“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered 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? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”” (John 3:1–4)
I recall when I received Jesus Christ by faith that it was said to me that a family member of mine also now claimed to be “a born again Christian.” It seemed the term was derogatory; a term of contempt. However, the truth is that to be a Christian is to be born again. It is like someone referring to ‘saints’ as really special Christians when in fact all Christians are called saints in Scripture by virtue of grace.
Nonetheless, the first four verses of John 3 are deeper than I ever imagined. Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night is puzzling to the readers. Was it because he was embarrassed to come to him by day? Was it because he was too busy to come to him by day? These are questions some have asked. But the best explanation I have read is that the intent is that “hints of the darkness in which Nicodemus stood” (Beasley-Murray, 53).
It was quite clear to Nicodemus and those whom he spoke on behalf of (note the term “we”) that Jesus was doing genuine miracles testifying that he was sent by God. This is in opposition to fake miracles that Satan pretends to perform, biblically called “lying wonders” (2 Thess 2:9).
I was talking with my family about the miracles of God last night. We noticed how when we go to list all those whom God performed miraculous signs through in the Bible, the list is quite short. When you get to Jesus, the amount of miracles is enormously more. Miracles are God are extraordinary displays of God’s covenant Lordship over all things (Frame). One such miracle we named that night was that of the incarnation, God the Son becoming man. So, it is no less of a miracle here for Jesus to speak of a man dead in sins and darkness becoming spiritually alive and entering the light of the Lord.
Jesus expected the Pharisee to understand from studying the Scriptures the concept of rebirth. Jesus was likely speaking in terms of the kingdom of God. One commentator I read cites Matthew 19:28 which says,
“Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28)
This is in relation to Job 14:14
“If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come.” (Job 14:14)
Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God. One must enter it by regeneration or new birth. Nicodemus speaks to Jesus in John 3:4 with some sense of insult saying something like this (my paraphrase from the Greek text):
Then Nicodemus said to his face, “How is man able to be born when he is old? He can’t enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born can he?John 3:4 Author’s translation
It’s derogatory to Nicodemus at this point. He can’t see the kingdom of God. He comes by night and remains in darkness. But thankfully (as Beasley-Murray notes) it is likely that he did not remain there (cf. John 7:49-51; 19:38–40), but came out of darkness by the miraculous work of God and too could be called a believer, which is also someone who is born again.
Being “born again” then is not an add on or an adjective that was meant to insult Christians for their high and holy ways, but a term to teach them and others about the kingdom of light that they could only enter into by virtue of the miraculous gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. To be born again, is to be an ordinary Christian. But to be an ordinary Christian is to be part of an extraordinary Kingdom and to belong to the true King, even Jesus Christ.