Himself and His disciples, still others believe He is referring to the Patriarchs and prophets of Israel. We can’t possibly know for certain.
In verse 12 it seems that Yeshua is simply saying, “I’ve spoken to you in earthly metaphors and you people don’t get it. How are you going to understand the literal reality of the heavenly things I tell you about?”
“No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven, the Son of Man—a Messianic title.”
Wait a minute, didn’t Enoch and Elijah ascend into the heavens? Perhaps they ascended into the second heaven? Or perhaps it is significant that Messiah has come with revelation of G-d Himself, from heaven, whereas Elijah and Enoch were born first of water—natural birth—Messiah has always been G-d and came down to be united in flesh, fully G-d and fully man. Regardless of the possible solutions to this conundrum, the point is that Yeshua is the only begotten son and His is a unique and all-encompassing revelation of G-d with us.
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. That whoever believes in Him may have everlasting/perpetual/eternal life.”
The snake was the source of Israel’s punishment for disobedience. By looking to it each Israelite was admitting their sin and recognizing that only G-d could save them from destruction. In the same way we must look upon Him who became sin for us, in this simple action of turning--tishuvah—our heads to gaze upon the Cross of Messiah, upon His tortured body and unfathomable sacrifice, we find rebirth in His Spirit, poured out without measure upon those who will simply acknowledge His Kingship. It is here, that in a very real sense, we are living both within and outside of time. There is a parallel universe, but it is not the sum of science fiction and quantum physics.
“For G-d so loved the world…”
This is perhaps the most famous quote in Christendom, and for good reason.
“That He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have everlasting life. For G-d did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”
Clearly G-d desires that every human being come into right relationship with Him. He is loving, merciful, compassionate, self-sacrificing—literally, and just. Elsewhere we read, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
“Those who believe in Him are not condemned…”
This means our belief in Him has put condemnation behind us, as is written elsewhere, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Messiah Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 8:1
“Those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of G-d.”
The statement “condemned already,” is qualified by, “because they have chosen not to believe in the name of the only Son of G-d.” Because G-d is just, all must be presented with the One True Son of G-d and His saving work and must then willfully choose to reject Him, only then does anyone stand condemned.
“And this is the judgment: the light—Yeshua—has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
The judgment of G-d is just, because He has offered light to those living in darkness. Many, having seen the true light of G-d, Yeshua, have chosen to remain in darkness. Those who are determined to do what is wicked are unwilling to have their deeds exposed, though they are aware of their need the thought of dwelling in perpetual light is abhorrent to them, they have truly become sons and daughters of the evil one.
Those who see their need for light have already been motivated by the Spirit of G-d to begin to do what is true, thus they welcome the opportunity to dwell in that light perpetually. Thus their deeds have been done in G-d. That is, their salvation comes, not by their works but through the work of the Spirit and the sacrifice of Messiah. We are saved by grace, G-d chose us and in response, we have chosen Him. Condemnation is found in the simple act of refusing to choose G-d.
© 2013 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.