Nicodemus was a Pharisee. Verse one says that he was a “ruler of the Jews,” which would make him a member of the Sanhedrin – the Jewish governing council. In fact, one of the other two places he is mentioned is in John 7:50, as there is division among them concerning arresting Jesus. Nicodemus states his belief that Jesus is sent from God because of the signs that he did, confirming that Jesus did many more miracles than were written in the gospel, as John states in John 20:30-31. Nicodemus seems to be trying to understand what Jesus means by being born again in a physical manner. But Jesus is speaking of being re-born by the Spirit by way of baptism (Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12-13). In verse 14, Jesus refers to Moses lifting up the Bronze Serpent in Numbers 21:5-9 to save the people when they had spoken against God; and gives Nicodemus a preview of His crucifixion, which likely he would also not understand – yet. He will repeat this reference to being lifted up in John 8:28 and John 12:32-33.
Verse 16 is one of the most famous of the New Testament, and most Bibles that put the words of Jesus in red assign verses 16-21 as His words. But many scholars believe that these verses are actually John’s inspired words, and the fact that he speaks of God having given His son in the past tense seems to bear that out. In any case, these verses are joined with verse 15 in such a way that together they well represent the message of the gospel concerning salvation. The phrase “God so loved the world” followed by the other references to the world are often overlooked in their significance – not only for salvation being open to all, but the declaration of God’s love for all the world, not just the people of Israel.
It is no coincidence that the text immediately jumps to the baptism being done by John the Baptist (who is not yet in prison in this part of the gospel) and now by Jesus and His disciples (verses 22-26). John’s disciples note that people are going to Jesus for baptism now, and John reminds them that he himself told them that he is not the Christ, but had been sent before him. And in verse 30, says “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John had done what God had sent him to do.
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog. All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility. When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com. For questions and help, please see the “FAQ” and “Summaries” pages there.