|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
3:1-8 Nicodemus was afraid, or ashamed to be seen with Christ, therefore came in the night. When religion is out of fashion, there are many Nicodemites. But though he came by night, Jesus bid him welcome, and hereby taught us to encourage good beginnings, although weak. And though now he came by night, yet afterward he owned Christ publicly. He did not talk with Christ about state affairs, though he was a ruler, but about the concerns of his own soul and its salvation, and went at once to them. Our Saviour spoke of the necessity and nature of regeneration or the new birth, and at once directed Nicodemus to the source of holiness of the heart. Birth is the beginning of life; to be born again, is to begin to live anew, as those who have lived much amiss, or to little purpose. We must have a new nature, new principles, new affections, new aims. By our first birth we were corrupt, shapen in sin; therefore we must be made new creatures. No stronger expression could have been chosen to signify a great and most remarkable change of state and character. We must be entirely different from what we were before, as that which begins to be at any time, is not, and cannot be the same with that which was before. This new birth is from heaven, ch. 1:13, and its tendency is to heaven. It is a great change made in the heart of a sinner, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It means that something is done in us, and for us, which we cannot do for ourselves. Something is wrong, whereby such a life begins as shall last for ever. We cannot otherwise expect any benefit by Christ; it is necessary to our happiness here and hereafter. What Christ speak, Nicodemus misunderstood, as if there had been no other way of regenerating and new-moulding an immortal soul, than by new-framing the body. But he acknowledged his ignorance, which shows a desire to be better informed. It is then further explained by the Lord Jesus. He shows the Author of this blessed change. It is not wrought by any wisdom or power of our own, but by the power of the blessed Spirit. We are shapen in iniquity, which makes it necessary that our nature be changed. We are not to marvel at this; for, when we consider the holiness of God, the depravity of our nature, and the happiness set before us, we shall not think it strange that so much stress is laid upon this. The regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is compared to water. It is also probable that Christ had reference to the ordinance of baptism. Not that all those, and those only, that are baptized, are saved; but without that new birth which is wrought by the Spirit, and signified by baptism, none shall be subjects of the kingdom of heaven. The same word signifies both the wind and the Spirit. The wind bloweth where it listeth for us; God directs it. The Spirit sends his influences where, and when, on whom, and in what measure and degree, he pleases. Though the causes are hidden, the effects are plain, when the soul is brought to mourn for sin, and to breathe after Christ. Christ's stating of the doctrine and the necessity of regeneration, it should seem, made it not clearer to Nicodemus. Thus the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural man. Many think that cannot be proved, which they cannot believe. Christ's discourse of gospel truths, ver. 11-13, shows the folly of those who make these things strange unto them; and it recommends us to search them out. Jesus Christ is every way able to reveal the will of God to us; for he came down from heaven, and yet is in heaven. We have here a notice of Christ's two distinct natures in one person, so that while he is the Son of man, yet he is in heaven. God is the HE THAT IS, and heaven is the dwelling-place of his holiness. The knowledge of this must be from above, and can be received by faith alone. Jesus Christ came to save us by healing us, as the children of Israel, stung with fiery serpents, were cured and lived by looking up to the brazen serpent, Nu 21:6-9. In this observe the deadly and destructive nature of sin. Ask awakened consciences, ask damned sinners, they will tell you, that how charming soever the allurements of sin may be, at the last it bites like a serpent. See the powerful remedy against this fatal malady. Christ is plainly set forth to us in the gospel. He whom we offended is our Peace, and the way of applying for a cure is by believing. If any so far slight either their disease by sin, or the method of cure by Christ, as not to receive Christ upon his own terms, their ruin is upon their own heads. He has said, Look and be saved, look and live; lift up the eyes of your faith to Christ crucified. And until we have grace to do this, we shall not be cured, but still are wounded with the stings of Satan, and in a dying state. Jesus Christ came to save us by pardoning us, that we might not die by the sentence of the law. Here is gospel, good news indeed. Here is God's love in giving his Son for the world. God so loved the world; so really, so richly. Behold and wonder, that the great God should love such a worthless world! Here, also, is the great gospel duty, to believe in Jesus Christ. God having given him to be our Prophet, Priest, and King, we must give up ourselves to be ruled, and taught, and saved by him. And here is the great gospel benefit, that whoever believes in Christ, shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and so saving it. It could not be saved, but through him; there is no salvation in any other. From all this is shown the happiness of true believers; he that believeth in Christ is not condemned. Though he has been a great sinner, yet he is not dealt with according to what his sins deserve. How great is the sin of unbelievers! God sent One to save us, that was dearest to himself; and shall he not be dearest to us? How great is the misery of unbelievers! they are condemned already; which speaks a certain condemnation; a present condemnation. The wrath of God now fastens upon them; and their own hearts condemn them. There is also a condemnation grounded on their former guilt; they are open to the law for all their sins; because they are not by faith interested in the gospel pardon. Unbelief is a sin against the remedy. It springs from the enmity of the heart of man to God, from love of sin in some form. Read also the doom of those that would not know Christ. Sinful works are works of darkness. The wicked world keep as far from this light as they can, lest their deeds should be reproved. Christ is hated, because sin is loved. If they had not hated saving knowledge, they would not sit down contentedly in condemning ignorance. On the other hand, renewed hearts bid this light welcome. A good man acts truly and sincerely in all he does. He desires to know what the will of God is, and to do it, though against his own worldly interest. A change in his whole character and conduct has taken place. The love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost, and is become the commanding principle of his actions. So long as he continues under a load of unforgiven guilt, there can be little else than slavish fear of God; but when his doubts are done away, when he sees the righteous ground whereon this forgiveness is built, he rests on it as his own, and is united to God by unfeigned love. Our works are good when the will of God is the rule of them, and the glory of God the end of them; when they are done in his strength, and for his sake; to him, and not to men. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a subject to which the world is very averse; it is, however, the grand concern, in comparison with which every thing else is but trifling. What does it signify though we have food to eat in plenty, and variety of raiment to put on, if we are not born again? if after a few mornings and evenings spent in unthinking mirth, carnal pleasure, and riot, we die in our sins, and lie down in sorrow? What does it signify though we are well able to act our parts in life, in every other respect, if at last we hear from the Supreme Judge, Depart from me, I know you not, ye workers of iniquity?
Verse 1. - But there was a man of the Pharisees. Is this narrative introduced, as Baur thinks, to give a specimen of wrongly directed faith, to which Christ did not entrust himself? and was the evangelist busy at once on his great mission of undervaluing the Jewish parties and nation? Certainly not. We have a clear proof that, in the case of the genuine inquirer, Christ did open His very heart; and to a "ruler of Jews," to a "Pharisee," to a "teacher of Israel," he deigned (because he knew what was in the man, and required nobody's help) to unveil the deepest realities of the kingdom of God and of the salvation of man. Baur is not correct in making Nicodemus out to be a specimen of unbelieving Judaism and unsusceptible Pharisaism, seeing that the later notices of this Sanhedrist show that he became a disciple of Jesus, if secretly, Nicodemus was attracted, as others had been, by the "signs" which Jesus had wrought; but he had gone further and deeper than they, and Jesus "knew it." A controversy has arisen on the point - Did our Lord, by these penetrative glances, manifest his Divine nature, assume a Divine prerogative, or exercise a lofty, penetrative human gift? Westcott, on the philological ground of the contrast in meaning between γινώσκειν and εἰδέναι, urges that the former word, used here, represents knowledge acquired by processes of inquiry and perception, as distinct from the latter, which is reserved for absolute and settled knowledge. Godet, on theological grounds, urges that the phrase refers to the human faculty of observation rather than to the Divine prerogative of heart-searching. There are, however, many other indications of this same thought-mastery, which the evangelists appear to regard as proofs of Divine power; so that I think the real significance of the passage is an ascription to Jesus of Divine power. The supernatural in mind, the superhuman mental processes of Jesus, are part of the proof we have that, though he was Man, he created the irresistible impression that he was more than man. Thus Nathanael and Thomas found these to be the most irresistible proofs of the supreme Divine perfections of their Master (cf. John 1:49; John 4:17; John 6:61; John 11:4, 14; John 13:11; John 21:17; and also Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, etc.). "The man of the Pharisees" furnishes (Godet) a test for determining the authenticity of the narrative. If the lines of the following discourse, which move from the first fundamental conditions of admission into the kingdom of God to the deepest principles of Divine character, and the grounds and consequences of reconciliation with God, are such as meet the standpoint and correct the deductions of the Pharisee, we have, then, all but demonstrative evidence that this conversation did not evolve itself out of the consciousness of the second century. The Pharisaic party was excited by the ministry of John (ch. John 1:24), and throughout the early ministry of Jesus in Galilee followed him, with suspicious, malicious suggestions, even plans for his suppression. The name Nicodemus, if Hebrew in etymology from dam and naki, may have meant "innocent blood;" it Greek, as is more probable, seeing that the plan of bearing Greek as well as Hebrew names was not uncommon, it would signify "Conqueror of the people." Tradition says that he was baptized by Peter and John, and deposed from his position in the Sanhedrin, but supported by his kinsman, Gamaliel. Each reference to him (John 7:50 and John 19:39) implies a certain timidity, and perhaps unworthy reticence. These are relative terms. Much moral courage must have been required for a ruler of the Jews (a phrase only applicable to a man of high ecclesiastical rank) to have dreamed of doing what he is reported to have done here and elsewhere. The Talmud mentions a Nicodemus ben Gotten, who was also called Bonai, a disciple of Jesus, of great wealth and piety, who survived the destruction of Jerusalem, and therein lost nil his fortune (Lightfoot, in loc.; Delitzsch, 'Zeitsch. Luth. Theol.,' 1854). The hint that he was an old man in this year (A.U.C. 781, or A.D. ) renders his survival till A.D. improbable, but not impossible by any means. The identification is not complete. The Talmud does not speak of him as a Sanhedrist, though it gives curious details, which imply that he must have been a priest in the temple, and had the charge of providing the water supply for the pilgrims (Geikie, 1:584; Winer, 'Real.,' 2:152).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
There was a man of the Pharisees,.... The Syriac version adds, "there"; that is, at Jerusalem; and who was among those that believed in the name of Christ, upon seeing the miracles he did at the feast of the passover, in that place. This man was not a common and ordinary man, but a man of note and eminence, of dignity and figure; and who was of the sect of the Pharisees, which was the strictest sect for religion and holiness, among the Jews; and which, as corrupt as it was, was also the soundest; as having not only a regard to a Messiah, and to all the writings of the Old Testament, but also believed the doctrines of angels and spirits, and the resurrection of the dead, which the Sadducees denied; but yet they were implacable enemies of Christ; and therefore it is the more to be wondered at, that such an one should come to him, and desire a conversation with him:
named Nicodemus; frequent mention is made of , "Nicodemon ben Gorion", the brother of Josephus ben Gorion (p), the writer of the Wars and Antiquities of the Jews; and there are some things which make it probable, that he was the same with this Nicodemus; for the Nicodemon the Jews speak so much of, lived in this age; as appears, not only from his being the brother of Josephus, but also from his being contemporary with R. Jochanan ben Zaccai, who lived in this time, and until the destruction of the temple; since these two are said (q) to be together at a feast, made for the circumcision of a child. Moreover, he is represented as very rich, and is said to be one of the three rich men in Jerusalem (r), and who was able to have maintained a city ten years (s); and they speak of his daughter, as exceeding rich: they say, that she had for her dowry a thousand thousand golden denarii, or pence; and that her bed was strewed with (i.e. the furniture of it cost) twelve thousand golden denarii; and that a Tyrian golden denarius was spent upon her every week, for a certain kind of soup (t); and the wise men decreed her four hundred golden denarii, for a box of spices every day (u); and it is elsewhere (w) said, five hundred: and this our Nicodemus was very rich, as appears from his liberality at the funeral of our Lord, John 19:39. Moreover, the Nicodemon of the Jews, is said to be a counsellor (x) in Jerusalem; and so was this, as seems evident from John 7:32 and it may be further observed (y), that the right name of Nicodemon, was Boni (z); now Boni elsewhere (a), is said to be one of the disciples of Jesus, as Nicodemus was secretly, and perhaps at, and after his death openly, as his associate Joseph of Arimathea was; to which may be added, the extreme poverty that his daughter is by them said to be reduced unto; for they report, that R. Jochanan ben Zaccai saw her gathering barley corns from under the horses' hoofs in Aco (b); or as it is elsewhere said, out of the dung of the beasts of the Arabians; when she asked alms of him, and he inquired of her, what was become of her father's substance. Now to this low estate, the family of our Nicodemus might be reduced, through the persecution of the Christians by the Jews. The name is Greek, as at this time many Greek names were in use among the Jews, and signifies the same as Nicolas; but the Jews give an etymology of it, agreeably to the Hebrew language; and say, that he was so called, because the sun, "shone out for his sake": the occasion and reason of it, they tell us, were this (c); Nicodemon, upon want of water at one of the feasts, agreed with a certain man for twelve wells of water, to be returned on such a day, or pay twelve talents of silver; the day being come, the man demanded the water, or the money; Nicodemon went and prayed, and a plentiful rain fell, and filled the wells with water; but meeting the man, he insisted on it that the day was past, the sun being set, and therefore required the money; Nicodemon went and prayed again, and the sun shone out; and they add, that there are three persons for whom the sun "was prevented", detained, or hindered in its course, (a word nearer his name than the former,) Moses, and Joshua, and Nicodemon ben Gorion; for the two former they produce Scripture, and for the latter tradition: hence it is elsewhere said (d), that as the sun stood still for Joshua, so it stood still for Moses, and for Nicodemon ben Gorion: but to proceed with the account of our Nicodemus, he was
a ruler of the Jews; not a civil magistrate; for the civil government was now in the hands of the Romans; but an ecclesiastical ruler; he was a member of the sanhedrim, which consisted of the doctors, or wise men, and priests, Levites, and elders of the people; and so was a dignified person, and as afterwards called, a master in Israel.
(p) Ganz Tzemach David, par. 1. fol. 25. 1. Shalshalet Hakabala, fol. 19. 1.((q) Pirke Eliezer, c. 2. & Juchasin, fol. 23. 2.((r) T. Bab. Gittin, fol. 56. 1.((s) Midrash Kohelet, fol. 75. 4. (t) Abot R. Nathan, c. 6. fol. 3. 2. (u) T. Bab. Cetubot, fol. 66. 2.((w) Echa Rabbati, fol. 49. 2.((x) Echa Rabbati, fol. 46. 3. Midrash Kohelet, fol. 75. 1.((y) T. Bab. Taanith, fol. 20. 1.((z) T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 43. 1.((a) Echa Rabbati, fol. 49. 3.((b) T. Bab. Cetubot, fol. 66. 2.((c) T. Bab. Taanith, fol. 20. 1.((d) T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 25. 1.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Joh 3:1-21. Night Interview of Nicodemus with Jesus.
1, 2. Nicodemus—In this member of the Sanhedrim sincerity and timidity are seen struggling together.
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