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.” (John 3:1-3 ESV)
Wasn’t this a strange way for Jesus to start a conversation? A prominent rabbi comes in, and confesses to Jesus that he is a “teacher come from God.” At first glance, you might think Jesus might reply, “Yes, you’re right, you’re very perceptive.” “Yes, you have seen the truth.” or at least, “Why do you say that? Why do you think I am from God?”
But, as Jesus often did, he throws Nicodemus something seemingly out of the blue— “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Where did that come from?
If you examine Jesus’ conversations, He often challenged unbelievers along the path of their perceived but wrong opinions. To the rich young ruler he first challenged him about his notion of what being “good” was. To Nathanael he challenged his image of what the Messiah would be like. To the woman at the well he challenged her idea of what thirst was really all about. To Pilate he challenged his idea of how an innocent man would speak before him.
So Christ immediately challenged Nicodemus on his opinion of what spiritual sight was. Specifically, Nicodemus had studied the Scriptures all his life, and was intellectually one of the most learned men in Israel. In addition to his learning, he had lived an exemplary holy and pious life. If anyone in Israel was qualified to know who would be truly from God and who wasn’t, both Nicodemus himself and any other Jew would have said, “Yes, Nicodemus can see.”
But Jesus jumps in and in effect says, “You’ve just said you can see that I’m from God. But you can’t. You’re blind. All your knowledge and all your holiness can’t give you spiritual sight— only being born again can allow you to see the kingdom of God.”
This statement completely blows Nicodemus and his world away. The fact that spiritual sight can’t be attained though even his lifetime of diligent effort— he just can’t comprehend it (well, duh, because he doesn’t have any spiritual sight.) But the spiritual blindness of humanity is a fact. Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
It is only after God directly intervenes in our life through the new birth that we can see, as Paul says in verse 6, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Nicodemus was convinced he could see spiritual reality, but he couldn’t until he was born again. When someone is born again, their eyes are opened to a whole new world of spiritual reality, just as in the movie The Matrix Neo sees his reality in a whole new and deeper way after he is reborn:
So, how should believers respond to this truth from John’s gospel?
First, we need to be thankful to God that He has in His mercy chosen to allow us to have spiritual sight.
Second, we need to pray and strive to use this spiritual sight, to see the Kingdom of God as we journey in this world, in the situations we deal with and the people that we minister to.
Third, we need to know that the battle to bring people to see the Kingdom of God, to see the truth of the gospel, is not just a battle with their emotions or minds or wills, but with spiritual blindness, a battle where we must pray and ask God to remove their blindness and grant them spiritual sight.