The Conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus

Notes for November 24-25, 2018
John 3:1-16

Biblical Background

  • Nicodemus: Nicodemus was a wealthy and prominent Pharisee in Jerusalem. Thus, he was well educated in the Jewish law.

  • Comes at night: Nicodemus comes at night – in part John seems to be pointing this out as the themes of light and darkness end this section in vv. 17-19. As well, it may have been a practical thing as many Pharisees worked jobs during the day and studied at night. As well, it may be that Nicodemus was being cautious and didn’t want others to see him coming to Jesus for advice.

  • Born from above: This was a Jewish way of saying, “born from God.”

  • Reborn: Jewish writers spoke of Gentiles as being “newborns” in the faith, but wouldn’t have considered the need for a Jewish person to be reborn in the faith as they were already in. A Jew wouldn’t have had to convert. Thus, Nicodemus struggles at first with Jesus’ imagery – wondering if Jesus means a literal physical re-birth in which someone would have to climb back into his/her mother’s womb.

  • Gentile converts were baptized, born of water: Gentiles who converted to Judaism were baptized in order to remove the impurities of their Gentile-ness. Gentiles were seen as unclean. Someone “born of water,” were converts – went through a conversion process.

  • Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV): Jesus may be referring to this passage of the Old Testament in this passage as it is now fulfilled through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

  • Ezekiel 37: This Old Testament passage refers to the Spirit as wind.

  • Nicodemus seems clueless: Not only was Nicodemus having a hard time initially understanding Jesus, but it is also a good literary technique, and one that was used in the day to help the reader follow the argument as Nicodemus helps bring clarity to Jesus’ words through his questions.

  • Jesus is an eyewitness to heaven: In Jewish law, only an eyewitness has the credibility to prove a point. So, in this case, only Jesus is able to speak about things in heaven since He had descended from heaven and come to earth.

  • “Lifting up”: In the Old Testament, Moses lifts up the serpent to bring healing (Numbers 21:4-9). In a future moment, Jesus is lifted up on the cross to bring our healing from sin, (John 12:32-33).

  • “Only begotten”: The literal translation from the Greek of this expression is, “special, beloved.” The translation in English also makes it clear that Jesus was not created as other humans are created by God since He is the Eternal God, who took on human flesh.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do we know about Nicodemus from these verses?

  2. Why do you think he came at night to see Jesus?

  3. How would you describe Jesus’ approach to answering Nicodemus’ questions? Why do you think he handled Nicodemus in this way?

  4. When Jesus talks about being born again in this passage what does Nicodemus think he means? Why do you think he misunderstands Jesus on this?

  5. What does Jesus mean by the expression, “born again”?

  6. What is “the water and the Spirit”?

  7. How does Jesus describe the work of the Spirit?

  8. Where else in Scripture is the Spirit involved in something being born or created?

  9. Why is Jesus alone able to talk about “heavenly things”?

  10. What is Jesus saying about Himself to Nicodemus?

  11. How is the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – involved in this passage? Why is it important to understand the Trinity’s work in this passage?

  12. Would you describe yourself as “born again”? Why or why not?

  13. Why did Jesus come into this world? How does knowing His purpose for coming into the world impact your feelings about Jesus?