3:1 Nicodemus, a ruler. Nicodemus (meaning “innocent blood”) was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish governing council. It was this body that had sent a delegation out to the Jordan to hear and evaluate John the Baptist (John 1:19,24). As the leading teacher of Israel (John 3:10), and as a sincere and godly man, he was intensely interested in John’s message, especially in the prophetic context of Isaiah 40:3-4 and Malachi 3:1-2; 4:5. Then John had introduced Jesus, and Nicodemus had made a close study of Jesus’ miracles and His teachings.
3:2 by night. Because of the daytime throngs, and his desire for an in-depth consultation with Jesus while He was still in Jerusalem, Nicodemus elected to come to see Him at night. He was not a fearful man, as later events clearly proved.
3:2 Rabbi. He addressed Jesus with deep respect, the title “Rabbi” being the same as “Master.”
3:3 born again. The vital doctrine of regeneration, or the new birth, has been applicable in all ages, for man by nature is a lost sinner, and must be reborn spiritually through faith in God and His promises if he is to be saved. Note, for example, such Old Testament Scriptures as Isaiah 1:18; Psalm 51:10; Ezekiel 18:31. Nevertheless, this vital doctrine is crystallized and clarified and individualized more in the New Testament, especially in this chapter. See also II Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Colossians 3:10; Titus 3:5; I Peter 1:23; and other New Testament verses on the new birth.
3:3 kingdom of God. Because of the preaching of John the Baptist that “the kingdom of God is at hand” (e.g., Mark 1:15), Nicodemus had undoubtedly been studying the Biblical promises of the kingdom—perhaps such passages as Isaiah 9:6-7; Zechariah 14:9; Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 72:1, 7-11; as well as others. But now he is surprised to hear Jesus say that one cannot even see that kingdom without being born again!
3:5 of water and of the spirit. “Water and the Spirit” here has the connotation of “water, even the Spirit.” The death and rebirth illustrated by John’s baptism, in which Nicodemus and his colleagues on the council had been so interested (John 1:25) was merely symbolic of rebirth in the Spirit. Some expositors have equated the “water” here with the Word and others have taken it to mean the water in the mother’s womb, but the context surely refers to baptism, and that is certainly what Nicodemus would have understood it to mean. The essential conclusion of Christ’s reply was that regeneration by the Holy Spirit was prerequisite to entering the kingdom of God. Paul used the same baptismal figure of the new life in Romans 6:4 and called it “the washing of regeneration” in Titus 3:5.
3:6 spirit. The flesh and the spirit are in perpetual conflict (Genesis 6:3; John 1:13; I Corinthians 15:50; Galatians 5:16-25).
3:7 Ye. Jesus did not say “they” or “we,” but “ye.” He himself did not require a new birth, for He was not born with the sin nature nor did He ever commit sin. Even godly, righteous, scholarly Nicodemus must be born again, and therefore so must every other individual.
3:8 The wind. The only New Testament use of pneuma (meaning “spirit”) for “wind” is in this verse, although the Old Testament writers commonly used the same Hebrew word (ruach) for both “wind” and “spirit.” The reason for its unique use in this case is obviously to emphasize the similarity of the operation of the Holy Spirit to that of the wind. As the wind is invisible and gentle, so is the Spirit. And as the wind also exhibits great power on occasion, so does the Spirit (e.g., Acts 1:8).
3:8 so. As one cannot see the wind at work but can see its results, so it is with the new birth. It may come about slowly or suddenly, from one direction or another. One cannot detail the mechanics of the regeneration process. Just as one does not remember his physical birth, he may be unable to pinpoint his spiritual birth. As the proof of the one is the reality of his physical life, so the proof of the other is the reality of his spiritual life.
3:9 How. Nicodemus was not necessarily doubting them, but seeking to understand.
3:10 a master of Israel. “A master” should be read “the teacher,” for Nicodemus was evidently the preeminent Bible scholar among the Jewish leaders. As such, he should have been able to discern these truths from the prophetic Scriptures of the Old Testament (e.g., Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 36:24-28, as well as the many Messianic prophecies).
3:11 we do know. The “we” here is probably meant to include John the Baptist, whose witness the Pharisees had already rejected.
3:12 earthly things. If men will not believe the “earthly things” of the Bible (Creation, Flood, dispersion, etc.), which human records and research can verify, then why should they believe the “heavenly things” it speaks about (salvation, heaven, eternal life, etc.) which must be accepted strictly on faith. Many modern evangelicals have become involved in this inconsistency, rejecting the earthly things while still credulously accepting the heavenly things.
3:13 ascended up to heaven. This is an emphatic claim to deity, as Christ here refers to Proverbs 30:4, and appropriates it as applying uniquely to Himself, thus claiming to be the only begotten Son of God. Not even David had yet “ascended into the heavens” (Acts 2:34), but Jesus had descended from heaven (note also John 3:31), and would soon ascend back to heaven (John 20:17) and even now (by virtue of the indissoluble union of the triune Godhead) was still “in heaven.”
3:14 be lifted up. The means by which the new birth and the promised kingdom could be made effectual was the “lifting up” of the Son of man in a way analogous to the manner in which Moses lifted up the brasen serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:5-9). The dying Israelites who, by faith, would simply look on the impaled serpent (symbolizing judgment on their sins) would be healed of the deadly poison in their bodies and live.
3:15 should not perish. In comparison, if any lost sinner would merely look in faith to the Lord Jesus, “lifted up” (John 12:32) to die in judgment for his sins on the cross, he also will not only not die, but will receive eternal life. If “ye must be born again,” then “even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” Genuine saving faith, therefore, involves belief in the deity of Christ (John 3:13) and His substitutionary death (John 3:14). It will then result in the new birth (John 3:7-8) and everlasting life (John 3:15).
3:16 only begotten Son. Jesus calls Himself “Son of man” in John 3:13-14 and “Son of God” in John 3:16-18. As Son of man, He is the “heir” of God’s promises to man (Hebrews 1:2), man as God intended man to be, the perfect man. As Son of God, He is the unique, beloved, only begotten, eternally begotten, Son of the Father, “very God.”
3:17 sent. The fact that God sent His Son into the world is emphasized in many Scriptures (e.g., I John 4:9-10). That He came to save the world from the condemnation it deserved is also confirmed in many other Scriptures (e.g., John 5:24; Acts 17:31; Romans 8:1).
3:18 only begotten. See on John 1:18 for the vital importance of believing in the “only begotten” Son of God. His unique Sonship required the virgin birth, and was proved by the resurrection (Psalm 2:7; Acts 13:33; Romans 1:4; John 5:26).
3:19 the condemnation. The word “condemnation” (Greek krisis) is also translated “judgment,” but only a judgment concluding in condemnation. The use of the definite article—“the condemnation”—emphasizes that judgment is not because of sin, but because of rejection of God’s provision of salvation from sin through the light of Jesus Christ.
3:19 men loved darkness. See also John 1:9; II Corinthians 4:3-4; Ephesians 4:13-14.
3:21 doeth truth. One who truly desires light and truth will not only believe the truth, but do the truth (contrast I John 1:6) for Jesus Christ is the Truth (John 14:6).
3:23 much water. Note that John, in his ministry of baptism, had to be where there was “much water,” indicating beyond question that baptism was by immersion (in fact, that is the very meaning of the Greek word). Any rivulet or well would have sufficed for sprinkling.
3:31 cometh from above. Since there is no contextual break after John 3:30, it is reasonable to infer that the testimony of John the Baptist continues through John 3:36. These words demonstrate still further the remarkable understanding he had concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ. In John 3:31, the phrase “from above” is the same Greek word as “again” in John 3:3. Thus to be “born again” is to be born “from above.”
3:34 by measure. John is here speaking of Christ, for certainly “God hath sent” Him, and He was fully controlled by the Holy Spirit. But the words are also applicable to John the Baptist, as he said: “I am sent before Him” (John 3:28). He also was filled with the Spirit (Luke 1:15) and spoke the words of God (John 1:23).
3:35 loveth the Son. The words “Father,” “Son,” and “love” each occur in John’s gospel more than in any other book of the Bible, and there are at least eight references in John to the Father’s love for the Son. That love existed before the creation (John 17:24). The entire creation has been given and all things revealed to Him by the Father (John 3:35; 5:20). The Father especially loves the Son because of His willingness to die for sinners (John 10:15).
3:36 hath everlasting life. The believer has everlasting life right now (not “may have” or even “will have”). On the other hand, the unbeliever in Christ (see notes on John 3:13-15 as to what one must believe), no matter how moral or religious he may be, faces God’s wrath in hell, because he has rejected (or neglected) His great gift of salvation, purchased at such great price—the sacrificial death of His beloved Son.