"The whole concept of being born
again was part and parcel of the Jewish community in
the first century.”
In this study,
we are going to look at John chapter three, the interview of
Nicodemus with Jesus. I was recently talking with a friend,
and she asked, “What are you going to teach on Bob?” I
replied, “I am going to teach on being born again from a
Jewish perspective.” At that her eyes went blank, and she
said, “Isn’t that an oxymoron, being born again from a
Jewish perspective?” I stated, “No, the whole concept of
being born again was part and parcel of the Jewish community
in the first century.”
This concept did not originate in 1976 or so, with Charles
Colson’s book “Born Again.” Around the year 1976 I read the
book “Born Again.” That was a few years after Charles Colson
had gone to jail, and being born again became a popular
topic. You had born again potatoes, born again washing
machines, born again cars. Everything was born again.
Everyone thought it was a brand new term, but this term has
been around for over two thousand years. Like I said, it was
part and parcel of the Jewish community in the first
So, that is what I am going to demonstrate at this time.
After reading this article, ask your Jewish friend if he
knows what the Jewish term being born again means. See what
happens; see if it starts a conversation. If he is the
average Jewish person here in Southern California, who is
secular, and atheistic, and unreligious, he will just shrug
his shoulders and you will know more about the Jewish
community than he does. But if he is religious, if he is
orthodox, he may very well know what you are talking about,
and you may be able to discuss it with him.
Let us go ahead and take a look at being born again from a
Jewish perspective. Before I get into John 3:1 itself, I
want to point out that this section of the book of John is
the first of seven discourses. John likes to work around the
number seven. He records seven discourses that Jesus utters
during His ministry. John is a unique book because it is
supplementary to the other three gospels. John shares with
us what Jesus said. The other three gospels share with us
what Jesus did. He fills in a lot of the information the
other gospel writers did not include through these seven
long discourses. So this is number one. This section is
often called the discourse on the new birth.
The background to this interview with Nicodemus actually
starts a couple of verses earlier in John chapter two. So, I
want to back up to John 2:23, and let us read verses 23 to
25 of the previous chapter.
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the
feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which
He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting
Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not
need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew
what was in man.
John is trying to very clearly tell us that Jesus is more
than a man. Jesus is God in the flesh, and the Messiah. How
is he doing that? He is telling us that by using repetition.
Repeating is a Jewish form of emphasis. He is telling us
that Jesus could read minds. Now, who is the only individual
who can read a person’s mind? God, Himself, is the only One
who can do it. God is the only one who knows what is in a
The Rabbis came to that realization through
their studies in the Scriptures as well. An example would be
Psalm 139. I am going to share with you just four verses out
of 24 verses from this Psalm that make this characteristic
of God very clear. Look at what the first four verses say:
For the choir director. A Psalm of David. O Lord, You have
searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when
I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You
scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately
acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on
my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all.
Can we hide anything from God? If you are trying to, give it
up. But, isn’t it amazing that even though He knows what
goes on inside our heads, He still treats us as a loving
heavenly Father, and He is still working in our lives. He
still loves us, cares for us, etc. Yet He knows everything
that goes on inside.
That is the point that John is trying to make here; that
Jesus is not just a man, He is the God-Man. Not only that,
He is the Messiah. We know that because He knows what is in
a man. Only God knows what is in a man. Only God can read
Anytime you see in the Gospels statements like, Jesus,
knowing what was in their hearts said . . . , He
is reading their minds. They are not talking among
themselves, they are thinking in their hearts, and He is
reading their minds. On more than one occasion He says,
Why are you thinking in
your hearts? Every time you see that, it is a claim to
Messiahship and deity in the Jewish mind. This is just one
of numerous scriptures that substantiate the fact that God
reads your mind; that God knows exactly what is going on,
everything, every minute of the day. He knows when I am
going to stand up and sit down. He knows the next word
coming out of my mouth.
Here we directly encounter the paradox of God’s omniscience
versus man’s free will. The Bible teaches both. God knows
everything, and at the same time men have free will. For
example, He knows everything that is going to come out of
our mouths, but, we make the responsible decision to utter
the words. God knows all, but man makes responsible
decisions. The Bible teaches both sides of the coin, and we
need to equally teach both concepts strongly. We must not
teach evasively or emphasize one side over the other. Both
Our ancient rabbis agree with this understanding as stated
is Mishnah Aboth 3:16 (The Mishnah, Herbert Danby, Oxford
University Press. See also Davka Corporation, Judaic
Classics, Mishna Avoth 3:15):
All is foreseen, but freedom of choice is given.
Now, let us not miss the connection between chapter 2 verses
24 and 25 and chapter 3 verse 1. We will start on chapter 2
verse 24 and we will read through to chapter 3 verse 1.
But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them,
for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to
testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a
ruler of the Jews;
The chapter break is bad here. It breaks up the flow of the
thought. Jesus knew what was in every man, and, by the way,
there was a man that He had an interview with. He is going
to look into the soul of this particular man, and deal with
what is going on in his heart. Nicodemus had an issue, I
believe, that he was dealing with, and Jesus will speak
directly to it.
Nicodemus had noticed, and was very impressed with, the
miracles of verse 23. Jesus is at the Passover; He is doing
signs. Nicodemus has seen them; he is awed. That is one of
the reasons he comes to Jesus.
What do we know about this man Nicodemus? The name Nicodemus
is a Hellenized version of the Hebrew name Nakdimon. It is
very possible that this man is referred to in the Talmud.
There is a Nicodemus who was a well known figure in
Jerusalem in the first century. In fact, I would like to
read from an article about Nicodemus. This comes from the
Jewish Encyclopedia. It is online at
It is a free Jewish Encyclopedia. This is not a Christian
encyclopedia with a Christian bias to emphasize. With that
in mind, notice what the article states.
Nicodemus – Prominent member of the Sanhedrin, and a man of
wealth; lived in Jerusalem in the first century C.E.
The designation C.E. means Common Era. It is the Jewish
designation for time period commonly known as A.D. A.D.
stands for Anno Domini which is Latin for “in the Year of
the Lord.” The article continues:
He is mentioned in John 3:3-21, 7:50, 19:39.
So this encyclopedia indicates that the New
Testament Nicodemus is the same Nicodemus mentioned in the
Talmud. The man we are talking about in the Gospel of John
is a well known figure in the Jewish community of the first
century. The next section of the article reads:
In the first of these passages
he is represented as a “ruler of the Jews” who
learned from Jesus what “rebirth by baptism”
Nicodemus was a “ruler of the Jews” because
he was a member of the Sanhedrin. Now, notice the Jewish
error there. Most Jewish people think that salvation comes
by baptism. You will see why in just a little bit. That
error is perpetuated by the Roman Catholic Church, which
also teaches that you get salvation by baptism. In Roman
Catholic doctrine It does not matter if you want to be
baptized or not. Infants can be baptized. In regard to
Jewish people, just grab that Jewish person, get him wet,
and you have saved him. So, you can see some
misunderstandings in this article that we need to speak to.
Let us continue:
(He) learned from Jesus what “rebirth by baptism” meant, as
if that rabbinical term had been altogether unknown to him.
The encyclopedia is correct. The term
“rebirth” is not unknown to Nicodemus. It is very much a
part of the first century, and I will show you that soon.
Moving on in the article:
The second passage records how he made his visit to Jesus by
night, in order that he might not be known as one of the
This reference to a “second passage” is a mistake in the
encyclopedia article. It is a misprint. It should read the
“first passage.” It is the first passage that records how he
made a visit to Jesus by night, in order that he might not
be known as one of the latter’s disciples. Then the article
overlooks the second passage, John 7:50, when Nicodemus
defended Jesus in front of other Pharisees. The article
continues with a reference to the third passage that
|In the third passage he and Joseph of Arimathæa are
described as having taken charge of the body of Jesus in
order to give it decent burial. That the man brought into
such prominence in the fourth Gospel must have been a
well-known figure of Jewish society at the time is evident.
In all probability he is identical with the Talmudical
Nicodemus ben Gorion, a popular saint noted for his
miraculous powers; and this would explain also the reference
to “heavenly things” in Jesus’ arguments with him (John
Nicodemus is a historically attested person. Nicodemus was
also a Pharisee. This is important because the Pharisees
held to a very pivotal point of doctrine. In the Mishnah,
the oral traditions, Sanhedrin 10:1 and in the Talmud,
Sanhedrin 90a, this is what we read:
|All Israelites have a share in the world to
come. For it is written,
Thy people shall be all
righteous, they shall inherit the land forever,
the branch of my planting, the work of my hands,
that I may be glorified.
The verse quoted above is Isaiah 60:21. After studying
Isaiah 60:21, the rabbis came to the conclusion that to be
born a Jew means you have automatic entrance into the
Kingdom. If you start talking about Jesus to your Jewish
friend and he gets a little convicted, and he goes to the
rabbi, and asks about heaven and hell, the rabbi will
probably tell him, “That is a Gentile problem, all Jews go
What is kind of humorous about this is that after this
statement the rabbis list all the exceptions. Here are the
But the following have no portion therein: He who maintains
that the resurrection is not a biblical doctrine.
How many Jewish people today believe in the
resurrection? The answer is very few. In other words, most
Jewish people today do not have a share in the world to
come. The second exception reads:
The Torah is not divinely revealed.
How many Jewish people believe that today?
Not very many believe that the Bible is divinely revealed.
Ninety percent do not. Ninety percent of the Jewish
community does not have a share in the world to come
according to this statement. The exceptions continue:
This is an epicurean, one who indulges in luxury and
sensuality. Rabbi Akiva, a rabbi who lived around 135 AD,
added another exception:
One who reads uncanonical books.
The mention of uncanonical books is probably a reference to
the New Testament. Rabbi Akiva also added:
|Also one who whispers a charm over a wound and says,
bring none of these diseases upon thee, which I brought
against the Egyptians for I am the Lord that healeth thee.
So, a Jewish faith healer will go to hell, according to the
rabbis. Abba Shaul, another rabbi adds:
Also one who pronounces the divine name as it is spelt.
The divine name is spelled, in Hebrew, yud, hey, vav, hey.
The name is pronounced Yahweh. Jews are forbidden by the
rabbis to pronounce the name Yahweh. And then the final
|Three kings and four commoners have no portion in the world
to come. The three kings are Jeroboam, Ahab and Manasseh.
The four commoners: Balaam, Doeg, Ahitophel and Gehazi.
So that is one part of the important Pharisaic doctrine,
“All Israelites have a share in the world to come.” We also
read a similar statement in one of the rabbinical
commentaries, Genesis Rabbah, the Great Commentary on
Genesis. Rabbah means to be lifted up. Genesis Rabbah
Abraham sits on the gates of Gehenna, to save any Israelite
assigned thereto. (Genesis Rabbah 48:8)
Gehenna is another word for Hell. So what do the rabbis mean
by this? What they are saying is that Abraham is sitting at
the door to Hell. Should God make a mistake and send an
Israelite to Hell by accident, not to vorry, Abraham will
reach out and grab him, at the last minute, and save him
from Hell. Abraham is our insurance policy.
To summarize all this, to be born a Jew is to automatically
inherit eternal life. That is rabbinic theology. That is
what Nicodemus believed and taught in the first century. Let
us go on to verse 2.
this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we
know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one
can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
Nicodemus came by night. It is an important point to note,
because John introduces a subtheme into his gospel here
called “the conflict between light and darkness.” We will
see that conflict in just a little bit.
When Nicodemus comes to Him, he opens the conversation and
Jesus immediately speaks to his needs. What I see in this is
that Nicodemus is preoccupied with the Kingdom of God, but I
also see that he is struggling with the rabbinic theology
that I just shared with you. He is not so sure that he
qualifies to enter into the Kingdom of God just because he
is born a Jew. He has taught these doctrines all his life,
but he is still not 100% sure of them.
Jesus speaks to his need here, in verses 3 and 4:
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you,
unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is
old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb
and be born, can he?”
Nicodemus’ response has often been misunderstood. Most
commentators think Nicodemus is totally confused, he did not
know what Jesus was talking about, and is just searching
around for some kind of an answer. But I think the stress
should be put on Nicodemus’ statement, “How can a man be
born when he is old?” I believe that is the emphasis in
Nicodemus’ mind. He knows what being born again means. He
just does not know it can happen at his age. We will see in
a few minutes that he was probably in his 50′s. Now, let us
take a look at this concept of being born again.
At this point I want to introduce a chart entitled “You must
be born again.” We are going to work through the Jewish view
of being born again based on this chart. Pharisaic Judaism
taught that there are eight ways to be born again and they
all stress the physical element. Nicodemus qualified for
six. Let us take a look at them. (The explanation of the
|“YOU MUST BE BORN
|Type of Birth
|Born of Water
||Rabbinic idiom for physical birth
||Nicodemus, A Rabbi’s Quest, Ariel
Ministries, Manuscript #16, pg. 2
||Jewish Encyclopedia: Vol. 3, pg. 220
||Nicodemus was already Jewish
||Encyclopedia Judaica: Vol. 13, Col. 1184.
Jewish Encyclopedia: Vol. 10, pg. 223.
Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah: Vol. 1, pg.
||No evidence that Nicodemus was a member of the
House of David
||Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah: Vol.
1, pg. 384. Yalkut on 1 Sam. 13
||As a Pharisee Nicodemus immersed frequently
||Jewish Encyclopedia.com: Ablution,
||Nicodemus expressed repentance at least once a
year at Yom Kippur
||Jewish Encyclopedia.com: Birth, New
||Nicodemus, A Rabbi’s Quest, Ariel
Ministries, Manuscript #16, pg. 2
||Requirement for being a member of the Sanhedrin
||Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol.
1, pg. 384
||“Rav” (taught the masses)
||Peninim on the Torah, pg. 233
|Head of a Rabbinic Academy (Yeshiva)
||“HaRav” (taught Rabbinic candidates or other
||Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol.
1, pg. 384
|Born of the Spirit
The first type of birth, “to be born of water” happens when
you are physically born. Of course Nicodemus qualified for
this type of birth because being born of water is a rabbinic
idiom for physical birth. It is a reference to the amniotic
Then the rabbis went on to say that there is another type of
birth and that is to be “born again.” They taught that there
are eight ways you could be “born again.” The first of those
types of rebirth we encounter is proselyte conversion. When
a Gentile chose to become Jewish, converted to Judaism, he
was said to be “born again.” He moved into a whole new realm
of life. He moved out of being Gentile and into being
Jewish. He took on new responsibilities. He did not have
responsibilities to the Mosaic Law before; now he is
committed to the Mosaic Law and the traditions of first
century Judaism. Of course, this can happen at various ages.
Did Nicodemus experience this? No, he did not have to; he
was already Jewish.
The next way to be “born again” is to be crowned king. When
a Jewish man became king, he is said to be “born again.” He
started a whole new life. Before, he was just a citizen of
the nation, now he is the leader! Now he needs to lead
the country. That means he has to take on tremendous
responsibilities, and a brand new life. This happened at
various ages. There is no particular age that a man can be
crowned king. Did Nicodemus experience this? No, there is no
evidence that Nicodemus was a member of the house of David.
There is no evidence that he was in a line for David’s
throne, so he did not experience this at all.
At this juncture we come to the ways in which Nicodemus was
“born again.” The next way you could be “born again” is
t’vilah, which is Hebrew for Baptism. Jewish people are very
concerned about ritual cleanliness, so there are many
immersions in Rabbinic Judaism. You immersed yourself and
when you came out of the water and you were ritually clean.
Of course, that happened all the time. Was Nicodemus
qualified? Did he experience this type of being “born
again?” Yes indeed. Nicodemus, as a Pharisee, immersed
frequently, constantly. Let me share with you a little
comment from Encyclopedia Judaica on ablution or baptism.
Here is what the author said:
Total immersion is required
for most cases of ritual impurity.
We are not talking about dirt on your hands or anything like
that. We are not talking about germs. We are talking about
ritual cleanliness. The article from Encyclopedia Judaica
|Total immersion is required for most cases of ritual
impurity decreed in the Torah. Immersions were required
especially of the priests, since they had to be in a state
of purity in order to participate in the temple service or
eat of the holy things. Other individuals had to be ritually
pure even to enter the temple. However, it became customary
among the Pharisees to maintain a state of purity at all
times. In fact, a fact which their Hebrew name, the Perushim,
(separated ones) may have developed.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee. So, Nicodemus had a fetish about
ritual cleanliness. He was constantly going through this.
Being immersed, full immersion, and then coming out ritually
clean. He went through this all the time, he was “born
The next way you can be “born again” is repentance.
Repentance means to turn around, to change your mind from
walking in unrighteousness to walking in righteousness. That
is being “born again.” It is a new way of life. You were
going one way, now you are going another way. This can
happen at any age. Was Nicodemus qualified for this? Had he
experienced repentance? You better believe it. He probably
repented all the time. At a bare minimum we know he would
express repentance on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and
the most holy day of the Jewish year. He repented at least
once a year.
The next way you could be “born again” is when you are bar-mitzvahed.
When a Jewish boy reaches the age of 13, he is “born again”
because he becomes a man. He is no longer a child; he starts
a brand new life. He is now responsible for his own sin. He
is “born again” into a brand new life.
The next way you become born again occurred when you were
married. Now you have a wife to support; a wife to take care
of, and a home. It is brand new start. It is a brand new
life. You are “born again.” Marriage happened between the
ages of 16 and 20 in the first century. Nicodemus was
married because that was a requirement for being a member of
the Sanhedrin. The Talmud Kethuboth 65A and 66B mentions
that he had a daughter and a son.
The next way you could be “born again” is rabbinic
ordination. When you were ordained as a rabbi, you now
taught the masses. You taught people the Torah. You taught
them the traditions; how to live. You took on brand new
responsibilities, a brand new life. This happened around age
30. We know Nicodemus was a rabbi, he was teaching the
One more way in which you could be “born again” was when you
become the head of a rabbinic academy, a rabbinic seminary,
a yeshiva. Now your life changes again because you are not
responsible to teach the masses, you are now responsible to
teach rabbis and rabbinic candidates. This is a whole new
responsibility, a whole new life. You are “born again.” We
know that Nicodemus was the head of a yeshiva because when
you became the head of a yeshiva you receive the title HaRav.
If you are just a rabbi, you receive the title Rav, but,
when you became the head of a yeshiva, you receive the title
HaRav. We will see Jesus use this title HaRav in relation to
Nicodemus is just a minute.
So, Nicodemus has gone through the experience of being “born
again” every way he knows how. He has been “born again”
left, right, up, down and sideways. He may be 50 years old
by now. That is why he says to Jesus, “How can a man be born
when he is old?” “Jesus, I have gone through all this stuff,
I would have to start all over in my mother’s womb. That is
the only way left.” What he does not understand is what
Jesus is driving at. Jesus is going to tell him that he has
got to be born of the Spirit. He has to be born again in the
spiritual realm. He has to start a brand new life with God.
That can happen at any age. Will Nicodemus be qualified for
this? Yes. He will not experience being “born again” of the
Spirit in this chapter, but by the end of the gospels, he is
“born again,” he is a believer. Jesus is talking about
spiritual salvation here. He is no longer talking about the
physical realm. We will see that when we get to verse 7. At
this point, Nicodemus has used up every way he knows to be
“born again.” Let us move on to verses 5 and 6.
There are some parallels in verses 5 and 6, which I need to
point out. Parallelism is another Jewish way of emphasizing
ideas. Now let us take a look at John chapter 3 verse 5:
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.”
The two contrasting elements Jesus talks about are the water
and the Spirit. He goes on to emphasize this in verse 6.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is
born of the Spirit is spirit.
Do you see the contrast there? Being born of water, being
born physically, is being born of the flesh; but being born
of the Spirit is in contrast to that. There is a fleshly
physical birth and a spiritual rebirth. So He is emphasizing
the distinction between the two.
Now, do not make a mistake here, Jesus is not talking about
baptism when He is talking about being born of water. Jesus
is talking about physical birth when He uses that
terminology. Remember, the phrase to be “born of water” is a
Jewish idiom referring to the gush of amniotic fluid that
accompanies physical birth.
Let us go on to verse 7.
Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born
Let me paraphrase what Jesus states at this point. He is
saying, “The only way to enter the Kingdom, Nicodemus, is to
be born of the Spirit, nothing else is going to do.”
Nicodemus was struggling with this whole idea. He had taught
all of his life that he is automatically qualified to enter
the Kingdom just by virtue of being Jewish. Jesus is now
saying, “Being born Jewish is inadequate Nicodemus. Physical
birth is inadequate Nicodemus.”
Why is that? Simply because the type of body we inhabit
right now is not fit for the Kingdom of God. That is what
Paul said in I Corinthians 15:50. He picks up this idea and
Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot
inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit
Are physical bodies eternal? No. We are all going to die.
Our bodies were born with sin natures. Sin crippled bodies
are perishable. Being born Jewish is not going to help you
overcome that problem. Jesus continues:
The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it,
but do not know where it comes from and where it is going;
so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.
Basically, Jesus says here that the “new birth” is under
divine control not under man’s control. Physical birth is
under man’s control but not the “new birth.” The new birth,
He says, can be experienced by mankind but it can never be
understood by man and can never be controlled by man. It is
like the wind. Think of hurricanes during the hurricane
season. We look at the news and what do they do during the
weather report? They show computer plots of where they think
the hurricane is going to go. The only problem is that the
computer models go all over the place! The weathermen have
no idea where the hurricane is going. If we could control it
what would we do? We turn it off! But we cannot turn a
hurricane off and so we hide from it. We are totally
helpless in the face of enormous wind and rain. That is the
way it is with being “born again.” It is controlled by God.
We cannot understand it, but we can experience it.
Let us move on to verses 9 through 12.
|Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus
answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and
do not understand these things? 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?”
Jesus held Nicodemus responsible to know what He is talking
about based on his knowledge of the Old Testament. Believe
me, Nicodemus knew his Old Testament. He probably had the
Torah memorized. In addition, he had the Mishnah, the
traditions, memorized as well and that is a lot bigger than
the Old Testament.
Jesus calls him “the teacher of Israel.” That means
Nicodemus was the head of a yeshiva! He was a teacher of
teachers. He was responsible to know what Jesus is talking
about. For example, the rabbis taught in the Talmud,
R. Hiyya b. Abba also said in the name of R. Johanan: All
the prophets prophesied only for the days of the Messiah
In other words, the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament,
prepared the Jewish community for the coming of the Messiah
and for all that He would say and do. All the concepts of
the New Testament have their roots in the Old. You really
need to know the Old Testament before you can truly
understand the New Testament.
No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from
heaven: the Son of Man.
Now Jesus goes on and explains His deity and His origin in
heaven, and therefore His authority as the Messiah. He calls
Himself the Son of Man. This term the Son of Man is a
technical term for the Messiah, it comes straight from
I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the
clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He
came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him.
And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all
the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve
Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not
pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be
Daniel states that he saw a Man. He looks human but He was
not. The reference to the clouds of heaven is a reference to
the Shekinah glory of God, the glory of God that is always
seen when He visibly manifests Himself. So here, this
individual is associated with the very glory of God.
The name the Ancient of Days is a reference to God the
Father, manifesting Himself visibly as a King. God can
manifest Himself visibly when He chooses to do so. When He
does, that revelation is called the Shekinah glory. So here
we have one divine individual, approaching another divine
The reference closes with the revelation of Jesus receiving
the Messianic Kingdom. So this man-like person is also God.
He is worshipped; He is divine.
The rabbis picked up on the term “Son of Man” and concluded
that it was a title for the Messiah. For example, in the
Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a, we eavesdrop in on a
Messianic discussion. This is what we hear:
|Rabbi Alexandri said, “Rav Joseph ben Levi pointed out a
contradiction. It is written, ‘in its time (will the Messiah
come), whilst it is also written, ‘the Lord will hasten
The rabbi sees a contradiction here. Why does one verse say
that the Messiah will come in His own time yet the other
verse says that God is going to hasten the coming of the
Messiah? Here is their answer.
If they are worthy, I will hasten it.
On one side of the coin, God will bring the Messiah quickly
If Israel is deserving. However:
If not, He will come at the due time.
On the other side of the coin, if Israel is not deserving,
the Messiah’s coming will not be hastened. The Messianic
|Rabbi Alexandri said, “Rav Joseph opposed two verses, it is
written, ‘and behold, One like the Son of Man came with the
clouds of Heaven,’ whilst (elsewhere) it is written, (‘behold
Thy King cometh unto thee …) lowly and riding upon an ass!’”
You see the contradiction? On one side you see this glorious
God-Man, associated with Shekinah glory, reigning; and, on
the other side, we see this humble, suffering Messiah,
coming in a lowly fashion. The rabbis could never put that
diverse data together into a coherent understanding of the
To this day, the rabbinic understanding of the Messiah is
the Two Messiah Theory. It goes something like this: the
first Messiah will come, the suffering Messiah, ironically
named Messiah ben Joseph. He will come and suffer and die.
After that, the second Messiah will come, the glorious
Messiah, Messiah ben David, Messiah the son of David. He
will reign and set up the Messianic Kingdom.
So, here is their explanation of the contradiction. If
Israel is meritorious, Messiah will come with the clouds of
heaven, in other words, in glory. If not, lowly and riding
on an ass. Interestingly enough, that little interpretation
describes the first and second coming of the Messiah. During
the first coming, Jesus came lowly, riding upon a donkey and
Israel rejected Him. We were not worthy. We were not
meritorious. Jesus then suffered for the sins of mankind.
However, at the Second Coming, all Israel will be saved.
Every living Jewish man, woman and child will make a faith
commitment to Jesus the Messiah. We will call out to Him to
return. He will return, and He will return in glory. We will
be meritorious at that time. We will be saved by grace and
credited with the Messiah’s righteousness. We will be born
again! Little did they know, the rabbis interpreted the
things pretty accurately. The only point they misunderstand
is the fact that the Bible speaks of one Messiah coming
Here, the term Son of Man is a reference to the Messiah. The
rabbis agree with that statement. In the ArtScroll Tanach
Commentary on Daniel, Rashi, the great Jewish commentator
says, “this is King Messiah, the Son of Man.” The Soncino
Books of the Bible states that rabbinical exegesis applied
the title to the Messiah. In the Midrash on Psalms, the
commentary of the Psalms, we read this:
|Rabbi Berechiah said in the name of Rabbi Samuel, one verse
reads of the King Messiah, that One, like the Son of Man . .
came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought him near
The Midrash is quoting Daniel 7:13 and says that it refers
to King Messiah. When Jesus calls himself the Son of Man, He
is making a direct Messianic claim. In no uncertain terms,
He is saying, “I am the Messiah, I am the Divine Son of
Man.” By the way, do not let anybody tell you that Jesus
never claimed to be God. As you can see here, Jesus is
claiming to be God over and over again from a Jewish frame
Let us go to verse 14.
Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness .
Now Jesus gives this head of a yeshiva an Old Testament
Bible lesson about the Messiah. The Bible lesson comes
directly from Numbers 21:8-9. He expects Nicodemus to
understand this lesson because Nicodemus is a Ph.D. when it
comes to Bible knowledge.
In Numbers 21:8-9, the
people were in the wilderness. They have sinned against God.
Consequently, God sent poisonous snakes into their midst, to
bite them as a form of punishment. People are dying and God
tells Moses to take a bronze snake and put it up on a pole.
Whoever looks on that snake will be healed. This is the
Messianic lesson out of the Torah and Nicodemus probably had
that memorized, word for word. Jesus continues on in verse
even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;
What happened physically to Israel in Moses’ day: we looked
in faith to the uplifted serpent and we were healed
physically. What happened physically to Israel will happen
spiritually with the Messiah. When Jesus is lifted up on the
cross, His pole, those who look to Him will be healed from
spiritual death and be born again. That is the lesson
Nicodemus should have understood as a Doctor of Divinity.
Now, as we come to verses 15-18, we come to the result of
looking at the uplifted serpent.
|so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
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.
At this point, Jesus applies the lesson of the uplifted
serpent to every person’s individual responsibility before
God in light of sin. The idea that each one of us is
responsible before God for our sins is not a new concept.
This idea is developed quite extensively by the prophet
Ezekiel. The whole point of Ezekiel chapter 18, for example,
is individual responsibility. We all stand the same before
God. We cannot hide behind our parents. We cannot hide
behind being the son of a pastor. We cannot hide behind
being Jewish. We cannot hide behind anything. Everybody in
this world is going to stand before God face to face. Jesus
is telling Nicodemus, “You cannot hide behind being Jewish,
Nicodemus. You are responsible for your own sin. The
responsibility lies with every individual to make a decision
either to believe in Jesus to be saved, or to reject Jesus
and be judged.” We need to move on to verses 19-21.
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. For everyone who does evil hates the
Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his
deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes
to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having
been wrought in God.
Whenever you talk to your friends, whether Jewish or
Gentile, I want you to avoid a very serious mistake. Often,
we portray Jesus as a source of condemnation. How do we do
that? We do that when we say “If you do not believe in
Jesus, you are going to hell.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? But
this statement just made Jesus appear to be the source of
condemnation. The source of condemnation is not Jesus. What
is the source? Sin! You need to tell your friends, “Because
you are a sinner, you are bound for hell.” And then you need
to tell them, “But there is a Savior out there. You see,
Jesus is the source of salvation. Place your faith in Jesus
as your substitutionary sacrifice, and you will be saved
from God’s wrath against your sin.” Always present Jesus as
a source of salvation. Make sure you word that correctly.
In verses 19-21, Jesus talks about two realms. Moving from
one realm to the other is only possible through trusting
Him. The first realm we encounter is the realm of
condemnation. We need to examine the realm of condemnation
in light of all that Jesus has said. First of all, those who
are in the realm of condemnation are judged already. That is
where we were born. We were born in sin. David said in Psalm
51, in sin did my mother conceive me. We are judged
already. We are born in sin. We are living in darkness. And
guess what? We love the darkness. We do not know it, but
that is the way it is. We love the darkness and we do evil
because we know of nothing different. That is where being
born physically takes you. Being born a Jew does not take
you out from the realm of condemnation.
But there is another realm to consider, the realm of
salvation. What about the realm of salvation? When you move
over to the realm of salvation, you move out of judgment.
You are not judged. You are “born again.” You have entered
the kingdom of light and not only that, you love the light
and you do good.
Now, who is this guy that Jesus is talking to? Well, Jesus
says in verses 19-21 that he who practices the truth comes
to the light. We have to recognize that there are people who
are seeking the truth. They practice the truth and when they
do, they come to the light. Nicodemus was one of those
people who were searching for the truth and he came to
light. He did not come immediately, it took him a while but
eventually he moved out of the realm of condemnation. He was
“born again.” He moved into the kingdom of light. He loved
the light and he did good.
By the way, people ask me, “What type of Jewish person is
the easiest to reach for the Lord?” My answer has always
been, “It does not matter whether they are Jewish or
Gentile. It does not matter what branch of Judaism they are
part of; Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, Reform, Conservative,
Atheist, Humanistic. What does matter is that they must be
searching for the truth. They have to fall in this category.
If they do, God will bring them to the truth.” So, the
answer to the question, “What type of Jewish person is the
easiest to reach for the Lord?” is this, “The easiest type
of Jewish person to reach is one who is searching for the
Do you see the subtheme of light and darkness here? You have
to move from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of
light. Nicodemus came in the darkness and Jesus is shining
His light upon him. Nicodemus is receiving that light, he is
not hiding from it, and he is not running from it the way
verse 19 states. He is coming to it.
As I said, coming to Jesus is not something Nicodemus did
right away. He has to digest this. He needs to reorient his
thinking. All his life, he has been teaching the belief that
“all Israel has a share in the world to come.” He might not
be convinced of that doctrine, but that is what he has been
teaching all his life.
He is very typical of most Jewish people. It is very rare
for a Jewish person to accept the Gospel the first time he
hears it. It usually takes some time of struggle. For
Nicodemus, the struggle begins right here in chapter 3 and
it is going to last 3 years. In John chapter 7, he has moved
to the point where he defends Jesus against his fellow
Pharisees. Then, 3 years after this chapter, in John 19, we
are going to see him openly identify himself as a believer
as he buries the body of Jesus. He was there at the cross.
Can you imagine what went through his mind as he takes
Jesus’ body down from the cross? Can you imagine him
thinking back 3 years when Jesus said the Son of Man is
going to be lifted up? What happened in the book of Numbers,
he sees portrayed right before his eyes.
I have a final question for you. What brought Nicodemus to
the light? What brought him to the point where placing his
faith in Jesus would bring him to the realm of salvation by
being be born again? The answer is this. What brought him to
the truth was the Mosaic Covenant. This is what he was
committed to; this is what he was living under.
How did the Mosaic Covenant accomplish this task? Let me
briefly discuss the purposes for the Mosaic Covenant. I
think this discussion will answer that question. Here are
the purposes of the Mosaic Covenant.
1. To make a distinction — Deuteronomy 4:6-8, 7:6-11
2. Reveal God’s standard of righteousness — Psalm 19:7-11, 40:8
3. Provide practical day-to-day guidance — Psalm 119:105
4. Reveal the necessity for substitutionary atonement — Heb.
9:22, Lev. 17:11
5. Reveal what sin is — Romans 3:20, 7:7
6. Cause men to sin more — Romans 5:20, 7:8-10; 1 Corinthians
7. Drive men to despair — Romans 7:12-25
8. Drive men to trust in God for salvation and not themselves —
Romans 8:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:57
The first purpose of the Mosaic Covenant is to make a
distinction between Israel and the rest of the world. We
were to be a distinct people. The Mosaic Law was also
designed to teach us distinctions between the clean and the
unclean. That is why Nicodemus went through baptism (t’vilah)
over and over again. He was constantly faced with the fact
that he is ritually unclean. Read the Torah; read the book
of Deuteronomy. If you take it seriously, you will say, “I
would be swimming in water 24-7. I will always be unclean!”
That is the point; you are always ritually unclean. You
would constantly be faced with the distinction between the
clean and the unclean, and you would consistently find
yourself on the unclean side of the coin.
Number two, the Mosaic Law revealed God’s righteousness.
Righteousness means to live by a standard, so here is the
standard. This is what you are to follow.
Number three, it provided day-to-day guidance for everyday
affairs. Psalm 119:105 reads, your word is a light onto my
feet. There are principles in the Mosaic Law which guide
you on a day-to-day basis.
Number four, the Law revealed the necessity for
substitutionary atonement. Why do you think the sacrificial
system exists? Why, because without the shedding of blood,
there is no forgiveness. There had to be an innocent victim
to take the penalty of the sin. That is what the sacrificial
system taught us; it prepared the way for Jesus, who is our
Number five, the Mosaic Law revealed what sin is. We did not
know what sin was until somebody told us, and the law did
just that. Now we know what is right and wrong. However, do
you know what that does? It causes men to sin more! God
says, “thou shall not” what do we say? We say, “Oh yes we
will!” God says, “you shall,” and we say, “Oh no, we will
not.” This causes men to sin more. If you try to live by the
Mosaic Law, you will find yourself sinning constantly.
Number six, this constant sinning would drive men to
despair. Those men, who were looking for the truth and
accepting it, would be driven to despair. “How can I have
the right relationship with God when I am constantly
unworthy and unclean? How can I do that?” That is where
Nicodemus was. He had bought into the theology that all
Israel had a share in the world to come, but he was not
convinced of it. That is why he came to Jesus.
Number seven, despair would drive men to trust God for
salvation, not themselves. This is what was drawing
Nicodemus to Jesus the Messiah. This is what was driving him
to the truth, the Mosaic Law. That is the purpose for it. It
is not there to save us. It is there to be a schoolmaster,
to teach us about the Messiah. It exists to drive us to
place our faith in Him so that we can be spiritually born
So, there was something in his background, sent from God.
There was revelation in his life that was leading him to the
truth. He just had to affirm the truth when he was faced
Dear reader, are you like Rabbi Nicodemus, a
sincere, honest seeker after God and the truth? Are you
willing to consider the New Testament and the Book of John
and see what they have to say about Jesus? If you realize
that you are not born again, please contact us at HaDavar
Messianic Ministries and we will do all we can to assist you
to find the truth about the Messiah. Jesus said in John
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to
the Father but through Me.
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