Just as Gideon tore down his father’s altar at night because of the fear of men (Judges 6:24-32), Nicodemus came to the Lord by night (John 3:1) because of his fear of the Jewish leaders (John 12:42,43).
The Jews required a sign (ICor.1:22), and when the Lord gave them plenty of signs, it made Nicodemus think He was the Christ (John 3:1). Had he come in the daytime, the Lord would have engaged him in the kind of endless debate for which the Pharisees were famous, and with which Nicodemus no doubt came armed. But he came by night, the Lord was tired, and so went right for his heart (Jo. 3:3).
But what does it mean to be born again? The Lord gives us a clue when He says that without it, you can’t “see” the kingdom (3:3), that is, “see” it in the sense of experiencing it (cf. 3:36). Some grace pastors say being born again was not an individual thing, that Israel will be born again as a nation in the resurrection, and that is true, but this passage is about the need for individuals to be reborn. This indivi-dual new birth is also seen in I John 5:1 and I Peter 1:3,23.
Some grace pastors also teach that members of the Body of Christ aren’t born again, but our apostle Paul uses the same word “begotten” (IPe.1:3) in I Corinthians 4:15 and Philemon 10, and Paul himself is said to have been “born” out of due time (ICor.15:8). In addition, the word “regeneration” (Titus 3:5) is paliggenesia, a compound word made up of palin (“again”) and genesia (“birthday).
Since John 3 is the first mention of being born again, Nicodemus wants to know what the Lord is talking about (John 3:4). So the Lord explains that He means men must be born of water and the Spirit (v.5). The “water” here is water baptism, without which you could not be saved under the kingdom program (Mark 1:4; 16:16; Acts 2:38). Today, of course, we are saved by “the washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5), not the washing of water baptism. And since the Spirit is God, being born of the Spirit is just another way of saying being “born of God”, a phrase that appears six times in Scripture. Without these two births, they couldn’t enter the kingdom of heaven.
Being “born of the flesh” (John 3:6) is a reference to your first birth, a birth that brings us into this world spiritually unclean (Job 14:1-4; 25:4) and unrighteous (15:14). Being born again is the only cure. Nicodemus marveled (John 3:7) that the Lord was telling him this, since he didn’t think there was anything wrong with his first birth. He was born a Jew, and he thought that meant he was saved automatically! (Mt.3:9)
What did the Lord mean when He likened those born of the Spirit to the wind (John 3:8)? We believe He was speaking about the mechanics of the new birth, and was saying that Nicodemus was never going to be able to figure out how men are born again. He was saying, “You can’t figure out a thing as simple as where the wind comes from or where it goes, so how can you figure out the new birth?” We see this also in Ecclesiastes 11:4,5, where the wind is compared to the spirit of man. “Just as you can’t figure out ‘how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child,’ so you cannot understand the spirit of a man,” i.e., how men work, how they think. You can never fully understand the spirit of another man, let alone the Spirit of God
Once a man is born again, there is yet another meaning behind John 3:8, for the Lord said of Himself that men couldn’t know where He came from or where He was going (8:14). Thus we know that John 3:8 also refers to the fact that people cannot figure out those who believe on Christ any more than they can figure out Christ (cf. ICor.2:15).
Nick still couldn’t figure out how a Jew needed to be born again (John 3:9), so the Lord chided him for not knowing this (v.10). But if this is the first time the phrase “born again” appears, how could Nick have been expected to know this? Ah, he was “a master” in Israel (3:10), a lead-er, not just a follower. As a leader, he should have noticed that throughout Israel’s history, God always rejected the firstborn, and accepted the second born, as He did with Ishmael & Isaac, Esau & Jacob, and Manasseh & Ephraim.