Alright, chapter 3.
1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This
man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You
are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do
unless God is with him.”
I know that the Gospels are all read together, but if we're taking John as a separate text, written with reference to the others but on its own, I have to wonder what miracles and signs we're missing that are so impressive. First Nathanael was super impressed by Jesus knowing about him sitting under a fig tree and now, after one wedding where Jesus turned water into wine (something that likely wouldn't have gotten around because who knew? who told?) and running a whole bunch of people out of the Temple, we have someone highly placed in the Jewish hierarchy sneaking out at night to meet Jesus and tell him that he must be from God.
Now, 'from God' does not necessarily mean that the claim of Jesus as being the Word or being God himself are supported or believed by Nicodemus at this point. Prophets were sent from God. Kings and righteous men were sent from God.
3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The
wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot
tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born
of the Spirit.”
The section above is clearly referring to baptism. Which, I should point out, is not a new concept. While, from my understanding, there is not a concept of rebirth involved in the Jewish mikveh and the cleanliness associated with it, it is not something that should be ignored.
Jesus came out of the Jewish people. He was raised in an observant household. I know that, while it is different, I always feel *new* and refreshed after getting out of the ocean or the pool. There's something about being completely immersed in water that is relaxing and freeing. Is it a call back to when we lived in the liquid environment of the womb? I don't know. But it's no stretch at all for me to see the emotional and physical connection between being immersed in water and feeling *reborn* in some way or another.
Then we have his cousin John who was performing baptisms in the Jordan. What was he baptising for? What did his followers think was happening?
I believe it must be a kind of mikveh, a ritual cleansing. A rededication or a dedication to God. John was an apocalyptic preacher. He was preaching the end of the world, the coming of the messiah to bring war and eventual supremacy of the Jewish people over their own lands once again. People who followed him would want to be spiritually prepared, ritually cleansed.
You see the same thing in revivals here in the US. A preacher rolls in, stirs up the congregation with a lot of very impassioned and fiery rhetoric. Usually it involves the end of the world and 'Where will you be, when the devil comes?!?!?' and all that. And people, caught up in the moment, caught up in fear or passion or whatever the preacher stirs in them, rededicate their lives to Christ. They answer an altar call (a call for people who want Jesus to come into their hearts or words to that general effect) and/or get baptised (or rebaptised in some cases).
It's hardly something new or unique. The emphasis on it being necessary for salvation is new though, as far as I can tell.
I think this passage might also be used for the Christians who are against infant baptism, though the connection is a bit weak. There's no mention of the believer making a choice or age. Only that there must be two births, one of the body and one of the spirit.
12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever
believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is
condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only
begotten Son of God. 19 And
this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and
men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
I'm not really sure how baptism and rebirth is an entirely earthly thing. It seems to me like it is a heavenly thing. Having to do, with, I don't know, the getting into heaven of it all.
Verse 13 is one of those that's commonly used to show that no one gets to heaven but through Jesus. After all, how many good, righteous men and woman had died up until this point? We have the prophets, the patriarchs, King David, King Solomon...though what about Elijah? He was 'taken up into heaven' in the Old Testament. So either the Bible cannot be taken literally (shock!) or someone else did get into heaven aside from the Son of Man.
The Moses & snake reference is, of course, meant as a foreshadowing (or a prophetic statement) of the crucifixion. In the desert, Moses formed a serpent out of bronze and placed it up on a pole. Anyone who was bitten by a snake looked at the bronze serpent and was healed.
Keeping in mind that it was God who instructed Moses to do this, it is presumably not a sign of creeping polytheism but an instrument of faith. The people believed that God would heal them and that the serpent was a sign to remind them of this promise.
One could say that likewise, God would save those who looked upon the sign of the crucifixion. But does that make Jesus God? Was the serpent god?
Verses 16 through 21 are where Lewis' 'liar, lunatic, lord' question comes into play. We have here an example of Jesus seeming to claim directly that he is divine in some way. So you have to look at verses like this and ask if Jesus was lying? Was he running some sort of a scam? Was he trying to build an army on false belief? Or was he a lunatic? Did he really believe that he was divine but was only a man? Or was he lord? Meaning that what he said was true and that he was God incarnate.
Of course there's always another option.
That Jesus didn't say these things at all.
All of Christian faith is predicated on the belief that what is recorded about Jesus in the Bible is true. Certainly there is quibbling about details and how accurate is accurate, etc. but anyone who claims Christianity as a faith believes that essentially the important bits are correct.
But what if they're not?
John is the most explicit Gospel in regards to the divinity of Christ and the Trinity.
John is also the last Gospel of have been written. I think it's generally dated around 90/100 AD which is at least 60 years after the death of Christ.
The oldest copy found is about 100 years older than that, so around 200 AD.
From what I understand, most Biblical scholars agree that John the Apostle was not the actual author of the text.
So it's not as if we have a signed copy of the text with a picture of John the Apostle on it, hugging Jesus.
Of course those who believe believe and there's the faith aspect of it. If you believe that Jesus is God then you can also believe that the text was kept from error by divine will.
It's a matter of choice, in so many ways.
I don't know how people can be expected to believe unless they have some sort of...experience.
I have no trouble believing in things I can't prove or necessarily see. I believe in ghosts (though I have seen them, I believed in them before that). I believe in God because things make the most sense with a creator at the center of them.
I'm just not sure I believe in this specific interpretation of God, if that makes sense.