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No. 55: Born From Above

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 55
November, 1993
Copyright 1993, Biblical Horizons

Nicodemus’s conversation with Jesus in John 3:1-15 is often regarded as an illustration of the tremendous stupidity of the Jews of our Lord’s day. Those who take the passage this way fail to recognize the profound nature of Nicodemus’s questions and of Jesus’ answers.

In verse 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born "from above." The reference is to heaven, to what is on the other side of the firmament set up in Genesis 1:6-8. What is on the other side of the firmament is the heavenly ocean.

Nicodemus asks, in verse 4, "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?" This is often taken to be an almost mocking question, but it is not. Nicodemus knows that Jesus does not mean for us to reenter our mother’s wombs and be reborn in that sense. He is using a figure of speech to ask this question: Can history be reversed? Can there be a new creation? History has moved along since the creation, since the sin of Adam. How can that history be undone?

Jesus replies by saying that history is not reversed or undone. Rather, the new birth from above is "of water and the Spirit" (v. 5). If we look back at Genesis 2:6-7, we find that Adam was created without water. He was made of dust breathed upon by the Spirit of God. The water from the ground watered the soil and gave life to plants, but man was made not from ground water but from the Spirit and dry earth. Thus, being born of water is an eschatological idea. The implication is that man would have a new birth when the waters from heaven are sprinkled upon him by the Spirit.

The firmament is the boundary between heaven and earth. The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus is the Firmament, the Mediator between heaven and earth. Thus, it is He who sprinkles us with water from above. It is He who gives the new birth of water and the Spirit. The first creation is by the Spirit; the new creation is by water and the Spirit. The first creation is of the earth, earthy; the new creation is of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45-49).

Waters from heaven cleanse the old earth and bring a new world. At the Flood, waters came down from heaven. The various sprinklings of the Old Covenant made the same point. Water baptism today (which of course is by sprinkling or pouring) makes the same point.

Nicodemus asks in verse 9, "How can these things be?" He is asking the legal ground for what Jesus has said. What makes it possible for God to bring about a new creation in the midst of the history of the old creation?

Jesus gets to the answer in verses 13-15: His atoning death will make Him the new Firmament, the Mediator between heaven and earth. His death will grant men access to the baptismal heavenly waters, and provide birth from above, by water and the Spirit.