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John 3:5  (Amplified┬« Bible)
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<< John 3:4   John 3:6 >>


John 3:5

Consider water in terms of baptism. Even in baptismal contexts, water is used figuratively. Water is shown, not as a cleansing agent, but as a type of death, burial, and resurrection. In baptism, water becomes a grave from which we must be spiritually resurrected, not a symbol of life and regeneration. Paul makes this clear in Romans 6:1-8:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.

In these verses, we see pictured the figurative burial of the old "dead" man living in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1-2) in preparation for the birth of the new man in Christ. Jesus permitted John the Baptist to baptize Him as an example for our benefit, though He had committed no sin:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?" But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed Him. Then Jesus, when He had been baptized, came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. (Matthew 3:13-16)

John 1:32-34 adds to this account, helping to pinpoint the time of our receipt of God's gift of His Holy Spirit:

And John bore witness saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me. 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God."

Our receipt of God's Holy Spirit occurs when we are spiritually resurrected from our watery grave and by God's grace cleansed through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. God's Spirit gives birth to the new man as a child of God. It is not the waters of baptism that cleanse us but Christ's blood and the receipt of God's Holy Spirit.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Two)



John 3:1-8

The teaching on the born-again doctrine—found primarily in John 3 but expanded by Paul, Peter, and John in later writings—has been prone to misunderstanding since Jesus Christ spoke to Nicodemus about it nearly two thousand years ago. In fact, Nicodemus immediately misconstrued what Christ meant, understanding His analogy on a purely physical level, as another literal birth. He was not alone in this. A study of Jesus' discourses throughout the book of John shows that people frequently interpreted His entirely spiritual instruction in a physical manner, and thus failed to grasp the truth He taught.

That Christ's teaching on being born again is pivotal is revealed in the fact that it is the first major discourse that John records. In addition, it is introduced with the words, "Most assuredly, I say to you" (NKJV) or "Verily, verily, I say unto thee" (KJV), a construction that announces that what follows is significant and weighty, urging us to pay close attention.

Even so, it is not necessary for us to understand all the particulars of the born-again doctrine to be saved, although a deeper understanding of it helps us to grasp how God perceives us once we experience the born-again event. This teaching reveals that God sees us as His children, already part of His Family Kingdom, and able to function as adults before Him in this world. Further, it shows that, to Him, we are a new creation embarking on a spiritual journey, in which we will grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ and transform into His image.

In turn, this doctrine should also teach us how to perceive ourselves once we are converted. We are not what we once were—spiritually dead to God and His way of life—but now we are alive in Christ, heirs of salvation, and free from spiritual bondage, able to pursue the holy, righteous character of our Savior. Jesus' teaching reveals that we are special to God, and at the same time, that we are responsible for what we have been given and under judgment, unlike the rest of the world.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Two)



John 3:5

In this verse, Jesus introduces a second facet of the Kingdom of God, teaching that a person can enter into it, as well as that one must be "born again" to bring about the entrance. The question arises, "How long must one wait before entering it?"

Jesus preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15), as did Paul (Acts 28:30-31). The Bible states plainly that the Kingdom is an entity that one can enter into even before Jesus' return. Note Matthew 5:20, "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." Jesus adds in Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord.' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.'" Moreover, Jesus declares in Matthew 18:3, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." Clearly, a person can enter into God's Kingdom, but there are also requirements. Can one meet the requirements now?

In Mark 1:15, Jesus dogmatically states, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand." "The time is fulfilled" implies that nothing can be added to it, that time will be extended no longer. That the Kingdom is "at hand" means that it is near or close. It does not suggest distance in either space or time. By using these phrases together, Jesus indicates that it can be entered into at once when God's basic requirements are met. The most basic requirement is taught in John 3—to be born again. Jesus thus announces when the Kingdom could be entered—immediately.

Luke 17:20-21 finds Jesus speaking to a group of Pharisees:

Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you."

It is evident that the Pharisees' conception of the Kingdom of God differs from that of Jesus. They believed in a spectacular, visible establishment of the Kingdom, even as we look forward to its fulfillment in the near future. However, in Luke 10:9, 11 and again in Luke 11:20, Jesus plainly says that it was already present, whether in the persons of the apostles or Himself, as exhibited in their acts. Acts can include miracles, conduct, and their messages. His statement in Luke 17:20-21 explains that they should not expect a visible manifestation of the Kingdom as they perceived it at that time.

Theologians may argue over the interpretation of words, but Jesus' own testimony undoubtedly implies that the Kingdom of God was in their presence in His Person and ministry. Therefore, the last phrase of Luke 17:21 should be translated as, "The kingdom of God is among you." Barnes' Notes, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, Expositor's Bible Commentary, The New International Biblical Commentary, and The Interpreter's Bible all agree on this conclusion. He was in their midst, and He was within the Kingdom of God.

When this is combined with John 18:36 (where Jesus declares that His Kingdom "is not from here") and many other scriptures pointing to the establishment of God's Kingdom with power at Christ's return, we can understand that it is both a present and a future reality. In addition, it has both heavenly and earthly aspects. On one hand, it is present and near in the people to whom God has given His Spirit and has chosen to represent Him. On the other, it is distant in terms of time and as a geographical and governing reality. As a present reality, it is small, goes virtually unnoticed, and rules over little. Yet, in the future, at Christ's return, it will dominate and rule the earth. It is certainly not established in its fullness on earth now. Nonetheless, Scripture also proves that it is a present, earthy reality having earth-bound, flesh-and-blood citizens who are, in the Bible's terms, "spiritually minded" or "in the Spirit."

We are all familiar with Matthew 13, in which almost every parable begins, "The kingdom of heaven is like" (verses 24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47, 52). Jesus then illustrates a matter that directly involves instruction for the church and its membership. In doing this, He is using the term "kingdom of heaven" in place of "the church"—He is virtually equating them. Why? Because church members are citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Notice especially verse 41. How can angels gather tares, not just from any old place, but from out of Jesus' Kingdom on earth, if it does not yet exist on earth? Christians are not only presently God's children in the Kingdom, but tares fellowship with them in the church! Again, in Mark 12:28-34, Jesus converses with a scribe whom He had complimented after seeing the man respond wisely, saying, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." He means that the scribe is not far from being converted and entering the Family of God.

When Jesus and the apostles preached the gospel, they were inviting people to become part of that Kingdom immediately without having to wait for the resurrection at Christ's return. The Kingdom of God is a spiritual entity. Its headquarters is in heaven, but at the same time its agents—initially Jesus of Nazareth then later the apostles and the church—were, as children of God, laboring on earth to make it better known and expand its citizenry.

The Kingdom of God is that entity in which those who are part of it recognize and submit to the rule of the Father and Son. A person becomes part of it by being born again, and those who are born again become sons of God. God's Kingdom as presently configured consists of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and all the children of God who have entered the Family of God by means of God's calling, being born again, and receiving God's Holy Spirit.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part One)



John 3:1-12

The root and trunk of the born-again doctrine is found within John 3. Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not speak directly of it at all, though without directly naming it, they supply supporting information. It is not until the epistles of Paul, Peter, and especially John that main branches of this doctrine make appearances. Thus, as we begin, it is helpful for us to perceive the wide treatment of figures John uses to prepare us for how he uses them to support the various elements of this important, foundational doctrine.

He begins using symbolism immediately in John 1, identifying Jesus as the Word, the central Figure in God's spiritual work in men's behalf. He continues, speaking of light, darkness, baptism, the Lamb of God, and the Temple, among others, before the reader arrives at John 3.

The imagery regarding the Temple (John 2:18-22) is especially interesting because it immediately precedes Jesus' teaching on born again in John 3. The Jews listening to Jesus immediately reject what He teaches based on what He says being a physical impossibility. Indeed, it is physically impossible, but note that this is the same reason Nicodemus rejects Jesus' teaching on born again. Similarly, in John 4:7-15, the woman at the well immediately jumps to the conclusion that Jesus speaks of natural water, and in John 4:31-38, even Jesus' disciples fail to grasp the spiritual significance of food.

In John 6:32-63, those who listen to His manna discourse follow the same pattern. In fact, His "eat My flesh and drink My blood" imagery so offends many of His disciples that they stop following Him! This consistent failure to grasp the meaning of His imagery continues through the entire book. If, in studying John 3, we follow the same pattern of misunderstanding His spiritual imagery, like Nicodemus, we will also misunderstand being born again.

We must recognize that this spiritualizing continues in John 3. In fact, for the children of God, it not only continues, but it also increases exponentially in terms of its importance to their spiritual lives! It is an unvarnished truth that only those who are born again will see and enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:5). Jesus is teaching that, besides one's biological birth, one must also experience a supernatural, spiritual birth. Just as surely as a Christian is not merely biologically begotten but born, there is no such thing as a non-born-again Christian.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part One)



John 3:1-12

Among all of the Bible's teachings, the instruction given in John 3 regarding being born again is perhaps the most liable to being misunderstood. In fact, as soon as it was out of Jesus' mouth, Nicodemus misconstrued His meaning, taking Christ's spiritual symbolism literally and physically. Ever since, people have stumbled over various parts of Jesus' teaching in this passage, and usually the stumblingblock is the imagery.

To convey essential, spiritual principles, Jesus uses imagery extensively in the gospels, and perhaps the most in the book of John. Along with John 3's imagery of the new birth, the book contains many references to light, water, bread, blood, blindness, sheep and shepherds, fruit, seed, vines, and several others. In nearly every case, they have spiritual meanings that transcend a plain, literal sense.

The book of John also contains a remarkable witness to the fact that Jesus was constantly being misunderstood. An example appears in nearly every early chapter and continues sporadically to its end. Even in the last chapter, Jesus has to tell Peter three times to feed His sheep before the apostle realizes that His Master is teaching him that he could demonstrate his love for Him by truly caring for His people for the rest of his life.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Three)



John 3:5

We need to consider that Jesus also uses water in a figurative sense in John 3:5. To what, then, does He refer? John 4:13-14 gives us a clue. Jesus says to the woman at the well: "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life." This water that Jesus speaks of can in no way be literal water.

John 7:37-39 expands on this:

On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

These verses clarify that the Bible uses water as a figure of the Holy Spirit both in terms of its cleansing properties and as a source of power. Could Jesus be using water in this way in John 3:5?

The Bible frequently mentions the Word of God in conjunction with birth and life. Psalm 119:50 reads, "This is my comfort in my affliction, for Your word has given me life." Paul adds in I Corinthians 4:15, "For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel." The gospel is composed of words. We are instructed in James 1:18, "Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth."

Peter makes a remarkable declaration in I Peter 1:22-23:

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which lives and abides forever.

The imagery of God's Word also includes the idea of cleansing power. It is likened to water because water cleanses, as Psalm 119:9 shows: "How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word." Jesus adds in John 15:3, "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you." Paul says in Ephesians 5:26, ". . . that He might sanctify and cleanse [the church] with the washing of water by the word."

With all of these references feeding into Jesus' teaching in John 3:5, we can be confident that the water He refers to includes all three of these figures—that it quenches a person's spiritual thirst, facilitates his spiritual birth, and cleanses him from his spiritual filth. We can conclude that Jesus' reference to "water" in John 3:5 should be understood as closely attached to "Spirit."

E.W. Bullinger, in Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, p. 664, says that in this context we are dealing with a figure of speech called hendiadys, which literally indicates "one by means of two." In a hendiadys, two words—in this case, "water" and "spirit"—are employed to get the point across, but only one idea is intended. One of the words, "Spirit," expresses the point, but the other word, "water," intensifies "Spirit" to the superlative degree.

It is God's Holy Spirit that is the instrument of both the cleansing and the birth of the divine nature in us. "Water" intensifies and magnifies "Spirit" by means of the many figurative ways God's Holy Spirit is shown working: as a means of God's light- and life-giving Word, of spiritual power, and of cleansing.

Jesus says in John 6:63, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life." This statement clarifies matters: The water, the Word, and the Holy Spirit must be considered together—as one element—that precipitate the new birth, all being given from above. Considering them as one makes Jesus' declaration stronger.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Two)



John 3:5

Because this is said as an explanation of Jesus' initial statement, being "born of water and the Spirit" is the same as being "born again" or "born from above." In that sense, as used here by Jesus, both "water" and "spirit" are spiritual entities.

It is easy to jump to the conclusion that Jesus' mention of water refers to baptism. However, as a figure, the part water plays is more complex than is commonly assigned in this context. Consider this: From righteous Abel on, all have been and are being saved by the same process encompassed by the grace of God. All must be called by God, all must repent and receive forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ, and all must be given God's Spirit. Note, however, that there is no mention in Scripture of any of the saints who lived before John the Baptist being baptized. This includes those who were under the Old Covenant. If all are to receive salvation by the same means, why does the Bible fail to show any of them being baptized?

It is more likely that the "water" and "spirit" Jesus refers to are those mentioned in Ezekiel 36:25-27:

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.

In this prophecy, Ezekiel indicates a cleansing from spiritual filth and a change of heart, from which spring obedience to God's commands. As the prophecy clearly says, both the water and the Spirit are from God above and precipitate the cleansing and birth that Jesus teaches in John 3. God says He will "sprinkle clean water," but as we know, that does not indicate the waters of baptism, since true Christian baptism is an immersion. Notice what John the Baptist says in John 1:33: "I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'" This suggests that a baptism of the Holy Spirit is also needed, which Acts 19:1-6 confirms.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Two)



John 3:5-8

Ruach is translated as "wind" in the Old Testament. Here, the Greek word is pneuma, which is the equivalent of the Hebrew ruach meaning "an invisible force or power." The illustration refers to wind. A person cannot see air, but it is real, is it not? Its molecules can be packed so solidly, so close together, that they will lift a huge airplane right off the ground. One cannot see the molecules, the atoms, the electrons, or protons, but they are there. We deal with other invisible forces or powers, like electricity and light, on a daily basis, and they certainly exist.

That is the gist of the meaning of spirit. No one would argue that air, of which wind is constituted, is not real, and though it is invisible, it is made up of particles too small for the unaided eye to see. The Bible provides ample evidence to prove that God and angels are not universal nothingness floating around in nowhere. God is not universal mind, conscience, or goodness. He is not an abstract power filling the whole of space. Except for the vast differences in power and potential, the only difference between humans and God is that mankind is earthly flesh and bone whose life is in the blood, while God's body is also flesh and bone but composed of Spirit and immortal.

This has practical ramifications that must be explored because it means that God cannot be omnipresent in the body. The Bible's consistent description of God shows Him at one place at one time, and He is generally seen managing or participating in His creation. We see Him sitting, standing, walking, talking, eating, drinking, commanding, etc., in specific locations. Nowhere is there any mention of God's size, and therefore the conclusion must be that He is of ordinary, human size, and when He became a man, the Scripture says, there was nothing notable about Him except His character and His powerful teaching.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part 3)



John 3:5

Jesus proclaimed to Nicodemus that one must be born again to enter the Kingdom of God. Since Adam and Eve, mankind has been cut off from God. The design of the Tabernacle, the Temple, and the worship system under the Old Covenant pictures God as distant and virtually unapproachable. Man in his natural condition, having a carnal mind and dead in his sin, is certainly shown as away from God. Though it is necessary for an individual to be born again to enter God's Kingdom, it takes a gracious and miraculous act—completely on God's part—to close the gap between Him and those He calls (John 6:44).

No one can arbitrarily volunteer for entry and be accepted; a person cannot cause himself to be born again. Flesh does not produce redemption. Unless one is born of the Holy Spirit, whatever one does in the flesh will not make him spiritual in the biblical sense. The Bible shows that the natural mind of man is at war against God and that it is not subject to God's law and cannot be (Romans 8:7), expressing the harsh reality of the carnal heart of mankind.

When Paul writes that the unconverted are dead in trespasses and sin, he means exactly that. Regardless of how sincere or religious they might be, such people are lifeless in terms of true spiritual life that is given by God. They are part of the old, natural creation and are spiritually lifeless unless and until—and completely at His discretion—God graciously gives life by His Spirit. Paul writes, "For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.' So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy" (Romans 9:15-16).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Two)




Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing John 3:5:

Matthew 11:12
Matthew :
Mark :
John 3:1-12
John 3:3-8
John 3:5
John 3:5
John 3:5
John 3:5
John 19:38-40
Acts 2:36-38
1 Corinthians 15:50
Ephesians 2:15
Ephesians :
Colossians :
1 John 5:1

 

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