(Vs. 1) Nicodemus was a "ruler of the Jews," which probably means that he was a member of the SanhedrinIsrael's highest religious court. As such, we can view him as a representative of all of them.
1. He came to the Lord Jesus "by night" because he was ASHAMED to be seen coming to Him, and he was AFRAID of losing his position and power. Each time Nicodemus is referred to in the Word afterwards, it is repeated that he came to Jesus "by night" (John 7:50-51; John 19:39).
2. He was altogether lacking in spiritual understanding of the things of God, as most religionists are.
3. Although he was a "ruler of the Jews" and a student of Scriptures, he was dead in trespasses and sins and needing to be "born again."
(Vs. 2) Nicodemus acknowledged that Jesus Christ was surely "a teacher come from God" because the miracles of Christ DIFFERED RADICALLY from those performed by others before or since. But others DID perform miracles and wonders, and this very fact warns us that we need to carefully examine the credentials of so-called miracle workers (I John 4:1). If a man works wonders and miracles, is this a sure proof that he comes from God or that God is with him? CERTAINLY NOT! We generally overlook the fact that Satan is able to work miracles and wonders, not like Christ, but enough to deceive the simple (II Cor. 11:13-14; II Thess. 2:9; Matt. 24:23-24). Satan is able to work miracles and to deliver this power to others.
How are we to test those who come to us in the name of Christ? (1) Not by their personal character or morality (II Cor. 11:14-15). (2) Not by their power to work wonders (II Thess. 2:9). Here is the answer! Examine them by the Word of God, by the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do they preach "thus saith the Lord"? Do they preach the gospel of God's free grace and glory in Christ Jesus? Do they exalt and glorify Christ in His redemptive work; or do they exalt themselves, the Holy Spirit, and the miracles? (Isa. 8:20; I John 4:1-3; II John 10; John 16:13-14.)
(Vs. 3) Our Lord ignored Nicodemus' address with startling abruptness and said, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus called Christ "a teacher come from God," but it is not as a TEACHER that the sinner must first approach Christ. What the sinner (in the world or in religion) needs is to be "born again." In order to have this he must approach Christ as his Saviour. Of what value is teaching to one dead in sin, under the condemnation of God? A saved man is a fit subject for teaching, but the unsaved need PREACHING which will expose their depravity and reveal the One mighty to save (I Cor. 1:21). It is not how a man should live that is of first importance, but how dead sinners are made ALIVE spiritually. A man cannot live to God nor for God until He is born spiritually (Eph. 2:1). The kingdom of God cannot be "seen" or understood until a man is born of God (John 1:12-13).
(Vs. 4) Nicodemus' reply is a verification that these Jewish leaders were altogether lacking in spiritual understanding, or THE FALL and its consequences, and of the nature of spiritual life and faith (Rom. 5:12; I Cor. 2:14).
(Vs. 5) The word "water" has no reference to the waters of baptism. The Lord Jesus used the word water emblematically to refer to "THE WORD OF GOD." The Word of God is always the instrument used by God in regeneration (Psalm 119:50; I Cor. 4:15; James 1:18). The Holy Spirit is the begetter or the quickener, and the Word of God is the seed (John 6:63; I Peter 1:23). By his first fleshly birth, a man enters this world a sinful creature. When a sinner is born again by the Spirit and the Word of God, he enters the kingdom and family of God a new creature in Christ Jesus!
(Vs. 6) What then is the new birth? It is not the removal of anything from the sinner, nor the changing of anything physical or fleshly in the sinner; instead, it is the communication of something to the sinner. The new birth is the impartation of a new nature, When we were born the first time we received from our parents THEIR NATURE; so when we are born again, we receive from God HIS NATURE. The Spirit of God begats within us a spiritual nature (II Peter 1:4; Gal. 5:17). That which is born of man is human; that which is born of God is Divine and spiritual.
(Vs. 7) Nicodemus was startled. He was amazed at the Saviour's words. Yet he ought not to have been. Man by birth and nature is blind and opposed to the things of God. No amount of religious training can change this evil nature. His chief need is a new nature or to be born again! IT IS A MUST! A man must have a spiritual nature before he can understand, enter, or enjoy the kingdom of God.