John 3:2 ff. [Nicodemus] came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?”
All the times I have read this verse and was amused by Jesus’ question to Nicodemus, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?” I had not stopped to question why Jesus thought Nicodemus should have known the Old Testament Scriptures to realize right away what “born again” meant and why it was so crucial. So I pondered why Nicodemus was confused, thinking only in literal terms of being physically born a second time, an obvious impossibility! As one of the Jewish leaders he would have been very knowledgeable in all their Scriptures.
Being a born-again Christian myself I know what the term means, that the gift of Faith is something that God imparts to a person’s heart to reveal the reality of God’s existence, and the experience of His revealing Himself personally, that what is stated in God’s Word is the ultimate reality. Is this concept stated so clearly in the Old Testament that learned Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day should have understood the change a person required to see the kingdom of God? I decided to search the OT to find out.
Indeed it turns out there are 15 instances of this very description in the Old Testament.
(Deuteronomy 29:4) “Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.
2. (Psalm 51:10) Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
3. (Isaiah 32:15) Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high, And the wilderness becomes a fertile field, And the fertile field is considered as a forest.
4. (Isaiah 44:3) ‘For I will pour out water on the thirsty land And streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring And My blessing on your descendants;
5. (Isaiah 59:21) “As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from now and forever.”
6. (Jeremiah 24:7) ‘I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.’
7. (Jeremiah 31:31 ff.) “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
8. (Jeremiah 32:39, 40) and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. “I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.
9. (Ezekiel 11:19) “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,
10. (Ezekiel 36:26) “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
11. (Ezekiel 36:27) “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
12. (Ezekiel 37:14) “I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it,” declares the LORD.'”
13. (Ezekiel 39:29) “I will not hide My face from them any longer, for I will have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,” declares the Lord GOD.
14. (Joel 2:28) “It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions.
15. (Joel 2:29) “Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
Fifteen direct statements that God tells His people through the Scriptures that what is needed by people to be saved is a radical change of heart, one that can only come supernaturally from the hand of God in order to effect a life pleasing to God. It can’t be done without God’s intervention. No amount of self-improvement studies can make a person see the reality of God’s existence and start to live a life in real communion with Him. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus that you MUST be born again. It wasn’t an option. And after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the day of Pentecost was to usher in exactly this beginning.
[Scriptures are taken from New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved.]