John 3:1–21: The New Birth of Jesus
Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 is a crucial moment in this Gospel for several reasons. First, this is the very first time in the Gospel of John that we find Jesus engaged in extended teaching where he explains his own life and ministry. Up to this point, we have seen other people teach about Jesus, and we have seen Jesus performing signs, but Jesus himself has spoken very little to explain who he is or what he is trying to accomplish. This conversation kicks off extended discourses that will run through the rest of the Gospel of John.
Second, we find a different kind of interaction with Nicodemus than we have seen so far in either the disciples (who believed in Jesus almost immediately) or in the Jews who opposed him during the Passover Feast—or even in those who think they believe in Jesus, but do not. Here we have a man who honestly does not know what to make of Jesus, which is why he seeks out Jesus to talk further. This man is a true seeker, trying to learn what he can about Jesus after recognizing something significant that he cannot easily explain.
Third, this text in many ways provides us a key to understanding the purpose behind the entire Gospel of John. Jesus has come to give the new birth through the Holy Spirit (John 3:3–8). Jesus must eventually be lifted up to give life to those who look upon him in faith (John 3:14–15). Jesus has come because his Father loved the world so much that he sent his only Son to give the world eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus will either be embraced or rejected based on the condition of the hearts of each individual who comes in contact with his light (John 3:18–21). In order to understand how all of these themes will play out through the rest of the Gospel of John, we must first grapple with exactly what Jesus means when he teaches these things here in John 3:1–21.