Nicodemus was struggling to understand Jesus when he said, ‘You must be born again.’ John 3.8 Nicodemus had thought he was an expert in spiritual matters but Jesus was now speaking about things beyond his expertise and experience. His prior prejudices were being challenged. ‘ “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.’ v 3.9 Jesus then made clear the gap between Nicodemus knowledge and experience and his own. Jesus opened up about his identity. In using the term ‘we’ when speaking of what we know v 3.11 he may have been referring to the Trinity but he was certainly saying he had knowledge of heavenly things from personal experience that Nicodemus could not have. When Jesus said, ‘No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man’ he was stating in terms very clear to Nicodemus that he was the prophesied Messiah. He was also saying he had the knowledge and authority to speak of these things because he was from heaven. God incarnate.
Jesus then connected his teaching about new birth with his coming crucifixion. He did so using symbolism from the time of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Numbers 21.4-9 The Israelites rebelled against the Lord complaining that he had brought them into the wilderness without food and water. God miraculously provided both. God punished their rebellion with venomous snakes but when the people repented and confessed their sins God instructed Moses to hold up a bronze snake on a pole, if anybody was bitten by a snake and looked at the pole, they lived. The symbolism here includes people’s rebellion against God and his righteous judgement, however, where people confess and repent God provides a means of salvation, in this case salvation of their earthly life.
Jesus here was saying the bronze snake represented how he would be lifted up on a cross and his death would atone for the sins of people who looked to him, in other words had faith in him. His lifting up, however, was a matter of eternal life not some temporary healing of earthly life. ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life.’ v 3.14-15 Nicodemus would later personally witness Jesus dying on the cross and help Joseph place him in the tomb.
When John uses the term lifted up in his gospel he has two meanings, Jesus lifted up on the cross and Jesus glorious exultation in heaven following his ascension. Both are relevant here as the promise of eternal life is a promise to share in Jesus’ resurrection and be with him in heaven.
Who have we got our eyes on?
Have we shared in his promise to be lifted up with him?
Be lifted up – Paul Oakley