I revisited John 3:1-8. I believe this is one of the more difficult passage which deserves to be revisited by the Christian. Even Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling council, said to be a master/teacher of Israel, apparently do not have understanding of nor perhaps knowledge about. Here's my take and understanding, per my reading to date.
John 3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Nicodemus can see that Jesus is a teacher come from God in view of the miracles that Jesus had done and that God is with Him. However, he apparently is not able to see that Jesus is Christ, the King, at least at that point in time.
John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
First, the phrase "born again" here is what was used to translate the Greek phrase "gennēthē anōthen". It must be noted that the Greek phrase may be translated to "born from above", and "born again". So, this must be kept in mind when reading John 3:3. So when translating it "born again", just keep in mind that such birth refers to a rebirth that which is from above. And when translating it "born from above", just keep in mind that such birth refers to a second birth, a birth different from the birth that we had all gone through when we were brought into our existence. In my following discussion, I'll refer to the birth that we had all gone through when we were brought into our existence as "first birth" and the birth spoken by Jesus here as the "second birth".
Jesus here makes reference to the kingdom of God. We know from scriptures that John the baptist, Jesus himself and his disciples, went preaching that the kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God that Jesus was referring to here in this passage is not the physical material kingdom like the kingdoms of the world as we know them. It is a kingdom that is not of this world, a spiritual kingdom in contrast to a physical material one, if I may say so. For obviously, if it was of this world, then every man who isn't blind will be able to see it, which would render the necessity of being "born again" to be able to see it, meaningless. I believe that Jesus Christ is the King of this kingdom. That this kingdom is a kingdom that is not of this world, is without mistake. Jesus himself revealed and said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).
In this writing of Apostle John, the use of the term "from above", such as in John 3:3,7,31; 19:11, is an indirect reference to heaven above or to God, in contrast to that which is figuratively referred to as from below, that is, the earth below that points to man. This makes the phrase "born from above" to mean "born of God". So, Jesus was telling Nicodemus by the figurative phrase "born from above", that such birth isn't an earthly birth, as being "born of man", but is a birth after the doing or brought about by the doing of God, who is in heaven above. People who experience the second birth are born of God. In John 1:13, we have John referring to such people, as were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. I believe that John here touches the second birth, and speaks of those who were born again.
Jesus was telling Nicodemus here that to be able to see the kingdom of God, necessitates one to be born again or be born of God. This is obviously a work of God and not a work of man nor a work of the man being born. It is God who brings this about, according to His will and purpose, and not according to man's will. More so, this birth is not according to, and could not be according to, the will of the one being born. This is not difficult to understand and accept, in that, we know this pretty well, for in our birth, we have no knowledge, control, or influence whatsoever, with our being born. Why this seems difficult for some to understand this, makes me wonder.
4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
I could sense here that Nicodemus was greatly surprised to hear something like that from Jesus. To his amazement, he threw out these two rhetorical questions in verse 4. Rhetorical in that, it's like any man obviously know the answers to these questions, and so really wanting no answer from Jesus. This response of Nicodemus suggests that what he was concerned about is, at least in his thinking at this point of their conversation, the absurdity of the necessity of being born again to be able to see the kingdom of God. This somehow exhibits either a lack of knowledge and understanding of the matter of this second birth, or perhaps the carnal mind and human understanding kicking in.
I just want to note, it seems that, the phrase "gennēthē anōthen" was taken by Nicodemus with the "born again" sense than the "born from above" sense. For there is nothing in his response there that even hints of the latter sense. I just thought that, should Nicodemus have taken the phrase with the "born from above" sense, it would fetch a response quite different from what we have there in verse 4.
5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
As I have pointed out in my discussion under John 3:3, regarding the matter of our own birth, we have no knowledge, control, or influence whatsoever, in bringing this about. We must therefore here not forget that man have nothing to do in bringing it about.
I don't take this verse as a statement of Jesus that answers Nicodemus' question in v. 4. For as I pointed out, they are rhetorical questions where Nicodemus is really wanting no answer from Jesus. I take this as Jesus in some way clarifying what He told him in verse 3, saying it in another way.
First, the definite article "the" before "Spirit" is absent in the Greek text (ex hydatos pneumatos). A more literal translation is "born of water and spirit." Also, the construction of the phrase in the Greek text indicates that the preposition "of" governs both "water" and "spirit." Third, whatever its meaning, "born of water and the Spirit" must be synonymous to "born again" or "born from above" (v.3), since Jesus used this phrase to clarify the "new birth" for Nicodemus. These strongly suggest that, the phrase "born of water and of the spirit" refer to only one birth rather than two, consistent with the new birth in verse 3 which speaks only of one birth. Of the phrase "water and spirit", what this refers to is easily determined considering the context in verse 8, where Jesus illustrates to Nicodemus, using the "wind", how the Spirit brings about this new birth, and where Jesus made it clear at the end of the verse that such is with those "born of the Spirit". So, this tells me that the "water and spirit" refers simply to the Spirit, that "water" is a parallel of "Spirit". Therefore, "born of water and spirit", consistent with "born from above", is just another way of saying "born of the Spirit" or "born of God".
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
In the context of birth, Jesus here tells Nicodemus of two types of birth. One that is of the flesh, that is, of man, and the other one is that of the Spirit, that is, of God. And that which is born of man (who is flesh), is flesh (physical), and that which is born of God (who is spirit), is spirit (spiritual). We can call the former as physical birth and the latter as spiritual birth for simplicity in this discussion.
So with regards the second birth, Jesus was telling Nicodemus, that he is speaking of a spiritual birth, not a physical birth. Jesus by this, revealed that entrance into the kingdom is a spiritual matter, not a matter of physical descent or merit, a revelation that most of the Jews in Jesus' day, apparently including Nicodemus, missed.
7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
Jesus here seems to pull Nicodemus out of astonishment, telling him to marvel not about the matter of being born again. And Jesus, using "the wind", began to illustrate to Nicodemus, how it is with everyone that is born of the Spirit, speaking of the characteristic of the wind and how it operates, suggestive of how it is with the second birth. That this birth comes about to one without his knowing it, as to when and how it comes about, but could somehow be perceived and not totally unknown or unknowable. This, Jesus said, is in like sense that man perceives the wind when it blows even while he cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. That whether with or without knowledge of it, it is nevertheless true, real, and it happens. With this illustration, I believe that what Jesus wanted Nicodemus (and us of course) to know and understand of this second birth is that, this is according to the sovereign act and will of God, and is something beyond the control nor influence of man, in like sense that the wind is beyond the control nor influence of man, and not really about how it actually happens or how God actually do it. This new birth therefore is not something that requires anything from man nor is something that calls for the participation and cooperation of man, for it to happen to one. A man is born again without knowing as to when and as to how it comes about. That a man had been born again is perceived, in like sense that the wind is perceived to be there when it blows.
Because Jesus speaks there about those "born of the Spirit", this leads us to the understanding that the second birth that He is talking about in verse 3, that is, "born again" or "born from above" refers to one that is of the Spirit, that is, of God.
It is my current view and understanding, that the second birth, is the man's salvation. Also, to properly be a rebirth and new birth of a man, as to be a new creature, a new man, should necessarily be affecting all that constitutes man, that is, both the body (flesh) and spirit, as was in the first birth. To leave out the body and consider only the spirit will not constitute a new birth of a man, but only a new spirit. It would also mean that the body is not saved, which will contradict scriptures which tells us that the body will be saved as well, in the resurrection.
It is also my current view and understanding, that the second birth, is a process and not an instant one time event or action. It begins with God's quickening of the spirit of the man. I believe this is when the salvation work by God on the man actually begins. This can be at any time during the life of the man, according to God's will, purpose, and wisdom. The moment this happens, his/her eyes and ears are opened, now able to see the light of the truth and hear the voice of God, and understand God's words, when it reaches him/her. Without this quickening, he/she is not able to see the light of the truth and hear the voice of God, and understand God's words. Next, at some time thereafter, God gives and grants him repentance. It is at this point that God works things out to bring the truth and His words, the gospel of Christ, to his/her hearing, convicts him/her of sin through the Holy Spirit, and leads him/her to repentance unto God and faith towards Jesus Christ. Soon he/she finds himself/herself coming to the decision to repent unto God and have faith in Jesus Christ. It is here at this stage where he/she gets himself/herself baptized according to the instructions of Christ, having fellowship with the church, worshiping God with them, studying the scriptures, preaching the gospel to others, at so much more. And all these new and good things, really is the giving, making, and putting of a new spirit and new heart within him/her by God ~ God transforming and conforming him/her into the image of Jesus Christ. God sustains, teaches, guides, disciplines, and grows him/her to maturity and perfection, to a loving, faithful, and willful obedience to His will until his/her time to fall asleep in Christ. It is during this part of the process of the second birth that the Christian gets to have an active participation in this work of God on him/her. Now, the participation of man here, does not mean that he has any measure of control nor does it mean he/she have a creditable work that could be said have earned his/her salvation, nor does it mean he/she have made this new birth to come to reality. For as I have pointed out, and here point it out again, regarding the matter of birth, concerning one's own for that matter, we have no knowledge, control, or influence whatsoever, in bringing it about. We don't get to regenerate or reborn ourselves. Finally the last stage, is in the resurrection, the Christian shall be given a new body. Hence, the new creature, the new man in the image of God.