Why didn’t the Pharisee Nicodemus understand when Jesus said to him: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”?
Why do people not understand those words today? How many know, today, that Jesus’s gospel was a sensational, never-before-proclaimed news announcement?
Jesus Was a Newscaster
Those in Judea knew—or should have known—Malachi’s prophecy concerning this. It was the gospel of God—and the word “gospel” means good news!
Jesus was a newscaster. His news was something absolutely new—never before proclaimed to mankind. It was the most wonderful news ever reported, actually almost too wonderful for humans to believe. It was news of the utterly transcendent potential of man.
The tremendous message that Jesus brought was not a report of past events. It was advance news of an almost unbelievable utopian World Tomorrow! It was news of life after death. And it was news that we may be born again! Yet almost nobody understands it!
Why has it never been recognized by the world as the stupendous news that it actually was?
Because first-century enemies of the gospel suppressed it!
The Church of God, on the foundation of the original apostles and Christ, was founded on the Day of Pentecost, a.d. 31. About two decades later, when the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the churches of Galatia, it had already been suppressed, and false ministers had turned the people to a different gospel. Paul wrote, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6‑7). Again, in Romans 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (Revised Standard Version). And in 2 Corinthians 11 Paul speaks of false apostles of Satan (verses 13-15) who come preaching “another gospel” (verses 4, 13, 15).
The time was at hand, when Jesus preached, for this message to be announced! The time is at hand, today, for its true meaning to be made so plain that people may understand it! (Matthew 24:14).
It will be, in this article. And it is a crucial challenge to you who now read it! And you have to understand what was that news announcement, or you can never understand what Jesus meant about being “born again.”
What Was the News?
Notice, briefly, first, what that astonishing news message was! The preannouncement, in Malachi’s prophecy, says: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek [the Messiah], shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant …” (Malachi 3:1).
Now notice the beginning of the messenger’s proclamation of the message. It is recorded in Mark’s gospel, chapter 1: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophets ….” Then follows the citation from Malachi, written above. That is followed by the account of John the Baptist, preparing the way before the messenger.
Then, verses 14-15: “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel”—that is, believe the good news!
What IS the Kingdom of God?
What did He mean—the Kingdom of God? Jesus’s whole message—His gospel—was about the Kingdom of God! Yet few know anything about it, today.
A kingdom is (a) a nation composed of people, and (b) the government of the nation.
In some cases, the people of a nation are the descendants—the children—of one man. The nation of Turkey was descended from ancient Esau, the twin brother of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. He was the father of the nation Israel. Before the twins were born, God said to their mother, Rebekah, “Two nations are in thy womb …” (Genesis 25:23).
Now Jesus the Messiah was to come as “the messenger of the covenant.” The “Old Covenant” had established the human children of Israel as a nation or kingdom of humans, called the kingdom of Israel. Jesus came as the Messenger—heralding the message of the New Covenant that shall set up the Spirit-composed children of God as the Kingdom of God!
As the ancient kingdom of Israel was composed of the human family of the human man Israel, so the Kingdom of God will be composed of the divine Family of the divine God!
And what does this have to do with life after death? It has everything to do with it!
WHY Jewish Rulers Rejected the Message
The Jewish rulers of Jesus’s day thought He was proclaiming a government to be set up immediately—to overthrow the Roman Empire, then ruling Judea as a vassal state.
One of these prominent Jews was a man named Nicodemus, mentioned earlier. He was a Pharisee, and the Pharisees were hostile to Jesus because of this new gospel. Nicodemus, however, wanted to meet this astonishing messenger and discuss it with him. To avoid criticism from his colleagues, he came to Jesus by night.
“We know,” he said, “that you are a teacher come from God.”
The “we” implies that the divine identity of the Messenger and the source of His message was known to the Pharisees. But they were “now” people, concerned with protecting their status as rulers under the Roman government, not with receiving revelations from God.
Jesus perceived the import of Nicodemus’s first words. His message was the good news of the coming world government of God—that is, the Kingdom of God, which shall rule all nations with the government of God.
These Jewish rulers feared that message. Jesus was of their race—a Jew. If they did not oppose Him, they feared being shorn of their power and perhaps put to death as subversives threatening the overthrow of the Roman government. And the Pharisees thought Jesus proclaimed the immediate takeover of that rule!
Not of This Age
Therefore Jesus did not waste words. He struck straight through to the crux point—the Kingdom of God is not of this world—this time, this age—but of the World Tomorrow—a different and a following age. Not composed of humans, but of immortals—the God Family!
So Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
Notice carefully that being “born again” has a vital connection with the Kingdom of God—with the fact that it is not of this time—this age.
But Jesus’s abrupt opening statement left Nicodemus confused. The religious leaders and the hundreds of denominations and sects professing Christianity today are confused and deceived! Today’s religionists put a different twist on it than did Nicodemus, however.
Nicodemus did understand clearly what is meant by being born. He knew it meant being delivered from his mother’s womb. It meant being delivered into the world! Today’s religious leaders read into it a different meaning! What Nicodemus could not understand was how—in what manner—anyone could be born again! And of course, being carnal-minded, he could only conceive of a second physical birth. But he knew what being born meant!
Born Human a Second Time?
Puzzled, he asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (verse 4). He was not confused about what is meant by being born. What Nicodemus could not understand was a second birth. He thought Jesus was talking about a second human birth.
He was unable to conceive of any but a second physical birth. His mind could not grasp spiritual things.
Now Jesus had made clear that the Kingdom of God is something that can be seen—but not until or unless one is “born again.” Not during his physical lifetime! Also, verse 5, the Kingdom of God is something a man may enter into—but not until after he is born again—another and entirely different birth.
Here is the crux point that explains it all: Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh: and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (verse 6).
Man is now flesh—human. He is material substance. “[D]ust thou art,” said God to Adam, “and unto dust shalt thou return.” Again, “And the [Eternal] God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 3:19; 2:7).
Those Born Again to BE Spirit
But, said Jesus plainly, when one is born of the Spirit he will BE spirit! Look at it! Read it in your own Bible.
The Kingdom of God will be composed of spirit beings—not of humans!
At birth of human flesh, one is delivered from his mother’s womb into this world. When born of the Spirit, one will be delivered from the Church of God (physical)—the mother of begotten Christians—into the Kingdom of God (a Kingdom of spirit beings).
Man is now composed of flesh—material substance—matter. When born again he will BE spirit—a spirit being, no longer human. He will be composed of spirit—of spirit composition—with life inherent—with self-containing life—not then existing by the breath of air and the circulation of blood.
Of the next age when the Kingdom of God will rule the world—the life after death—the next life—Jesus said, “They neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God …” (Matthew 22:30). Marriage is a physical, fleshly union. In the age of God’s Kingdom, when “born again” we shall be spirit, not flesh. Born of God as spirit beings, no longer human. Angels are spirits—composed of spirit (Hebrews 1:7). Jesus did not say we shall then be angels—but as the angels—sexless and composed of spirit. Angels are spirit beings—created as such—but not begotten and born of God as God’s own born children. We therefore shall be greater than angels!
Jesus explained this further to Nicodemus: “The wind bloweth were it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
You cannot see wind. Wind is compared to spirit. It is invisible. That’s why mortal flesh, as we now are, cannot see the Kingdom of God. Those who inherit it will be spirit—normally invisible to eyes still human.
Not While Flesh and Blood
The Apostle Paul made clear that the Kingdom of God is something a human may inherit, but not in this age—not while he is composed of material flesh.
“The first man is of the earth, earthy [human]: the second man is the Lord from heaven [a divine God Being]” (1 Corinthians 15:47).
This is what Jesus was saying to Nicodemus. He was of the earth, earthy—human. He was flesh, not spirit. He was born of the flesh, so that’s what he was—flesh. When one is born of the Spirit, he will be Spirit. Paul is here explaining the same truth.
But we cannot be spirit in this present age.
There is a time element concerned with being born again into God’s Kingdom.
Continue, now, in 1 Corinthians 15:49: “And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall [future—resurrection] also bear the image of the heavenly” (verse 49). As we are now flesh, we shall be spirit—at the resurrection, that is, when we shall be “born again”—when we shall see, enter into, the Kingdom of God—when we are spirit—at the resurrection!
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep [be dead], but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we [the then living] shall be changed” (verses 50-52). There is the time when we may be born again—when we may see, enter into, and inherit the Kingdom—when “born again,” and NOT BEFORE!
How shall we be changed? The next words answer! “For this corruptible [flesh, as we now are] must put on incorruption [spirit—that which is born of God is spirit], and this mortal must put on immortality”—be changed from material flesh to spirit!
Until born again, we cannot see the Kingdom of God—Jesus to Nicodemus, John 3:3.
Until born again, we cannot enter into the Kingdom of God—Jesus to Nicodemus, John 3:5.
Until no longer flesh, but changed into spirit, we cannot enter into the Kingdom of God—Jesus to Nicodemus, John 3:6-8.
While still flesh and blood (as Nicodemus was and we are) we cannot inherit the Kingdom of God—Paul to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 15:50.
Until the resurrection, at Christ’s coming, we shall not be changed from corruptible flesh into incorruptible spirit—Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:50-53 and verses 22-23.
Until the resurrection, therefore, we cannot see, enter into, or inherit the Kingdom of God. We cannot be born again until the resurrection!
Now Heirs—Not Yet Inheritors
While in our present status, born of the flesh and composed of flesh, we cannot see, enter into, or inherit the Kingdom of God. Notice, now, the status of the truly converted Christian, in this life—this world: “… Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9). Unless one has received the Holy Spirit, and this Spirit is dwelling in him, he is not a Christian. Joining a church does not make one a Christian. Receiving and following God’s Spirit does!
Spiritual Birth Process Compares to Physical
But now see how God’s Spirit entering and dwelling in one compares to the physical sperm impregnating the ovum—the imparting of eternal spirit life, later to produce a spirit person! A fertilized ovum—an embryo—is not a born human person. Life from the father has been imparted to it. He has begotten it, but neither embryo nor fetus is yet a born person. In the same manner the Spirit-begotten human is not, yet, a spirit person or being, as Jesus said he shall be when born again!
Continue: “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (verse 11).
Understand this! There is a direct comparison between having been born of the flesh and being born again of God. Jesus said that which is born of the flesh is flesh—a born human. That which is born of the Spirit (God) is spirit—a born spirit person!
A mortal human life starts when a sperm cell from the body of the father impregnates—imparts physical life to—an ovum (egg cell) in the mother. At this point the father begets, sires. He does not “bring forth.” The mother does that, later. His part in the process leading to final birth is then done. But there is a time element. At the time of begettal, birth (parturition) has not yet occurred.
It is necessary to give this explanation, at this point, because the popular deception of a deceived traditional “Christianity” is to claim that when one “receives Christ,'’ “accepts Christ,” “professes Christ,” or first receives God’s Holy Spirit to dwell in him, he is already “born again.”
First, then, notice the physical type and comparison.
The TIME Element
In human physical reproduction, there is a time element. From impregnation—begettal on the part of the father—having conceived on the part of the mother—to birth, or parturition, or being delivered from the mother’s womb is a time element of nine months.
That nine-month period is called gestation. Upon conception, the now-fertilized ovum is called an embryo. A few months later, it is called a fetus. But during this nine-month period of gestation, we do not speak of the embryo-fetus as having been born. It is in the process toward birth. It is the child of its parents. But it is then the unborn child of its parents. The father has already begotten it—sired it. But the mother has not yet given birth to it. Yet it is, during the gestation period, the unborn child of its parents.
Now in being “born again,” the process of this birth begins when God’s divine Spirit-life is imparted to us by the Holy Spirit, from His very person, entering to dwell within us. Repeat, from Romans 8: “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken [change to immortal spirit] your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (verse 11). This is describing the very same thing explained in 1 Corinthians 15:50-53, the resurrection.
I want to make this crystal clear. Millions of sincere professing Christians believe that when they profess Christ (or receive His Holy Spirit) they are “born again.” What actually happens is this:
When one, after repentance, faith, and baptism receives the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God puts him into—baptizes him into—God’s Church. The Church is called the Body of Christ. So we read: “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
The Church Our Mother
Again, the Church is called “Jerusalem above” or “the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22-23). Now notice, in Galatians 4:26: “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.”
The analogy is this: When begotten by God the Father by receiving His Holy Spirit, we are put into the Church, which during this gestation period is our mother.
The human mother of the fetus within her womb serves the function of feeding her unborn child with physical food, so that it may develop and grow physically. And also she carries it where she may best protect it from physical injury or harm, until parturition—delivery from her womb.
The spiritual mother—the Church—is commissioned to “feed the flock” (1 Peter 5:2) through the ministry which God has set in the Church “[f]or the perfecting of the saints … for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man …” (Ephesians 4:11-13). Just as the human fetus develops and grows physically during the pre-birth gestation period, so we, after begettal by God’s Spirit, develop and grow spiritually in pre-birth state.
Human life starts with what the Bible terms “corruptible seed”—physical male sperm. Divine life starts with that which is incorruptible—the Holy Spirit of God entering the human person. But as the human embryo must grow till it becomes a fetus, which must grow to the point of being born into the human family, so the Christian in whom divine life has been started by the gift of God’s incorruptible Spirit must grow toward perfection to be born into the God Family. He will then be perfect, unable to sin.
But—that perfection of holy righteous character must be developed (with God’s help and the in-filling of His Spirit during this human life—the spiritual “gestation” stage).
But not only is the Church to feed the members on the Word of God—spiritual food—but also to protect these conceived but yet unborn children of God from spiritual harm, as the very next verse shows: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive …” (Ephesians 4:14).
Then, at the time of the resurrection, we in the Church—the spiritual mother—shall be delivered from her, and born into—brought forth into—the Kingdom, the spirit-composed Family of God.
Sons of God NOW
Now, further: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14). The unborn child in his mother’s womb is the child of his father and mother, though not yet born—delivered from the womb. So are we, if God’s Spirit dwells in us—if we are being led by God’s Spirit—children of God. Yet, at this time, we are in the gestation state, not yet parturition. And only heirs, not inheritors!
Continue: “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be [future—at resurrection] also glorified together” (verse 17).
Now see how this passage designates the resurrection into glory, when we shall be spirit, as a birth!
“For the earnest expectation of the [creation] waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God”—that is the time of Christ’s coming to reign and of the resurrection to spirit composition—“…because the [creation] itself also shall be delivered [a birth] from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (verses 19-22).
Here is another comparison. We shall be delivered from this world (the Church is in, though not of this world) into the glorious World Tomorrow and the Kingdom which shall rule it.
The creation is waiting for this time of Christ’s coming, the resurrection, and the Kingdom of God, because the creation shall be DELIVERED from the bondage of corruption or deteriorated decay. It is not now delivered. It shall be—at the resurrection. Although this is not referring directly to our being born again, it is a direct comparison to the birth of a child being delivered from its mother’s womb.
The resurrection—the time when we are changed to be spirit and to inherit the Kingdom—will be a time of delivery from the bondage of corruptible flesh and from this world of sin—a real birth!
Christ Born a Second Time by the Resurrection
Continue in Romans 8: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he [Jesus] might be the firstborn among many brethren” (verse 29).
Now compare with Romans 1:3-4: “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God … by the resurrection from the dead.”
Jesus was, in the human flesh—His first birth—a descendant of David. But, by the resurrection from the dead (born again), Jesus became the born Son of God, now no longer human, but composed of spirit—a Spirit Being. He thus became the first so born of many brethren who shall be born again at the time of the resurrection of those who are Christ’s.
Of course we understand, and so did Paul in writing the above, that Jesus was also the Son of God while in the human flesh. Though born of a human woman, He was sired by God. But this is comparing the two births: the one from the human Mary, as descended from the human David, and the other, by His resurrection to glory, as Son of God.
Emphatically this does not imply that Jesus was a sinner needing salvation. He was the Pioneer, setting us the example, that we, too, may be born of God.
When Born Again What Shall We Be Like?
When we are born again, what shall we be like? The Bible gives us the answer: “For our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body [flesh], that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body …” (Philippians 3:20-21).
Now notice a scripture in the third chapter of 1 John. Here it plainly says that “we”—meaning begotten, converted Christians—are now, already, the sons of God, as was explained earlier. Next, this scripture reveals that “it doth not yet appear what we shall be” (1 John 3:2). We are, later, to be something different. As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, we shall be immortal spirit. That is what we shall later be.
“[B]ut,” this scripture continues—read it—understand this wonderful truth—“we know that, when he [Christ] shall appear [at His Second Coming to Earth] we shall be like him ….” We shall look like Christ!
What does the glorified Christ look like? His eyes blaze forth like flames of fire! His feet glow like finely burnished brass. His face shines like the sun, in full strength—so bright it would blind your eyes if He were visible to you now! (Revelation 1:14-16; 19:12-13; Matthew 17:2).
And that is the way you and I shall look if and when we are finally born of God!