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Third Millennium Study Bible
Notes on John 3:3-15

Regeneration and New Birth: Must I Be Born Again?

In Reformed theology regeneration, the equivalent to being "born again," is a technical term referring to God revitalizing a person by implanting new desire, purpose and moral ability that lead to a positive response to the Gospel of Christ. The Greek word (palingenesis) from which theologians derive the term "regeneration" appears only twice in Scripture. In Matthew 19:28 Jesus spoke of the "renewal" of the universe at his second coming as palingenesis. In this case, "the term refers to a "second genesis" or "second beginning" for the universe, rather than the individual renewal normally indicated by the theological term "regeneration." Second, Paul described baptism as "the washing of rebirth" (Tit. 3:5). Although some have taken this as a reference to the recreation of the heavens and earth that will be completed when Jesus returns, traditionally Paul has been understood as speaking of the individual regeneration of the person baptized. It is this latter meaning that theologians have adopted for technical use.

Jesus taught this concept to Nicodemus when he said, "No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (John 3:3), indicating the depth of the change that even religious Jews were required to undergo if they are were ever to have eternal life. The Greek expression translated "born again" can also be translated "born from above" (see text notes on John 3:7). It is likely that Jesus had both meanings in mind. On the one hand, those who are dead in sin need to be given new life in what might be thought of as "spiritual birth," so that in some sense they undergo a second birth. On the other hand, as Jesus himself came from heaven (John 3:13), those who enter his kingdom must receive life from God who is in heaven (John 3:7). As John put it elsewhere, we must be "born of God" (John 1:13; 1 John 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). This new birth brought by the Spirit (John 3:8) enlivens people to the things of God and gives them new lives of service to Christ.

In all events, we may think about regeneration and being "born again" in ways very similar to the New Testament concept of the new creation. The new creation is an objective reality brought about by Christ. When individuals are joined to Christ through faith in him, they become part of the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). In much the same way as Jesus spoke of the regeneration ("renewal") of the universe (Matt. 19:28), it is appropriate to speak of the personal regeneration ("rebirth") of those who are in Christ.

The Reformed view of regeneration may be set apart from other outlooks in at least two ways. First, classical Roman Catholicism teaches that regeneration occurs at baptism, a view known as baptismal regeneration. Reformed theology has insisted that regeneration may take place at any time in a person's life, even in the womb (WCF 10.3). It is not somehow the automatic result of baptism (WCF 28.1,6).

Second, it is common for many other evangelical branches of the church to speak of repentance and faith leading to regeneration (i.e., people are born again only after they exercise saving faith). By contrast, Reformed theology teaches that original sin and total depravity deprive all people of the moral ability and will to exercise saving faith. For this reason, regeneration precedes repentance and saving faith. Without regeneration, we cannot even see the kingdom of God (). After we are born of God, we have the ability to believe in and follow Christ. Regeneration is entirely the work of God the Holy Spirit - we can do nothing on our own to obtain it. God alone raises the elect from spiritual death to new life in Christ (Eph. 2:1-10). Regeneration is God's miraculous work taking us to conscious, intentional, active faith in Christ.

So Must the Son of Man Be Lifted Up - John 3:9-15

Nicodemus is confused regarding the need of being born again of the Spirit (John 3:9). He does not understand the Kingdom of God - an Old Testament truth that he as a leader in Israel should not only know, but be teaching as well. Jesus underscores the importance of what he is preparing to by using the phrase, Truly, truly I say to you, (John 3:3, 5, 11). Nicodemus had earlier addressed Jesus as "Rabbi" (John 3:2) and now Jesus addresses him the same way (John 3:10). Nicodemus is fixing to understand that the only true Rabbi is Jesus. Only he can give an intimate knowledge of the Lord.

In John 3:12-13 Jesus asserted his qualification to speak of heavenly things: He alone had come down from heaven. Therefore, over against the "we know" of Nicodemus (John 3:2) - an earthly knowledge, a knowledge produced by mere human reflection - Christ places his own "we know" - an intimate knowledge, a knowledge resulting from close communion with God the Father (John 5:20; 14:10) - Hendriksen.

Then Jesus refers to a story in Numbers 21. We will remember that Moses made a serpent of bronze and elevated it among the Israelites so that whoever gazed on it would be healed from the snakes that bit them. We should understand though that not everyone was able to look. Some in Numbers 21:1-9 died. The brazen serpent was not lifted up for "each and every person," in Israel, as some were "condemned already" (John 3:18). Thus, this reveals a sense of a limited atonement; which is more clearly stated in John 3:16-21 and has already been taught in John 3:1-8; for it is only those whom the Spirit "births" (John 3:6-8; cf. John 1:12-13) that "enter" and "see" the Kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5).

In the same manner Jesus MUST BE "lifted up" (hypsoo). This is an important theme in John's writing to describe Jesus' "lifting up" to the Cross (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34). Compare Matthew's similar theme (Matt. 16:21;17:22-23; 20:17-19). Luke uses the same verb to describe Jesus' ascension (Acts 2:33; 5:31). Jesus had a mission. It was: (1) from Heaven to earth, downward to become a man (John 1:14; cf. 1 Cor. 15:45, 47), (2) upward on the Cross (John 19:16-27), (3) downward into a grave (John 19:28-42), and (4) upward first in his resurrection from the dead (John 20:1-29) and then to the right hand of God (John 20:17). He came to die, but also to live again! John records this upward motif so, God's people may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing his people may have life in his name (John 20:31). So, as Borchert says, "The "sign" or pole on which Moses placed the bronze snake (Num .21:8-9) served as a symbol of life to the dying, snake-bitten Israelites of the exodus. That symbol has been employed here to illustrate the lifting up of Jesus on the cross as God's [only, Acts 4:12] way of providing eternal life to all who believe (John 3:15)."

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