Jesus tells Nicodemus (3:3),
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
This came as a shock to Nicodemus — I must be born again? How does this rebirth happen…must I enter my mother’s womb a second time?
Jesus clarifies (5),
Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus tells this Master of Israel that he should already know these things. In fact, Jesus is alluding to the various New Covenant passages from the OT.
Allow me to demonstrate:
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
Nicodemus is a ruler of Israel and he isn’t aware that a new heart must be created within him, that he must be born from above? The New Covenant is the culmination of all the biblical covenants — yet Nicodemus was somehow missing this?
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Nicodemus is mere flesh and does not have the power to regenerate himself — furthermore, he cannot see the kingdom in his present state because the kingdom is reserved for and limited to those which have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus continues (7),
Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again.
Jesus is actually using a pun here. The biblical translated “again” is ανωθεν (as used in verses 3 and 7). However, this Greek word can also mean “from above.”
“You must be born from above!”
A Greek word can have many meanings, but only one in any particular context — unless of course the author intended a double meaning. I believe that is what Jesus has done here. He is telling Nicodemus that a new and spiritual birth must take place and that it can only occur from above.
This narrative reveals truth about the kingdom and about regeneration:
(1) Men cannot regenerate themselves — it is an act of God on their behalf.
(2) Nobody will see the kingdom apart from regeneration.
Allow me to narrow my view significantly. The only thing that I can do to advance the kingdom is to preach the gospel so that the souls of men can be regenerated! If men are cured from AIDS, but not from sin, they will miss the kingdom. If their stomachs are full, but their souls empty of Jesus, they will miss the kingdom. If their mouths are satisfied, but their souls still thirsty, they will miss the kingdom. Will the kingdom involve physical blessings — I believe it will. However, is advancing kingdom-like physical blessings the same as advancing the kingdom? Absolutely not. It’s a cheap counterfeit. There is no real kingdom apart from regeneration.