When Nicodemus came to Jesus, he recognized Jesus as “a teacher come from God” and that God was with Him. But Jesus doesn’t seem to acknowledge Nicodemus’ recognition of Him. He immediately tells Nicodemus about the new birth required to “see the kingdom of God.” So, what does that have to do with what Nicodemus said?
Nicodemus referred to Jesus’ teaching and recognized that it had divine authority. But what was Jesus teaching? “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). If Nicodemus recognized that to be a command from heaven, and he did, then he needed to know how to respond to that teaching. That’s why Jesus told him, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus had the same problem that all the Jews of Jesus’ day had. They placed all their hope in their physical birth, their genealogical connection to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They lived under a covenant of physical birth. A Hebrew was born a Hebrew based on their physical genealogy. But the kingdom Jesus was preaching about wasn’t a physical kingdom/nation like Israel. He was preparing people for a spiritual kingdom, His church. To “see” and “enter into” that kingdom would require being “born again,” not physically but spiritually. It is the new birth brought about by “water and the Spirit.”
John and his disciples, then Jesus and His disciples, were preaching “a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Luke 3:3; Jn. 3:22; 4:1-2). The Holy Spirit-inspired command was to “repent,” to change our “spirit” to be in harmony with God’s Spirit. And, having done that, to fully commit ourselves to God through the burial of the “old man” (i.e., the person we were before we repented) to be raised a “new man.”
John and Jesus were preparing people for the kingdom that was “at hand” in their time. Today, we enter that same kingdom the same way they were prepared for it before it came, by believing and being baptized (Mark 16:16), which is being born again by water and the Spirit. Just as we see being done on Pentecost in Acts 2:38, 41. They were “cut to the heart” by the Holy Spirit-inspired word they heard preached that day (Acts 2:37). They were “added to the church” (Acts 2:47) by “water and Spirit”!
What Jesus said to Nicodemus is exactly what Paul said to Titus. That is, we are saved by God “through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). And, again, to the Ephesians, that Jesus sanctified and cleansed the church “with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26).
Jesus told Nicodemus exactly what someone who acknowledges the truth of God’s word needs to hear!